Saturday, September 15, 2018

Reading Through The Revelation #4 (Chapters 10-14)

Letters WrightI am continuing the read-through of the Revelation in my 2017-18 devotional read through of the New Testament, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. Chapters 10-14 complete the trumpet judgments and, in the presentation of 7 signs, give the reader an overview of the battle between good and evil, decisively won at the 1st coming of Jesus and which will be completed at his 2nd coming. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

In chapter 10 John is given the task of announcing the final judgment as he "eats the little book." The final judgment of God, announced by the strong angel, is about to commence and John is brought into the council of God to announce it to the world. The word of God is sweet to believers but bitter judgment to unbelievers. John's message is a mixture of bitterness with joy and comfort. Chapter 11 introduces two witnesses. Wright sees this as the historic martyr witness of the church which produces the repentance described at the end of the chapter. I think this is true, but the final persecution will bring a heightened fulfillment of this vision. Finally, the 7th trumpet announces the end of the present age and final judgment. God has begun to reign and the prophets, saints and worshippers are about to be rewarded. John sees the heavenly temple opened and the ark of the covenant symbolizing the presence of God with His people.

Eating the scroll’ is a vivid metaphor for the way in which the prophet, then or indeed today, can only speak God’s word insofar as it has become part of the prophet’s own life. It may be nourishing; it may be bitter; it may be both. This is part of what it means to say that God desires to act in the world through obedient human beings. 94-95, Revelation 10

The martyr-witness of the church, in other words, will succeed where the plagues have failed. This is how the nations will come to glorify their creator. This is how ‘the kingdom of the world’ will become the kingdom of ‘our Lord and his Messiah’ – which is precisely the point that follows immediately in verse 15. 100, Revelation 11.1-14

The Messiah, God’s son-king, will overthrow the nations as they rage and fight. Their best course, says the Psalmist, is to submit, to sue for peace. In John’s vision, here in this chapter, it has already happened. Notice the difference between verse 17 and passages like 1.4. There John spoke of God as the one ‘Who Was, and Is, and Is To Come’. Here he simply describes God as ‘Who Is and Who Was’, because the future has now arrived in the present. The ‘is to come’ has become reality. 105, Revelation 11.15-19

In 12-14 John goes back over the decisive battle between good and evil which begins its conclusion with the incarnation of Christ and comes to its final consummation when Christ returns to fully remove evil and all its effects and sets the world right. The first sign is the "woman" who probably represents the people of God from the Eve prophecy (Gen. 3.15), the nation of Israel from whom the Messiah comes, to Mary the mother of Jesus. The second sign, the dragon, represents Satan and his control over the world system which has always opposed God's kingdom and plan. The child represents Jesus Christ, his life, death, resurrection and ascension which defeat all the forces of evil. The war in heaven represents the fight that Satan makes through temptation and persecution of the church throughout the present age, and which will intensify in the end. The Beast from the sea probably represents Satan-inspired governments that persecute the church throughout the church age; Rome in John's time and the final attempt of Satan to rule at the end. The beast from the sea represents these evil governments attempt to replace God with, again, a final Satanic empowerment resulting in the beast and Satan being worshipped in the place of God, with messiah-like universal dominion and temporary authority to persecute believers. Believers throughout the age are called to persevere through this persecution and win this victory, as Christ did, through their suffering and death.

The decisive battle has been won, and the devil knows it; but his basic nature of ‘accuser’ is now driving him, more and more frantically, to the attack, to accuse where it’s justified and where it isn’t, to drag down, to slander, to vilify, to deny the truth of what the creator God and his son, the lamb, have accomplished and are accomplishing. This is the ongoing battle in which all Christians are engaged, whether they know it or not. 113, Revelation 12

It is through the faithful witness unto death that the lamb wins the victory, that God’s kingdom replaces the kingdom of the monster, that the dragon himself is to lose the last remains of his power.  118, Revelation 13.1-10

The parody, though, which was gaining ground all the time in western Turkey through the first century, was that the Roman empire, gaining its ultimate authority from the satanic dragon, was putting itself about as the world ruler. That was the first monster. And the second, like it but subordinate, seems to be the local elites, in city after city and province after province, who do their best not only to copy the monster at a local level but insist, in order to keep the monster’s favour, that everybody in their domain should worship the monster. 120, Revelation 13.11-18

This battle will be won by these "martyrs" who receive the "mark of God" in their person rather than the "mark" that identifies people with the "beasts." These "144,000 elite warriors for God" counter the power of the beast with their faith and their willingness to bravely stand up for God's truth to the point of death, in the face of the lie that humans can live independently of God. Verses 6-20 announce the judgment on the systems of the world (typified by the "monster" Babylon/Rome) that teach that humans can thrive apart from God and "prosper" on the backs of the people they oppress and God's people who they persecute. The judgment of the oppressor is pictured as a "harvest," a time of celebration in the ancient world, because evil, oppression and all that comes with it will be finally removed forever from the earth.

For John, one of the major features of the dragon’s whole system is the lie: he creates a world of untruth, a fake world, a sham system from top to bottom... Truth and lies may sometimes be hard to tell apart, but this is where we stand at the watershed. God’s victory is about the real world, the whole creation. The closer we are to God and to his lamb, the more we see everything clearly and should speak everything truthfully. 126, Revelation 14.1-5

This is ‘the gospel’, the ‘good news’, for those who live under ‘Babylonian’, monstrous, rule. First, God the creator is at last going to sort everything out (verse 7). Second, Babylon is fallen, after all her efforts to make the nations drunk with her own immoral wine (verse 8). Third, God’s judgment will be just, thorough and complete (verses 9-11). All this is, in this sense, ‘good news’ for those who have lived in a world of horror, torture and squalor. God is going to sort it all out! 130-131, Revelation 14.6-13

God’s time will come; God will bring his people safely home; God will take even the wickedness and rebellion of the world and make it turn to his praise and to the salvation of his people. And in the meantime his people are to be encouraged in their suffering. Martyrdom itself will be part of God’s purpose to bring his wise, healing order – which includes his relentless judgment on relentless sinners – to bear upon the world. 135, Revelation 14.14-20

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