Posts Tagged With: vision

Revelation 18: A Self-Centered Lament

"The Fall of Babylon, Revelation 18," by Patty Albred (2000)

“The Fall of Babylon, Revelation 18,” by Patty Albred (2000)

Fair weather friends.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  It turns out that’s all Rome’s friends were to her.

A mighty angel comes on to the scene and shouts a death notice for Rome:

Babylon the Great has fallen!  She has fallen! (18:2)

He also makes one last call to God’s people to be a separate people until the end.  We are reminded that holiness is one of the main themes of Revelation:

Come out of here, my people, so that you don’t become embroiled in her sins, and so that you don’t receive any of her plagues. (18:4)

Judgment has come to this wicked woman who thought no harm would come to her, that no one would hold her accountable for her behavior, even the buying and selling of humans (18:13).  But she will be paid back double (18:6).

To be sure, Rome’s fall is lamented.  But not for the reasons we might expect.

The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, because nobody will buy their cargo anymore. (18:11)

“Alas, alas,” they said, “the great city!  Everyone who had ships on the sea could get rich from her wealth, but in a single hour she has become a desert.” (18:19).

The merchants and mariners who cry over Rome’s demise are really crying for themselves.  They care about photo 1only to the degree it affects them.  They are broken up over their loss of business.  Not exactly compassion now, is it?

Power intimidates.  Power can produce great respect.  Power might even engender admiration.  But power is not the recipe for loyalty, sacrificial kinship, or even love.  When power wanes, so too do the alliances that power brought.  Rome only knew how to operate by power.  The kingdom of the Lamb is the dominion of love.

Tonight is Christmas Eve.  My family has made a bunch to trips to Target and Sam’s Club and the grocery store the past few days.  I am thankful those businesses exist.  As much driving as many of us do around the holidays, I am glad the big oil companies exist.  I look forward to sitting down tonight in peace and order and even a reasonable level of affluence, and I know that I have the sacrifices of soldiers and the tireless hours of civil servants to thank.  But when I sit down tonight it will be with my family whom I love.  Maybe my family of faith too at a nearby Christmas Eve service.  Tomorrow my family will enjoy each other’s presence and we will make time to celebrate the birth of the Lamb.  Love breeds love, not power.

What struck you today?

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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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Revelation 4: Who Is Really Seated on the Throne?

Like all the great prophets of the Bible, one of the first visions John receives is one of God.  Jesus, who can open all doors (3:7), opens the door of heaven and ushers John into the throne-room of the Lord Almighty.  This is the point where I think words are insufficient to express the reality, but John keeps on writing.  I can only imagine that the reality will be even better than this amazing chapter!

There are always those inevitable days when other forces loom on the horizon as god-like.  For the Christians of Asia Minor that force was Roma — the personified power of Rome, a military, cultural, and economic superpower.  At times like this we may know in our head that God is unparalleled even by this force before us, but our hearts and souls sometimes need reminders.  This is when we most need a full-senses reminder of who is really the god of this world.  Maybe that comes in study or worship or service.  For John it came in this vision.  How could he face all that is to come in this book without first seeing this majestic vision of God?

revelation4square

I am drawn to the four grotesque creatures that surround the brilliant throne of God.  Each in a different way signifies great power.  An ox was the John Deere tractor of the ancient world.  How can agriculture be successful without a good team of oxen?  The skies are dominated by the eagle.  With its sharp talons, keen eyesight, and fast speed prey can only hope to run for cover.  The lion was and to some degree still is the universal symbol for strength.  The ancient Assyrians marched out to battle with lions on their shields.  Today we call the lion the king of the jungle.  But what can out-power all three of these?  A human, well armed and skilled for the hunt.  Standing at the top of the food chain is a well-muscled, intelligent human.  And yet all of these great symbols of power praise the “Lord God Almighty” (4:8).  With their many eyes these creatures see all things.  They know who is most worthy of honor.  Still they praise God.  Nothing escapes their attention; they are always alert, never sleeping.  Still they praise God.  Who else is worthy of such praise?

O Lord our God, you deserve to receive glory and honor and power, because you created all things; because of your will they existed and were created. (4:11)

What caused your heart to sail in today’s reading?

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Acts 9: Hunter turned Hunted

Caravaggio's "Conversion on the Way to Damascus"

This is a very familiar chapter for many of us, I am sure.  Today, we see Saul turn to Paul, the hated hunter of Christians turn to a hunted Christian himself.  How does that happen?  By nothing less than a vision of the very presence of the resurrected Jesus himself.

What struck me in this chapter were the many words that all pertain to eyes and seeing.  The word “see” is used six times (9:7, 8, 9, 12, 17, 18).  The past tense “seen” or “saw” is used three more times (9:12, 27, 35).  Paul doesn’t just hear a voice, he has a “vision” (9:10, 12).  Paul’s eyes are mentioned twice (9:8, 18). Interestingly, even in the Peter and Dorcas story that follows Paul’s conversion, her eyes are mentioned (9:40), as are the words “weeping” and “showed” (9:39), both words connected with vision and eyes.  Ananias is told to “look” at Paul praying (9:17).  Three other vision related words show up here: “appeared” (9:17), “demonstrating” (9:22), and “watching” (9:24).

Of course, this is simply because this chapter is in part about Paul being blinded.  But it also seems the author is trying to make a larger point.  Saul the Pharisee was a very learned man.  He had an almost unparalleled passion and commitment.  He was willing to kill or be killed for his beliefs.  Surely, amongst his Jewish religious leader friends he was respected.  Why else were they laying their coats at his feet when they stoned Stephen (7:58)?  Why else was he a ringleader (9:1-2)?

And yet he was blind.  The physical blinding of Saul only paralleled the spiritual blindness he had in his heart.

By the end of the chapter, vision is restored to Saul’s physical eyes, but the scales fall off of his heart too and a new man is born — Paul.  And this new man gives the enlightened cry of a person who can see correctly:

“This [Jesus] really is the son of God!” (9:20).

What did you “see” anew today?

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