Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Grandparenting, Writing, Counseling, And Schedules: Thoughts From Week Three Of My Sabbatical

I am now into week three of my sabbatical and so far it has been a huge gift. Thank you faith family! The first ten days we spent in Wyoming and Colorado with our daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. We made some great memories!

Since we returned I have been working on a writing project that I recently finished and has now been published. It is available on Amazon. I am now working on a second project. Additionally, I started meeting with a counselor yesterday, which is part of an emotional health assessment I wanted to do this summer.

So, you might ask, “Since you have been so busy, what is so different about your sabbatical?”  The answer is that I have virtually no meetings or appointments and so I have much more margin in my schedule. That has given me the opportunity to have the right amount of spiritual and mental stimulus, coupled with a good amount of rest and refreshment.

It has been a good sabbatical so far.

As you think about it, please pray that I would be open and sensitive to what God wants to do in us during the remainder of the summer.

Tom

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Challenging A Cherished American Dogma

I decided it would be helpful to blog occasionally about those things God is impressing upon me during my sabbatical.

So, I begin by acknowledging the main take away for this second week has to do with the importance of listening to the Spirit. In other words, I need to lead others by means of being led by Him. This is not only much more fruitful and effective than trying to lead merely or mostly on our own, it removes much of the stress and pressure.

This insight also makes me think of another take away for this week—the one that gave rise to the post’s title and also one that flows out of what I just shared.

God has not only been impressing upon me for three years now to lead by being led and he has not only been reiterating that during the sabbatical, but he also drove this truth home to me this past weekend as we attended Christ Community Church in Greeley, Co. In a sermon out of Luke 24 Pastor Alan Kraft very helpfully and powerfully encouraged us to listen to the Spirit when it comes to evangelism and discipling. In other words, God met me in a powerful way through His Word, delivered by Alan, when we assembled together with other believers.

This also was true the previous week when we were at the Evangelical Free Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming and heard Pastor Dave Carlson preach on Romans 15.

Both of these experiences, coupled with my missing our faith family (and thinking much about the impact they have on my spiritual health) and also my current reading through Hebrews reminds me just how important fellow believers (aka the Church) are to our growth and spiritual health. Hebrews certainly makes it clear that our salvation and perseverance in that salvation are found in Jesus Christ alone (e.g. Heb. 2:1-18; 7:19-28; 10:10, 19-23). Yet, the way Christ grows us and unleashes that transforming and persevering grace in us also involves fellow believers. Consider just two examples: 
·         “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (3:12-14)

·         “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (10:24-25)

On this second week of sabbatical I am more convinced than ever that I could not do this life, especially this life of following Christ, if it were not for fellow believers. Yes, it is true that no Christian and no local church is perfect and yes it is true that we hurt each other. But, it is equally as true we need each other.

A cherished American spiritual dogma goes something like this: “I am a Christian, but I just don’t need (or don’t like) the church.” That is one we need to rethink. It is simply not true! 

Joyfully on sabbatical, but also honestly in need of our faith family!

Tom






Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Preaching The Gospel To Ourselves: Understanding The Battle And The Victory From Revelation 12, Part 3

In this post we look at the third and final sub-section of Revelation 12.

3. As A Result Of Christ’s Victory Over The Devil, God Protects The Messianic Community Against The Devil’s Wrathful And Continual Harm.  12:13-17
In verse 13 we read: “And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.” In this sentence we see that verses 13-17 are connected into the preceding context in two ways. First, they show what the dragon does as a result of knowing he is defeated, and so they flow out of the middle section (12:7-12). Second, they also pick back up on the storyline of the first section (1-6). What this demonstrates is Revelation 12 is about God’s protection of his people (“the woman”)[1] from the ultimate enemy who is enraged. Both the rage of the enemy and the protection of the church emerge from the conquering of sin, death, and Satan by Christ through his substitutionary atoning death. This suggests that the church is persecuted ultimately because of its relationship to Jesus Christ.

This paragraph will display that even though God is protecting his people in the ultimate way from ultimate destruction, the persecution continues throughout this age. It also bears out what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12 (“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,”) and what Jesus said as recorded in John 15:18-20 (“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.’”).

Though the church is persecuted through this age, God protects her in the ultimate sense, as we see in verse 14: “But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.”

The vision of this verse finds its background in several Old Testament texts. To start, we see it in  Exodus 19:4 and Dt. 32:10-12, where God speaks of carrying Israel as an eagle in the wilderness. The New Testament church is once again in Revelation viewed as the end-times true Israel taking over the role of the old Israel (see also Rev. 7; 11:1-14; 14:1-5; 15:1-4 ), with the spiritual wilderness representing God’s protective presence substituted for the physical wilderness of Sinai. We also see this image in Psalm 55:1-8, where David speaks of being given the wings of a dove to flee into the wilderness and await God’s protection from his enemies. The most powerful Old Testament background to this image is found in Isaiah 40:27-31, where Isaiah prophesies that God will deliver his people in the last days and utilizes this same image.

So God will protect and nourish the church in its exodus-like wanderings through the wilderness of the world.

There are three more truths communicated in verse 14 that we should touch upon before continuing. To start, the woman is enabled to fly to “the place,” which we saw in verse 6, has connotations of taking her to a sanctuary-type situation. When we put together all that is said in Revelation 12, it appears that united to Christ by faith and with his saving work applied, the church lives in the full presence of God, as his temple (see also 1:4, 12; 4:4; 11:1-13; 14:1; 21:1-22:5), and so wherever the church is in the world and whatever is going on, she is protected in the ultimate sense in and by the triune God, who is present with her.

Additionally, we read that the church “is to be nourished,” a verb which carries with it a very intimate and familial sense of providing for or taking care of another. In this wilderness, dwelling with God, the church will be provided for in all she needs to persevere so that she enters into her eternal Promised Land. The use of this verb may also call to mind God’s giving of manna to Israel in the wilderness. See John 6:31-58 where Christ is depicted as the latter-day manna.

Finally, we want to note that the church will be persecuted and protected ultimately for “a time, and times, and half a time,” which is equivalent to the three and a half years or forty-two months of 11:2-3 and 13:5 or the one thousand two hundred and sixty days of 12:6. In other words, it is throughout this age until the second coming of Christ.

Though this protection and nourishment of the church is promised, Satan nevertheless still pursues and seeks to destroy her. Verse 15 puts it this way: “The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood.”  There are at least five different sources of Old Testament background to this image of the water seeking to hinder or destroy God’s people:[2] 
·         “Flood” can speak of a conquering army (Dan. 11:10, 22, 26, 40) and of persecution of God’s people from which he saves them (2 Sam. 22:5; Pss. 18:4, 16; 66:12; 69:1-2, 14-15; 124:4-5; 144; 7-8; Is. 43:2).

·         The Red Sea, which was a barrier to the people of God getting to the wilderness and safety (Exodus 14).

·         The Jordan which was a barrier into the Promised Land (Joshua 3).

·         The waters standing in the way of the return of God’s post-exilic people to Zion which Isaiah prophesies in the last days God will again dry up or cause to be blocked (Is. 42:15; 43:2; 44:27).

·         The flood associated with the end time attack on God’s people in Dan. 9:26. John’s allusion to both the exodus and to Dan. 9:26 would be in line with his preceding allusions, which have combined the same two backgrounds (see on 11:2, 6, esp. on the forty-two months and its background in the exodus and Daniel).

So, it appears that in this pouring out of water what is depicted is the enemy attempting to keep believers from entering their eternal rest, that is, into their Promised Land. Yet, more specifically how does he do this? The way verse 15 pictures the enemy is instructive (“the serpent”), along with where the water comes from (“out of his mouth”).  Whenever things or weapons come out of the mouth in Revelation the figurative picture signifies words on the part of Christ and his agents to judge sinners (1:16; 2:16; 11:5; 19:15, 21; cf. 3:16), or to words of deception coming from the devil and his agents (9:17-8; 16:13). Here, the point is that the enemy, working through his evil spirits, as well as those who serve him in this world, speak falsehoods about Christianity (including what it means to be a Christian and what the gospel is), Christians, and the world that, if believed, turn people away from the gospel and the only way of salvation. The idea that the waters represent deception also is highlighted by the reality that the devil here is referred to as the serpent, which takes readers back to Genesis 3 and his deception of Eve. Greg Beale adds: 
[Revelation] 2-3 reveal[s] that the churches to which John was writing had already begun to experience the devil’s flood of deception (2:2, 14, 20), false accusations (2:9; 3:9), temptations, and persecution (2:10, 13). It is beyond coincidence that wherever chs. 2-3 mention these problems, the devil’s “synagogue” (2:9; 3:9), “throne” (2:13), or “deep things” (2:24) is mentioned.

In verse 16 we read that God continually saves the church from the devil’s destruction: “But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth.” In a reference to several Old Testament events and texts where God delivered his people from enemies, the point is made that God will protect and preserve his genuine believers, his church, from ultimate destruction at the hands of the enemy.[3]

This first history of this section ends with a statement that heightens and emphasizes the ongoing persecution of the church because of the ultimate and ongoing causation that comes from the dragon. Though we will discover in Revelation 13 and subsequent chapters this persecution most often comes at the more direct hands of religious groups, governments, government officials, and other societal gate keepers, it is ultimately fueled by the dragon and his demons. Verse 17 affirms: “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”

Though some interpreters have tried to make “the rest of her offspring” a distinct group from “the woman,” the most likely understanding is that the woman throughout this chapter refers to the people of God with different emphases as the chapter unfolds. The focus in verses 1-5 was on the Old Covenant people of God, especially just before and during the birth of Jesus. In verse 6 and then in verses 13-16 the focus is on the post-resurrection New Covenant people of God (the New Testament church), with primary focus upon the church in the early era shortly after the resurrection. If this is what John has meant, then “the rest of her offspring” is intended to capture the idea that those who will come to Christ and be part of the woman (i.e. another way to put it is her offspring) will also be pursued continually by the dragon and persecuted throughout this age. They will be persecuted for all the reasons the early believers were and will also enjoy the same promises of protection made to the early believers.

With knowledge of the essence of what 12:17 says, we can now focus on three final truths that emerge from this last sentence of this first history. To begin, we read that the dragon “went off to make war” on the church through this age (note that in verse 7 war took place in heaven between Michael, his angels, and the dragon [probably intended, along with his demons]). This reminds us that the goal of the enemy is to defeat the church, the elect of God, and to do it in a manner that is militant, dangerous, and painful. Yet, the church must constantly remember that the dragon cannot conquer them, for Jesus Christ has already conquered him and in Christ we can continually trust in the application of this victory to us.

Additionally, this verse identifies genuine believers throughout this age as “those who keep the commandments of God.” Herein is a deep, rich, powerful, and convicting truth for many in the church today. Our very identity includes the reality that we desire to obey God and can obey God (see also Rev. 14:4, 5; 19:4, 14; 20:4; 21:7). If that desire and moral ability are not present, then a person should examine self to see if he is in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

Finally, this verse identifies genuine believers throughout this age as “those who…hold to the testimony of Jesus.” In other words, they continue to believe in the testimony Jesus gave about who he is (as well as the testimony the Father has given about him)—and so they persevere in that trust—and they continue to give testimony to the truths of Christ and the gospel themselves (see 12:11, as well as 1:5, 9; 10:2; 11:7; 19:10, et. al.).

Now that we have looked at all of Revelation 12, we can see that it is a little Revelation within the larger Revelation. In the middle of this complex book we find this rather clear summary of the main message of the entire book: Enraged by his own defeat at the hands of Jesus Christ, the devil seeks to destroy the church through his evil spirits and human emissaries who persecute and accuse the church. Yet, the church can take great comfort in the reality that not only are both Father and Son sovereign over, in, and through all that happens, the enemy has been conquered, the war won, and so we can rest in that victory to overcome and to persevere in the face of the hostility and brokenness in this world! God will preserve and protect us in the ultimate sense, so take courage, continue to trust him, joyfully follow him, and give testimony to the gospel of his glorious grace!

Nourished And Protected With You As Joyful Followers And Witnesses,

Tom

[1] We must remember that elsewhere Revelation depicts the people of God (both Old Covenant and New Covenant) as a woman or bride (19:7-8; 21:2, 12, 14).

[2] For this Old Testament background, I am partially dependent upon Greg Beale (with David Campbell) in his shorter commentary on Revelation, 260-62. The quote at the end of the final point is from them. 

[3] Beale (with Campbell), 262, suggests this is a further allusion to the deliverance out of Egypt and the Red Sea, as well as life in the wilderness: “The flood swallowed Pharaoh and his armies (Ex. 15:12; the Aramaic Bible [Palestinian Targum] expands on the Hebrew of this verse and repeats that ‘the earth opened her mouth and consumed them’). And later the earth swallowed the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who were in rebellion against Moses (Num. 16:31-32). In both OT instances, God caused the earth to open and swallow that which opposed the establishment and welfare of His people.” Additionally, “both Isaiah and the Psalms say that God defeated the evil dragon when He divided the Red Sea to allow Israel through, but closed it again over Egypt (Ps. 74:13-14; where Leviathan represents Pharaoh]; Is. 51:9-10), and Ezek. 29:3 and 32:2-3 identify Pharaoh with the sea-dragon.  And so here, the allusion to the exodus deliverance once again connotes God’s preservation and deliverance of His people and defeat of the serpent.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Preaching The Gospel To Ourselves: Understanding The Battle And The Victory From Revelation 12, Part 2

In our previous post we covered the first sub-section of Revelation 12, verses 1-6. In this one we turn our attention to the second.

2. Christ’s Death And Resurrection Result In The Victory Of Christ And The Saints Over The Satanic Accuser And In The Inaugurated Messianic Kingdom. 7-12

Our first discovery here has to do with the defeat of Satan.

The Defeat And Expelling From Heaven of Satan (And Demons) Revealed From The Angelic And Heavenly Perspective. 7-9
In verse 7 we see the war described: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back….”

The dragon fighting angels and being cast out is equivalent to Jesus’ own teaching in Luke 10:18, which leads us to see the actual defeat taking place in the cross and resurrection of Christ: “And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” Jesus said this in the context of having sent out the seventy-two on mission, giving them authority to preach the kingdom gospel, heal the sick, and, by implication, to cast out demons. When they return, they rejoice that demons are even subject to them. It was in the context of this rejoicing that Jesus said what he did. When Jesus sent out the seventy-two and he said this, the cross and resurrection were just around the corner. This complex of events was the deciding factor in Satan’s defeat. We read of this in Colossians 2:13-15 (esp. 15): “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

There are two other truths we should highlight in this verse.

First, the background to this angelic fighting vision is in Daniel. There Michael is the angel appointed to represent God’s people (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1). This also stands behind John’s seeing angels as mediators or representatives of the church (cf. how angels function especially in ch’s. 2-3 and the elders in ch’s. 4-5). Angels are identified as fighting for Israel against the demonic rulers over Persia and Greece (nations oppressing God’s people in Dan. 10:20-21). Dan. 10:5-21 should also be noted, where “one like a Son of man” is joined by Michael to fight these evil forces.

The wording, “Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon…but he was defeated” (vv. 7-8) is a reversal of the language in Dan. 7:21, “this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came….” It is meant to show a great reversal now that Christ has come and accomplished his saving work. No more are the true people of God defeated in the ultimate sense.

In a similar fashion John now sees Michael representing God’s covenant community and the messianic leader of that community, fighting in heaven, even as Christ fought on earth. Michael functions in John’s vision much like in Daniel’s—he is beside the Son of man to fight for him. Like with Daniel, so in Rev. 12:7, Michael is a representative of the true Israel and has the same relation to the Son of Man, Christ, as in Daniel 10. In other words, Michael reflects Jesus’ earthly victory as his representative in the heavenly sphere. To put this another way, Christ’s resurrection and the beginning of his rule are immediately reflected in heaven by the defeat of the devil and his hosts by Michael and his angels. Michael’s engagement in heaven was a direct and certain reflex action put into place by Christ’s saving work on earth.

The second truth we should highlight is much shorter. When the text says, “the dragon and his angels…,” we see evidence of Satan being a ruling angel over other angels and the reality that these angels have fallen with him. They are what Scripture calls demons or evil spirits and they are those through whom Satan does the vast majority of his work since he is not omnipresent.

Now, we not only see the expulsion of the devil and his evil spirits from heaven, but his identity is also put beyond question in verses 8-9: “but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

There are several truths we dare not miss in these verses.

To begin, the background to verse 8 and the idea of Satan and demons being cast out of heaven is found in Daniel. Greg Beale (with David Campbell, in Revelation, 254) explains: 
The clause, “and there was no longer any place for them in heaven, is very similar to what we find in the Greek of Daniel 2:35 (“and a place was not found for them”), where a stone, representing the force of God’s kingdom (Dan. 2:44) strikes a statue that represents the last four kingdoms of world history. Jesus saw the prophecy beginning its fulfillment in His own ministry (Luke 20:17-18). The Jews who rejected Him were identified with the ungodly nations who would be judged by Him. He was the stone of Daniel 2. Christ’s resurrection immediately unleashes the effect of Michael’s representative victory in heaven, and the Daniel 2 imagery shows this to be an absolute and universal judgment…. Opposition to God’s kingdom and His people is decisively thwarted. …[The same language is used in Rev. 20:11 (“and a place was not found for them”) in regard to earth and sky fleeing from the presence of God on the great white throne in judgment.]

The sense seems to be that the victory of Christ over Satan and his angels in the cross and resurrection, though decisive, has effects that were inaugurated in this age, but will not be fully consummated until his Second Coming. What happens, then, with Satan and his angels? Verse 9 introduces the answer to that: Satan and his angels are still busy on the earth—albeit as a defeated enemy.

Second, since the devil is called “the accuser of our brothers” in verse 10, it may very well be that the vision of the expulsion from heaven of Satan and his demons is also intended to show that Satan and his cohort have no real ability any longer to accuse those who are united to Jesus Christ. Such accusation by Satan is seen in Job 1-2. Since this is the case, his accusations made to Christians are all so much “blowing smoke.” There is nothing to them.

Third, we discover beyond a doubt that what took place in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 does involve Satan, also known as the devil, appearing as a snake, lying to, and deceiving Eve. We see, then, that deception has been his modus operandi from the beginning. This also will be emphasized again in Rev. 12:15.

Fourth, we must not miss that given the descriptions of the devil here and in verse 10, the way he seeks to hurt believers and thwart their witness for Christ is by lying to them and making accusations against them that threaten to paralyze them, stopping them in their tracks. Examples might include: “You’re too big a sinner. God could never forgive you and certainly could never work through you. It’s no use even trying.” “Since your adult child is not walking with Christ, you are a lousy parent and lack God’s blessing. Why even attempt to serve him, or even to follow him. You might as well give up!” “Look around at your life. God is not good, he does not keep his promises with you. You will have to take matters into your own hands and do it your way!” “Surely a person is not saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is not sufficient. Besides, to believe that God would intentionally kill his Son, the God-man, is to believe in divine child abuse. What a horrid and out-of-date doctrine!” Or, “Hey, you may not be perfect, but you are better than most. You don’t need a Savior!”

Now we come to the heart of how to rest in the victory of Christ he has applied to us in verses 10-12.

Salvation Is Pronounced From Heaven, Along With Explanation Of Satan’s Accusations, His Wrath, And The Saints’ Conquering Of Him. 10-12
To start, verse 10 makes it clear that it is the work of Christ that has defeated Satan: “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.’” Since humans in Revelation give praise and angels pronounce salvation and judgment, this word of praise is most likely on the lips of saints. Given the parallel nature of this to Rev. 5:11-12, the focus here also is upon the triumphal resurrection of Jesus Christ, which brought the start of the kingdom of God. The word “now” emphasizes the beginning aspect of the kingdom.

A role that God ordained for Satan to have for a time was that of accusing the saints (cf. Job 1:6-11; 2:1-6; Zech. 3:1-2) and God permitted him access to him to do so. Implicit in these and other texts (cf. Rom. 3:25) is that Satan not only accused the saints, but also accused God of corruption since God had not required the second death from them as penalty for sin (Prov. 17:15: “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD”). Of course, even in the Old Testament, this accusation was not altogether right since God forgave the sins of his saints based upon the future work of Christ (Is. 53).

Yet, according to this text, with the death and resurrection of Christ in behalf of his people, there is now no more condemnation (Rom. 8:1) and no one can bring a charge against God’s elect (Rom. 8:33-34, 38). The devil has no basis for his accusations, and he is evicted from the heavenly courtroom and counsel of God.

What is more, in verse 11, we discover how the saints rest in Christ’s victory, the very victory he has accomplished for them: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Not only is this twelfth chapter somewhat of a climax in the book of Revelation in that it goes to the heart of the extent of and reason for Satan’s opposition, this particular verse goes to the heart of how saints conquer him and thus forms a key statement in the entire book that summarizes an important and recurring message. As such, it also points to the only means through which God protects his people (verses 1-6, 13-17).

There are three ways saints rest in the victory of Christ applied to them and so overcome Satan.

To begin, “And they have conquered him on the ground of the blood of the Lamb” (my own translation). In other words, Christians must realize and preach to self and proclaim to demonic accusers that our trust for our standing before God is the substitutionary atoning death of Jesus Christ—nothing less and nothing more. Don Carson gives a succinct explanation of what this means:
From a Christian perspective, all the blessings and resources that are ours in Christ are grounded in the blood of the Lamb; they are secured by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Do you find yourself accepted before this holy God? If so, it is because of the blood of the Lamb. Have you received the blessed Holy Spirit? He has been poured out because of the blood of the Lamb. Do you have the prospect of consummated eternal life in glory? It was secured by the blood of the Lamb. Are you in the fellowship of saints, brothers and sisters who love Christ, the church of the living God, a new body, the body of Christ on earth? This is bought, secured, and constituted by the blood of the Lamb. Are you grateful for the spiritual armaments that Paul tells us to deploy (Eph. 6)? The entire arsenal is at our disposal because of the blood of the Lamb. May we go to God in prayer? It is because of the blood of the Lamb. Do we find our wills strengthened by the Spirit? That incalculable benefit was secured by the blood of the Lamb.

Every whiff of victory over the principalities and powers of this dark age has been secured by the blood of the Lamb.[1]

And so, the first and foundational way Christians overcome Satan’s deception and accusations is by proclaiming to self, each other, to demons, and to those who do the bidding of demons, the truth:  “Our hope is built in nothing else but Jesus’ blood and righteousness!” So, “We will not believe your lies!”

The second way Christians rest in the victory of Christ so as to overcome Satan is that, as those who have not been paralyzed by accusations and doubts, they are able to go forward as witnesses to Jesus Christ: “and by the word of their testimony….”

“It is not simply a question of how we survive the accusations of the Evil One. It is a question of how we fight the Evil One.”[2] We fight and overcome Satan not by taking up sword and spear or even by good works or social engagement (these latter two are important entailments of the gospel). The “and” shows that another way of conquering Satan is being given. It is through their testimony and, as Don Carson writes, “It refers to Christians bearing testimony to Christ; they bear witness to Christ. They gossip the gospel.”[3]

The logic at this point seems to be this: When we understand that the only ground of our conquering the Devil is the blood of the Lamb, we also see that this gospel of the kingdom that calls people to trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation is the only hope for others and for taking back occupied territory and lives from Satan. And so, we not only fight and conquer Satan’s accusations by the death of Jesus Christ in our own life—applying the gospel to us, we also proclaim that gospel as the only hope for others and as the loving outgrowth of our new life in Christ. Thus, “…the only way that we can be defeated on this dimension is to be quiet. Our silence guarantees a measure of victory to Satan.”[4]

The final way Christians rest in Christ’s applied victory so they can conquer the enemy is this: “…[and] they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Again there appears to be a logical progression to these three ways of Christians resting in the applied victorious Devil-conquering death of Jesus Christ. Because the blood (the sacrificial death) of Jesus Christ is the ground of overcoming the accusations, lies, and discouragements of the Evil One—the only way—Christians are moved to tell others about this good news. Motivated by the blood of Christ as the only hope (and by joy, v. 12), they bear witness to Christ before others and so realize the defeat of Satan as more and more people are won to Christ. And, how serious are genuine, transformed Christians about this?  How committed are they to this gospel ministry? They love Christ, they love pleasing him, and love making much of him, more than they love their own life itself. So, they are willing to suffer and die, if need be.  Because of this, they keep applying the gospel, they keep living by faith, they keep teaching the gospel!

The net effect of what we see in verses 10-11 is that saints can rejoice, yet those who don’t know Christ must beware since Satan is on the loose and his wrath is kindled  as one who knows he is defeated by Christ and his time is short. Verse 12 reads: “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” The final sentence here is instructive in that it shows why the devil and his demonic legions are so on the warpath and seeking to cause as much pain and suffering as they can. This is why we see such evil, pain, and suffering—especially that inflicted by people-on-people.

This brings us to the third sub-section of Revelation 12:1-17, the reemphasis on protection of God’s people. We will look at this section in our next post.

Joyfully Resting On Christ Alone For Salvation And For Conquering Satan With You,

Tom

[1] Carson, Scandalous, 99. Carson (98-99) adds: “The great redemptive act that freed [the saints] from their sins (1:5) and established their right to reign as priests and kings (5:9) is also what gives them authority over Satan and enables them to overcome Satan and all of his accusations (12:11). Satan accuses Christians day and night…to make us feel as dirty, guilty, defeated, destroyed, weak, and ugly as he possibly can…[and worse, he tries to accuse us] ‘before God day and night…. What can we say in response? Will our defense be, ‘Oh, I’m not that bad!’ You will never beat Satan that way. Never. What you must say is, ‘Satan, I’m even worse than you think, but God loves me anyway. He has accepted me because of the blood of the Lamb.’”
Carson, Scandalous, 100-101, provides a helpful example of two men involved in the Passover of Israel when God was preparing to lead them out of Egypt. Both place blood of the lamb on their door. One is quite calm about the whole thing, trusting in God to save them and pass over his children. The other is struggling more to believe. Which one, Carson asks, has the death angel pass over and so his children are saved?  The answer is both, because the promise of God was to all covered by the blood and death of the lamb. It does not depend upon the strength of faith, etc.
Carson, 101-103, then goes on to provide an example from our own contemporary setting of a Christian who bases their good sense of how things are going on having all the right things happen in a day and their bad sense on a day full of difficulties. Then, he asked the question (103): “On which of these two occasions have you fallen into the dreadful trap of paganism? God help us: the sad reality is that both approaches to God are abominations. How dare you approach the mercy-seat of God on the basis of what kind of day you had, as if that were the basis for our entrance into the presence of the sovereign and holy God? No wonder we cannot beat the Devil. This is works theology. It has nothing to do with grace and the exclusive sufficiency of Christ. Nothing.
“Do you not understand that we overcome the accuser on the ground of the blood of Christ? Nothing more, nothing less. This is how we win. It is the only way we win.” He goes on to write that we overcome all doubts and sins ultimately on the ground of the blood of Christ!

[2] Carson, 105.

[3] Carson, 105.

[4] Carson, 106.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Preaching The Gospel To Ourselves: Understanding The Battle And The Victory From Revelation 12, Part 1

We often say in gospel-directed congregations like ours that we must “preach the gospel” to ourselves. What this means is that we are to remember the impact that the gospel has on us as believers (see Romans 16:25!). After all, it helps focus us on our identity—that we are a new people, united to Christ, and able to follow him in what he wants us to do. At the same time, when we fail, we know that we are forgiven and can move forward, since our standing with God does not ultimately depend upon us, but upon Christ. As such, we must engage in self-reminders of these truths. This is what preaching the gospel to self and each other involves.

In Revelation 12 we learn more specifics about how to preach the gospel to self and each other. But to understand how this is so, we need first to see how this chapter fits into its surrounding context.

Revelation 6-20 continually cycles through pictures or visions of the age that we now live in, between the first and second comings of Christ. Each recapitulation of this era reveals progressively more about how we follow Christ in this world—facing the hostile cultures we do. We see why things are happening the way they are and the resources we have in Christ.

Revelation 12:1-15:4 forms the third cycle. In addition to the seven seals and the seven trumpets, we now see in this cycle seven symbolic histories that depict in more detail than in previous chapters the spiritual conflict in which the church is involved. The Reformation Study Bible (2005 ed.), page 1860, succinctly explains: 
This third cycle of visions consists primarily of histories of key symbolic characters: the dragon, the woman, the beast, the false prophet, the 144,000, angelic announcers, and the Son of Man…. Like the preceding cycles, they lead to a vision of the Second Coming (14:14–20). The two preceding cycles focused on the judgments[, discipline, and trials] issuing from God’s throne. This cycle depicts in depth the nature of the spiritual conflict. Characters appear in symbolic form to represent the forces on the two sides of a cosmic spiritual war.

[And so, here are the two sides.] God Himself has already been revealed in chs. 4-5. Opposing God are Satan (the dragon) and his agents, the beast (13:1–10) and the false prophet (13:11–18; 16:13). On God’s side are His people, portrayed as a light-bearing woman (12:1–6, 13–17) and as a chaste, numbered, and protected multitude (14:1–5). These two complementary pictures show the saints in their capacity as witnesses of God’s light and as separated from the corruptions of the world. Thus the saints are exhorted to remain faithful to Christ in response to the persecution by the beast, and to remain pure by resisting the seduction by the harlot…. The symbolic pictures show the two sides stripped of all inconsistency and confusion to clearly express the nature of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10–20). The present conflicts will be followed by the peace of 21:1–22:5 when the fulfillment of God’s plans takes effect.

These seventeen verses provide the first of those seven histories in this cycle. What we see here is that, as a result of the victory of Christ over the Devil, this arch-enemy of God is enraged and seeks to destroy the people of God. What this means, then, is that we see how God protects his bride from this dragon. In fact, Revelation 12 appears to be a summary of the main message of the book of Revelation. It is divided into three sub-sections, with the first (12:1-6) and third (12:13-17) focusing upon God’s protection of his people and the second (12:7-12) zeroing in on the core reason God can protect his people, namely because of the saving work of Jesus Christ.

In the remainder of this post we will explain the first of these three sub-sections.

1. God Protects Christ And The Messianic Community Against Satanic Harm. 12:1-6
As we have previously seen, the use of 3.5 years, forty-two months, or 1,260 days is a figurative depiction of the current age in which we live that is full of trials and tribulation. We are reminded, then, since this history uses that same figure (12:6, 14), that what we are reading is a cycling back to the beginning of this age and giving us a picture of what is happening from the first coming of Christ to his second coming.

The Symbolic Depiction Of A Woman. 1
What we see first is a symbolic sign of a woman in verse 1: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”  There are four aspects of this sign we need to notice in this verse.

To begin, the “and” is used in a similar way that the Hebrew prefix sometimes translated “and” is used in Hebrew narrative. What this means is that even though here we have a new vision and a new section of the book, John is making the point that the overall message is continuing. This is what he saw next. It might even suggest in a remote way that John is continuing to portray the inter-advent age, i.e. what is happening with the new Covenant Church now.

Additionally, we read of a “great sign.” This suggests what is seen is a symbolic depiction of truth and not to be taken literally. This phrase appears for the first time here in the book. In fact, it is the first appearance of the word translated “sign,” even though we have seen the verb form (“signify”) in 1:1. The phrase appears two more times in this section. In 13:3 it speaks of another sign in heaven that marks a division of this section, and in 15:1 we see the same thing only there we find slightly different wording: “another sign in heaven, great and marvelous.” The other uses of “sign” from here on out (13:13, 14; 16:14; 19:20) refer to signs or miracles performed by evil beings—mimicking the works of God. This sign is not only great in size, but also great in that it is heralding the inauguration of great events—namely the present kingdom of God and the events involved in it.

What is more, we see that the sign “appeared in heaven.” The way this is worded, it is intended that God (or we could say more specifically the Son, Jesus Christ) caused this great sign to appear to John. The word “heaven” in Revelation refers to the place of God’s more realized dwelling, his presence, and so the dwelling of the people of God who have died, and also that of God’s angels (3:12; 11:12, 13; 13:6)—the dwelling of those who worship and praise God (11:15; 19:1). It is also the place from which and in which we see ultimate reality behind the reality we experience on earth (11:19; 12:7; 15:5) and made known to John only in the spirit (cf. 1:10; 4:2). In other words, only  by way of vision, can man on earth see what is happening there (cf. 12:1; 15:1)—the battles, victories, the accomplishments of redemption, and applications of redemption—happenings  that stand behind what is taking place on earth. The curtain, as it were, is being pulled back so earth dwellers can see behind it into heaven, that we can understand God’s saving and providential plan that includes Satan and evil spirits who stand behind the pain and persecution and suffering of the church on earth. So, for John to see a “great sign” in heaven, what we have is a very important symbolic depiction of what is taking place within God’s saving, judging providential plan.

Something else we notice is that this woman is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This identification is based on the Old Testament, where sun, moon, and eleven stars metaphorically represent Jacob, his wife, and eleven of the tribes of Israel (Gen. 37:9), who bow down to Joseph, representing the twelfth tribe. In Song of Solomon 6:10 we see a reference to one who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners,” a reference thought of in later Jewish literature to describe Israel, as well as restored Israel, in terms of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Additionally, restored Israel, the true and purified people of God, is described similarly in Isaiah 60:19-20. In fact, in Isaiah a woman often represents the picture of restored Israel (e.g. 52:2; 54:1-6; 61:10; 62:1-5). Additionally, Isaiah 62:3, 5 prophesies that restored Israel will be like a bride wearing a crown. These pictures stand behind Revelation’s picture of the people of God as a bride (see Rev. 21:1ff.). What appears to be the case, as will become clearer in the rest of Revelation 12, is that this woman represents both the Old Covenant and New Covenant people of God. The crown is best thought to represent the saints’ share in Christ’s kingship and the reward which the true people of God throughout the ages receive for their victory over opposition to their faith (i.e., over persecution, temptations to compromise, and deception; so 2:10; 3:11; 4:4, 10; cf. 14:14).

In verse 2 we see a further description of this woman.

The Further Description Of This Woman. 2
Here we read: “She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.”

Based upon what verse 1 says of the woman, as well as the description of her other offspring in v. 17 (“…the rest of her offspring…those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”), the woman who is with child and having birth pains is the believing community—here especially focusing upon that people just prior to and during the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. It may be that this woman is intended by John to be contrasted to the harlot in Revelation 17, who is the unbelieving, unrighteous community.

The woman’s pains from birth refer to the persecution of this believing community during Old Testament times and especially the intertestamental period just before Christ’s birth. The idea of persecution is also expressed in the phrase “and the agony” (literally “being tormented”), since the term is used in the New Testament of the suffering of punishment, trial, and persecution (Mt. 8:29; Mk. 5:7; 6:48; Lk. 8:28; 2 Pt. 2:8). The point seems to be that the woman is being tormented and suffering as she attempts to give birth, which fits with a picture of the faithful Jewish community during that era. It was a trial to continue to wait for the great deliverance which the Christ would finally bring when he comes (cf. Lk. 2:25-38). It is also instructive in John 16:19-22 that Jesus himself compares the grief of his disciples over his imminent death to a woman about to give birth and who “has sorrow.”

Yet, John also sees another symbolic sign in verses 3-6.

John Sees Another Symbolic Sign That Deals With Satan, Evil Spirits, Their Pursuit of God’s People, And God’s Protection Of His People. 3-6

To start, in verse 3, we see Satan appearing as a Red Dragon, a great sea monster: “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.” We know from Rev. 12:9 the dragon is “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”

Yet, why is he referred to as a “dragon”? The word translated “dragon” is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to translate “sea monster” or “Leviathan” (e.g. Is. 27:1).  In the Old Testament this monster of the deep formed a standard symbol for all that opposes God and so can represent God-opposing Egypt in connection to the exodus (Psalm 74), to Assyria and Babylon (Isaiah 27), and even to the Egyptian Pharaoh (Ezek. 29). Satan, then, is appropriately depicted with this picture since his character is to oppose God and his will (Mt. 16:23). Additionally, as will be made clear in the following text, for him to be viewed as a monster also fits with how he seeks to destroy and devour the people of God.

To be viewed as red is to draw a connection to his propensity to shed the blood of the church (see Rev. 17:3-6) and so reminds us Satan has been a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).

New Testament scholar Simon Kistemaker (Revelation, in the Baker New Testament Commentary) helpfully explains the significance behind the seven heads and ten horns:
The seven heads and ten horns refer to completeness in conquering the world, which is evident in the appellation applied to Satan, prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). After the fall into sin, Adam no longer ruled in God’s creation, but Satan ruled by usurping that power (Luke 4:6). The dragon dominates the world by governing global empires, principal authorities, political movements, and philosophical ideas. An angel interprets for John the significance of the seven heads and ten horns by saying, “The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. And they are seven kings” (17:9–10). These heads give leadership in their respective kingdoms, that is, the number seven signifies complete control, as John explains in the next chapter (see 13:1–9). The expression ten horns appears in Daniel 7:7 and 24, where it portrays a beast that terrifies humanity and personifies ten kings. Last, the term seven crowns (also translated “diadems”; see 13:1; 19:12) symbolizes his complete control in respect to royal supremacy and majestic sovereignty. Satan’s crowns, however, represent nothing but pretended royalty.

The reality that the dragon represents evil kingdoms or government authorities that persecute the Church on the one hand, but on the other hand, represents Satan as the ultimate evil or authority behind the authorities, gives us a helpful reminder regarding the multiple causality of events in the world, including especially evil and persecution.

Now that we know who this monster is, it is important to see what he does. To begin, we read in verse 4: “His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.”

The language of casting down stars comes from Daniel 8:9-10, where the vision is of the killing of God’s people by a great type of Satan, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Perhaps stars are used to suggest the disarray in God’s creation when so many of his crowning glory, humans, who are created in his image and redeemed to have that image restored, are struck down.

It has not only been the practice of Satan to destroy so many of God’s people, but we also see he particularly targets the special child who is born out of this messianic, covenant community. Don Carson (Scandalous, 84) rightfully explains what is behind this part of the vision: 
What is Satan trying to do? The scene is grotesque. The dragon stands in front of the woman. She is lying there in labor. Her feet are in the stirrups, writhing as she pushes to give birth, and this disgusting dragon is waiting to grab the baby as it comes out of the birth canal and eat it…. The scene is meant to be grotesque: it reflects the implacable rage of Satan against the arriving Messiah. …[the historical events include: the killing of baby and infant boys in Bethlehem by Herod (Mt. 2), Jesus’ temptations by Satan in the wilderness (Mt. 4), and then a later attempt to stone Jesus (John 8:59; 10:31) and push him over a cliff (Lk. 4:29)]…. Behind all these attempts to destroy Jesus is the red dragon, and behind the red dragon is God himself, bringing to pass his purposes even in the death of his Son to bring about our redemption.

In verse 5 we learn who the child is, that he was born, and what he did: “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” The clause “one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron,” comes from Psalm 2:9, a statement that is repeatedly applied in the New Testament to Jesus Christ and the inauguration of the kingdom of God (cf. Acts 4:25-26 [on Ps. 2:1]; Rom. 1:4; Acts 13;33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5 [all on Ps. 2:7]; Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15 [all on Ps. 2:9]). Elsewhere in Revelation, this specific clause is applied to Jesus Christ (cf. Rev. 2:27; 19:15).

Verse 5 says nothing of the substitutionary atoning death of Jesus Christ, which has already been affirmed (see especially Rev. 5), but it does give a snapshot of his life. He was born and then at the end of his life he was caught up to God and the heavenly throne (a reference to his resurrection, ascension, and exaltation, all of which presuppose his atoning death). Part of the point here is that Satan was not able to destroy the Messiah, the Son, when he came into the world and accomplished salvation in the place of the people of God. This also sets the pattern for what will happen to all those united to Christ, the people of God, whom Satan also tries unsuccessfully to destroy.

One final thing we should note about verse 5: Jesus the Christ is specifically referred to as a male child. This is most likely highlighted since he has, for all eternity, been in the relationship to the Father as Son to Father. Additionally, as the firstborn son, he deserves the inheritance of God and so united to him we also have this inheritance. What is more, as the conquering King, the one who has conquered sin, death, and Satan, he has been enthroned as the risen, conquering Son (a title applied to God’s king in the Old Testament), the King (Acts 13:33), who now has authority to apply his salvation to the people of God, those who will believe in him.

Because the Son has come and accomplished salvation, thus defeating the Devil, this enemy turns his wrath upon the offspring of the King, that is, the believing community, and so they need to be protected. This is what we see depicted in verse 6: “and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.” Here is a promise that God will preserve his people during this age and in the face of tribulation so that they are not destroyed in the ultimate sense. In other words, they will not fall short of their eternal reward.[1]

As we said above, the third sub-section of Revelation 17 (verses 13-17) focuses also upon God’s protection of his people. Yet, before we look at that, we will examine the second sub-section (12:7-12), that one that shows why God is able to protect his people. We will look at it in our next post.

Joyfully Resting In God’s Protection With You,

Tom

[1] Based upon the wilderness wanderings in the Old Testament, the background to the picture here, the wilderness is a place of trial, testing, and tribulation. However, it also was a place where God watched over and provided for his people. That the community of the Christ, is in the wilderness during this age, shows not only that we have not come into the Promised Land (our ultimate reward) yet, but also that we both face great trials and tribulation in this age and are promised God’s ultimate protection. He will spiritually nourish his people, as he did physically with the manna in the Old Testament.
There is also strong evidence behind he word translated “place” that it refers to a sanctuary, a place where God meets his people. As seen elsewhere in Revelation, the church is the end-times temple of God, those who find their purpose and protection in the presence of God.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Don't Merely Take My Word For It

This coming Sunday we will look at a short passage, one that is not as challenging to understand as most in Revelation. As such, I will not spend time in this post explaining Revelation 11:14-19.

What I will do is remind us not to merely take my word for the proper understanding of this book, but to read and study Revelation, and to interact with the blog posts I have done that seek to demonstrate the reasons for why I read this last book of the Bible the way I do. Remember that the authority of the message does not reside in me, but in the Bible. So, track not just with my interpretation, but also with how I am arriving at it.

Here are some reminders of what I have said so far about why I understand Revelation in the way I do:
  1. The book is primarily a revelation from and about Jesus Christ (1:1). It is showing us who he is, what he has done and is doing to save and preserve his people, and how he is judging those who oppose him. 
  2. The content of the book is highly symbolic--signifying behind the visions what our Lord and Savior is doing to save and preserve his people, and to bring judgment upon those who oppose him. This is seen in the 1:1 clause that reads, "He signified (or symbolized) it by sending his angel to his servant John...." 
  3. The statements, "the things that must soon take place...those that are and those that are to take place after this" (1:1, 19) are derived from certain versions of Daniel 2:28-29 and demonstrate that this last book of the New Testament is telling us what is taking place during these last days we are now in that span from the coming of the Son of Man (see Daniel 7) to his second coming. 
  4. Related to #3, the parallel nature we discover in the book of Revelation and the frequent repetition let us know that the book is cycling through several views of this age--each time as it does this adding more and more about what takes place from the first to second comings of Christ. 
  5. The book is steeped in the Old Testament and filled with Old Testament quotes and allusions and must be understood in light of those quotes and allusions, as well as the tightly woven structure of the book. 
Given just these few points, we not only have guidance for understanding Revelation in general, but the passage we are looking at this Sunday (11:14-19) in particular. This passage brings us to the end of the second full cycle of visions of this entire age and so it brings us to the second coming of Christ and the consummation of the full kingdom of God's glory.

Read through this passage, asking God to help you understand it, in preparation for Sunday's sermon. Focus especially on this question:  Given what God says here about the future kingdom, how should we now live?
The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come. 15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying,
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
    and begun to reign.

18 The nations raged,
    but your wrath came,
    and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
    and those who fear your name,
    both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
19 Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.



Joyfully Looking Forward To And Praying For The Kingdom With You,

Tom

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Not A Hair Of Your Head Will Perish (Revelation 11:1-13)

In Luke 21:16-18 Jesus warns the church with these words: “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death…. But not a hair of your head will perish.”

This is one of those biblical passages that gives the reader whiplash. One the one hand, our Lord says that some Christians will be put to death. On the other hand, not a hair of their head will perish.” The two statements seem to contradict until we grasp that the word translated “perish” (apollumi) speaks of judgment (cf. Ps. 1:6; John 3:16). Jesus is saying that even if believers’ physical bodies are killed, they will not be destroyed in the ultimate sense. Not even in the slightest way will they fall short of salvation and face God’s judgment.  

That two-sided message is the same as what we find in Revelation 11:1-13. In Revelation 10:1-11 (the first half of the 10:1-11:13 interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets) we discover that the church is called to proclaim the full gospel, including the reality that we are sinners and in need of salvation. Because the world does not like this message, it persecutes the Church. In light of this, the second half of the interlude gives an assurance similar to what Jesus did in Luke 21:18, that though persecution will happen, the Church will be protected and saved in the ultimate way.[1]

The message begins with an acted-out parable.

An Acted-Out Parable (11:1-2)
John writes: “Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there,  2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.”

We need to remember that this is a continuation of a vision (10:1f.) and so what John writes here is what he envisions.

The “measuring” of “the temple of God, and the altar and those who worship there,” is intended to be seen in light of the Ezekiel 40-48 prophecy. In those chapters we see the establishment of the end-times temple (which both the New Testament in general and Revelation in particular see as the New Testament church united to Jesus Christ)[2] and also its protection symbolized by an angel measuring various features of the temple complex. We also see the same kind of “measuring” in Revelation 21:15-17 (most likely dependent on the Ezekiel texts also), where an angel uses a measuring rod to measure the city, its gates and its wall. In that passage the measuring of the city and its parts portrays the security of its inhabitants against the harm and contamination of unclean and deceptive people (see 21:27). Jewish and Gentile Christians will compose this temple community (as is evident from 3:12; 21:12-14 [the apostles representing the church from every nation]; 21:24-26; 22:2).  In Revelation 21 the absolute security of believers in heaven is depicted by the measuring. Here, the focus appears to be on security from ultimate destruction while, at the same time on the earth, they are persecuted by unbelievers.

According to what has been the most common interpretation of this chapter over the past century or so, this part of the vision deals with only the future, in a time of Great Tribulation, when the main focus is on Israel who has rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. According to this interpretation, the measured believers are Jewish believers who are being persecuted by unbelieving Jews. There are a number of reasons, however, to prefer the understanding I am offering, that states the protected believers are Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ in this present age who are being protected in the ultimate sense from Jewish and Gentile unbelieving persecutors. 
·         There is a problem with those views that see the measuring of temple/worshipers referring to believing ethnic Jews and so those outside would be unbelieving ethnic Jews. Nowhere else in this book is that distinction made. There is distinction between those who think they are Jews and call themselves as such, but are not, and those who are true Jews/believers (the Church): cf. 2:9; 3:9; 7:4-17. In these texts it appears that the elect vs. nations language of the Old Testament now applies to the Church (Jew and Gentile) elect and that unbelieving Jews can be part of the unbelieving nations. There has been, in part, a role reversal!

·         There is a problem with those views that see the temple as a literal future temple and so it speaks of a rebuilt temple in the future where believing ethnic Jews offer sacrifices to God and that God would promise his protection to this and see these offerings as good in light of the salvation-historical shift and the fact that the temple and sacrifices pointed to and were fulfilled in Christ.[3] See Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 8-10 (esp. 10:1-22!). In other words, it is highly doubtful God would see such a rebuilding as positive, when it is a denial that Christ is the only Redeemer and the fulfillment of all to which the temple pointed. 

·         There is a problem with those who see this as all in the future, based upon the context of the book of Revelation and all that we have seen to this point that points to its content referring to the entire inter-advent era of the Church. In the immediate context, 10:6, John’s rewording of a Danielic text suggests that the 3.5 years or forty-two months (as we see in 11:2) speaks of the inter-advent church age and not simply of a future short period at the end of history.[4] What is more, the origin of this 3.5 years is most likely the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes that lasted about this time. Such a reference, then, would be seen against that backdrop. 

·         As we discovered above, both the New Testament emphasis in general and the Revelation emphasis in particular are on the New Testament Church, united to Christ, as the end-times temple of God. This, coupled with the fact that in 11:1 John is told not just to measure temple and altar, but also “those who worship there,” suggests an emphasis upon people and not a building/place. This fits with the subsequent emphasis upon prophets or heralds of a message in ch. 11.[5] 

·         The “holy city,” which is to be trodden underfoot (v. 2),[6] is equated with the outer court. In Revelation, the “holy city is a reference either to the future heavenly city (3:12; 21:2, 10) or to its earthly manifestation in the church (20:9….).” Here is also another shift in salvation history (how God is working in history to save and preserve his people). Once Jesus Christ won through his death and resurrection the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit for his people and poured out the Spirit upon the church, the holy city has been the church, not an actual city (Heb. 10:22-23; Rev. 3:12; 20:9; 21:2, 10; 22:19). 

·         Finally, if we were right in ch. 7 that the interlude there speaks of the inter-advent age and security of the Church, so we are on good footing to see the same here. It is true that Rev. 11:14f. takes us to the end and final judgment. However, to the degree that these interludes, in part, show God answering the saints’ prayers for vindication—and so judgment on persecutors—as well as protection (cf. 6:11; 8:3-5), we also are moved in the direction that this addresses this entire inter-advent era and not merely a time in the future.

Since behind this Revelation 11 vision is the vision in Ezekiel 40-48 (and in that passage there are genuine believers and priests serving in the outer court), it seems best to understand this vision as teaching through the measuring of the temple, altar,[7] and those who worship there that God’s people are secure when it comes to God’s presence and their salvation. However, in the lack of measuring in the court outside of the temple, what the vision is teaching is that believers are not protected from that point where they interact with the unbelieving world. In other words, during the period of tribulation that we now know to be this current age between the first and second comings of Christ (the forty-two months of v. 2), the church will be persecuted. As Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse taught (Luke 21:16-17): “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake.” However, the measuring of the temple reminds us, as Luke 21:18 affirms, “But not a hair of your head will perish.”

In verses 3-6 we discover a key purpose of the protective measuring of verses 1-2.

A Key Purpose Of The Protective Measuring (11:3-6)
In verse 3 we read, “And I will give to my two witnesses,[8] and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth” (my own translation).[9] At first, this appears to be a different subject than verses 1-2 and inserted abruptly. However, that is not the case. The two witnesses are equated with “the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (v. 4). This reference takes us back to Rev. 1:12, 20; 2:5, where the lampstands speak of the church and her Spirit-empowered witness to the world. Standing behind this lampstand reference is Zechariah 4, where a lampstand is envisioned with seven lamps on it that are connected into two olive trees that provide a perpetual supply of olive oil, so they can burn. The point of that vision was that the Spirit of God would continually empower the post-exilic community to complete the task of rebuilding the temple, restoring right worship of God, and fulfilling their mission to the world (see esp. Zech. 4:6).[10] 

When we grasp the background, we understand that the two witnesses are symbolic for the church living on mission (the subject so far of 10:1-11:2). In other words, the two witnesses signify the church that has eaten the small scroll in chapter 10 and are proclaiming the whole gospel, and are promised protection from ultimate destruction in the midst of this hostile world for this entire age (the forty-two months or 1,260 days). This is also supported by verse 7, where it states the beast will make war on the two witnesses. This alludes to Dan. 7:21, where not an individual but the covenant community is attacked.[11] We dare not miss, then, that the intrinsic nature of the New Testament Church is to be a people living on mission, giving testimony to the gospel of God’s grace, making disciples. 

There are two main reasons why two witnesses are envisioned. To begin, under Old Testament Law (Dt. 17:6; 19:15), a crime could not be established, and a person found guilty on the basis of the word of only one witness. Instead, there are to be at least two, three was better (and most likely the intent is that more is even better).  This vision, then, is conforming to that Old Testament pattern to show that the church provides a credible and true witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, the reality of his saving work, the capstone of which was the resurrection, is confirmed by many witnesses (1 Cor. 15:1-8) and many signs (Heb. 2:4). 

The other reason two witnesses are envisioned is that they are patterned after Moses and Elijah, as seen in verses 5-6: “And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.”  The points of these verses seem to be as follows:
·         In verse 5 protection from the ultimate destruction is promised to the church and judgment upon persecutors. The fire may even call to mind Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-40). 

·         They are given the same kind of power that was given to the prophet Elijah (6a [see 1 Kings 17:1; 18:1, 42]) and to Moses (6b [Exodus 7:1-12:32, esp. 7:14-28]).

·         The main point, then, seems to be that the church, like authoritative Old Testament prophets, is to proclaim the authoritative Word of God, the core of which is the gospel—and to do this with power.[12] 

The fact that these two witnesses are seen as “clothed in sackcloth” (v. 3), is this was an Old Testament sign of mourning (e.g. Gen. 37:34; Neh. 9:1; Esther 4:2-4). As they proclaim the gospel in the world, they also mourn over the sin of the world and perhaps those who reject Jesus Christ. 

The persecuted Christian today may ask, “But where is God’s justice spoken of here in regard to those persecuting me?” The answer is in this: Either that persecutor will be dealt with justly by God in that his wrath was poured out on the Son for the sins of this person (if they receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation) or that person, who has rejected the eternal, loving, and holy God, and who will for all eternity, continue to rebel against God, will face the eternal judgment and wrath of God. So, in using the Old Testament pictures and wording that both show God’s judgment and that God’s judgment fits the crime, we see that in fact justice will prevail in judgment! It should also be noted that most of the time in persecution the persecutors are also prosecutors who pronounce their judgment upon the Christian. It is just then that the judgment pronounced in faithful gospel preaching not only be pronounced, but also take place. 

Speaking of the struggle the persecuted Christian has in the midst of their suffering, the vision given to John goes on to address this.

The Suffering Of The Church On Mission And Its Apparent Defeat. 7-10
Here we read: 
And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.


There are several helpful points we can make about these four verses:
(1) To begin, the church will complete its mission of giving testimony to Jesus Christ throughout this age and world, with the result that all whom God has redeemed from every “tribe, language, people, and nation” (5:9) will come to Christ. Most likely, this also suggests the completion of the number of martyrs God has ordained will be completed (6:11). 11:7

(2) Though the world system that serves Satan, made up of government and religious entities, will be operative throughout this age (see Rev. 13:1ff.), toward the end of this age the persecution will intensify, especially once the gospel has gone throughout the world and to all ethnic groups (Mt. 24:14). This will happen to the extent that it will appear that the beast will have defeated the church. 11:7

(3) Throughout this age the God-opposing, Christ-hating, gospel-rejecting world system will rejoice in the persecution and death of Christians, yet toward the end of this age this world system (symbolized by two places that were known for their opposition to God [Sodom and Egypt] and also by Jerusalem [that place that claimed fidelity to God, yet largely rejected Christ])[13] will grow in their revilement toward, their joy over, and their disrespect toward the death of God’s people. 11:8-10

(4) Part of the rationale for the way the world reacts toward the church throughout this age and especially at the end of the age is that they view the church as tormenting them with their message. 11:10

(5) It may be that the reference to “three and a half days” is used, not only to connect the time of post-suffering death of the faithful witnesses to the three days of Jesus, but also to echo the three and a half years of tribulation the Church experiences throughout this age. In other words, this will be the culmination of the church’s suffering at the end of this age (a much shorter time), following the path of their Savior, and yet, like with Jesus, resurrection follows (11-12). 11:9

This leads us to the final section of this entire passage. 

God Restores The Church To Himself. 11:11-13
Though it appears to the world that the church has been soundly defeated, this is reversed at the coming of Jesus Christ when the church is resurrected to their eternal reward. Following the message we saw at the beginning of the book (1:7: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”), when Christ returns, the coming will be visible and fear-inspiring to the world who faces judgment, and it will be with or in the clouds. So, clearly verses 11-12 are looking to that coming and thus to the resurrection of believers at that time (cf. 20:11-13) to be with their God (John 14:1-3; Rev. 21-22): “But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here!’ And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them.”

In verse 13, at the end of this interlude and just prior to the blowing of the seventh trumpet (which unveils the final judgment), we read of the beginning of the final judgment: “And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven”

There is an escalation of God’s judgment upon that part of mankind that opposes him, just before the judgment will reach to all the universe and every person who has opposed him. As a result of this escalated judgment, these continually rebellious and unbelieving people will give glory to God, not in that they will repent and believe in Christ, but that they will be judged and show that God does not in any way overlook sin. For believers, their sin is judged by the pouring out of God’s wrath upon the Son. For unrepentant unbelievers, their sin is judged by the pouring out of God’s wrath upon them. In both cases God is glorified! 

Conclusion
And so, in this interlude between trumpets six and seven, we discover that even though the church faces great push-back, trials and tribulations, suffering, and persecution throughout this age and that will escalate at the end of this age, God has promised to preserve and protect his people from the ultimate destruction, and destruction that would come about by not coming to genuine salvation in Christ and not persevering therein. 

The promise of this protection is intended to spur the church on to faithful witness, to proclaim the whole gospel continually to the world, no matter what the response is.

May we then, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in this gospel work of the Lord, since we are assured of his protection, the future reward of resurrection, and thus our labor is not in vain in Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:58).

Joyfully Persevering On Mission With You As We Keep The Hairs On Our Head Eternally,

Tom

[1] This interlude, just like the one we saw in Revelation 7, deals with sealing or protection of believers.

[2] There is much support in the NT in general and in Revelation in particular for seeing the eschatological temple of God as Christ (cf. John 1:14; 2:19; Rev. 21:22) and so all who are united to him also comprise the temple of God (cf. Acts 2:1-13; 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21-22; 1 Peter 2:4-10). For this emphasis of the church as temple in Revelation see 1:4, 12; 4:4; 21:3, 16, 22.

[3] The typical Dispensational Futurist understanding of this text is this (Dennis Johnson, ESVSB, 2478): “Many dispensationalists understand this to imply that during the great tribulation the Jewish temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and Jewish worship will be reinstituted there, and that it is here that, in the middle of the tribulation, the Antichrist will take “his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:4). They understand the reference to the holy city to mean literal, earthly Jerusalem.” As Beale, Campbell, 216, highlight, many such Dispensationalists argue that such future sacrifices are not in any way atoning, but they are “mere memorials of Christ’s sacrifice.” However, as Beale and Campbell comment there, such an approach is unconvincing. It is hard to believe that God would in any way put His stamp of approval upon a future restoration of sacrifice in any way, especially given the struggles the Jewish branch of New Testament Church had in its early days of moving away fully from the Law system. This is not a peripheral issue!

[4] In Rev. 10:6 the Angel of the Lord pronounces in an oath “that there is no more delay.” The point is that there is no more delay for the events of this inter-advent age that involve judgment of God’s enemies and salvation for his people. This clause is parallel to the clause, “it would be for a time, times, and half a time,” in its O.T. background, Dan. 12:7. This suggests strongly that this concept of “a time, times, and half a time” (3.5 years) is referring to the current age and not to a future short time at the very end, either just before or just after the return of Christ.
See also the Olivet Discourse and its connection to Daniel.

[5] It also must not be missed that in ch. 10 John is the prophet eating the words of God that he might proclaim them and other figures are used in ch. 11. Though not conclusive in and of itself, it makes us lean in the direction that the time referent in ch. 11 is the same as in ch. 10 and as it has been throughout Revelation (the inter-advent age).

[6] This is the time when Daniel predicted that “the holy place…and the host were to be trampled underfoot (the same Greek verb is used in one Greek version of Dan. 8:13). One Greek version of Zechariah 12:3, possibly paralleling the idea of “trampling” in Dan. 8:13, may also be behind this text. It is clear that this idea has ample Old Testament background to it.

[7] The “altar” is most likely referring to the altar of incense inside the temple and not the altar of burnt offering/sacrifice outside the temple in the courtyard, since the former is measured in the vision and latter is not. It takes the reader back to the scene in Rev. 6:9-10, where believers are seen under the altar and praying for justice—their prayers being the incense offered on that altar (Rev. 8:3-4). The altar and incense imagery in these chapters reminds the reader that saints suffer in this age, but God will, in response to their prayers, bring justice, make things right, and judge persecutors.

[8] Beale, Campbell, 220: “The future tenses (‘I will grant authority,’ ‘they will prophesy’) probably highlight divine determination instead of future time, context being the ultimate determiner of the meaning.”

[9] On “and they will prophesy,” Wayne Grudem, The Gift Of Prophecy In New Testament And For Today, ch. 2, argues that we should not follow Revelation as an example of the typical way the prophet/prophesy word group is used in the New Testament, since this was a work of an apostle. In chapter 1 of this book Grudem demonstrates that Old Testament prophets spoke the very words of God with divine authority. However, by the time of the New Testament, he argues in ch. 2, to display the newness, i.e. the New Covenant nature, of the Church, a different term is used for those who speak the very words of the Lord, i.e. those who are eyewitnesses to the risen Lord Jesus and the inauguration of his kingdom: apostles. Typically, in the New Testament, prophecy speaks merely human words to report something God brings to mind (Ch’s. 3-4 of Grudem’s book). Yet, I would argue, it appears here in Revelation that “prophesy” is used closer to the Old Testament meaning, i.e. speaking the very words of God. Yet, in light of the context of the New Testament in general and this interlude in particular, the prophetic action appears to be the proclamation of the gospel by the church—i.e. giving witness to Jesus Christ. Most likely “prophesy” is used to make the connection between the NT Church and the OT background examples of Moses and Elijah. Yet, in light of the Joel 2 prophecy alluded to in Acts 2 and the fulfillment in the NT Church (throughout the Church and the Church age), this verb could retain some of its typical NT usage to aid in the proclamation of the gospel witness to Christ.

[10] This background is also supported by the actual wording of verse 3. Though the ESV supplies the word “authority” in the clause, “I will give” (or “I will grant”), it is not present in the Greek text. It is more likely that what is being asserted here is that God is promising to give power and ability to his church for the mission. If this is the case, it also fits with the Revelation 1 and Zechariah 4 background.

[11] We can offer at least two other reasons for taking the two witnesses as referring to the church throughout this age. (1) In vv. 9-13, we read that the whole world will see the apparent defeat of these witnesses—a statement only understandable if they are understood as the corporate worldwide church (It is unlikely that the technologies of worldwide communication, by which two individual people could be seen by all throughout the world, were in mind). (2) The witnesses prophesy for three and a half years (v. 3), the same amount of time that the holy city (the church) is trampled underfoot (v. 2) and the woman of 12:6 (also representing the church) and those dwelling in heaven (13:6) are oppressed.

[12] To understand properly the message of v. 6 we must grasp the highly figurative nature of the book in general and this passage in particular. This text is not saying that two literal prophets in the future will do these things. Nor is it promising that the NT Church will often or always (or even necessarily ever) have the power to do these things literally. What it is saying is that the fulfillment of the expectation among Israel that Moses and Elijah would return in the end-times is not only found in their presence on the mountain of transfiguration (cf. Mt. 17; Mk. 9), but it is found in the NT Church, which is the end-times restoration of the true Israel of God. In other words, the NT Church, united to Christ, is the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and prophets (Elijah)!

[13] “Great city” elsewhere in Revelation speaks of Babylon. That is the direct symbolic reference here. However, the point being made is that those who thought they were serving God and part of his Jerusalem were actually part of the enemy of God, Babylon, in their opposition to the Christ.