Posts Tagged With: angels

Revelation 16: Armageddon Begins

DRH31

I know, it is the eve of Mayan Apocalypse.  No, this post is not about that.  We have come to the end, at least for Rome.

The seven angels come forward and cast out the contents of their golden bowls onto various aspects of the natural world (the earth, sea, rivers, the Euphrates, sun, sky) and on the throne of the beast (Rome, itself).  The bowls are filled with “plagues” (16:9), and we can’t help but think of the Exodus, especially when people are afflicted with painful sores, water is turned to blood, the world is plunged into darkness, and a river is dried up.  Let there be no mistake.  This is a second Exodus (or a third, if you count the Babylonian invasion, captivity, and return towards the end of the Old Testament).  Rome is another Egypt.  Caesar is another Pharaoh.  Just like Pharaoh, there are hard hearts in the crowd:

They cursed the name of the God who had authority over these plagues.  They did not repent or give him glory. (16:9b)

But unlike the Egyptians, many who softened and begged Pharaoh to relent, the average Roman remains hardened, cursing God and refusing to repent.  In the first two sets of seven, we had an interlude between the sixth and seventh bowl or trumpet which was spoken to the saints directly intending to bring hope.  We have an interlude here, but only for the triumvirate of evil (dragon, beast, and false prophet, 16:13) to gather forces to enter battle from forces marching from the east across the “dried up” Euphrates.  The march to the bloody end continues, and will do so for three more chapters in a grand mix of images.

The term “Armageddon” is a Hebrew derivative and comes from 16:16 where Wright follows several MEGGIDOMAPNICE translations and calls the site of the last battle “Mount Megiddo.”  That translation is not unanimous, in fact, this passage is a hotly contested one.  Is this referring to the city of Megiddo in northern Israel?  Is this referring to a mountain (that Megiddo did not have)?  Is this being used symbolically (which I suspect), as Megiddo had been the site of many pivotal battles between nations from that area of the world?  We run the risk of getting too caught up in specific details.  The fact that East meets West in Israel (some say) in this vision is why people inclined towards latter-day prophecy see some final battle involving the modern state of Israel and tension in the Middle East, especially Iran now (though, wasn’t it Iraq ten years ago?).  Mix religion with American foreign political policy and you can see how this gets messy in a hurry.

Mount Megiddo?

Mount Megiddo?

Back to the Bible: today, it all ends with the seventh bowl, where a divine voice says “It is done!” (16:17) — an echo of the cross? — and the great city (Rome, presumably) both falls in an unparalleled earthquake and is crushed by gigantic hailstones.

I am struck by how the people of the great city have become so depraved that God’s punishment has only caused them to become more set against God and resistant to repentance.  But after the evil we have seem in Newtown, Connecticut and various other places recently, I shouldn’t be surprised.

What made you wonder in this chapter?

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Revelation 15: Victorious by Death

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Today’s short chapter is largely a preparatory one.  Seven angels come forward to the heavenly temple to receive bowls filled with the final acts of judgment from God.  These will be poured out in the next chapter.  Also in the scene is a collection of people standing beside a glassy sea.

There, by the glassy sea, stood the people who had won the victory over the monster and over its image, and over the number of its name. (14:2)

What strikes me is that this group are those who have won.  But remember this is a heavenly scene.  They have won but they won by dying.  Death is what brought them victory.  Being willing to die is how they won.  The battle was for their souls.  Would they give up their integrity and faith to stay alive through compromise or would they show the forces of evil that God has greater power over their souls than that.  Every time a person is willing to suffer rather than give in to compromise another victory is won for the Lamb.

What did you notice today?

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Revelation 14: Living with End-Time Vision

The conflict in John’s visions lets up for a moment, and now things are about to get loud!

John has a new vision, this time of the Lamb and the 144,00 marked on their foreheads for rescue and reward.  Standing on Mount Zion in the ideal city of God safely away from the pressing of the grapes of God’s wrath outside of the city (14:20).  So the praise erupts.  A thunderous, cascade of harps and a new song just for the moment.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this scene?  How does one ensure he will be there (14:4-5)?

  • Avoid sexual immorality
  • Follow the example of Jesus aggressively
  • Be ready to suffer and sacrifice
  • Speak with utter truth and purity

These qualities would have been especially poignant for the original recipients of this book.  Life in the Roman Empire where they were being progressively pushed towards life-and-death decisions made them daily have to determine whether they were willing to remain unspotted like the 144,000 of this vision (maybe recent Christian martyrs like Antipas who had been faithful unto death, 2:14?).  A little lie about their beliefs could save them some harassment.  Avoiding oppression through participation in the religious cults of the Empire and the trade guilds (unions) of their towns would also place them into sexually immoral situations, for sure.  Were they ready to follow Jesus’ example of holiness even to the point of sacrifice?

Many of us are not in the same immediate threat of physical harm and economic marginalization because of our faith.  But the pull to engage in a culture that is far too sexual and dishonest is still very real.  One can stand out too much in business and culture.  One can be too religious, right?  The call to faithfulness is one we need to hear too.

Begin with the end in mind

Begin with the end in mind

Maybe it helps to think like the second angel mentioned in this chapter:

Babylon the Great has fallen!  She has fallen! (14:8)

Remembering that apocalyptic literature is stated in code, Babylon is certainly a reference to Rome.  As Babylon was the immoral and barbarous nemesis of the people of God in the last part of the Old Testament, likewise Rome is to the nascent Church.  The trouble is that Rome had not fallen.  In fact, when John is writing this Rome is a great height of power.  She still has the ability to make her mark on these Christians (14:9) and to kill.

Maybe the point is that to live faithfully in the midst of hard times requires end-time vision.  We must remain focused on how things end, not how they are right now.  We must bear in mind where each of the forks in the road leads in the end, not what they look like right now.  The Rome of our lives have fallen.  They are fading away.  The Lamb will win in the end.  A new city is coming where the harvest is gathered in for abundant living (14:14-16).  That was certainly one of the reasons for this whole book: the give end-time vision to a persecuted people so as to strengthen their resistance.  Often, we need that encouragement too.

What stood out to you?

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Hebrews 2: Why Worship a Man?

Maybe you are one of the over 20 million people who have viewed Jefferson Bethke “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” video in the two months since it was released and quickly went viral.  Since then, several take-off versions have been produced from Muslims, pro-religious Catholics, and even atheists.  Our friend Hifzan Shafiee, who has commented on here often, has collected on his blog the original Bethke video, the Muslim version, and the Catholic response. Check all three videos out on this one post of his.

Notice these lines from the Muslim version of the “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” video, because they express thoughts the ancient Hebrew Christians might have understood:

You [Christians] say Jesus was God, and that God had descended
We [Muslims] say Jesus was man, for Jesus was dependent
Our God is all great and cannot be comprehended . . . 

See, we used to worship the creator, until Satan turned us to the creation
You began to worship the people, and neglect the one who made them
We began to believe that God had died, but how could a God even be created? . . .

And know that just because you love Jesus, doesn’t mean he feels the same way about your affection
See, what you believe in is exactly what he resented, matter of fact it’s everything he despised
See, the worshipping of creation goes against the very message he supplied.

The Muslim hang up stated so strongly here, is the same objection that seems to be behind Hebrews 2:  Why would you worship a human man named Jesus?  To a Muslim that seems blasphemous.  To a first century Jew who favors angel veneration, a sentiment that had a bit of traction with the Christians being addressed in Hebrews, this idea would seem ridiculous.  Aren’t spiritual beings like angels a better object of your esteem than a man?

The answer for both the Hebrew Christians and detractors of Jesus today is the same.  Yes, there was a time when God made Jesus “a little lower than the angels” (2:7).  But this was for a purpose.  God did this so that Jesus “might taste death on behalf of everyone” (2:9).  But Jesus didn’t just die; that was a precursor to the much greater purpose God had in store: “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death — that is, the devil — and set free the people who all their lives long were under the power of slavery because of the fear of death” (2:14-15).  And in becoming a part of the human brotherhood, God in the form of Jesus became a truly sympathetic God (2:17-18).  After all, Jesus was far more than just a man.

It is a truly magnificent thing to have a transcendent, spiritual God, so majestic that he is surrounded and served by angels.  It is also a humbling honor to have an immanent God who understands what our life is like because He lived it and can show us the way to true holiness and submission.  In Christ, the Creator became like the Created.  In Jesus, God can be both.  Why settle for less of a God?

What struck you in this chapter?

Categories: Hebrews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Hebrews 1: Superior to Angels

As I think back to growing up in Canada, I can only remember one or two visits from the Queen of England, the figurehead of Canada, a part of the British Commonwealth.  Those were big occasions.  Life stopped and people fell over themselves to give her honor.  Much more frequent were visits from her family members.  Early on, before he fell out of popularity, Prince Charles would visit.  When he took a beautiful, charming bride named Diana, they visited several times, to huge crowds as well.  Last year, the Queen’s grandson William’s and his stunning bride Kate’s first official royal visit as a couple was to Canada.  This was a great honor and they were greeted with open arms and much love.

When British political leaders would visit Canada, though, I don’t remember much pomp and circumstance.  There is a British ambassador to Canada but nobody makes a big deal out of him.  Most Canadian don’t even know who he or she is.

If you are the king or queen, you are deserving of the highest honor.  If you are the child of the king, great honor is given as well.  Servants of the king just aren’t as highly esteemed.

It would seem odd to run off from a parade for William and Kate to a dinner for a British parliamentarian.  When you can get the grandson why settle for a subject?

The author of Hebrews would most certainly agree.  There was a strain of first century Judaism that emphasized angels, maybe even to the point of veneration.  It would appear the Hebrew Christians came from this background.  To them the author asked:

For to which angel did God ever say, “You are my son; today I became your father?”  Or, again, “I will be his father, and he will be my son?” (1:5)

But he did say this to Jesus, one who is superior to angels in every way.  So why trade Jesus for angels?

"Let all God's angels worship him." (1:6)

As we begin Hebrews, ask yourself what “lesser things” sometimes supplant Jesus as the Lord of our life?

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