Revelation 4-5. The scene in heaven is a sharp contrast to the condition of the churches in 2-3. If the churches represent God’s hold on planet earth, that hold appears to be tenuous at best. But in heaven…in heaven God’s rule is unquestioned. The imagery and mood of John’s writing fill the reader with dread. Although the heavenly vision pictures the holiness and transcendence of God, of Him who sits on the throne, it’s a holiness and transcendence that is foreign to us. And like John in chapter 1, we feel compelled to fall as dead men before this vision. And although the scene fills us with dread, it truly is an amazingly hope-filled story. It’s the reconciling of heaven and earth. It’s “Thy will being done on earth as it is in heaven”. Shouldn’t surprise us that this collision will result in major collateral damage.
The opening of the seals in Revelation 6 mark the beginning of the process of reconciliation. Jesus appears as the white horse rider coming out conquering and to conquer (the white horse rider bookends the tribulation…here at the beginning in chapter 6 and at the end in chapter 19. The tribulation then is His conquering.). Judgments representing the curses of the covenant designed to bring Israel to repentance follow with the red, black and pale horse riders. The martyrs under the throne (tribulation saints most likely) long for the process of God’s rule being realized on earth as it is in heaven to reach fulfillment. The martyrs are the heroes in the book of Revelation, the overcomers who overcome “because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” And in the sixth seal the undoing of the work really begins as cataclysmic destruction rocks the earth.
Terrifying visions. Final judgment. Cosmic wreckage. What do we do with it? In a world increasingly similar to the overwhelming chaos that the early church was plunged into, we do the same thing the early church did. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Know for certain that Jesus wins.
What a ride! Twelve weeks in the book of Daniel. Terrifying visions, steadfast faith, incredible courage, unwavering commitment, a new chapter. The rules have changed during the Times of the Gentiles. Up is down, and down is up. Doing right brings punishment, while conforming to the world brings comfort. Following God will not be easy, but for those with insight and the courage to persevere, their inheritance is secure. As the divine messenger says, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” In the midst of a world seemingly out of control, Daniel is reminded (and reminds us) that God is still in control…”For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.”
A good friend of mine shared a lesson learned from Daniel that has rocked him. He used to ask the “why?” question when it came to suffering. Why, if he was following God, was he having to go through this or that trial. Then he came to expect suffering as part of the life of the believer…he became, as Kierkegaard labels it, a knight of resignation. But Daniel has helped him see that suffering doesn’t have to be faced with resignation…suffering is part and parcel to following Jesus, but that suffering can be faced with hope and even joy…not in the pain itself, but in the identification that we have with Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we won’t grieve. Quite the contrary. We’re called to grieve, but not as those who have no hope. He’s learning what it means to be Kierkegaard’s knight of faith. May God give us the courage and steadfastness of Daniel to face life in the fourth kingdom, and may we do it with an undying hope
I recently started taking classes again at a local university. It’s been awhile since I’ve sat through a college class, and this is my first introduction to philosophy. One thing I’ve discovered through this experience…you never get over the fear of taking a test. I’m 43 years old, and I’ve lived through a lot of tense situations, including a 60ft all down the side of Long’s Peak. I should “know” better. There are lots of things in life to be anxious about…marriage, kids, jobs, etc. But tests still scare me. So I can’t imagine the hopeful terror of having Jesus evaluate my church. Welcome to Revelation 2-3.
Seven churches. Seven different evaluations, but all following a similar path: characteristic of Jesus, something the church is doing well, something the church is not doing so well, warning about failed improvement, and reward for overcoming. Of the seven churches, two (Smyrna and Philadelphia) are entirely positive evaluations (positive is a relative term when you consider that both of these churches are facing significant persecution); and one of the seven (Laodicea) is lacking any affirmative commendation. The overall condition of the church is questionable. To this group of churches, John writes this letter (on behalf of Jesus) as a very strong exhortation. He is writing to spur believers on to greater perseverance, to be overcomers. He is not writing to assure weak believers of their salvation. The battle is real, and he is calling everyone to be all in.
Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Jesus wins. That’s what the book of Revelation is all about. The temptation of the early church, for these seven churches, and for the church today is to look at the world we find ourselves in and to either withdraw from the world or be conformed to it. Revelation offers a third way. Engage it. Head on. Run after Jesus.
Not again. The visions come back more vivid and haunting each time. It was hard enough seeing Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the statue. Now I’m starting round 4 of my own visions of the future and kingdoms to come. And each vision adds more detail and yet becomes more obscure, more opaque. I’m frightened, puzzled and perplexed. I know God’s in control of the events unfolding on the world’s stage, but these visions terrify me!
Daniel 11. This is now Daniel’s 4th pass through the prophetic events of the coming Gentile kingdoms. This time in Daniel’s prophecy there is a combination of events that are now historical for us (still future for Daniel) and events that are still yet to come. Without a scorecard or a grasp of Ancient History, it’s difficult to follow what’s going on in this chapter. The first 35 verses are historical for us. Verses 36-45 appear to be still future. The first section narrows in pretty quickly to the civil wars between the Seleucids (North – Syria) and the Ptolemies (South – Egypt) post Alexander’s death in 333 B.C. Each dynasty has approximately 5 kings, and the political intrigue surrounding their reigns is summed up by Daniel (- approximately 200-300 years before the events take place!). These two warring factions are targeted because their battleground was primarily in Palestine, directly impacting the Jews in Jerusalem. The king of most interest is the final “king of the North” listed in this section, the Seleucid sovereign Antiochus IV (Epiphanes). He was the one who wreaked havoc on the Jews, forcing Hellenization on them and setting up the abomination of desolation (altar of Zeus in the temple). He will be the prototype for the future king spoken of in 36-45, the antichrist.
But why do we care? All this future stuff has to do with Israel and the Jews, right? So why do I, as a Gentile believer, care about what happens to the Jews? Because of Genesis 12. God promises Abraham that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Blessing comes through the nation of Israel. They are the root. They are the mother of Messiah from Revelation 12. We care about this stuff because our future is interwoven with theirs. We rise and fall with them in the end. If they don’t win, we don’t win. And if God is not faithful to Israel in the end, why do we think He will be faithful to us?