Friday, September 11, 2015

Reading Through Revelation

indexThis post is the conclusion to my read through of the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott for 2014-15. (Sorry for the posting delay, I have been busy) This post quotes from the book The Message of Revelation: I Saw Heaven Opened, by Michael Wilcock. My comments on the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John are in black below. I welcome discussion on this post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

The interpretation of Revelation has always been a source of controversy in the church. It is an apocalyptic book and thus its extensive use of symbolism, code-words, and cryptic language must be taken into account. Almost unanimous early tradition would see the Apostle John who also wrote the Gospel of John and 1, 2, 3 John as the author of the letter. John was a Palestinian Jew well versed in the Old Testament who knew the churches of Asia Minor to whom the latter was addressed. I would tend to lean toward the late date for writing of 95-96 AD.

The book was written during a time of great persecution, so John wrote to encourage the readers to endure. We will win in the end. Thus, John wrote to reveal the events of the end and complete the themes of Old Testament prophecy with the present purpose to promote godly living and commitment to Christ despite persecution and spiritual battle. The theme of the letter is THE VICTORY OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIS KINGDOM: Jesus will defeat Satan and all the world's evil systems and bring in His promised kingdom. Therefore, unbelievers should take warning that God's judgment is coming and seek redemption. Believers should take encouragement in coming victory and justice and prepare for God's kingdom by godly living now. We see the end and Jesus and His people win!)

Revelation is no mere appendix to the collection of letters which makes up the bulk of the New Testament. It is in fact the last and grandest of those letters. As comprehensive as Romans, as lofty as Ephesians, as practical as James or Philemon, this ‘Letter to the Asians’ is as relevant to the modern world as any of them. 1.1-8, 28

If Christ is going to win the battle (and he is) people need to make sure they are on the right side in the battle, doing what will count for eternity, and doing what will please the one who will judge our deeds. The letters to the churches try to focus the church on the revelation of who Jesus is and their corresponding response.

Perhaps we are meant to see in (the lampstands) the church as she appears in the world, congregations located here and there, which can be isolated and indeed destroyed (2:5). But on the heavenly level, the church is united and indestructible, for she is centred on Christ. The lampstands are scattered across the earth; but the stars are held together in the hand of Christ. 1.9-20, 41–42

It is noteworthy that only in the first and last of the seven Letters is a church threatened with actual destruction, and in each case the reason is the unnerving, purely negative one, that it lacks fervent devotion... Let the loveless church beware. 2.1-7, 44

If one great lesson is that suffering is certain, the other is that it is limited...The message therefore is that Smyrna must be not fearful, but faithful—to look not at the suffering, but beyond it to the all-controlling God. 2.8-11, 46

Against beleaguered Christians like those at Pergamum, Satan uses the pressures of the world to ‘squeeze’ them ‘into its own mould’ (Rom. 12:2, JBP); but where the church is noted for its growth and vigour (verse 19), he knows that he can do most damage not by pressure without but by poison within. 2.18-29, 50

The final result of his loving care for them will be that this church of ‘little power’ will be established as an immovable pillar in the temple of the heavenly Jerusalem (verse 12). She will be thrice sealed, as belonging to God, belonging to God’s city, and belonging to God’s Son. His tender promise to those who are painfully aware of weakness and insecurity is that they shall finally belong...Christ who nullifies the opposition also magnifies the opportunity. 3.7-13, 55–56

God is transcendent. The perspective is of Revelation is God's throne room and we must live life now from the perspective with the eyes of faith. Apocalyptic literature is usually very pessimistic about man's efforts to overcome evil. God must intervene. The good news is that He does and He will.

John must have seen their inner meanings: the majesty, mercy, glory, purity, and power of God. The picture is in fact a merging of many Old Testament images of divine truth, and presents God the Creator as worthy of universal praise (4:11). All that exists is under his sovereign sway; that is why the divine throne is the central and primary feature in the vision (4:2). 4-5, 68

The setting in chapters 4 and 5, therefore, is intended to impress on John’s mind, and through him on ours also, where the true power lies. Not only in the church’s internal affairs (Scene 1) but in the world as a whole, Christ stands at the centre. It is he who is finally in control. God is still on the throne. 4-6, 77

It is mostly agreed that the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments take us to the 2nd coming of Christ. The beginning point and the “how” of this are disputed. I lean toward seeing these judgments as being in parallel, going over the same material from different perspectives. Here the major themes of prophecy are explained and consummated: The kingdom of God, The Day of the LORD, the plan of redemption, the covenants, the inheritance of Christ and believers.

The New Testament explanation of it is given by Paul in Ephesians 1:13 f. We were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when we first put our faith in Christ. From that moment forward, our ultimate safety was guaranteed. So when the searing winds begin to blow, the servant of God is found to have been sealed already against their power. The horsemen ride out on their career of destruction; but the church has been made indestructible. 7, 79.

The Seals showed the suffering church pleading for justice to be done. But the Trumpets show the wicked world being offered mercy. The offer is not accepted, and the world will not in fact repent (9:20 f.); but let it never be said that God has not done all in his power, even to the devastation of his own once perfect earth, in order to bring men to their senses. 8, 95.

They hear of pollution, of inflation, of dwindling resources, of blind politicians, and will not admit that the first four Trumpets of God are sounding. In the end they themselves are affected by these troubles, and for one reason or another life becomes a torment: the locusts are out, Trumpet 5 is sounding, but they will not repent. Not even when the angels of the Euphrates rise to the summons of Trumpet 6, and the cavalry rides out to slay—by any kind of destruction, not necessarily war—a friend or a relative, a husband or a wife: not even in bereavement will they repent. ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.’ If we will not hear the tremendous voice of the pains of bereavement, there can be no hope for us. 9, 99–100.

There is a limit to the patience of God. Six trumpet blasts represent every possible chance for repentance which he can offer to man. Even then it is not his patience, but man’s ability to respond, which is exhausted. The stage is reached at which there is no point in offering further opportunities, for man has hardened himself beyond the possibility of repenting. It is then that the angel swears that Trumpet 7 shall be no longer delayed. 10, 102

With Trumpet 7 the parousia has arrived. Although Scripture mentions some aspects of the victory of Christ in connection with his first coming, there is no doubt that the language here describes the total triumph of his second. 11.1-18, 107

The “seven signs” section shows us that Believers should not be alarmed or fooled by the seeming power and strength of evil because Christ and his followers will ultimately triumph and justice will be done. The age-old battle will be won by Jesus Christ. Though evil will continue almost until the end it will not triumph.

The conflict between the two archangels, the good and the evil, is the conflict between Eve and the serpent, and between her offspring and its offspring, through the whole history of Israel, until the day when the offspring should come (Gal. 3:16; 4:4). Then the child is born; and his triumphant progress from nativity to ascension, unscathed by the dragon (for even his death is his own free choice), spells the dragon’s defeat. It is at the time of Christ’s incarnation that the downfall of Satan, and the coming of the kingdom of God and of the authority of Christ, take place. From that time on, the people of the new Israel have been able to claim victory over the dragon, because of the Lamb’s death and their witness to their own experience of its power. 12, 121

It is God’s will that there should be law and order. It is the devil’s achievement that there should so often be bad law and tyrannical order...But neither will (the saints) worship at its shrine, and be swayed by its talk of ‘patriotism’, and give it ‘the clerical blessing it so much desires’. They reserve the right to criticize, and to discern continually between the state functioning properly under divine authority, and the state acting illegitimately as divine authority. 13.1-10, 124

The true Lamb also offers a sign to lead men to embrace salvation. That is why the false lamb’s Satanic message is so deceiving. But the true sign is himself, Christ’s own miraculous life embodied in his church today, and the true salvation to which it points is also himself, the living Christ. All other signs and systems are the voice of the beast. 13.11-17, 128

The virginity of the 144,000 has caused needless questioning...But we know what he means. Love for parents, which he himself commands, is to be so far surpassed by love for him that it will seem in comparison like hatred. In the same way, he lays down, as an essential part of marriage, total commitment to one’s partner (Mt. 19:3–6); and then says here in verse 4 that to follow the Lamb means a commitment on the spiritual plane so total that in comparison with it no other ties exist. 14.1-5, 132–133

Through the centuries that signal deliverance is recalled by the annual death of the Passover lamb; and in the fullness of time, following the death of a greater Lamb, the real Israel is rescued and the real Egypt destroyed. The song of Moses and the song of the Lamb are one and the same. It would be wrong to say that the exodus was the ‘real’ deliverance while the cross and resurrection were ‘only the spiritual’ one. It would be truer to say that the spiritual deliverance by Christ is the real one, while the exodus was ‘only historical’. 15.2-4, 138

God is grimly vindicated when godless society, which rose so proudly against him and his church, and claimed to provide a viable alternative, is shown to be unequal to the task. 16.10, 147

The battle between good and evil which has been going on throughout history will end with the victory of Jesus Christ. (Genesis 3:1-Revelation 12:9, 20, Genesis 11-Revelation 17-18) As Jesus said in the Beatitudes, the age to come will be an overturning of society. Those that laugh and prosper now will be the on the bottom and those poor that mourn now because they seek God’s righteousness will be on the top.

The ‘world’ in a spiritual sense, meaning human society organized independently of God, and represented in Scene 4 by the beasts and here in Scene 6 by Babylon and her beast, is as impermanent as anything in the physical ‘world’...But John shows us finally how repulsive she is; what has made her drunk is her apparent victory over those who witness to the Christian truth she hates (verse 6), and for that she will be shunned by all who hold truth dear. 17.1-6, 159–160

Just as Christ lived, died, rose again, and now lives for evermore, so the beast was, is not, will rise again from the pit, and will go to perdition. Those whose names are ‘written in the book of life’ are aware of this. They know that however well the powers of evil, like Pharaoh’s magicians, succeed in aping the power of God, in the end he will be the victor. 17.7-18, 162

Whether it is totalitarian repression or decadent capitalism which Christians have to cope with, they need to be reminded that neither the beast nor the woman is permanently in power, despite all the symbolism of the ‘everlasting hills’, and that one day their universal dominion will be in retrospect no more than a nightmare from which one has awakened. Revelation 18, 167

The bottom line in Revelation is that Jesus wins. He will judge evil and his righteous standards will prevail. The plan of God to make the entire earth a “garden” in which humans reflect God in their character and care for creation will finally be realized. Jesus the God-Man is the one who must step back into his creation to make this happen.

The mouthpiece of this Satanic gospel is Babylon the whore. Through her he sets about his twofold project of destroying the servants of God, the inner circle, and corrupting the earth, the outer circle. But from above God reaches down, with salvation both for his church and for his world, and glory and power which more than equal Babylon’s. His voice speaks judgment; Babylon the destroyer is finally herself destroyed; and church and world are safe for ever. 19.1-5, 171

There is not even a verb in the future tense anywhere in these verses. They describe not what Christ is going to do but what he is: conquering King, righteous Judge, Captain of the armies of heaven. It will only be at his parousia that ‘every eye will see him’ like that (1:7); but at no time, not even on the cross, has he ever been anything other than that.  19.11-16, 183

The name of Ezekiel’s Gog is extended to cover all ‘who do not know God and … who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus’ (2 Thes. 1:8). This is how things are in the last analysis. In the end there is only Christ or Satan: Christ who lives for ever, and those with him, and Satan who dies for ever, and those with him; between whom men are choosing daily—while they may. 20.4-10, 193–194.

The judgment is still according to works; the question is, whose works? The book of life belongs to the Lamb (13:8), and all whose names are in it belong to him; his obedience covers their sin, and his power within them produces holiness. They are therefore accounted righteous because of his righteousness, both imputed and imparted to them. Those however who have not accepted the shame of sin and the glory of salvation, and have never had their names written in the book of life, have nothing to plead but their own righteousness; and that is woefully inadequate to exempt them from the ‘second death’, the death of the soul. 20.11-15, 196–197

The seventh day proclaimed the end of the law, the end of the entire Old Testament system based upon it, and the end of the reign of sin which drew its strength from it. But the Sunday, the eighth day, did more. It proclaimed Christ to be ‘Son of God in power … by his resurrection from the dead’ (Rom. 1:4). The first day of a new week was in fact the first day of a new age. 21.1-9, 202

Well would it be for the church in her present unlovely state if she could recapture first a sense of awe appropriate to a vision of such splendour; then a sense of amazement that she, unworthy as she is, should be raised to the place of honour by her beloved Husband in the wedding feast of heaven; and finally a sense of determination that so far as in her lies, she will be worthy. Since she thus hopes in him, she will purify herself as he is pure (1 Jn. 3:3). 21.9, 205

The first chapter of the Bible describes how God made the world; the last one shows how he will remake it. The creation as it was, and as it will be, is an immense organism alive with the life of God, for the stream flows ‘from the throne of God and of the Lamb’, and thence ‘through the middle of the street of the city’. Notice here that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and the Son’s power not only creates but also sustains the whole thing. 22.1-5, 212

The final state is directly related to this present life: it will be a repayment to every man for what he has done here. And it is Christ’s recompense, since ‘what he has done’ means really ‘what he has done with Christ’ and ‘what he has allowed Christ to do through him’. 22.11-15, 216.

Revelation is a ‘pledge of his love’. We could do without it; it tells us nothing we could not learn elsewhere in Scripture. But Jesus has given it to us as a sacrament of the imagination, to quicken the pulse and set the soul aflame over the gospel which all too often we take for granted. 22.20, 222

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