Posts Tagged With: evil

Revelation 22: Come, Lord Jesus!

Here we are at the end.  The last chapter of the New Testament.  My last post on a reading.  I will post once more tomorrow in an effort to wrap things up.

Today’s chapter couldn’t be a better end.  It really shouldn’t be a surprise that the greatest Author of all ended His book in such a fitting way.  This is a great ending to Revelation and a great ending to the New Testament.

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John takes us back to where he started.  Back at the beginning of the book Jesus called on the seven churches of Asia Minor to decide which way they would go.  Would they become so enculturated that they compromised all that was distinctive about Jesus?  Or would they stand out as different people who serve a different Lord, even if it did mean persecution as a result?  Today, Jesus calls on his audience one more time to make that same decision:

God’s blessings on those who wash their clothes, so that they may have the right to eat from the tree of life and may enter the city by its gates.  But the dogs, the sorcerers, the fornicators, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves to invent lies — they will all be outside. (22:14-15)

Lest, we think Jesus speaks with indifference, we are also reminded of the immense love of God that wants all to come into His city:

The spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  and let anyone who hears say, “Come!” Let the thirsty come; let anyone who wants the water of life take it freely. (22:17)

Revelation has taken us from where we are, facing the many manifestations of evil that surround us, to a place of hope that life will soon be different.  Life is held in God’s hands as the true King all all things, still Revelation has never taken away our freedom.  We, the saints, must decide who we will be in this world.

And it is true.  Whether it was Jesus preaching from the Mount or defending himself before Pilate.  Whether we stood with the crowds in Jerusalem on Pentecost as Peter preached the first sermon of the church.  Whether it was the teachings of Paul, James, or John.  The point was always the same: We must decide.  Who will we be?

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. (22:21)

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Revelation 20: The Inevitable End of Evil

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What an incredible chapter!  But do we see the amazing, hope-filled news of this chapter or do we , like too many Christians, miss the forest for the trees?

Too often people’s views on Revelation are grouped according to the position one takes on the thousand years (or millennium) mentioned in this passage.  That is a shame, because this is the only passage in the entire Bible where a thousand-year period of spiritual significance is mentioned.  We are doing great injustice to this great book to make a passage that is singular and unclear at best the keystone by which we interpret the entire book. I refuse to do that here.  I will not deny that this passage is enigmatic (I suspect this is a symbolic period of time as numbers in Revelation are rarely literal, and a special “resurrection” of some sort for the martyrs killed under Roman persecution, not an historical period coming to all who are alive at the time), but we need to keep the main point in view.

This is the big scene in the whole drama.  Everything has been building to this point.  Last chapter, we saw the beast and the false prophet (the physical manifestations of evil in the life of the first recipients of this book) cast almost effortlessly into the lake of never-ending fire.  Now all that stands in the way of God’s great kingdom is Satan and his henchmen Death and Hades.  Satan is bound then loosed, then a military build-up takes place against God’s people almost as if to heighten the tension.  But then, as quick as it started, judgment is over.  God simply decrees the destruction of Evil and it is so.

Then fire came down and burned them up. (20:9)

Maybe that is the point.  God is in control.  There is sound and fury, but it signifies nothing.  When God decides to bring all things to an end, it is over.  This is God’s world.

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I have to admit that much of the time that is not how I see it.  And I would imagine the original readers of Revelation struggled to see it that way too.  But that is the incredible good news of Revelation: Even when it is hard to believe it, God is truly in control of all things.  We are on the winning side.

What caught your attention?

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Revelation 16: Armageddon Begins

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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 12: Victory by Faithfulness

In Revelation 12, John pulls back completely the curtain on the Seven Churches’ physical persecution.  Behind the persecutions of the Roman government, the economic embargoes on Christians and their businesses, the ways in which people are making their Christian neighbors feel ostracized and unwanted, behind all of this is the fury of Satan who has been cast out of heaven and is on his way down to the pit of fire.  In this cryptic book, this may be the clearest John gets as to why this is happening.  For that reason, some commentators have called it the center of the book, which it pretty much is chronologically too.

Satan — that ancient, devious, seven-headed red serpent (12:9) — is a defeated foe.  He knew enough (prophecies? conversation with God? his own observation?) to know that Jesus would be his undoing.  He Revelation+12+WOMAN-WITH-CHILDsets out to kill this child at birth.  But this plan is thwarted, and Satan and his angels are cast onto the earth.  Knowing he cannot get to the child, he goes after his mother (a character that no one before the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages interpreted as Mary, rather is either the true Israel with stars for the twelves tribes or more likely the Church where the twelve stars would be the apostles).  Further punctuating his waning power, Satan does not even succeed in drowning the woman with his terror.

Satan is defeated.  Do you believe it?  He does.

We probably have a hard time believing Satan is a conquered enemy because Jesus’ victory over Satan is an “already– not yet” victory.  Think back to yesterday’s post.  Satan suffered his fatal blow at the cross.  That was D-Day.  He is “already” conquered, but the complete victory has “not yet” come.  That V-E Day will be at Christ’s return when the New Creation comes and Satan and his friends Death and the Grave are thrown into the destroying pit of fire.

The original readers of this chapter would have had a hard time believing that Satan was losing power, too.  Evil raged about them.  Rome was Satan’s puppet, and Rome seemed to be winning.  For the recipients of Revelation, their “victory day” was still in the future, in fact they would not see it this side of the second death.  John acknowledges this:

Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to wage war against the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commands and the testimony of Jesus. (12:17)

Rome will not touch the whole Church, but these seven churches in Asia Minor are within Rome’s grasp.  Satan is defeated, but he is trying to take as many down with him as he goes.

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In this pivotal chapter of Revelation also comes the greatest piece of advice the Christians of Asia Minor will get in this book.  How is Satan defeated?

They conquered him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony, because they did not love their lives unto death. (12:11)

The power of victory resides in the blood of Jesus.  He has purchased their rescue.  But they have a role to play in the reversal of Satan’s power as well.  They must stay true to God.  They must spread the news about the Lamb.  They must let go of the pleasures of this life, not fearing even death itself.  The testimony of their witness — both in their words and their actions of faithfulness to the end — render the power of Satan and Rome powerless to stop them.

What did you notice in this chapter? 

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Revelation 9: Undeterred Evil and Protected Saints

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With today’s reading we are solidly in the section of Revelation that is both hard to understand in a simple reading and that reveals aspects of God that we neither think a lot about nor welcome.

After running quickly through the first four trumpets, John concentrates his attention on the fifth and sixth.  As the revelation unfolds we see an army of lion-toothed locusts armed like scorpions come up out of the underworld to invade the world bringing torment as they go.  With the sixth trumpet this only intensifies as a numberless horde of long-haired barbarians wreaks havoc on the countryside (bear in mind that the barbarians of northern Europe did in fact bring the end to the Roman Empire in the 400s AD).  More than torment, this army of riders brings death to a wide swath of people.  As a great fan of Tolkien, I can’t help but imagine an army of demented and distorted orcs marching across the land.  Notice the faithful who have been marked on their foreheads by God as His are protected entirely from the effects of the trumpets (9:4).  John now has God unleashing evil forces to punish the wicked.  Maybe we are uncomfortable with this idea of God using evil, but here it is.

Maybe the most amazing point in this chapter is that even after all of this torment, even after a third of the world dies, the people being punished were so bent towards evil that they did not turn from their sinful ways:

All the other people, the ones who had not been killed in these plagues, did not repent of the things they had made.  The did not stop worshipping demons — idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see, hear, or walk.  Nor did they repent of their murders, or their magic, or their fornication, or their stealing. (9:20-21)

Sadly, I have to believe that there are people alive today who are every bit as depraved as these.

What do you think?

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Revelation 6: The Great Reversal Begins

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Yesterday we were introduced to the scroll of destiny.  Today the lamb begins to open the seals one by one.  As each seal is broken some monumental event takes place.  The first four seals launch a horseman — yes, the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”  Off they go on white, red, black and pale horses bringing death in various ways as they go.  Whether battle, disease, famine, or even wild animals, when the time comes for the seals to be broken Death personified will ride into the lives of those who have oppressed God’s people.  If we look at the history of the Roman Empire in the three hundred years after John’s vision, that is exactly what we see happen.  And so often since then, we have seen Death have his way with the godless regimes of human history.

But why is this happening?  We might wonder.  Some may bristle at passages like this one.  There is no escaping that in this passage God is orchestrating the death of at least the fourth of the world’s population (6:8), if we are to take that number literally.  Some might object that this sort of action is beneath God.

how-long-o-lordBut this is not just violence for violence sake.  God doesn’t go on a tear for no reason at all.  Here we get a stark look at the justice of God.  We must remember that justice is on the other side of the coin from the forgiveness and mercy we like to focus on.  When people are seeking forgiveness, the good news is that it is available.  But when there are powers afoot that desire only their own will and have no regard for God or moral living, good news for those oppressed can only be the punishment of the tyrants of this world.

The fifth seal reveals the cause of the first four.  The “witnesses” who have died because of their faith are now revealed shouting at the top of their voices:

How much longer are you going to put off giving judgment, and avenging our blood on the earth-dwellers? (6:10)

As the sixth seal is broken and the world as we know begins to melt (highly poetic language borrowing all the standard apocalyptic symbols for cataclysmic change), the oppressors of the righteous know they will be made to pay for their transgressions and hope that hiding will save them:

Hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne, and from the anger of the lamb!  The great day of their anger has come, and who can stand upright? (6:16-17)

Some who read Revelation are turned off because of its violence.  This is a picture of God they deem unbecoming.  However, as anyone who has ever been persecuted for their faith can tell us, there are some situations in life where justice is the only way to rectify a situation.  To not bring evil to an end would, in fact, be unjust and erode the very fabric of life.  Revelation is dark in many places, but always in vindication of the faithful who have suffered even unto death.

The times, they are a-changin’.  The balance is shifting.

What did you notice in this chapter?  

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1 Peter 2: Overcome Evil with Good

For the recipients of 1 Peter a big part of their suffering had to do with injustice.  We can read between the lines of this chapter to see that pagans in their communities were “speak[ing] against [them] as evildoers” (2:12), likely “insult[ing]” them (2:23) and producing something “painful” in their lives (2:19).  They had every right to fight back, trade insult for insult, and stoop to the level of their slanderers.  They were likely even tempted to do so.

Our suffering today comes from many places, including the misdeeds and maliciousness of others.  People talk bad about us behind our backs at school and work.  People even assassinate the character of others at church.  Whether in word or by looks or even simply by exclusion, pain is produced in our lives that we do not deserve.  How is a Christian supposed to respond faithfully to that sort of suffering?

Peter starts by reminding us that long before we were “rejected” and “insulted,” Jesus suffered the same treatment.  Jesus became the proverbial cornerstone in this house of rejection for which we are the “living stones” (2:4-5).

The Messiah, too, suffered on your behalf, leaving behind a pattern for you, so that you should follow the way he walked.  He committed no sin, nor was there any deceit in his mouth.  When he was insulted, he didn’t insult in return, when he suffered, he didn’t threaten, but he gave himself up to the one who judges justly. (2:21-23)

In the face of injustice, Jesus relied on his Father to bring justice, he didn’t try to produce it himself.

Of utmost importance, though, is that we face the injustice that comes our way with the spirit of Jesus.  Many people have noticed that few New Testament letters seem to echo Jesus as closely as 1 Peter.  That is especially clear in today’s chapter.  We must not give our offenders any reason to think they were right about us.  We are to keep such good conduct, even in the face of injustice, that people are impressed with our virtue and maybe even begin to believe our God is real (2:12).  It is our virtue that will “silence foolish and ignorant people” (2:15), not our well-crafted defenses nor by trading insult for insult.  If all we do is take our licks when we do something wrong, there is nothing special about that.  The higher calling is to “bear patiently” with unjust mistreatment (2:20).  That is testimony to a special spirit.

In fact, Peter bottom lines it for us this way:

This, after all, is what came with the terms of your call. (2:21a)

Deep down at the core of what it means to be a Christian was the reality that following Jesus will inevitably bring rejection, injustice, and suffering.  Maybe we were looking for the “get out of hell free” card, but it comes with the cost of discipleship.

What did you learn today about suffering?

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BONUS: An Introduction to John’s Letters

Though never identified in the letters, the author of the Johannine letters is almost certainly the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, and author of the Gospel of John.  Based on writing style, there is good reason to think the writer of Revelation is a different John.  The John who wrote 1, 2, and 3 John was one of the inner circle of apostles and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).  Though he started his adult life a fisherman, he ends it as one of the pillars of the new, growing Christian church, a highly respected leader in the Ephesus area in particular.

“The Apostle John” by Rembrandt

The Johannine letters are likely some of the latest parts of the New Testament.  Some date John’s letters to the late 80s.  If this is correct, the first generation of those who had actually seen Jesus were dying and John was pure royalty.  Given that no specific recipients are mentioned in 1 John, the first epistle was likely a circular letter distributed among a diverse group of Christians, especially in Asia Minor around Ephesus.  Given the general nature of the teachings of the letter, that makes perfect sense.  Second and Third John are equally as general and universal.

Most scholars situate the Johannine letters in the context of Gnosticism.  This false version of Christianity really blossomed in the second century AD but it was likely an early version John was addressing.  Gnosticism taught that the physical was evil and the spiritual was good.  The fleshly body was wasting away and either an impediment to holiness or a temporary object of no consequence to be used and abused because only the soul really mattered.  Gnosticism derives its name from the Greek word “gnosis” which means “knowledge,” because the truly spiritually enlightened ones have a special knowledge that sets them apart from their more earthbound peers.  With these beliefs, a good Gnostic could not believe Jesus was fully human and flesh.  One version of Gnosticism called “doceticism” taught that Jesus only seemed to be flesh and another version called “Cerinthianism” taught that the man named Jesus gained his spiritual nature at baptism and lost it before he died.  We will hear John attacking this sort of thinking in his letters, 1 John especially.  As the flesh was evil, one was supposed to either deny his fleshly desires through asceticism (seen earlier in Colossians) or indulge the flesh in licentiousness.  This latter version seems to be the one John addresses.

John wrote 1 John to expose false teaching and counter any wrong thinking about Jesus that had cropped up.  As one of the last eyewitnesses of Jesus, John could testify that Jesus was indeed flesh.  John also believed that the libertine worldliness of pre-Gnostic Christianity was eroding the true Christian witness.  In 2 and 3 John, John encourages faithful Christians to extend hospitality to evangelists he would have sent out even if powerful, possibly-Gnostic leaders in his church opposed him.

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Luke 24: But God Wins in The End!

Some times, yes, evil wins the day. . . . But let there be no question, God will win the war.  When all is said and done, God will vanquish all forces of evil and disorder and disease that stand against him.

Why do I believe that?  Where is the proof?  Is that only wishful thinking?

The women went to the tomb in the very early morning of the first day of the week, carrying the spices they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and when they went in they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.  As they were at a loss what to make of it all, suddenly two men in shining clothes stood beside them.  The women were terrified, and bowed their faces toward the ground.  But then men said to them, “Why look for the living with the dead?  He isn’t here — he been raised!” (24:1-6a)

The God who conquered sin, death, Satan, and evil that Sunday morning at the Garden Tomb is the same God we worship today.  No gangbanger, meth head, anti-government bomber, terrorist, deranged loner with a handgun, social injustice, prejudice, disease, depression, addiction, lack of love, selfishness or anything else will win the last day.  God wins.  Love wins.  New Creation wins.

That’s the Story, and I believe it.

What did you learn from this month’s reading of Luke?  

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Luke 23: Evil Won The Day

There is no mistaking Luke in this chapter.  Jesus was innocent.  He did nothing wrong.

“I find no fault in this man,” said Pilate to the chief priests and the crowds. (23:4)

“I [Pilate] examined him in your presence and I found no evidence in him of the charges you’re bringing against him.  Nor did Herod.” (23:14-15a)

“There is no sign that he’s done anything to deserve death.” (23:15b)

“What’s he done wrong?  I [Pilate] can’t find anything he’s done that deserves death.” (23:22)

“We’re [the criminals crucified with Jesus] getting exactly what we asked for.  But this fellow hasn’t done anything out of order.” (23:41)

“This fellow,” he [the centurion] said, “really was in the right.” (23:47)

Remember Luke is writing to the Gentile world where it might have been easy to write Jesus off as another rabble-rouser who got himself killed.  Maybe some said Jesus just got what was coming to him.  Luke makes it clear: he was an innocent man.  Pilate thought so.  Herod said as much.  Soldiers and bystanders saw it.  One of the criminals crucified beside him realized it.  Even one of the Jewish rulers, Joseph of Arimathea, wouldn’t go along with the court’s decision (23:51).  This was unjust, plain and simple.

And yet, Jesus was killed.  Pilate caved to the pressure of the crowd.  The conniving, power-hording Jewish leaders got their way.  Herod sat by and watched his people nail an innocent man to a cross like it was just another sideshow in the circus that was his kingdom.  Wright phrases the tragic reality of the situation well:

But they [the Jewish rulers and people] went on shouting at the top of their voices, demanding that he be crucified; and eventually their shouts won the day. (23:23)

Some days those who can shout the loudest win.  Some days wicked things are done.  Some days innocent bystanders are struck by gangbangers’ bullets.  Some days desperate meth heads break into houses and hurt the homeowners if they stand in the way.  Some days drug cartels take over whole parts of countries making them unsafe for virtuous people.  Some days angry citizens bomb their own federal buildings.  Some days terrorists fly planes into crowded office buildings.  Some days high school graduates are carted halfway across the globe to fight wars generals are not sure can be won.  Some days delusional loners cut down good people while they watch movies or shop in malls.  Some times evil wins the day. . . .

What injustice or act of evil do you lament today?

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