Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas Reflection

At Christmas we reflect on what God had to do to bring about our salvation - something so radical we would never have thought of it, and so radical that we have a job to get our heads around it - become human! As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, Jesus had to be made "like us in every way," (Heb. 2:17), and Paul writes, he took on "flesh like ours under sin's domain." (Romans 8:3 HCSB).

The hymn writer Charles Wesley expressed it, "God contracted to a span incomprehensibly made man."

God in flesh, a foreign thought indeed, but as John writes this is the heart of the Christian message for "Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God." (1John 4:2,3)

Jesus was no phantom, and no human becoming God... Jesus was truly literal God in man with man residing - "The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14 HCSB).

Yet how frequently the church has wanted to distance Jesus from this stuff - the Roman Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception is an example, and evangelicals have their own ways too.

The incarnation is as important to our salvation as the death and resurrection of Jesus. To put it another way, Jesus could not have been parachuted in to die for us. He had to be born in this stuff, "born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law," (Gal. 4:4).

As Gregory Nazianzen (one of the old church fathers) said many years ago, "The unassumed is the unredeemed." Jesus had to assume it all in order to redeem it all and offer it back to God.

Glorious mystery, wonderful Saviour, so great a salvation!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Cataclysmic conflict or glorious hope

For many Revelation is about a cataclysmic conflict somewhere in the future - maybe ours. As such it holds out a gloomy prospect - things certainly aren't going to get better, in fact quite the opposite. But is this really so?

The end of Revelation takes us back to its beginning, with reminders of the immedicy of the prophesied events: ‘quickly take place’ (6), ‘coming quickly’ (7, 12, 20), and 'don't seal the words' (10) - something that Daniel was told to do as the words that he had written were for another generation hundreds of years later, but John is told not as they were for his generation. That doesn't mean they can't speak to us, after all, all of scripture is God breathed and profitable, Old Testament and New Testament, the Gospels, letters and Revelation, and there is much that has helped the church down through history in Revelation to stay strong and true in the face of difficult and trying circumstances.

In the last chapter (22:6-21) it reminds us that these are prophetic words (4 times) - words of diagnosis and remedy that needed to be taken seriously and act upon them.

It reminds us too that there is no grey area, or halfway house to the things of God (Let the unrighteous.... let the righteous... (11) outside are .... (15)). Nevertheless God is patient, and the gospel is offered right up to the end with the invitation to 'Come...' (17) but his patience will not last forever.

Revelation spoke to its generation and speaks to every generation since, that God is sovereign and utterly holy, and his purposes will come to pass, and as such he cannot be trifled with.

It tells us that Jesus has conquered, he has already won - there's not another battle up ahead he's got to fight and win to be sure of his crown. He is already heaven's conquering hero, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Earths empires rise and fall, but he is the King of an unshakeable kingdom that will outlast them all.

It tells us that the things that were passing away (something that was a real hindrance to some of the Hebrew Christians because they appeared to be remaining), were indeed about to, and with them the physical end of the Old Covenant - the Temple with all it's ritual and the place of relationship to God, the priests as intermediaries, and the continual offerings as the basis of that relationship.

It tells us the devil has been bound, the gospel can now be preached effectively in all the nations of the earth, and God will bless it to the extention of his kingdom among all peoples.

It also means that we as God's people can be active in society for the increase of the common grace of God among all peoples, and not simply abandon it to whatever under the pretext that it's all going to burn up anyway.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Reveation 21 - Now and Not Yet.

A new heaven and a new earth. What an amazing chapter this is, with present and future overtones, full of promise now and in the future. Verse 1 speaks of the ‘new heaven and new earth’ a phrase that’s only found in Isaiah 65, 66, and is applied liberally to the church, but v. 5 qualifies it: ‘making everything new’ which speaks of initiation and process. The now and the not yet of the new age.

When Christ died and rose again there was a fundamental cosmic change, and with the destruction of the temple in AD70 this was completed and shifted up a gear - everythings moving forward, not backword. The idea that God dwelt in a building in one corner of the earth was gone – it was and will no longer be required because God’s dwelling is now with humanity (v.3). That means there is no necessity for a rebuilt temple – that would be a backward step.

No sea? (21:1) Just in case some are worried about there being no sea (a new earth without sea??), we need to remind ourselves that Revelation is full of signs and symbols. The sea in Biblical language is frequently used to depict Gentile nations - Is 17:12, 13; Ps. 65:7; Rev. 17:5.  In other words in the ultimate completion of the new and heaven and new earth there will be no unbelieving, pagan, ungodly nations.

All are valued (21: 19-21). In this new world is the new Jerusalem, not a literal city, but a people who are the dwelling place of God, the church, the bride of Christ, here described in all her glorious splendour - the references to the precious stones bring to remembrance the words in Malachi 3:17, “And they shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels;” Everyone of God’s people has great value, beauty and purpose - not only then, but now!

The curse is undone(21:3; 22:3). It begins now and will be ultimate in eternity. He wipes away the tears; death has lost it sting; grief, crying and pain can be healed and changed, and one day will end.

A River (19:.6; 22:1, 17). Today the river from the spring of life is a mighty flowing river that gives LIFE - in fact the whole emphasis here is on life. The tree of life is available to all and its leaves are for the healing of the nations – now and not yet: in eternity they won’t need healing, so there has to be a present aspect to this. Jesus came that we might have life. The 'rivers' that he offers is none other than the gift of the Holy Spirit. So much so that there are 'waters to swim in' to quote Ezekial.

They will reign... In this chapter we have a picture of the gospel and its power to save, to heal, to restore, and those who believe will reign forever and ever – something that begins here and now, even as Paul said in Romans 5:17,  that those who believe would reign in life through the gift of righteousness. It starts now. Life is preparation for the future. This is the warm up.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Revelation 20: Some thoughts on the Millenium

A lot of theological thought and ink has been expended on the first 6 verses of Revelation 20, and all because it mentions six times a thousand years, yet nowhere else in the Bible is this time frame ever mentioned.

The futurist sees it as a literal one thousand years after Jesus has returned. The problem is that much of Revelation is not literal, it’s in sign and symbol – sometimes that’s explained, at others it’s assumed to be understood by those in the know, and a great deal of it finds it’s meaning in the Old Testament.

I used to believe this was literal, I used to believe the majority of Revelation was in the future, the near future, any moment now (that was 30 odd years ago) – no more. The bulk of it is in the past, with only the end of the book pointing to the future.

The thousand years is no more literal than a literal beast. Some say 10 is the number of human government. Well a 1000 is multiples of 10, so perhaps we could say that it refers to a long period of human government – certainly the idea seems to be of a very long period of time.

Though this is the only time a ‘millenium age’ is mentioned in scripture it’s not the only time a 1000 is, in fact it’s used several times, one example being the cattle on a thousand hills belonging to God, but we would never think for one moment that that means God doesn’t own the cattle on the 1001st or the 1002nd hill. Strict literalism can get you into all sorts of trouble.

Another thing that we should no notice is that it says nothing about Jesus coming to, and reigning on earth during this time – the vision appears to be entirely heavenly – there is no millenial reign of Christ on earth.
The chains too are no more literal than the idea of a literal Dragon in Rev. 12 (can you chain an angel?), but rather tells us in symbolic language that the Devil is bound in such a way as to stop him deceiving the nations – previously he had had what would appear to be ‘free reign’ (he even offered Jesus a short cut to the kingdoms of this world, and Jesus did not say they weren’t his to give), but no more! Yes we can go and preach the gospel and disciple all nations, and the devil cannot stop it, his power to hold them in darkness has been broken!

Another thing to notice, is that those who would soon lose their lives in the Great Tribulation for their testimony about Jesus, were actually very much alive, and not only that they were reigning with Jesus – yes some would suffer, but God had assured them and continued to assure them that he knew who they were and though they might loose their lives they would one day be with him, and reign with him – the devil certainly didn’t have have last word! Encouragement indeed to stay true to Jesus. Not only that, they were now in the place of exercising judgment.

What is happening on earth during the 1000 years? The gospel is advancing, Christ is building his church – a glorious church, ‘without spot or wrinkle’ as Paul puts it, of people from every tibe and tongue and nation, and that church is to be both light and salt, challenging and changing the world it is in.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A Celebration and a Wedding

The church had been through a tough time, it had suffered heavily and the cry had gone up, ‘how long O Lord?’

As we saw in the last post, the Scarlet Beast and the Harlot were none other than historic Rome and unfaithful Israel. It was they who had been the cause of the suffering, including the bloodshed and death of the saints… but the time for judgment came. Yes God is patient, but his patience does not last forever – there is a day of reckoning, for every man and woman, be they emperor or everyman, prime minister or pauper, educated or not…..

Unfaithful Israel had rejected the One they should have known and received – their Messiah, the saviour Jesus. Their house was left empty. 40 years had passed, but they were not for turning. The glory had departed. There was ritual but no relationship. Now she stood judged and found wanting, and God uses the ‘powers that be’ to execute his judgment – Rome sweeps through the land exercising a scorced earth policy, and those who know the prophetic words flee – just as Jesus had said.

Jerusalem was devastated, the Temple and all it represented destroyed.


It was the beginning of a new era. The old had gone and the new had come. A celebration was in order. “Hallelujah! Salvation, glory, and power belong to our God, because his judgments are true and righteous, because he has judged the notorious prostitute…” (Rev. 19:1,2). God had decisively acted, God had powerfully saved, for all glory and power are his. This was some party!

Then immediately following unfaithful Israel’s judgment we have the announcement of the marriage of the Lamb – with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the church becomes the Bride of Christ. This is not future, this is a past and ongoing event, as many people believe in and are joined to Christ.

As verse 8 puts it: “She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure.” Notice that, ‘given’. But the next verse muddies this in most modern traslations by saying that the “fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.” If that’s the case, it’s not given, it’s what I’ve done or put on. It’s better to stay with the old translation here and read, “the righteousness of the saints,” in other words as the Reformers liked to put it, an ‘alien righteousness’, something outside of, and given to them – imputed righteousness. As Paul says, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness. Now to the one who works, pay is not considered a gift, but somehting owed. But to the one who does not work, but believes on him who declares the ungodly to be rightoeus, his faith is credited for righteousness.” (Rom 4:3-5).

The words of Zinzendorf come to mind….

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

This spotless robe the same appears,
When ruined nature sinks in years;
No age can change its glorious hue,
The robe of Christ is ever new.

O let the dead now hear Thy voice;
Now bid Thy banished ones rejoice;
Their beauty this, their glorious dress,
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness.


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Scarlet Beast and the Harlot

This chapter like much of Revelation has intrigued many - what is it about, who is the Beast? who is the harlot? Is it past or future?

Having been taught and myself taught a dispensational, pretribulation, premillenial rature (wow that's a mouthful!) this was all about to come, or already taking place before our very eyes (I remember the excitement, these were the last days, any moment now Jesus would come and we would be gone!) - a revived Roman Empire (the Common Market come European Union) and Roman Catholicism or the World Council of Churches, or some such church that was in league with the powers that be.

Time has a way of proving one right or wrong, and how frequently those who held such approaches have had to reasses and adapt, only to reassess and adapt again, and again - something which mars the witness of the church, and demoralises the saints. As I have studied Revelation it's been interesting to read of a number of dispensational Bible teachers and preachers who've become disillusioned with this approach and begun to ask whether they were interpreting it correctly, and as a result of ufrther study, adopting a partial fulfillment approach.

And this is where I'm at, and when we do, chapters like this are no longer a matter of specultion, or puzzles to be solved, but a realisation of the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Jesus regarding unfaithful Jerusalem (Matthew 23 and 24).

The Beast can be no other than Rome, the city of seven mountains or hills (17:7, 9), and the harlot who sits astride the beast (therefore diferrent from the beast) is Jerusalem, unfaithful Israel.

God had no trouble referrring to his people as a harlot in the Old Testament (see Jeremiah and Hosea). And logically it doesn't make sense to use the phrase of a heathen nation. It has to do with a people who have been unfaithful and played the harlot - exactly what Israel had done both in Old Testament days and at the time Revelation ws written.

This alone make's sense of John's words, "When I saw her, I was greatly astonished" (17:6) - to have said that of Rome just wouldn't. It was the unexpected one, the one who belonged to the Lord, who had defiled herself and become enamoured with and cosied up to Rome. The one who had conspired to crucify Jesus her Messiah, had persecuted his church, and become drunk as John puts it "on the blood of the saints and the witnesses of Jesus."

The angel said to John, "she will be hated," and "made desolate and naked," solemn, serious words. Her house had been left emplty (Matt. 23:38), and judgment had come. Read the history, watch the documentaries - it happened literally.

The prophetic word given to John, was never about speculative ideas regarding the end times, but prophetic diagnosis and remedy which could lead to one of two responses, repentance or rejection.

Unfaithful Israel rejected and were rejected and judged.

What God says he means.

Scripture repeatedly shows God's patience and mercy, but it will not last forever. Thoughout Revelation is a gospel theme, and an opportunity for response, but there comes a day when the door will close.

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Wrath of God & Rebellion of Humanity

Revelation is a gripping book.

There are heights and there are depths. It shows you the glory of God and the the depths of human sin. It's a book of blessing and of judgment, and a word that frequently occurs is 'wrath' or more specifically the wrath of God, unveiled in the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls, in increasing measures.

The word is mentioned 11 times and sometimes qualified as 'great wrath' or 'the fury of his wrath' - hardly words we like to hear.

To be frank it's not a subject we warm to, it is much easier to talk about the love of God. But.... if we cannot talk about the love and wrath of God in the same breath are we really talking about the right thing when it comes to either?

Love for many today is no more than an insipid, sentimental feeling. It's gushy and slushy, and when it's not there, it's not there. It's also seen as 'tolerance' (of the politically correct form), where, 'if it makes them happy let them do it,' is the standard. 'I mean, whose to judge? They've gotta work these things out for themselves,' as they say!

The problem is when we put our modern day interpretations of love on to God we find it just doesn't fit, and rather than asking whether we've got it right, we say God's got it wrong - as if we should tell God what he should be like!

That's where we need to go back and read our Bibles. There we discover that God is not on our level - never was, never will be. He is holy, holy, holy - we certainly are not, and the fact of the matter is that a holy, loving, and just God has every right to be angry - we have rebelled against him, we have messed up our own lives and those of others too, and spoiled and soiled the world he created and declared was very good.

BUT, like a good father (for that is what he is), he cannot simply ignore rebellion, and allow it to go on, turn a blind eye to it and hope it will rectify itself, or go away - it doesn't. It usually gets worse.

It is in this context that the good news comes in and makes sense, the good news that God has done just that in Jesus, who willingly came and took all our sin, and bore it's judgment on the cross - the holy wrath of a just God. "You were dead.... under wrath.... But God who is rich in mercy, because of his great love..." (Eph 2:1-4) - wonderful words!

As an aside it never ceases to amaze me how many who deny God want justice. The logic is in an evolutionary world there can be no such thing as justice.

When you know the holiness of God and the depth of our sin, that line of Stuart Townends, In Christ Alone, is so soul stirring, and heart warming, "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied...."

No wonder Charles Wesley could write, "No condemnation now I dread, Jesus, and all in him, is mine; alive in him, my living head, and clothed with righteousness divine. Bold I approach the eternal throne...."

Yes Revelation speaks of the wrath of God, but it also has a parallel message of the gospel, providing the opportunity to repent in the face of such judgments. Sadly they all to frequently would not repent and turned on God and blasphemed his name, even preferrring to lose their lives than turn to God (6:16, 17; 9:20, 21; 16:9, 11).

Humanities rebellion runs deep, but God's love runs deeper still. All the while the earth remains the words of Paul apply, "Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:2). What will you do? Will you repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ and be saved from the wrath to come?

You can listen to Wesleys grand hymn here:

Monday, 7 November 2011

Revelation 13.

This post is a long one – it’s a big subject, and even this is a basic overview!

If anyone knows anything about Revelation, it’s the mark of the beast – 666. In the world it’s used by pop groups and Satanists etc. and in the church it’s generally thought of as some evil person who will arise on the world scene and be known as the anti-Christ.

An interesting point of note is that the Eastern Church hasn’t the same the fascination and focus on it like there is in the West. In the West there has been a constant endeavour to make the connection with something or someone, i.e. Hitler to Mussolini, Henry Kissenger to Ronald Reagan (he had three names with six letters each!); The Lion = papacy, the Leopard = third world (because that’s where they come from), and the Bear = communist countries; and then there’s bar codes, implants, and buses!

• Who the book was written to – the church of its day.
• Why it was written – to address a potential crisis of faith in the early church. After the ‘success’ of the gospel, now there was suffering, and some of the Christians were in danger of compromising their faith by entering into the idolatrous practices of the people around them, especially emperor worship. The book of Revelation calls the Christians of that day back to the worship of God and Christ (the Lamb) over against participation in the idolatrous worship of the world around them.
• How it was written – It’s a book of signs, everything is not what it seems. It’s signified, or we might say ‘codified,’ because it was politically sensitive; and yet it could be understood by those in the know. Some see it as a, “a thinly disguised political tract, with the names of those being criticized changed to numbers to protect the authors and early Christians from reprisals.”

666 & WISDOM….
• It is not three 6’s but a written number.
• It is not a mystery or enigma!
• It is meant to be understood

A good starting point is to note that John says in verse 18 “here is wisdom.” The problem is that many commentators think that John is saying there’s a mystery, something we can’t fully know or be sure of – one modern writer says “the message of this chapter is that he will be very hard to spot.”

Not so. ‘Here is wisdom’ is meant to be a simple straightforward statement, not an enigma! The same expression occurs over in 17:9. The reason it has been thought to be a mystery and hard to understand is due to the placing of the majority of Revelation in the future, when the reality is that John is writing to the church of the time in order to help it understand what was going on, and enable it to be a Radical Church in the Real World, by staying true to Jesus Christ and confronting the world with the whole counsel of God in the Gospel.

John therefore expected anyone with understanding to be able to work out exactly what he meant – Today you can buy books called ‘Decoding the Mark of the Beast.’ You don’t need to, 1. Because it’s related to that time, and, 2. Because John provided all the information required! You don’t need the newspaper or TV, or anyone’s book, to help you here.

Cryptograms. In ancient days letters also served as numbers i.e. the Roman numeral system was based on letters representing numbers, V was 5; X was 10; C was 100; D was 500; M was a 1000 etc.. The Greek and Hebrew languages operated similarly, although their numerical equivalents followed the alphabetic order and employed the entire alphabet.

As a consequence cryptogrammic riddles were common in ancient cultures, even among Christians, and involved the adding up of the numerical values of the letters of a word, particularly a proper name.

Two Clues – John gives us two clues:
• “The number of a man.” (18) not a computer code, It’s a person.
• The time factor…. if Revelation was written for the church of its day then we need look and speculate no further.

The strongest manuscript evidence supports 666, though there are a few that support 616 – though it doesn’t appear to make that much difference according to the scholars.

Dr. Ellen Aitkin professor at McGill University, Quebec, says scholars now believe the number in question has very little to do with the devil, and that it was actually a complicated numerical riddle in Greek, meant to represent someone’s name. “It’s a number puzzle — the majority opinion seems to be that it refers to [the Roman emperor] Nero.”

Kenneth Gentry says, “The name “Nero” well meets the three fundamental criteria: proper numerical valuation, reference to a man (Rev. 13: 18), and contemporary relevancy.” Before Jerusalem Fell, 201

It is frequently assumed that the Beast and anti-Christ are the same, and that this is all tied in with what John says about anti-Christ in his letters – the quick answer is not necessarily.

Anti-Christ is nowhere mentioned in Revelation! The term antichrist is used, by John in his letters (1 John 2:18; 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7) in two ways to identify a heresy which…
1. Denied certain essential doctrines concerning Jesus (i.e. come in the flesh).
2. Identified a person or persons holding that heretical view.

Frequently we hear ‘the beast’ referred to, but actually there are two (13:1 and 13:11). Some have thought it was the Roman Catholic Church, a Revived Roman Empire (Common Market/EEC/EU), or even the USA, but the answer is found in the context. It should be noted here that the phrase is used in a generic and a specific sense – the beast is the empire, is the individual, is the beast.

The beast is described as coming out of the sea and having seven heads and ten horns. The seven heads refer to different emperors. The first four seals in chapter 6 refer to Caesars Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius – there was of course one prior to these and to the coming of Christ, Julius Caesar. In chapter 6:9 John refers to the particular character of the beast at this time under the fifth seal (his murderous activity), and will refer more definitely to him in chapter 17.

“The seven heads are seven mountains…. they are also seven kings.” (17:9, 10). Here we have the detail. Whether John wrote earlier or later, Rome was ‘the city on seven hills,’ and ‘the kings’ represent the emperors or Caesars, five of whom have fallen and the ‘one who is’ is none other than Nero. The authority and power of Rome came from the dragon, the devil.

The historian Josephus speaks of the Romans as ‘the lords of the habitable earth,’ ‘rulers of the whole world,’ and Rome as ‘the greatest of all cities.’

F.W. Farrar (1882) states that “all the earliest Christian writers on the Apocalypse, from Irenaeus down to Victorious of Pettau and Commodian in the fourth, and Andreas in the fifth, and St. Beatus in the eighth century, connect Nero, or some Roman emperor, with the Apocalyptic Beast.” And says that “the clue is preserved for us, not only by Jewish Talmudists, and Pagan historians and authors, such as Tacitus, Suetonius, Dion Cassius, and Dion Chrysostom; but also by Christian fathers like St. Irenaeus, Lactantius, St. Victorinus, Sulpicius Severus, and the Sibylline books, and even by St. Jerome, and by St. Augustine.” Farrar adds that “nothing can prove more decisively than these references that for four centuries many Christians identified Nero with the Beast.”
Farrar concludes by saying: “Beyond all shadow of doubt or uncertainty, the Wild Beast from the sea is meant as a symbol of the emperor Nero. Here, at any rate, St. John has neglected no single means by which he could make his meaning clear without deadly peril to himself and the Christian Church. He describes this Wild Beast by no less than sixteen distinctive marks, and then all but tells us in so many words the name of the person whom it is intended to symbolize.” (Farrar; Early Days of Christianity).

Revelation 13:2 pictures the nature of the beast in leopard, bear and lion form. A leopard is swift, a bear strong, and the mouth of a lion frightening and devouring. History shows Nero fulfilled all these aspects.

This is the same as the person described in Daniel:
“And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other… After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.” Daniel 7:3, 7

The pagan writer Apollinius of Tyana, who lived at the time of Nero, states: “In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs…. And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mother, but Nero gorged himself on this diet.”

Nero ruthlessly murdered his parents, his brother, his pregnant wife and other family members. He was a homosexual, who found sexual gratification in watching torture. He enjoyed dressing up as a wild beast and raping male and female prisoners, and illuminated his garden parties with the bodies of Christians, covered with pitch and set aflame.

Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) described Nero as “the destroyer of the human race” and “the poison of the world.”

But what about the fatal wound? 13:3 says “One of his heads appeared to be fatally wounded” Notice it says ‘appeared to be.’

On 9th June 68AD Nero committed suicide and there are three important things to note:
• With the death of Nero, the Roman Empire’s founding family vanished from rule.
• The Roman Empire was hurled into civil wars of horrible ferocity and dramatic proportions.
• Rome almost disintegrated but amazingly it revived (13:3).

13:7 “He was permitted to wage war against the saints……” Remember the revelations: God is on his throne, the Lamb is acting in judgment, the fact that God knows those who are his – represented in the 144,000 and great multitude. It all helps John and the church up to this point, “He was permitted to wage war against the saints…”

Nero was the first emperor to attack the church and also started the attack on Jerusalem – later Vespasian and Titus would complete it. The attack on the church was ferocious and started in November 64AD and went on for a total of 42 months (13:8).

13:8 “all those on earth will worship him.” Emperor worship was compulsory throughout the Roman Empire at this time. The Roman emperors were called divus or sebastos, words that referred to a divinity they claimed or accepted for themselves. On coins minted in Nero’s reign, he is called the “Saviour of the world.” The Roman Empire considered itself to be “the saviour of the world” the answer to its needs! Inscriptions have been found in Ephesus in which Nero is called “Almighty God” and “Saviour”.

What is the Mark of the Beast?
This worries a lot of people, and sells books, but it’s certainly not the euro, dollar, or an implanted microchip! Again the clue is in the context. In chapter14:1 we read that the 144,000 had “His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads,” now I’ve never heard anyone suggest that this is some implant that Christians receive, which ought to make us stop and think.

New Testament scholar Craig C. Hill says, “It is far more probable that the mark symbolizes the all-embracing economic power of Rome, whose very coinage bore the emperor’s image and conveyed his claims to divinity (e.g., by including the sun’s rays in the ruler’s portrait). It had become increasingly difficult for Christians to function in a world in which public life, including the economic life of the trade guilds, required participation in idolatry.” (Craig C. Hill (2002), In God’s Time: The Bible and the Future, Eerdmans; p. 124)

Craig R. Koester offers a similar view, “As sales were made, people used coins that bore the images of Rome’s gods and emperors. Thus each transaction that used such coins was a reminder that people were advancing themselves economically by relying on political powers that did not recognize the true God.” (Craig R. Koester (2001), Revelation and the End of All Things, Eerdmans; p. 132).
In John 19:15 we read “But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.” This might well be considered an acceptance of the mark of the beast – their devotion and commitment were to Caesar.

The Call.
“This demands the perseverance and faith of the saints.”13:10b
“This demands the perseverance of the saints who keep God’s commands and their faith in Jesus.”14:12

Don’t jump to conclusions about the state of things – God had allowed Nero to wage war against the saints, it wasn’t a fault with the church. Also don’t take on board reports of the church’s demise, God has a way of reviving his work.
Be discerning – Signs and wonders and powerful words were a big part of what was going on in chapter 13, but they weren’t of God. Don’t believe everything you hear or see. Realise God is in control
Stay true to Jesus, worship him only. The Christians at that time must have been sorely tempted to compromise, but that’s not the answer.
Keep the faith. Stay true to ‘the faith’ which was ‘once for all delivered to the saints.’
Look for the return of Jesus not the coming of an anti-Christ. There is a very real danger in some areas of what might be described as a ‘Christian occultism,’ a morbid fascination with 666, anti-Christ and all things connected. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus.
Is your name in the “Book of life” (13:8)? John refers to this 7 times in Revelation. Those whose names are not written there will face the judgment of a holy and righteous God. In fact an underlying aspect to all that’s going on in Revelation is the opportunity to repent and believe in God and the one he has sent…. Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Wrath of the Lamb

Some will remember when children were taught to pray, “Gentle Jesus meek and mild….” and many have sung, “no crying he makes…” But, what kind of image does this conjure up of Jesus – a very nice, ‘docile’ Jesus – compliant, non-offensive, someone who just gets on with everybody, and is everyone’s friend?

My ‘personal’ Jesus
A number of years ago now the controversial ‘artist’ and musician Marylin Manson released a song called Personal Jesus (originally by Depeche Mode), and it begins with the words ‘Your own personal Jesus, Someone to hear your prayers, Someone who cares.’ In 2006 it was ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Songs Ever. Now you may say, what’s wrong with that isn’t that what he is?
But there’s something very subtle going on here and it’s found in the expression ‘your own personal Jesus,’ i.e. one that is unique to and for you, not necessarily the Bible one, one that you make and suits your own personal desires and needs. (The song was inspired by the book Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley).
We need to be careful it’s not public opinion or our own personal feelings that are shaping our knowledge of Jesus.

The wrath of God
Some today struggle with the whole idea of the wrath of God, with the typical objection being how could a God of love act in such a way. Some get round this by suggesting that the God of the New Testament is somewhat different to the God of the Old – as if there has been some development of God. Some see Jesus as different from God, or the nicer face of God, but this is to divide God.
Might I suggest that the problem is ours and not God’s. The problem is that we struggle in our politically correct, humanistic world, to conceive of anger and love going together – they seem to be opposites. In reality they are not two opposites, anger (rightly expressed) is an aspect of love. In fact love without anger leaves us with an insipid ‘attitude’ (you can’t call it love) that fails to bring true discipline to a rebellious child, in fact the cry for justice arises from the fact that love (the basis for normal healthy relationships, and therefore society) has been violated in some way, and without justice its seen to be excused, acceptable, doesn’t matter….. A loving father sets up boundaries, and threatens consequences. If those consequences are not followed through in a loving way, the child will lose respect for the Father, and actually a lack of love.

All of scripture
The whole Bible must be our teacher, it reveals Jesus in his own ‘right’, not after our own ideas of him. On the one hand that may be:
1. Disturbing and discomforting,
2. Encouraging and stirring.

Just as an aside a question arises as to whether the lack of men in the church is due to an effeminate portrait of Jesus, or as someone put it ‘my Boyfriend in the sky,’ caricature.

In Revelation we get an unfolding picture of Jesus, in fact John’s knowledge of Jesus is expanded considerably. He has known him as a fellow human who walked the earth, a good man, a friend of sinners, a miracle worker, at the transfiguration he encountered him in his glory as the Beloved Son of God, he knew him as the Saviour who died and rose again. Then in Revelation 1 Johns gets a revelation of Jesus as the ascended and all glorious Lord. Then in Rev. 5 and 6 another unfolds culminating in, “the wrath of the Lamb …. the great day of Their wrath has come.” This verse parallels Luke 23:30 and Matthew 24.

“The wrath of the Lamb” sounds like a contradiction! We love lambs. We love to see them playing, skipping, running up and down. We love to feed them, stroke them. They are so innocent. They would never hurt you, and yet here we are confronted with the wrath/anger of the Lamb. It is the Lamb who opens the Seals. It is the wrath of the Lamb that is manifested against an unbelieving and ungodly world.

In order to understand this you need to step into the THRONE ROOM, as the psalmist said “When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless (wearisome task) until I entered God’s sanctuary. Then I understood their end.” Psalm 73:16-17. There’s an important principle here, the need to go into the sanctuary, where God is encountered for who he is, as he is, holy – other than we are, creator – the world was made by and for God, redeemer – the One who has bought us. It is from this vantage point we must look at what unfolds in Revelation.

In reading Revelation we need to keep in mind the big story. God created the world, humanity. Humanity sinned and spoiled God’s creation. God gave a promise, called and raised a man – Abraham, who had a family that became a nation – Israel, to whom he gave his word through the prophets, of a Saviour, who came in the fullness of time. He came to his own, and lived and taught, and revealed the heart of God, but his own rejected him. He wept over Jerusalem, and warned of coming judgment, and said that ‘all these things would come on this generation,’ and how he had wanted to gather them to himself, but they were not willing, and now their house was ‘left desolate.’ (Matthew 23).

The Lion and the Lamb
The Lamb shows us Jesus in all his purity and meekness – we love lambs, we play with them. The Lion shows us that he is King – sovereign and powerful and not to be trifled with. This Lamb is not to be messed with, not because he is a Lion, but because is the Lamb who has suffered, was slain, and is alive again, the worthy One. The one who took on flesh like ours, was tempted in every way as we are, the One who the devil through everything at, yet he conquered and so he has the right to judge.

As it says in the Acts of the Apostles:
“ Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:31,
and in Pauls letter to Tmothy:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead….”(2Ti 4:1).

We cannot have one aspect of Jesus without the other. The New Testament says “Our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:29, and “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:31.

I think Dorothy Sayers put it well when she wrote:
“We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.”

Monday, 10 October 2011

Heaven's Perspective

Perspective is everything, if we don’t have it we are in trouble.

In Revelation we encounter a persecuted and suffering church, and things are not going to get better. From their perspective it doesn’t look or feel good, later on we will hear the cry, “how long, O Lord?”

Following the messages to the seven churches we see heaven’s door open and we are immediately launched into heaven, “Come up here,…” (Rev.4:1) was the summons – an invitation into the very presence of God, and my what a revelation.

A Throne
This word will be repeated numerous times. Yes there is a throne in heaven upon which God sits, and from that throne he reigns. He has the first and last word.

John says that before it was “something like a sea of glass” – nothing can disturb, or trouble the throne of God. God is not thrown into a quandry by what’s going on on earth. In fact in the words of the psalmist, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs” (2:4 HCSB) at the schemes of man.

God is Trinity
“One was seated on the throne…. seven Spirits of God or the sevenfold Spirit of God….. A Lamb…” God is Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that blessed (happy) community of eternal fellowship that exists at the heart of the universe and is the cause and creator of it.

God is holy
The thrice holy – utterly unique One who is so much more and other than we are. How frequently we bring God down to our level, and then wonder why our Chrisitan experience is so feeble and frail.

The forever God
God who was.
God who is.
God is to come.
No beginning, no end. He reigns for ever and ever. Hallelujah!

We see him praised and worship:
1. For who he is (4:10).
2. For his work in creation (4:11).
3. For his work in redemption (5:9, 10, 12, 13).

How often our worship starts with ourselves – feelings: I don’t feel like it; self analysis: I don’t feel good enough; or with what we are going to do: “I will …”, “We will …” and then we wonder why we never get airbourne, why it seems hard work and little more than the old genie in a bottle trick.

When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, worship came first, “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name…” it’s about two thirds of the way through that we get the confession, “Forgive us our sins…” Maybe your prayer life is taken up with too much of yourself – it’s all about you. That’s whirlpool worship, it sucks you in and leaves you exhausted.

David stirred himself up, spoke to himself, “Bless the Lord O my soul…” Psalm 103:1. Worship involves a looking away from ourselves to Another who is worthy in himself, and secondly for what he has done.

We need to get God’s perspective
Getting into God’s presence and get his perspective makes all the difference.

Yes life for the churches John was writing to was tough and going to get tougher, but God was on the throne, and he reigns. Satan and those he works through will not win. The world is God’s, he has wrought salvation, and his people can have every stong hope in him.

Perhaps your perspective has become skewed, fear has become your consellor, and you are on a downer - It’s time to get into the presence of God, to see him on his throne, to know that he commands your destiny, to get his perspective on your life.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Jesus Loves and Speaks to the Church

Jesus loves the church for which he gave himself. John said “To him who loves us…” (1:5). It is out of that context that Revelation chapters 2 and 3 flow. It is out of that context that he speaks to the church sometimes hard and difficult words as well as words of comfort and strength. Some would like to say these letters represent church ages, others that being seven it represents the total sum of what God says to the church, neither of which is adequate. These were written to specific churches at particular time for a paricular reason, and in no way do they cover all of the problems we might find in the church. In fact while revival is taking place in one area, a church may be dying in another.

In chapters 2 and 3 we have seven letters to seven churches. Each of these letters comes out of the context of Jesus as the ascended Lord of the Church, who walks among them. The church in Revelation was going through a difficult time. Persecution was on the increase. It was tough. Nevertheless that doesn’t rule out other aspects of life and in these letters Jesus addresses each of the churches with a divine diagnosis.

These are prophetic words. The argument is raised that preterists empty Revelation of it’s prophetic content, but that is to limit prophecy to futurism. The fact of the matter is that much of prophecy in the Bible is of the nature of divine diagnosis and remedy, and that is what Revelation is about. How we need that divine diagnosis today, and the remedy God provides – Something to be noted here is that he doesn’t say the same thing to each church, a mistake that seems to be commonly made today where all churches are put in the same boat, and the same diagnosis and remedy applied.

In each of the letters we read, “I know…” That God knows can be both comforting and disturbing, comforting about the struggles and trials we face as Christians and churches, but disturbing when it’s about the things we thought we could hide, and get away with. We may feel we can make a good impression, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing that is hidden from him – he knows. What does he know about you?

Nevertheless the “I know…” here is redemptive, he knows and he reveals his knowledge of us not to condemn, but to change. So often we are blind and don’t see clearly. We are also very good at justifying ourselves – “Yes, I know, but you don’t understand…” Such arguments don’t stand a chance with God.
I wonder if such a word were to come today what would God say of you and your church? And would you be willing to hear it?

Which brings me to the recurring words, “If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches?” Listen is probably a better word as we know all to well we may hear but not listen – we heard what our mother said, but we didn’t listen! Are we listening. Yes the Spirit speaks today, the prophetic voice can still be heard – if we are willing to stop ad listen. Perhaps the churches in Revelation thought they were doing OK given the circumstances, but God’s voice cuts through all of that and diagnosies their real condition, and reveals every situation for what it is.

Repent occurs in six of the seven letters. Repent is not a word we like to hear, as it involves admission of guilt – being in the wrong. It’s a humbling word, but with God it also becomes a lifting and saving word. The word to six of the seven churches involved a call to repentance, a recognition of what was wrong and a change of direction/action.
What do you need to repent of? Don’t delay, thats the devils way – it can wait til torrow. No, do it today, and be a recipient of God’s geart mercy and grace.

For one church there was no such call – Philadelphia; the challenge was to hold on. That’s what some need to hear. God knows the difficulty, the trial, he is with you and he says ‘hold on to what you’ve got, don’t let let anyone take your crown.’ Earlier John had spoken of the people of God as a “kingdom, priests” or ‘kings and priests,’ (1:6). This is not about the heavenly crown, but the crown of life, their reiging in life (Romans 5:17).

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Revelation 1 A Brief Look

What do you know about Jesus? How do you see him? To some he’s just a teacher or healer, or good man, to many just a very nice man, but the Bible says a whole lot more.

“The Revelation of…” It’s a Revelation, an unfolding. It is meant to be understood.

“Of Jesus Christ” – it’s about Jesus. John knew him, but now he gets another powerful revelation, a revelation that Jesus has won! This is where some end times theology falls down as it proclaims a yet cosmic battle in the future, and undermines the cross.

“About what must quickly take place” or as Wuest translates it in his Expanded Translation of the New Testament which seeks to bring out the full meaning of the Greek, “must necessarily come to pass in their entirety shortly” ….. “the time is near,” or “the things which in it have been written and are on record, for the strategic, epochal season is imminent.” This idea of imminence is repeated v. 10, in chapter 2 and 3, and at the end.

“Made it known” (ESV) or more literally “Signified it” (HCSB) that is it was in signs, sign-i-fied. It was meant to be seen, it’s cinematic, and it’s not all that it appears to be! The stars are the angels, the lamps are the churches, the seven heads of the beast are ‘seven mountains’ and ‘seven kings,’ the Lion is the Lamb who is the Son of God, the new Jerusalem is not bricks and mortar but the people of God. This means we cannot take it literally, but must take John’s pictures/symbols as symbolic of something or someone.

Our problem is reading backwards into the text, from a modern day, global, high tech world. The fact is it was for them and they were meant to understand it! The first place to look is Scripture itself which is filled with such images – Revelation has more references to the OT than any other New Testament book. As Dennis Johnson puts it, “Revelation only makes sense in the light of the Old Testament.” At the same time God does not simply cut and paste, so care needs to be exercised.

“Is blessed…” There are seven blessings pronounced throughout the book – what kind of blessing would it have been if these words were totally unrelated to them, for some distant generation?

“Prophecy” is not just about prediction but more frequently as it is the Old Testament a sense of Divine diagnosis, and the needed response/cure.

“To the seven churches in Asia.” This also helps to set the time and the place/context. (also v.10). Seven particular churches, in a particular place, at a particular time in history. Asia Minor was divided into seven postal districts and each of these places was the main town in the district from which information was distributed.

“Grace and peace.” This is a common apostolic greeting emphasizing that our new life is, and was, and always will be, by and dependent on God’s amazing grace, and the need to receive and be living in his ‘peace’ no matter what the circumstances.

“From the One…. and the seven spirits/sevenfold Spirit and Jesus Christ…” reminds us that the God of the Bible is a Trinitarian God – a holy, happy, blessed fellowship of co-equal persons from all eternity to all eternity, One in Three and Three in One, and that having been made in his image is the basis for all our relationships.

“To Him who loves us….” Here we a have a reminder that the gospel is central, as John gets caught up in praise to God for the good news of Jesus Christ – washed, freed, kings and priests!

“Look! …..” draws immediate attention – what is said here has an imminent and a later context, and echoes the word of Jesus in Matthew 24.

“Coming with the clouds” is an O.T. reference to God coming in judgment, and had a present as well as a future reference. It can also be read as, “Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, including those who pierced him. And all the tribes of the land will mourn over him. This is certain. Amen.” This doesn’t have to mean that literally every eye will see him, but can simply mean it will not be done in a corner, but will be a very public event.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega….” An alphabet speaks of the letters we use to convey knowledge. He is the fount of all knowledge, the beginning and end – it is he who will have the last word.

“Partner in tribulation, kingdom and endurance….” John is suffering, even as they are, but it’s for the sake of the kingdom and requires endurance. Acts 14:22.

“In the Spirit..” a particular and conscious awareness of the Spirit – do we have such experiences? How do we identify them?

“Seven gold lampstands, and seven stars…” the seven churches and their angel or messenger, perhaps leader.

“Among them…” Here were seven suffering churches, and John sees Jesus standing among them. What reassuring words.

“One like the Son of Man…” This harks back to Daniel 7:13,14, “I saw one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before Him. He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom, so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will now be destroyed.”

Many empires, emperors, kings, rulers have come and gone, but his one will not, he is greater than Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander and any Caesar, or for that matter Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddaffi! John saw him even as Daniel did, and stunned he falls down before him.

John, the Christians and the churches lived in a world where Caesar was lord or king of all the known earth. Look at what he says: “Don’t be afraid! I AM ….”

Notice that HE holds the keys of death and Hades, because he has defeated them. He is the resurrection and the life, and the gates of hell will not prevail! Whatever Rome or the Jewish persecutors, or the devil, would throw at the church He has the last word, because he has already won! And because he has won we may have every confidence in him.

John has an increasing revelation of Jesus Christ, from his first encounter in the Gospels to this one in Revelation. Has your knowledge and experience of Christ grown? Are you open to fresh encounters?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Revelation – A Radical Church in the Real World
A brief overview of Revelation (part 1)
Revelation is a book that has inspired artists, writers and film makers – of which apocalyptic films with their visions of a catastrophic end of the world is a growing category. It has inspired and frustrated and been the subject of many weird and wonderful interpretations!

There are four different ways of interpreting Revelation, and the fact that people who love the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord and have a high regard for the Bible have come to differing conclusions, means we need to approach it with care, and not be too dogmatic, and ‘diss’ those who think differently, let alone call them heretics or doubt their salvation – and yes, some do!

Unity is important and scripture says we should be careful to maintain the ‘unity of the Spirit’ in the bond of peace’ whilst we grow together towards maturity in the faith. This requires grace and humility. Our understanding of the end times should not be, and is not the basis for our fellowship.

Historical – There are two schools of thought:
1. Linear – a straight line from the day it was written right up to the end of time. In this view then, Revelation describes the chronological order of history from the day it was written right up until the end of time. The problem with this view is that the details have to be forced into it, and at any given time while it might apply in one place, it doesn’t fit in another, and no two writers seem to agree as to what events are actually being referred to.
2. Cyclical – a repeating circle of events. In this view Revelation is seen as covering the whole of church history, but more than once, i.e. Revelation provides us with six overviews, picturing history from different angles, or as one writer sees it, as covering the whole church age in seven developing cycles. Again such endeavours appear to be forced upon the text, and writers are not necessarily agreed on the number of cycles or overviews there are.

Idealist – The Idealist agrees in many ways with the historical view but sees Revelation in terms of recapitulation rather than time specific, in other words the literary order doesn’t necessarily follow the actual historical order of events, but is a way of repetition in order to elaborate on God’s purposes and so confirm their certainty. It is about what seems to be the unending struggle between good and evil, and how the victory can be experienced by an overcoming church wherever it finds itself in history. The problem (though the truths taught may be correct) is that it means Revelation ends up as no more than a ‘myth,’ it being spiritually true, but not historically, or to put it another way Revelation is no more than a Pilgrims Progress, or a Chronicles of Narnia.

Futurist – this approach which is widespread today and widely publicised and popularised through the fictional Left Behind series by Tim Lahaye, usually means that after chapter 3 all that’s referred to applies to an unknown time, somewhere in the unknown future, and when it does take place it will be compressed into a very short dramatic, even cataclysmic, period of time. It should be noted that this dispensational approach to Revelation came rather late on the scene, some 150 – 200 years ago, and has also led to all sorts of conjecture/speculation especially with regard to modern events, i.e. nearly every crisis in modern times has had people looking for answers/meaning in Revelation, from the six day war in 1967, the crisis in Kuwait, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq etc., only to be proved they were false starts. The most recent example was Harold Camping’s announcement that Jesus was coming on a certain date this year, only for it to pass into history as a non-event.

Another problem is that what is written between chapters 3 – 19 is of no relevance as the church will not be there to match it all up. This view in its extreme dispensational, pre-tribulation, pre-millennial form also has a tendency to divide up scripture in a way that does injustice to the overarching story of God and his people, so that instead of there being one unifying story there are actually two, with the church as the sub plot or story, or worse still God’s alternative idea until he could get back on track with his original plan.

Another problem with Futurism is that it suits the cosy, comfortable Christianity of the middle class West, and leads to a weak Christian life and a church with an escapist mentality – when things get tough praise God we won’t be here!

Preterist – this means ‘to look back,’ and there are two schools of thought here,
1. Hyper-preterist, or full preterist, which sees the whole of Revelation as having been fulfilled, and with it all the prophecies relating to the second coming. This means that there is no second-coming of Christ to look forward to because it has already taken place. This seems to go too far, and not do justice to the whole of Scripture regarding the end times.
2. Partial-preterist which sees the large part of Revelation as having immediate significance for the people it was written to, but with the last few chapters referring to the last days.
One argument against the preterist view is that it means Revelation has nothing to say to us today. This nevertheless is a false argument as the same would then apply to most of the Bible. The answer is that Revelation is to be treated in the same way as we would treat Ephesians or Corinthians etc..

Sadly it seems that many ignore the normal principles of interpreting scripture when it comes to studying the book of Revelation and treat it as an entirely different species of book, even disconnected from the rest of the Bible – one of the great dangers is reading backwards from where we are in our time and culture – when we do that we’ll see things that are just not there.

Some principles of interpretation
There are two things that are generally understood by all with regard to scripture:
1. The Bible is clear in its message and can be understood.
2. The message of the Bible is an integrated whole – it is coherent and without contradiction, it has a grand theme.
Three further points flow from the above:
1. Scripture must interpret scripture
2. Every text must be taken in its context – textual, literary form, cultural and historical.
3. No interpretation should contradict the overall message of scripture

The language is symbolic, not all to be taken literally. “When I use a word,” said Humpty-Dumpty in a rather scornful tone, “It means just what I want it to mean – neither more nor less.” The same applies to Revelation, how John used the word is of foremost importance. Numbers aren’t to be taken as statistics. Pictures are not to be taken literally. The best guide is the Old Testament as there are more references to the it than any other book in the New Testament.

It is revelation – an unfolding; not designed to be a mystery/hidden. John expected them to know, or work out the number of the Beast. Daniel was told to seal the words of his prophecy, but John is to open them up, why? Because they were needed at that time.

This is highly debated with most favouring a date in the 90’sAD largely based on something that Irenaeus a Church Father wrote, the translation of which is entirely open to question and doesn’t fit with what he wrote, elsewhere. He was also known to be less than accurate with dates and times.

Reasons for an early date (internal):
1. Written to the seven churches….
2. The emphasis on imminence… soon, shortly
3. The temple is still standing… (note Jewish historian Edersheim refers to John & Revelation must have been written before 70AD)
4. The synagogue of Satan – Jews were still a major force of persecution, still, strong, influential, powerful. After 70AD many were sold as slaves, and weakened they were in no position to persecute.
5. John expects them to know the number of the beast.
6. The seven kings (17:10) the sixth is still reigning (Nero) doesn’t make sense any other way.
7. Daniel is told to shut up the words of his prophecy, John is told to open them up.
8. John’s imprisonment on Patmos – has to be earlier as he was told there was still much he had to do which would not have been conceivable with a later date that would have made him too old.

Revelation is only understood in the light of the rest of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and when done so provides a logical conclusion to the inspired canon of Scripture. We must track the story from God’s purpose in creation, through the fall into sin, the promise of a Saviour, Abraham, Israel, and the coming of Jesus Christ who fulfilled the prophetic purposes of God in his life, death, and resurrection. He was God dwelling with men (presence). He was the mediator (priest). He was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (offering). In him forgiveness would be found, relationship restored, and as a result the Old Covenant represented in the Temple as the place of the presence and relationship with God with its priesthood and offerings was coming to an end, and the temple and all it activities would be destroyed and cease.

The Holy Spirit had been poured out on 120 Jewish believers – this was the beginnings of the church Jesus said he would build. They went out and preached the good news, thousands of Jews believed and were added to the church, persecution came from the Jewish authorities, people were dispersed, the gospel was also presented to the Gentiles and they start getting added to this previously ‘Jewish’ church, that Paul describes as ‘one new man,’ and one body. Persecution intensified. Letters are written to the churches.
Revelation was one of those letters, and became the conclusion to the ‘canon’ of Scripture, God’s inspired Word for all people, in all places, in all generations, tying up the loose ends, and also affirming the prophetic ministry of Jesus (i.e. Matthew 24).

Revelation then has to do with the close of the old covenant, the judgment by God of unfaithful Israel as a nation (that is Israel of that day), the destruction of the temple and end of the priestly ministry, and the opening up of the new age of grace.

Theological Themes
1. Christology – Jesus is Lord, Lion and Lamb.
2. Satan – most extended consideration of … and destruction
3. Sovereignty of God – despite all that’s going on
4. The Judgment/wrath of God
5. The Gospel – redemption & salvation
6. Protection and perseverance of the saints
7. The end of the old covenant age.
8. Heaven and Hell – very real destinations.
9. The church – struggles (suffering), endurance and ultimate glory

Five characteristics about God in Revelation
1. He is Trinity
2. He is Holy
3. He is Sovereign
4. He is Good
5. He is Just – theodicy; a defence of God’s righteous character and judgement
• His judgment reveals his righteous character, especially against evil in the world
• Even though God judges the depraved earth dwellers God still offers them the opportunity to repent
• He executes his righteousness by turning sin upon itself
• His justice is demonstrated in his vindication of the righteous

Part 2 coming

Friday, 22 April 2011


Reflecting on the theme of justice this morning it struck me how justice doesn’t make sense in an evolutionary world.

Yet time and time again we here the cry for justice – justice for people in all sorts of varying circumstances.

But why? for the evolutionist there is no moral power or authority. Any sense of right and wrong is purely arbitary, something to be agreed between people, yet can just as easily be disregarded as it is only an agreement between equals.

The cry for justice in the human heart, right around the globe, is a recognition of a moral standard, a standard that is given to us, and must stand outside of us. A standard given by a higher authority.

It is only as we understand this that we can find any basis for right and wrong, and for justice for the despised, rejected, used and abused etc..

It is this sense of justice that requires accountability, judgement, and (even though we don’t like it and wish it wasn’t there) a hell.

It is for this reason that God sent his son Jesus Christ into the world.

God cannot just ‘love’ and ignore sin and let everyone into his heaven. Why? Because God is holy and we have sinned – rebelled against our Creator; and God had said that there would be consequences – ‘in the day you eat of it, you will certainly die,’ ‘the soul that sins shall die,’ ‘the wages of sin is death.’

Yes God is love, but not the sloppy, slushy modern love that allows you to do what you like and never mind the consequences.

For God to be true to himself, justice must be done, the price must be paid, and for that reason Jesus came and suffered and died in our place – the Just for the unjust that we might be reconciled to God.

There is justice in the universe – God put it there.

And the Bible says that God justifies the ungodly through faith in Jesus Christ. Yes God’s Son has done it all and there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ! Hallelujah!

Christian Medical Comment: ‘Doing God’ is good for your health

A very interesting report......

Christian Medical Comment: ‘Doing God’ is good for your health

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Reflecting on Jesus

A Concern
Reading and reflecting on the Christmas story I can't help feeling that some Christians/the Church doesn't exactly know what to believe about Jesus.

It seems to me that many Christians have an inbetween Jesus, neither fully God or fully man. An anaemic, insipid, pale reflection of the Jesus of the Bible - a Jesus who would never disturb anybody let alone draw forth worship and obedience.

It seems that we struggle with the idea of Jesus coming into this world and into this stuff called flesh, let alone frail flesh. Paul says "flesh just like ours under sin's domain." (Romans 8:3 HCSB) - we need to avoid the theological manoevering that frequently goes on here, i.e. it was only 'like' ours. If that is so we are in trouble with what Paul says in Philippians 2:7, "taking on the likeness of men." When we fall into that trap we end up building doctrines to protect him (e.g. the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception).

If this is the case it is not surprising that we fail to understand how he can sympathise with us in all of our temptations/weaknesses in such a way as to help us, and if we struggle with this how are we ever really going to cope with Jesus taking our sin and bearing it on the cross? "He made the One who did not know no sin to be sin for us." (2 Corinthians 5:21). What a staggering truth!

On the other hand we struggle with his Divinity, after all if he really was, and is, God the Son, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, why do we struggle to take his word seriously - to live under his lordship? We cannot simply see Jesus as our Saviour, he is also our Lord. He has bought us. We are His.

A New Vision of Jesus
It seems that we need to radically reflect on just who Jesus was and is, to remove him from the stained glass windows and the niceities of western middleclass suburban Christianity. To get rid of the sentimentalised convenient Christ of the manger and of so much deadening modern religion. To get back to our Bibles and let the text speak to us in all it's plainness, and let the real Jesus come forth into our lives and into our churches.

The Challenge of Jesus
It was the challenge of Jesus himself, "Who do you say I am?" Our answer to that question will impact the type of Christian lives we live and the churches we build.