Posts Tagged With: punishment

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 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 11: A Turning Point

The-turning-point-in-relationships-signTurning points.  We love them.  Or hate them, depending on which way things turn.  When things start turning in a favorable way, they are the dawning light of a new day.  They possess hope enough to fight on.

D-Day was one such turning point.  Thursday, June 6, 1944.  Tides turned for the Allied Forces on that day.  That Hitler and the Axis Powers had gone from the hunters to the hunted was becoming clear.  However, there was still fighting to be done.  V-E Day would not be for another eleven months, Wednesday, May 8, 1945.

In many ways I read this chapter, seemingly the contents of the bittersweet “little scroll” of chapter 10, as a similar turning point.

John receives a vision of two witnesses guarded safely through a period of persecution (42 months = 1260 days = 3.5 years = time, times, half a time → were all symbolic ways to depict an indefinite period of trial, based on Daniel 8).  However, when that time period is over and their message has been faithfully delivered, protection is lifted and the people of the “great city” of “Sodom” or “Egypt” kill them and leave them for public disgrace.  After 3.5 days, the two are resurrected and whisked away to the heavens.  At this point the angelic chorus of God’s throne-room breaks into unmatched praise and announcement of a decisive turning point.  Now is the time “to destroy the destroyers of the earth” (11:18).

Who exactly are the “two witnesses”?  There are many, many interpretations.  This may be one of the most contested passages in the book.  Almost all see that the two witnesses are described as Elijah (fire devouring enemies, shut up the sky from raining, v.5-6) and Moses (water turned to blood, calling down plagues, v.6), but who or what is being referred to by these figures?  If this vision is talking about actual people, I am most drawn to the suggestion that this would be Peter and Paul, both of whom died during the reign of Nero in public ways in Rome (always the “great city” in Revelation, and understandably like the immoral Sodom and tyrannical Egypt, v.8).

Now, fifteen years later, the Jesus movement did not in fact die as one might have expected it to after the persecutions of Nero.  Almost as if it were “back from the dead,” as strong as ever before, the tables have turned.  There are dark days ahead for the seven churches addressed in this book as Domitian brings a second wave of persecution in Asia Minor, but God will see them safely through this as he did before, at least safely through the second death of martyrdom to the great reward of new life.  Rome dealt its death-blow to those brought to Christ by the apostle to the Jews (Peter) and the apostle to the Gentiles (Paul), but death could not keep her down.  The fate of the kingdoms of the world is sealed at this point.  Victory is in sight.  Rome is going down.  Rome is now the hunted.  Justice is coming.  In many ways, what we will see as we keep on reading will be the undoing of the forces of evil opposed to God.

Verse 15 may be one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible:

The seventh angel blew his trumpet, and loud voices were heard from heaven.  “Now the kingdom of the world has passed to our Lord and his Messiah,” said the voices, “and he will reign forever and ever.”

There is nothing that God is after more than the redemption of His creation — people and place.  This is the New Creation, when this world is rescued from the forces of evil and it becomes the domain of God once again.  Here in the middle of the book we are given a glimmer of the glory to come.

What do you think?

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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 8: The Power of Prayer

ist2_305172-fluorescent-microscope-lensMy son has one of your typical microscopes that has three lenses that rotate, through which you can view a slide with gradual degrees of magnification.  At first you can look through the 10x lens and see a small insect or piece of a plant or a seed in its entirety.  Then you can switch to the 40x lens and finer features begin to reveal themselves, until with the 100x lens you see the finest of details you did not know even existed.  You are always looking at the same thing, but your ability to see the details grows as the lenses change.

Today we come to the second set of seven objects that deliver judgment on the world.  First it was seven seals.  Now it is seven trumpets, an object used universally in the ancient world to announce battle.  In a few more chapters we will come to seven bowls from which God’s wrath is poured.  Thinking as good westerners for whom all time is linear, we naturally think these three sets of seven are occurring chronologically one after another.  That is twenty-one doses of some bad medicine!

Robert Mounce, a respected commentator on Revelation, argues that it is better to think that these three sets  discuss the same events just with more and more detail as we move through the sets, as happens with my son’s microscope.  The seven seals largely described the woes of the world as socially-occurring events brought on my human selfishness: war, violence, maybe even famine and disease.  Now as the details of the matter come into focus with the trumpets we see that there is a divine hand involved in the judgment.  This way of thinks of the seals, trumpets and bowls is worth considering as we read.

8256_429422x250I also want to point out why God is unleashing divine judgment.  Much like the events of fifth seal in which we were allowed to see the faithful but persecuted Christians crying out for justice, the prayers of the righteous have come up to God in His glorious throne-room like incense and he is aware.

Another angel came and stood before the altar.  He was holding a golden censer, and he was given a large quantity of incense so that he could offer it, along with the prayers of all God’s holy people, on the golden altar, in front of the throne.  The smoke of incense, with the prayer of the saints, rose up from the hand of the angel in front of God. (8:3-4)

The prayers of people precious to God are powerful.  God sees their plight.  He hears their prayers.  He smells the desperate aroma of their lament.  God does not stand by aloof.

What hit you in a new way in this chapter?

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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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2 Peter 2: Like a Dog to Vomit

Peter gives one of the most detailed descriptions of a group of false teachers that I am aware of in the New Testament:

  • Their false teaching is destructive (2:1)
  • Their teaching can even cause someone to renounce Jesus (2:1)
  • They will be destroyed (2:1)
  • They will be popular (2:2)
  • Their practices are disgusting (2:2)
  • They cause people to blaspheme the way of truth (2:2)
  • They exploit people to satisfy their greed (2:3)
  • They prophesy, but falsely (2:3)
  • They follow their carnal lists (2:10)
  • They despise authority and arrogantly assert their own will (2:10)
  • They act more like irrational animals than the knowledgeable people they claim to be (2:12)
  • They hurl curses at things they do not fully understand (2:12)
  • Their lifestyle comes back to destroy them (2:12)
  • They are unjust (2:13)
  • They audaciously enjoy flaunting their decadence (2:13)
  • They turn Christian fellowship into crass parties (2:13)
  • They are especially inclined toward adultery (2:14)
  • Their appetite for sin is insatiable (2:14)
  • They especially target vulnerable people (2:14)
  • They are driven by greed (2:14)
  • They used to be orthodox but have since wandered after gain like Balaam (2:15)
  • They promise what they cannot deliver (2:17)
  • They teach their foolishness with charisma (2:18)
  • They promise people freedom, but they themselves are slaves to their immorality (2:19)
  • They are worse off than pagans because they have known Christ and have knowingly turned away (2:20)

I cannot even imagine this combination of characteristics.  It is unfathomable that all of these could be true of one group of false teachers and they were still persuasive to Christians.  The very fact that these false teachers seem to be as sexually immoral as they are described to be and still were considered credible is mind-boggling to me.  But that is probably because I am a post-Puritan Christian living in a time and place shaped by the Moral Majority where sexual sin is especially taboo.  Licentiousness was much more commonplace in the ancient Roman Empire.

The closest thing I can imagine to false teachers like these might be church leaders who wind up on the front page of the news because of their sex scandals and money-grabbing.  Inevitably their egos, appetites, and greed are their own undoing.  It is shameful, and as the honor of God is tarnished in the process there is no wonder justice so often comes.  However, even people like this try to hide their sin, whereas the false teachers of 2 Peter flaunted it.

Maybe the most important passage in today’s reading is Peter’s reassurance that God will not allow this sort of false teaching to overwhelm his Church.

The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from testing, and how to keep the unrighteous ready for the day of judgment and punishment. (2:9)

Peter’s audience surely needed this affirmation.

What caught your eye today?

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John 9: Who Has Sinned?

“Healing the Blind Man” by Edy Legrand

Jesus and his disciples come upon a man who had been blind since birth.  He appears to be a well known man in his community (9:8).  A conversation ensues concerning sin and who is at fault for this man’s condition.  However, throughout the chapter who the sinner is becomes a hotly contested question.

Conventional wisdom at the time said people like this were being punished for sin.  Maybe it was the sin of the person afflicted; maybe it was due to the sin of the parents.  The disciples are thinking like this (9:2).  Who is the sinner?  Either the blind man himself or his parents.

Then we hear the Pharisees tell us who they thought had sinned.  Simply put, they thought everyone had sinned, well, except for them.  Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, so surely he was the sinner (9:16, 24).  When the formerly blind man refuses to agree with them that Jesus was the sinner, they declare him to be a sinner too (9:34).

Ask the formerly blind man and he would tell you that it isn’t likely that Jesus is a sinner (9:25):

God doesn’t listen to sinners. (9:31a)

Could it be that this man who had been blind since birth could actually see the truth more clearly than the religious leaders of his time?

Then Jesus got the last word.  Earlier he made it clear that neither the sin of the blind man nor his parents was the cause of this man’s blindness.  Jesus said he came to bring sight to the blind, while those with sight would be blind.  The Pharisees correctly interpret this as a slight against them.  Jesus, then, says this:

If you were blind you wouldn’t be found guilty of sin.  But now, because you say, “We can see,” your sin remains. (9:41)

Who has sinned?  The Pharisees.  They know better, yet deny him nonetheless.

What did you see in this chapter? 

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Luke 16: Faithful in Little, Faithful in Much

“Rich Man and Lazarus, Part 1,” prettytexasgal (from Flickr)

Someone who is faithful in a small matter will also be faithful in a large one. Someone who is dishonest in a small matter will also be dishonest in a large one. If you haven’t been faithful with that wicked thing called money, who is going to entrust you with true wealth? (16:10-11)

What constitutes “faithfulness” in this passage?

I think I have always answered that question the way Dave Ramsey or Larry Burkett might want me to.  “Faithful” means managing your money in such a way that you do not lose it and maybe you even gain more.  Faithful is financial.

But then I see the word “dishonest”  in verse 10, so maybe faithful is ethical.  Being faithful with money means not cheating your employer or not selling junk bonds or something like that.

Then we keep reading on in the chapter and I am wondering if Luke doesn’t tell us himself what “faithful” means.  Luke gives us a story contrasting the life of a rich man who has “received good things” (16:25) but goes on to an eternal punishment and a poor man named Lazarus who would have settled for “scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” (16:21) but receives a blessed afterlife.  The implication is that the rich man is being punished for how he has treated or, maybe better said, neglected Lazarus.  If Luke intends for us to read these stories together, then “faithful” is social.  To be faithful means to be compassionate, to care for others, and to use the money with which God entrusts us to ensure the people in our life have what they need, not simply to serve our own interests.

Does that understanding make sense with your reading of this chapter?

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Matthew 24: In Case of Rapture. . .

Eschatology — the study of the end of this life and the advent of the world that is to come — is, by nature, a bit speculative.  The Bible does give us guidance but it is often slightly cryptic, imaginative, and figurative.  How, too, do you talk about something that is not exactly like this world?

I am going to use today’s post to do what many blogs do regularly: float ideas out there for review that are still in the formative stage.  I would love to hear what you think of these thoughts.

Like many, I grew up thinking of the next life as a place called Heaven that is out there past the wild blue yonder, certainly a place out there far away from our present, evil world.  A lot of education, steady reading of the Bible with new glasses on, and a bit of N. T. Wright and others have changed that view of the world to come radically.  I am uncomfortable with escapist theologies that paint this world that is precious to God and still owned by God as evil and disposable (Psalm 24:1).  I am finding more and more each day that indicates the new world (or Heaven, if you want to it that) will be right here on a renewed earth.  Emotionally this question really made a lot of things click for me: what parent would say of a rebellious and sinful child, I’ll get rid of him and get a new one?  God is in the business of redeeming; it only stands to reason that applies to all He created.

Let’s read this passage with that way of thinking in mind:

You see, the royal appearing of the son of man will be like the days of Noah.  What does that mean?  Well, in those days, before the flood, they were eating and drinking, they were getting married and giving children in marriage, right up to the day when Noah went into the ark.  They didn’t know about it until the flood came and swept them all away.  That’s what it’ll be like at the royal appearing of the son of man.  On that day there will be two people working in the field.  One will be taken; the other will be left.  There will be two women grinding corn in the mill.  One will be taken; the other will be left. (24:37-41)

Many of us are familiar with the belief that there will be a time slightly before the Second Coming of Christ when many Christians will be taken up out of this world and taken off to Heaven.  This is usually called the Rapture.  That is a belief I have never held, probably because I come from an amillennial tradition.  But as you can imagine, this belief doesn’t fit with the way I am proposing we should understand the future.  We are not going up and off to anywhere.  The New Jerusalem is coming here to a cleansed and renewed earth (Revelation 21-22).

This passage quoted above is often cited in supported of the Rapture.  Two people are in a field and one is taken away.  There it is.  But why do we think that the one taken away is taken away to Heaven?

I would like to suggest that the one taken away is taken off for punishment.  He is part of the cleansing, that which has to be taken out of this world in order for renewal to take place.  I would cite the very example Matthew uses in this passage as support.  In the days of Noah, you did not want to be swept away.  You wanted to be one of the eight left behind on the Ark.  If you were taken, it was punishment.  Likewise, if you are one of the two men in a field or two women grinding corn, you don’t want to be taken away.  You want to be the one left.

What do you think?

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Matthew 21: Taking God’s Property

Today we come to Jesus’ Parable of the Tenants, a thinly veiled attack on the Pharisees (21:45).

A landowner plants a vineyard and rents it out to tenant farmers to care for the vineyard while he is away on a journey.  Harvest time comes and the landowner sends slaves to collect the fruit that is rightfully his.  The tenant farmers kill the slaves.  He tries again with a second group of slaves and the same thing happens.  The third time he sends his own son, thinking they will surely respect him.  Seizing the opportunity to get rid of the heir, the farmers kill the son too:

This fellow’s the heir!” they said among themselves. “Come on, let’s kill him, and then we can take over the property! (21:38).

Jesus asks the crowd what these tenant owners should expect because of their deeds?  Death, at the hands of the vineyard owner.

Let’s remember who the Pharisees were: the religious establishment.  They were the ones to whom God had given the leadership of His people.  But they allow that power to go to their heads and they tried to take what was God’s “property” and make it their own.

We would be a bit naive to think that the same selfish impulse can’t exist in religious people today.  Does God ever give us a farmer’s role and we turn it into a power trip?  Do our churches and Sunday School classes become our own domains?  Does our paycheck become ours?  Do we think our kids are our property?  Do we even think that our life is our own?  Maybe we have not been as malicious as the tenant farmers, but we should heed the warning of their example.

Does this resonate with you?

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