Friday, February 19, 2016

Revelation 9:1-11

The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. – Jude v. 6
As a three-fold “Woe” was unleashed through the last three of the seven trumpets, terror flowed out of an abyss and poured across the earth. In John’s vision, it began when a fallen star was given permission to open the abyss and retrieve the beings and demons that had been trapped there. The one who came to unlock the abyss is described in ways that match the language used by both Isaiah and Jesus.

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. - Isaiah 14:12-15

And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. - Luke 10:18

Here this fallen star or angel appears to be Satan, and he is given permission to unlock the abyss and release those demons that have been imprisoned there. Although scripture is not explicit on when or how these specific demons were locked away in the pit, we do see some indications that certain demons were in fear of being locked away during the ministry of Jesus.

And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. – Luke 8:30-31

Here the demons being cast out begged Jesus to not send them into “the deep.” The words “the deep” clearly don’t mean the sea, because after Jesus cast the demons out of the man, they went into some pigs and ran into the ocean. Here, Jesus clearly had the power and the option to banish these demons to this locked-up pit that we see in Revelation 9, and in this instance He didn’t. This abyss, or pit, must have been filled with the worst of the worst of the followers of Satan. Now, in the last days, permission was given to unlock the pit and release its inhabitants to attack the inhabitants of the earth.
As these vile beings poured out of the abyss, they unleashed an unbelievable terror on mankind. Miraculously, for five months, no human being was able to die. This would be a spectacularly wonderful thing for all those involved if it weren’t part of the God-ordained punishment of their unbelief and rebellion. However, their miraculously extended lives were filled with hellish agonies. As the demons flooded out like swarming locusts, they were given the ability to sting those who had somehow survived the torments of the Tribulation up to this point.
The astonishing preservation was blended with excruciating pain. 
Why would God do this? Why wouldn’t he just sweep with a coup degras and wipe out all of these people? Why allow them to continue to suffer? The key reason that we can find in the context is that there were those around them that were unscathed by these demon attacks that were declaring the gospel to them. This was God being longsuffering. The most gracious thing that He could do was to bring them to despair. Instead of striking them dead and replacing their temporal pain with eternal punishment, He extended temporal pain that they might turn in desperation to Him and be spared from everlasting pain. For five months the terrors of the fifth trumpet deluge rolled across the earth in darkness and agony so that those who had not turned would be given yet another chance to repent and believe.

Reflect: From Luke 8 and Revelation 9, who do we see as unquestionably in power over Satan and his demons?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Revelation 8:10-13

As the final seal of the scroll was opened, seven angels began blowing trumpets to signal the next wave of God’s judgment on the earth. With the first two trumpets came blood, fire, hail, and the devastation of the waterways of the earth as the water was turned to blood. In John’s horrifying vision, the earth’s shipping and food supplies were devastated by the terrible unleashing of God’s judgment. Now, the third angel sounded his trumpet and a meteoric catastrophe was released.
With some symbolism, John describes how that a great star plummeted to the earth. Perhaps our modern scientific terminology prevents us from calling this star an actual star, since, all the stars of the universe are typically larger than our own sun. And since the sun is approximately 1.3 million times the size of the earth, it would be impossible for our sun (or any other star) to plummet to the earth’s surface (if anything, the earth would sizzle on the sun’s surface like a little water droplet on the stove). We would have to understand that John’s use of the word star is less scientific and more descriptive. Here a heavenly body that glows and burns as it cuts through earth’s atmosphere (perhaps a meteor or asteroid) falls from the sky and devastates the earth’s water supplies in the process.
The word used to describe the calamity it causes on the water supply is “Wormwood.” This is a term that has been used in various forms to describe poisonous and toxic substances. In essence, John is saying that a third of the earth’s water supply will be polluted and unpotable. In verse 11, those who drank from the poisoned and bitter waters will die as a result. The catastrophic effects of this giant meteor would no doubt leave people wondering if their next sip of life-sustaining water would be their last. What an incredibly frightful time, where you can’t even trust a drink of water!
While the inhabitants of the planet writhed under the judgment of God, the fourth angel began to call with his trumpet, and the unthinkable terror continued. The sun, and the moon, and the stars were all thrown into an astrophysical chaos. John describes it as a darkness that swallowed up a third of each. Whether the inner gravitational workings of the universe began to unbind or collapse, or some other inexplicable calamity was occurring, the reality is that the heavens above would never be the same once this trumpeter finished his disastrous call.
It is an interesting point that the first four devastation-trumpeting angels take up only six verses, and the remaining three trumpeters will require the next three chapters. Arriving at the end of chapter 8, John explained that he saw an angel soaring through heaven proclaiming a triple “Woe” on the earth for the remaining three trumpet calls. In the words of this angel, the devastation of the earth’s food supplies, water supplies, shipping, and the undoing of the heavenly bodies was just the beginning. The remaining three trumpets would bring much more horror and terror than the first four.
God’s justice is sure. There is no wrong deed that will be left unjudged. In His justice, God will undo all the wrong of all the ages. He will cleanse the earth of its sinfulness and the marks of the fall. As we see the terrible and fearful works of the Almighty God, we must not lose sight that His ways are perfect, and His judgments are pure and right. His cleansing work is not just random and cruel. It is executed with the clearest wisdom and purpose to achieve an eternal goal known most perfectly to Him. We must look on in fright and respect as we read the terrors of the just hand of the Almighty.

Reflect: If God has the power to undo the heavens and cause catastrophic astrophysical events, what does that tell us He is using that same power to do right now while we do not see these catastrophes?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Revelation 8:1-9

In Revelation 4, Jesus appeared before the throne of God and received from God the title deed to the earth in a scroll form. This scroll was bound with seven seals, and as Jesus unfastened each of the seals, a different judgment rolled down from heaven and worked to purge Creation of the rebellion of mankind and the dominion of Satan. The first four seals each unleashed one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the fifth and sixth seals unleashed the wrath of God like nothing before seen.
When we arrive at Revelation 8, we find the Lamb (Jesus) opening the last of the seven seals. In opening this seal, there will be seven angels who will blow seven trumpets. By the time the seventh trumpet is blown, in chapter 16, there will be seven bowls of God’s wrath poured out on the earth. Even though the previous six seals were absolutely horrifying in their magnitude, this seventh seal will bring unimaginable devastation on the planet.

The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him. – Habakkuk 2:20

As Jesus opens the final seal to the scroll, affirming His authority and entitlement as Ruler and Sovereign of all of Creation, John sees the roaring praise chorus of heaven lull into a quiet hush. No more are the 24 elders singing praises. The angelic beings that fill the corridors of heaven have all been silence. The innumerable mass of saints that have been cheering in worship all stand still and quiet. All of heaven goes eerily silent for about half an hour. Why? Perhaps as the final seal is seen and understood, there is a gravity over what is about to occur. Through this final seal the long-suffering God will finally pour out His justice and wrath on the earth. Every being in heaven holds his tongue and awaits the judgment of God.
The silence is broken when an angel approaches. Here John tells us that there is a heavenly altar where the angel offered incense along with the prayers of the saints. The fragrance of the incense rose with the prayers in the presence of God. Finally, the angel cast his incense-filled censer at the earth. Much of the sights that John saw here in heaven mirror the Old Testament Tabernacle with its altar of incense and a censer. In the tabernacle, the priest would fill the censer with incense and fire from the altar and then would walk through the people to sanctify and ceremoniously cleanse them. Now, the angel filled up his heavenly censer with the prayers of the saints and the fire of God. The earth was to be cleansed and purified by the wrath of God and the prayers of the saints.
When the fire-filled censer crashed into the earth, the earth shook with thunder and an earthquake, and the sky crackled with lightning. Following this dramatic show by this angel, seven other angels prepared to blow seven trumpets that they had with them. Much like the seven seals, each of these trumpets would carry with it a certain purifying and powerful event.

And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. – Joel 2:30

When the first trumpet sounded, hail and fire mingled with blood rained down from heaven. The trumpet judgments would have some striking similarities to the plagues that God had poured out on Egypt. Like the hail and fire that came from heaven in Egypt, this first trumpet catastrophe would bring with it the devastation of crops and livestock as farms around the world would be crushed and burned with falling hail and fire. Famine had begun earlier, but now, the wrath of God was falling on the crops and was absolutely devastating the earth’s greenery and food supply.

Reflect: Read Joel 2. What similarities do you see with that prophecy and what is happening here in Revelation?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Revelation 7:9-17

Have you ever done a research paper? I remember some of my first attempts at doing research papers in school. I was always the worst at it. There were deadlines for notecards and outlines and first drafts and revised drafts. I never could seem to get into a rhythm of getting things done on time or of getting things done with any measure of excitement. Every time that a teacher would announce “we are going to start a research paper” a small part of me would die at the prospect of the step by step laboring and the series of new deadlines that would arrive in my life. At the beginning of the school year the end of the research paper always seemed so far away and almost impossible. It was hard to imagine that through a few trips to the library, and weeks of work that eventually a fully completed research paper would emerge. (Sidenote: If you ask my teachers they will confirm my abysmal performance at these projects.)
I wonder what it was like for the first century church as they began plugging away at gospel living and gospel declaration. The gospel was spreading, but so was heresy. New churches were being started, but persecution was swallowing one congregation after another. Would the church ever be able to grow? Pentecost had proven to be an anomaly with thousands converted, and that must have been exciting for the Apostles, but would all of those who were added to the church that day remain in the church?
With this in mind as we come to John’s vision in Revelation 7, I can only imagine the joy and excitement that John felt as he beheld the spectacle of a countless host of believers. There was no such thing as a countless host of believers in the first century church. Now, on the precipice of eternity, John gazed on a throng that was so immense and so diverse that he had no way of tabulating its number. The message that he labored to teach in Asia Minor to churches that were now under threat of being cast away, that message would prevail. There would be millions more to come who would hear it and believe it. The gospel would not die at the end of the first century with heresy and persecution. No, the gospel would prevail and would spread and eventually in Revelation 4 and Revelation 7 believers from every nation, kindred, and tongue would join together in worship around the throne of God.

“Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” – Revelation 7:12
The praise of those who had seen the mighty work of God was incredibly broad, yet it somehow understated the full reality of who God is. With the inability to fully fathom His immensity and splendor, in the inexpressible and ineffable awesomeness of His character, and because of the incomprehensibility of His manifold greatnesses, this group of saints roared with the profoundly simple praises that they could muster. The dread of persecution was gone, and God was now their provision, warmth and joy.
For John, a leader of the first century church, this glimpse of the future hosts of heaven worshipping God from all over the world must have left him with a renewed vigor to spread the gospel as far as he could. Similarly, as other saints have read John’s vision of a multi-cultural, ethnically diverse, God-glorifying multitude, they have counted their temporal life as nothing and have plunged into cross-cultural evangelism and missions work knowing that God planned to redeem some from all over the world. May we be encouraged to join the ranks of those who have gone before us and have gotten excited about the glimpses of these great masses. For John the research project was just beginning, but how exciting it was to realize that the massive work God would be accomplished through the gospel.

Reflect: What would John perhaps feel as he beheld the hosts of converted saints in heaven? What could that motivate him to do? What should this motivate us to do?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Revelation 7:1-8

As the earth roared with the sound of the great Flood, Noah and his family huddled inside the ark. God’s plan of salvation for this chosen group was executed perfectly. While the wrath and justice of God washed the entire planet clean, Noah and his family were preserved by the Sovereign power of God. When the night air filled with wails of Egyptian parents, the Israelite parents huddled inside their homes holding on to their own firstborn children thanking God for the salvation He had given them through the bloody doorposts. Here God had preserved those whom he desired, and spoiled the rest with His wrath.
Throughout scripture, in the face of some of the greatest tragedies, we see the preserving hand of God protecting His own. 
While floods of wrath and waves of death sweep around His people, they rest secure in His Sovereign protection, guarded by His faithful promises and limitless power. 
It should come as no surprise that amidst the unbelievable onslaught of the wrath of God, and the terrible annihilation of the earth through the opening of the six seals in Revelation 6, that God preserves a number of His own by super-natural protection.
While persecution claims the lives of some believers, there are many who are protected and safe-guarded from the frightening terror of God. In Revelation 7, John sees a crowd of people called the “servants of God” who are ethnically Jewish. These are people who most likely were converted as a result of the shocking events that transpired in Revelation 6. Having seen the fulfillment of Scripture (both Old Testament and New Testament prophecy) this group of people repented of their sins and turned in faith to Christ. Now, these converts from this great Tribulation period are marked by God as His own.
It seems that much like Noah and his family, and the Israelites in Egypt were preserved, this group of converted Jews endures and survives the carrying out of the end times. Instead of succumbing to the awful tragedies of war and famine and disease, this group remains faithful to God and is spared the devastation of His wrath. We must be clear though that this does not mean that they may not die during this period. Clearly in Revelation 6:10-11, there are some who perish through persecution carried out by wicked people, and perhaps even some might become victims of the cataclysmic splitting of the universe and the down-pouring of meteors and asteroids. But, for these who perish, unlike the non-believers they are not enduring the wrath of God. Rather, they are being brought immediately into the presence of God to worship, praise and enjoy Him.
By comparison, those who reject God and try to run from Him will receive the wrath of God that extends beyond the horrifying deaths that they will face in this time of sorrows. Their exit from the earth in death will be simply the “first death” that they will experience. As objects of God’s wrath, these will not enjoy the presence of God, rather, it will be the most devastating experience these beings could ever endure.
Here, however, we find a group of 144,000 that God spares from both physical death and from His wrath. Represented in this group are 12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel. Here God in his perfect Sovereignty elected the precise number that He saw fit. 
Just as He always has, He secures safety for those Whom He wills, and it is no different for this special group of Jewish believers.

Reflect: Can you think of any other instances in Scripture where God lovingly preserved a group of His own people from death or destruction?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Revelation 6:9-17

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. – Matthew 24:3-9
As John’s vision of the end times continues, the details that unfold before his eyes maintain a striking similarity to the message that Jesus had spoken on the Mount of Olives. In Revelation 5, Jesus had taken the scroll from God’s hand and began opening it one seal at a time. As He broke open each seal, a new level of devastation and pestilence was unleashed on the sin-filled world. False peace was followed by devastating war. Famine and disease riddled the planet and brought humanity to its knees. Now, John watched as Jesus opened the fifth seal on the scroll.
Instead of a cataclysmic event occurring on the earth, John saw a number of martyrs petitioning God to do justly and exact revenge on the wrong doers. These martyrs had been slain for declaring the gospel and preaching the truth, and now they were asking God to dispense vengeance on those who had killed them. Here, we see souls asking God to unleash the fury of the fierceness of His wrath.

For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. –Hebrews 10:30-31
For a moment the wrath of God is withheld, but as John looks back at Jesus, he sees Him opening the sixth seal. Instantly, the cosmos was rattled with a tremor that stretched beyond the earth and across the heavens. The Sun went black, the moon went blood red, and heavenly bodies began plummeting to the earth. The heavens were ripped in two and every inch of the earth writhed with the upheaval of God’s retribution. There was no place safe, the “day of the Lord” that had been prophesied for ages was now at hand, and God was exacting His unbridled vengeance on a rebellious and insolent human race.
John finished his explanation of the devastation of the sixth seal by describing the response of those unrepentant who were doomed to live through this apocalyptic nightmare. Their insolence became utter despair as they hid themselves and begged the mountains and rocks to fall on them so they might by chance escape the wrath of God. Every rank and every income level finally found themselves with one common experience – absolute torment at the hands of a vengeful and just God.
What a horrifying series of events. What a truly dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The one thing that I am reminded of as I read John’s account is that God’s vengeance is not executed on His own people. For those who come in faith to Jesus, the wrath of God is not a threat. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. We can rejoice, but we also should become clarions of the impending destruction of all who are unrepentant and that continue in their sin. The judgement day of God is coming, and all who do not believe will face the unstoppable wrath of God.

Reflect: Read Ezekiel 30:3, Joel 2:1, Joel 3:14, Obadiah 15, Zephaniah 1:7, and Zechariah 14:1. What do you find about the “Day of the Lord” from these prophecies?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Revelation 6:1-8

After Jesus took the scroll from the hand of God, all of heaven burst into worship and praise. Jesus had been the only one worthy of receiving honor and praise in the presence of God. Now, standing there in heaven with the scroll in hand, Jesus began opening the seven seals that bound the scroll. Historically, the opening of the seals would represent the claiming of the contents of the scroll. From Revelation 6-19, Jesus opens the seven seals and reclaims His rightful position as Sovereign of the universe.

The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. - Psalm 110:1

This prophecy of David was one that Jesus quoted to the Saduccees in Luke 20, and expressed how that it was speaking of Him. Now, in the book of Revelation, as Jesus opens the scroll and breaks the seal, we see the overwhelming power and terrible vengeance of God executed on all the inhabitants of the earth as Christ claims ownership of all of Creation. Knowing that the type of literature we are reading is prophetic, we can understand also that John is possibly using quite a bit of symbolism. Whether or not the exact object that he saw was the exact object that he used to represent is not as important as the message that he is seeking to transmit.
As Jesus Christ opened the first seal, a powerful force emerges that John refers to as “a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow.” After Christ opens the second seal, another comes, and thus occurs a similar occurrence with the breaking open of each of the first four seals. The horsemen of the apocalypse have long intrigued the secular mind. Pop culture plays up these horsemen and many artists have sought to render paintings and drawings of these colorful end-times harbingers. The interpretation of what each of these represents is a matter of centuries of dispute with the church fathers even failing to come to a consensus on the exact interpretation of the vision of John. What I will seek to do now is to explain what seems to be a fair interpretation of the events that we find here in the text.
The first horseman comes on a white horse with a crown of victory and a bow, and he comes in conquest. It is interesting that he is not using his bow to conquer, but that instead he merely carries it with him. We perhaps can see this first figure coming with much power, but no need to exercise that power. This figure would then be seen to sweep the world with bloodless conquest, establishing peace through strength and unity. He is said to ride on a white horse much like the one we find Christ riding in Revelation 19. Here an imposter of Christ has come to delude the world into thinking that peace has arrived, but momentarily that peace will be done away with. Seeing this powerful force of deception, conquest, and peace, I would imagine we could understand him to represent the rise of the Antichrist and his feigned offer of peace that we find in 1 Thessalonians 5 and Matthew 24.
The second horseman comes on a red horse and carries a sword. He represents a massive force of war that shatters the false sense of peace and plunges the world into chaos. Eventually mankind turns on one another and bloodshed ensues. Immediately after this chaos begins, Jesus opens the third seal and the third horseman comes on a black horse with measuring instruments in hand as he declares a dire message of famine. This apocalyptic messenger has come to decimate the earth’s food supplies and plunge the entire earth into anarchic starvation. Finally, the fourth seal is broken, and the fourth horseman comes on a pale horse bringing pestilence and death. The chaos of broken peace, war, famine, and disease now ravage the globe. Godless and Christless masses writhe in agony at the disaster that has occurred and a quarter of the earth is slaughtered.
These frightful sights must have left John feeling sick. As he beheld the justice of God, rebellious humanity writhed under the agony of unbridled wrath and judgment. This was just the first four seals of the scroll, what horrors would the remaining three bring? What a dreadful thing when the fierceness of the wrath of God is poured out on mankind.

Reflect: As He claims what is rightfully His, Christ executes wrath on rebellious and impenitent mankind. How is this right and just?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Revelation 5:8-14

Have you ever received an unbelievable surprise or received a gift that you did not expect but that left you reeling from excitement after you received it? I remember one of my first memories of Amber and me when we were in college. We were meeting up for an evening together, and she brought me a wrapped box filled with gifts. When I opened the box, I was just floored that she had spent her own money on me and that every gift inside the box was so personal and just about me. I remember the rest of the evening that we spent together I was so elated to be with this beautiful girl and to have this wonderful gift that I just buzzed with excitement.
Now, I imagine John in heaven seeing one spectacle after another, and being floored with wonder at sights his mind could barely even grasp and many more things he was simply unable to fathom. The emotion had overtaken him and he had gone from elation to despair when no one had stepped forward to open the book in the hand of God. However, when Jesus finally appeared before the throne of God, I can only imagine John’s reaction. This was certainly a “mind-blown” moment. The anticipation had climaxed at the appearing of the One who could rightfully claim the title deed to all creation. 
Now, the one who died for all had come to redeem all things. 
I can only imagine the overwhelming excitement that John must have felt as Jesus walked up to God and took the book out of God’s hand.
It seems from Revelation 5 that heaven was absolutely silent as Jesus walked up to the throne of God. All eyes in heaven were turned to Him as he grabbed the book from His Father’s hand. But in that instant, the silence was crushed with the roar and praise of millions in heaven. The sounds of the 24 elders and all of the people with them singing blended with roars of millions of angels as all of heaven began the much awaited praise service and worship of Christ.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. - Philippians 2:9-11
Here in Revelation 5:13, we see Paul’s prophecy fulfilled as every living being joined together. From Babel in Genesis 11 until now, mankind had failed to cooperate with one voice, but in the redemption of all things, Christ reunited mankind for the one purpose for which they were created – to worship Him. In Romans 8 we find that from the first sin of mankind in Genesis 3, all of creation groaned under the curse of sin, but now, on this day, the redemption of all things had come. All of heaven and all of earth joined in a great song of praise to Jesus. Even the four beasts that had encircled the throne crying “Holy, Holy, Holy,” now joined in the praise with the refrain of “Amen!”, which means “let it be so!”
What a spectacle! John could have never imagined such a sight. Now, he stood there and watched as the culmination of redemptive history was carried out in front of his very eyes. With millions of beings roaring together, the praising of Christ must have left John feeling invigorated with excitement. Standing there in heaven he beheld a glimpse of the future glory that awaited. What a comfort it must have been for an old saint stranded on the prison isle of Patmos. Jesus was not a defunct cult leader, he was the Sovereign of the cosmos and one day all would be gathered to worship Him. 
I can only imagine the joy that flooded John’s soul as he beheld the Savior, his Savior, exalted and praised in heaven.
Reflect: Reread Revelation 5:8-14. What songs are sung in heaven?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Revelation 5:1-7

As he beheld God in His glory being praised by the angelic hosts and elders, John noticed that God held a book in his hand. After noticing the book, John heard an angel that beckoned all of heaven to send forth any who was worthy to open the book that God held in his hand. So what is this book? Why should it be opened?
In verse 5, we find out that this book was fastened with seven seals. Understanding that at the time of John’s writing this, books as we use them with cut pages and bindings were not yet used regularly in the Middle East, John perhaps is speaking of a scroll that has seven seals on it. In the ancient world, it was common for those writing a will to do so with a scroll with seven seals. Seeing a scroll like this would lead us to believe the scroll here is the will and testament of God. Sealed-scrolls were also used for land deeds in the ancient world, and perhaps the imagery used here indicates that God is holding the will and deed to all of His creation. We could then understand that whoever holds this scroll possesses the authority to rule and reign all of creation. Furthermore, the only one who can open it is the one who is the rightful recipient or heir of its contents.
Now, all of heaven listened with anticipation as the angel cried loudly for the one to show himself who could rightfully open the will of God and the deed of creation, effectively claiming His rightful place as Sovereign of the Universe. I imagine that as John beheld the incredible sight of God and the glories of heaven, he was moved with a flood of emotion. Enraptured by the invitation to such a worthy One, John must have eagerly glanced as far as he could see across the heavenly expanse to catch a view of the One who would open the scroll. But no one replied. No one answered.
John’s joy and anticipation quickly became a distraught disappointment and he began to weep. Overwhelmed by the prospect that no one could claim the right to this will, John wept in despair. Perhaps it was because John realized what the opening of this will and deed would mean. In claiming the title of Sovereign of the Universe, the one who opened the scroll would eventually undo the brokenness that marred God’s beautiful creation. In unwrapping each seal, this worthy one would cleanse creation of the misdeeds and wrongs that Satan had constructed. With a purging fierceness he would wash away the damage and restore the universe to perfect harmony. But now, no one came, so John wept.
John’s weeping was interrupted by one of the elders. “Weep not: Behold!” The word translated “behold” is the same as our saying, “Look!” John turned his eyes towards the one that the elder acknowledged in the midst of the elders and John saw one who stood as a Lamb. The elder told John that it was the Lion of Judah and Root of David. Both of these names were Messianic references, and speak of Jesus. However, as John looked at Him, he didn’t see a lion, rather he saw a lamb that had been slain. The lamb wasn’t dead now, but he had been. Having read John 1, we know Jesus had been called the “Lamb of God” by John the Baptist. Now, the Lamb was resurrected and stood before God.
Jesus, the Lion, the Root, the slain Lamb, came into the presence of God to answer the call of “Who is worthy to open the book?” With confidence, Jesus did what no one else would ever dare to do, He took the book out of God’s hand. Here with fearless audacity, One finally had come to claim the title of Heir to the will of God and Sovereign of the Universe. He had endured suffering and had been slain so that He could redeem all of creation, now, He had come to claim His rightful place of glory with God.

Reflect: Read Daniel 7:13-14. How does this passage compare to what we read in Revelation 5?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Revelation 4:6-11

Heaven is about God.
As John continues describing his vision of heaven, he tells how he saw four beasts that encircle the throne of God. In Ezekiel 1, we find a description of four heavenly beings who sound strikingly similar to these that John saw, and in Isaiah 6, we find another group of beings called Seraphim who seem to have a very similar job. In both Isaiah and Revelation, these beasts fly around the throne of God and cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Through the radiance of His burning glory they scream with every fiber of their being the unending truth that God is perfect and pure and above all others.
Even in explaining these wonderful creatures whose abilities and presence far exceeds his own, John turned quickly from their description to their purpose - they spend day and night declaring the glory of the thrice-holy God. The spectacle was almost unbelievable, and without a doubt, John’s description of these beings could have stretched on much longer than two verses, but in the presence of the eternal and almighty God, these magnificent creatures were mere ornaments.
As John describes the angelic praise service that takes place around the throne of God, he sees further that the 24 enthroned and crowned elders fall down on their faces. Here John saw what was simply a faint echo in Psalm 95:6, “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.” God is now surrounded by bowing and kneeling monarchs who after beholding his majesty have relinquished their own. In the face of the eternal King, no monarch dare retain his kingly authority. All power and rule flows from God himself, and on this day, every regal claim is returned to its Originator and rightful Owner.
Now, having taken a posture of complete humility, they join with the angelic creatures in a praise song that fills the heavens. Their praise addresses the very heart of worship. Our English word “worship” comes from an old English word that has the same root as the word “worth.” To truly worship something is to place a high value on it and to joy and meditate in that value. Often we find things to worship, whether it is a car, or a game system, or a new pair of shoes, or a fashion style, or family, or relationships, but none of these things are of ultimate worth. We may treat them as though they are the most valuable thing in existence, but they will never attain the worth that we ascribe to them.
There is only one who is worthy of unbridled worship. Here in John’s revelation of the throne of God, we find the one who is most worthy of worship. The one who is praised by the highest beings in all of creation sits on His throne while the elders cast their crowns at his feet and declare Him to be the most praiseworthy. Their song testifies to their perspective. In the presence of the Holy God of all the ages, they cannot help but cry out, “Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
I imagine that John was mesmerized at what he saw. The astonishing sight of God on his throne being worshipped by angelic beings and elders must have left him feeling speechless. It must have also left him with an overwhelming sense of the power and might of God. Nothing in life could challenge this kind of King. We may not always have His throne in sight, but we know His reign is unhindered and unimpeded. Nothing thwarts His purposes and nothing impedes His power. John’s life was in peril on the isle of Patmos, but the God of the universe was still on His throne and still in control.

Reflect: Why doesn’t John spend a lot of time describing the heavenly beings that he beheld?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Revelation 4:1-5

A recent flood of heaven tourism books have appeared and have found wildly popular success. Most of these books start with the same premise, a person faces a near death experience and comes back to tell of the grandeur and splendors of heaven. The books have come from a number of sources and while many of the wildly popular ones are the stories of young children innocently (or as Alex Malarkey honorably admits “deceptively”) recounting their encounters with Jesus and God in heaven, there are a few for the intelligentsia like the one written by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander titled, The Proof of Heaven. Here a professional and an intellectual denies all other’s attempts at describing the afterlife and uses vague ambiguities to prove that although everyone else has gotten it wrong, he actually has been to heaven and it is much like swimming through an amorphous lightning-filled black jello.
What should Christians do with these accounts? Are they real? According to one of the most popular of these story-tellers, Alex Malarkey, he was just making it up. As for the others, I would say that we need a serious measure of discernment. One thing that is continuously constant amongst the varied experiences is that they all seem to have one thing in common, the heaven that they speak of is consistently different from the heaven we read of in scripture. These pseudo-heavens don’t have bowing masses singing the worship and praise to God like we find in Isaiah or Revelation. Rather, heaven is merely a place of reunion and feeling happy.
Something in me wants to package John’s account in Revelation 4-5 and market it as “Man claims to have seen heaven and writes about it!” I wonder if it would be nearly as popular as its contemporary fictional counterparts. John’s account speaks of a reunion. It even speaks of great joy. But the heaven that John writes about is not about the people going there as much as it is about the One Who is already there. The reunion of the nations is for the express purpose of worshipping God. The joy that is experienced is directly related to being in the presence of the Redeemer of all Creation.
This is the first thing to notice with in John’s revelation of heaven. 
Heaven is about God. 
Starting the description of what he saw in heaven, John writes first about the most prominent feature of heaven, “behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.” Here is the key feature of heaven, it is filled with the glory of God. Are the saints of history past going to be there? Will there be angels? Yes, but they all are presented in one context – how they are relating to God. Just as no one in an art museum focuses on the linoleum floor or the velvet stanchions, no one who enters the throne room of God spends time speaking in terms of anything except in how it relates to God.
Continuing his description of heaven John introduces 24 elders who are seated around the throne of God. They are unnamed and under-described, because even though they are elders and enthroned they are merely adornments for the great One who is on the throne in their midst. Here seated before John was the One who has forever existed and who through the power of His word created all things. Here sits the one who rules and judges all. His throne is in heaven above all the thrones on earth and above all other thrones in heaven. The fear and respect due Him by his position and power are magnified as bolts of lightning crackle and the flames of His Spirit blaze in front of Him.
This is what heaven looks like – God, surrounded by things that worship God.

Reflect: In what one simple way do most accounts peddled amongst the heaven tourism books fall short of describing anything near the reality of heaven that we find in Scripture?