Black and white

The battle lines are clearly drawn. Receive the mark of the beast and life continues seemingly undisturbed – buy, sell, trade, etc. Refuse the mark and life becomes increasingly more difficult. If life is viewed from a purely earthly perspective, then the choice seems pretty clear. Viewed from a heavenly perspective the choice is likewise obvious. But gaining that celestial perspective while rooted on terra firma is a challenging task.

Revelation 14. We’re reminded that while things appear bleak for the followers of God on earth, it is the pursuers of the beast who are in real danger. They will experience God’s divine wrath poured out in full strength. Follow the beast or follow God. Those who trail the beast will live today, only to die eternally. Those who chase after God may die today, but will live eternally. Two reapings. One to eternal life. The other to eternal torment.

But what about the third group? Those who have signed up to follow God, they’ve trusted in Jesus, but are unwillingly to lay down their lives. They live in-between kind of lives. They want to enjoy the benefits of the peaceful life promised by the beast here on planet earth, while still anticipating a future home in heaven…they long for the best of both worlds. However, John doesn’t seem to have a category for the inbetweeners, believers who are unwilling to persevere (who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus). So what does that mean for us today? The church today seems to subsist in compromise, especially the American church. And that can’t make God very happy. It should be one or the other. You are for Him, or against Him. Being for Him doesn’t mean that you won’t still make bad choices at times, but it means that you are making the conscious decision to follow Him no matter the cost. That takes courage and a great deal of trust. May God give us a greater ability to see life from His perspective and courage to follow Him.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

A Scary Pair

Two beasts. One from the sea and one from the land. One terrifying agenda: wipe out all opposition. Leave no survivors. All must convert or die.

Revelation 13. The scene opens with the dragon standing on the seashore. The first beast appears, 7 heads and 10 horns, who is like a leopard, and his feet are like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gives him his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads appears to have received a fatal wound, but the wound has been healed. And the whole earth is amazed and follows after the beast; they worship the dragon because he gives his authority to the beast; and they worship the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” (Remember this is the guy who slew the two witnesses in chapter 11, who appeared to be unstoppable. His ability to slay the two witnesses made him somewhat of a hero, especially since it would have been easy to see the two witnesses as responsible for the judgments that had occurred thus far in the tribulation.) The beast will speak arrogant words and blasphemies against God and against heaven. He will make war with the saints and overcome them, and everyone who lives on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.

Using bestial imagery reminiscent of Daniel, John describes the man who will be empowered by satan with the trappings of the four beasts from Daniel’s vision of the Times of the Gentiles from Daniel 7. Based on John’s description, it is unlikely that he will be Jewish. His ability to slay the two witnesses and seemingly survive a fatal wound catapult him into instant star status…he is even worshipped as a god. No one will stand in his way, none can resist him. He slays the saints (overcoming them in the world’s eyes), and all those who are not God-fearers will worship him.

The second beast will come up out of the earth; and he will have two horns like a lamb and will speak as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes everyone worship the first beast. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it will be given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast. And it will be given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. The number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.

The second beast appears to be Jewish (from the land, lamb, false prophet). His job is to cause folks to worship the first beast. The false miracles that this guy performs mirror that of the two witnesses, and taken together, these two beasts form a diabolical duo who are the anti-two witnesses attempting to cause the world to follow after the dragon where the two witnesses call the nation of Israel to follow God.

The imagery in this section of Revelation would make for a great block-buster movie. Dragons, beasts, war, angels, end of the world…and while the fantastic pictures may cause us to want to ignore or dismiss the underlying reality of these terrifying images, it’s important for us to be reminded of the real spiritual battle that rages around us that will one day come to a culmination when heaven and earth begin to crash together, and the physical and the spiritual are again one. How then should we live? When the earth and the heavens are being shaken, we need to remember that we are residents of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. And our job is to invite others into that kingdom by sharing the good news of the gospel of reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus.

Until next time…stay salty.

On earth as it is in heaven

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.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Intimidating assessment

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.

Until next time…stay salty.

Answered Prayer?

Sixty-six years. Daniel had been in captivity for sixty-six years. He had come to Babylon as a young man and now was quite old. Most of his friends were gone…they had died somewhere along the way. Yet Daniel was unwavering in his hope that God would restore the nation. Reading the prophet Jeremiah, he came across the passage where God had mentioned the Jews being in captivity in Babylon for 70 years before judgment came upon the Babylonians. And now the time was near, or so it seemed. So Daniel began to pray, confessing the sins of the nation and asking God to restore them just as Moses had instructed in Deuteronomy. And suddenly an angel appeared, Gabriel in fact. And Daniel’s prayer was answered in a most surprising way.

Daniel 9. First Daniel’s told that 70 7’s had been decreed for his people and the holy city, “to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.” It turns out that the 7’s are years, so 70 7’s would be 490 years. According to the following verse, 69 of those 7’s (483 years) would span the time from the rebuilding of the city (time of Nehemiah) to the appearance of the Messiah (Jesus’ triumphal entry). But then Messiah would be cut off by the same folks who would also destroy the city. In the final 7 (tribulation) there would be a covenant made and then broken by a mysterious figure, a prince of these folks, who would then be destroyed.

Good news for Daniel: the righteous rule of God would be established. Bad news: not anytime soon. We are still in the time between the 69th and 70th 7. We’re waiting for the end of transgression and sin, the entrance of everlasting righteousness and the sealing up of prophecy. In some ways these things have been accomplished…in Jesus who is the “Stone cut without hands” and the “Son of Man” who comes up to the Ancient of Days. In His first coming, He made atonement for sin and paved the way for everlasting righteousness for all who believe in Him. But still we wait. We wait for the final revelation of the Son as the White Horse Rider and the ultimate end of sin, death, pain, sorrow, etc. And as we wait, like Daniel, may God find us just as faithful to impact our culture and point others to Him.

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Dark Days Ahead

The outlook was not good. Not good at all. The kingdom of the ram was challenging enough as it crushed all opposition. But on the horizon, the kingdom of the goat. It quickly gained momentum as it devoured the ram’s kingdom, finally defeating the ram itself thus making it officially the time of the goat. But shortly after establishing his throne, the goat-king died and his kingdom was divided up among his four generals. And while there was some coherence to the kingdom, there was also much infighting, until another king arose. He came to power through political intrigue, killing his predecessor and ascending the throne. After defeating his counterpart in the region to the south, he set his sights on the Beautiful Land. It would be a jewel in his crown and provide a buffer zone between his kingdom and that of the emerging kingdom of the beast. He set himself up as the king of the Beautiful Land, trampled underfoot its citizens and defiled their place of worship, forcing them to take part in his apostasy on pain of death. Only then he would be killed, but not by human agency… then Daniel awoke. Daniel 8.

The vision in itself was terrifying to Daniel and unintelligible. It occurred to him while he was still living in Babylon a short time before the kingdom was overthrown by the Persians. We are told that the vision relates to the next two kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles, namely Medo-Persia (the ram) and Greece (the goat), and from world history we can piece together with surprising accuracy the vision that was so confounding to Daniel. We know the first goat-king as Alexander the Great who defeated the Persians and then died shortly afterwards. His kingdom was divided between his four generals. The four generals became kings of their respective regions while maintaining the overall kingdom of Greece. There was a great deal of infighting among each of these dynasties as they sought to expand their individual domains. After a time, a king rose up in the Seleucid dynasty, and, killing his predecessor, he ascended the throne. That king was Antiochus Epiphanies. After defeating Ptolemy VI and taking over Egypt, he set his sights on Jerusalem. He attacked the city and set himself up as king. He set up an altar to Zeus in the temple and forced the Israelites to offer swine on the altar and eat its flesh…a thing that was abhorrent to the Jews. This prompted the Maccabean revolt led by Judas Maccabees. Antiochus was forced out of Jerusalem and died a short time later as a madman (making prophetic the title given him by the Jews, Antiochus Epimanes “Madman”).

This vision of Daniel’s is different than the two before (statue and beasts). Each of those ended with God setting up an eternal kingdom, but here all Daniel sees is the people of God being trampled and killed. It sure looked like they were losing. It troubled him. It should trouble us. During this time when we live in the shadow of the fourth kingdom, we shouldn’t expect to see God’s people winning from a human perspective. In fact, it looks like they chose the wrong side. But the story doesn’t end there…

Until next time…stay salty.

Wicked Nightmare

What a wickedly vivid nightmare! Four fantastical beasts, each one, in some ways, more terrifying than the one before. A lion with the wings of an eagle. A bear leaning to one side with three ribs in its mouth. A four-headed leopard with four wings. A horrific beast with iron teeth and bronze claws, having a number of horns, that bites and tears and devours. But then a radiant throne and the Ancient of Days sitting in judgment. And finally one like a Son of Man riding a cloud and coming up to the Ancient of Days to receive authority and a kingdom. Such was Daniel’s dream. And it deeply troubled him.

Daniel 7. When Daniel asked for the interpretation, he was told that the four beasts represented four successive kingdoms…much like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. Like the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, the lion with the wings of an eagle represented Babylon. That much Daniel could be sure of. But at the time of the dream, he was still living in the time of Babylon’s rule so the identity of the remaining kingdoms would have been a mystery. From world history, we know that the kingdoms that followed Babylon were Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. But the curious thing is…Rome never actually fell to another world power. For sure the city was sacked by the Visigoths and the Vandals from the north in the fourth century AD, but the kingdom itself faded into the background and became the European states that we know today.

The interesting thing for us in this vision is the fact that the final kingdom falls to the “One like a Son of Man” by whom the little horn that speaks out blasphemies against the Most High is cast into burning fire. This hasn’t happened yet. The little horn is also predicted to make war with the saints and overpower them – probably what terrifies Daniel…evil winning and good guys loosing. This we may think we have seen, but not to this extent. And so we wait. While it looks like following God is losing, we wait. While persecution intensifies, we wait. While our physical lives are seemingly thrown away like so much garbage, we wait. We wait for the eternal kingdom. But we also seek to engage the cultural now. We fight back the darkness and make it harder to go to hell. The Judge is coming, and when He arrives it will be too late for those who are His enemies. So we wait and we work and we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Until next time…stay salty.