My newest book: Unveiling Revelation

Imagine seeing a woman and a dragon stretched across the sky. Imagine seeing four supernatural horsemen riding across the landscape, bringing death and destruction in their wake. Imagine watching as the mighty city Babylon is destroyed by enemies that used to be its friends. Best of all, imagine standing in the presence of God, surrounded by angels and saints, all singing praise to Jesus Christ the Lord and the Redeemer.

All these things happened to John the Apostle on the island of Patmos. He described his experiences in the book of Revelation, the full name of which is A Revelation of Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation is written in poetry with many odd and frightening vision. But the main theme of the book is good news: Jesus has won against all evil, and he shares his victory with his people.

In “Unveiling Revelation,” John’s book is studied by comparing it to the other sixty-five books of the Bible. After an introduction that outlines Biblical eschatology (the study of Last Things), the book breaks Revelation into sections and analyzes them one by one. More a devotional work than a commentary, it reveals the true meaning of what is described in the book of Revelation.

This is now the tenth book I have self-published through Amazon and Kindle. To celebrate, I reduced the Kindle cost of all ten books to four dollars each. In some ways, Unveiling Revelation was a difficult book to write—it was meant to be last summer’s writing project, and I didn’t finish it until this summer. But I think I learned a lot studying Revelation to write about Revelation. I’ve taught the book in Bible class at least five times, and before that I took a seminary course on the book of Revelation, so I hope other people will find my observations helpful.

On the other hand, not all readers are going to like my book. It does not follow the path of The Late Great Planet Earth or the Left Behind books. Instead, I treat passages such as I Thessalonians 4:13-18 as God’s clear messages about eschatology and use them to decipher the meaning of the poetic language of Revelation. Since everything in the Bible is true, and Revelation is in the Bible, it follows that everything in Revelation is true. But, as there are figures of speech elsewhere in the Bible—figures that must be interpreted in context and through comparing them to clearer sections of Scripture—so the same is true of the book of Revelation.

In one of the Bible classes I taught about Revelation, a young man spoke up to say, “I don’t understand everything in this book, but I’ve figured out one thing: Jesus wins!” That is certainly the most important thing to remember when reading and studying Revelation. If you don’t comprehend anything else, be sure to remember that Jesus wins. J.

UR2

For the paperback, click here.    For the Kindle, click here.

The finish-line–Revelation 22

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17—read Revelation 22:1-21).

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, he made a garden as the home of the first man and the first woman. In that garden grew the tree of life. But when the man and the woman ate the fruit of another tree, fruit that had been forbidden to them, God removed them from the garden. He did not want them to eat the fruit of the tree of life and live forever in their sin and rebellion and separation from him. Instead, he wanted them to pass through death to everlasting life, to be restored to fellowship with him.

God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, promising them a garden-like home in the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. To reach that land, they had to travel through the wilderness. God made a covenant with his people in the wilderness, saying, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” But the Israelites doubted God’s promise; they feared the Canaanites living in the Promised Land and failed to trust God. Therefore, they remained in the wilderness forty years, and their children crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land.

Like a shepherd searching for lost sheep, Jesus came into this wilderness of sin to rescue us. He battled the devil’s temptations in the wilderness, and Jesus won. When the time came to fulfill his promise of redemption, Jesus went into a garden to pray. He was seized in that garden and taken to trials and to the cross. But, after his death on the cross, he was buried in a garden, and in that garden his victory was proclaimed as Jesus rose from the dead.

Now the new creation is described as a garden. As rivers flowed from Eden to water the earth, so a river flows from the throne of God through the main street of the New Jerusalem. That river carries the water of life, the redeeming water that gives life to all God’s people. The tree of life grows on either side of that river, with twelve kinds of fruit to nourish all the people of God. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. Because our sins have been removed, we are no longer barred from eating the fruit of the tree of life. We can live forever, because our rebellion against God has ended and all sin and evil has been removed from our lives.

One of the historic prayers of the Church mentions the devil, saying, “that he who by a tree once overcame might likewise by a tree be overcome.” The cross is that tree where the serpent’s head was crushed. It is a tree of life, even though nothing could be deader than a bare, wooden, fruitless cross, an instrument of death rather than life. We are all trees in the Lord’s orchard, meant to bear fruit for him. Yet apart from him we can do nothing. We might have green leaves, suggesting life, but we offer him no fruit. We are dead trees, fit only for the fire. Only Jesus of Nazareth bears fruit fit for the kingdom of heaven. But by going to the dead tree of the cross, Jesus gives us life. He makes us fruitful trees, worthy of his kingdom. His cross truly is the tree of life that makes us alive, watered by the river of the water of life, yielding fruit in due season (Psalm 1:3).

The last chapter of Revelation seems almost a scatter-shot of promises, echoing the previous chapters of the book as well as those of the other books of the Bible. Jesus speaks, and his messengers speak on his behalf. Even John becomes confused, worshiping an angel who speaks Christ’s promises, and being scolded by the angel for his confusion. The angel calls himself a fellow-servant of the apostle and of his brothers, the prophets; he tells John, “Worship God!” We also, as fruit-bearing trees in God’s orchard, can be fellow-servants with the apostles and prophets and angels; we also have the joyful privilege and obligation to share God’s life-giving Word, to bring forgiveness to sinners and hope to the victims of sin through the tree of life, the cross of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is coming soon. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. He is also everything in between. He is both the root and the descendant of David—David’s son and David’s Lord. He is the bright morning star, first-risen from the dead to promise all of us a resurrection like his on the Day he appears in the clouds.

Revelation 22 includes a warning not to add anything to the book of Revelation, nor to take away anything from the book. This warning applies to the entire Bible. “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Torah until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). But Jesus has fulfilled the promises of Moses and the prophets: he has done everything required to rescue God’s people, to defeat evil in all its forms, and to make everything new. Soon he will be seen in the clouds in glory, giving the command to raise all the dead, to announce his verdict on every life, and to welcome his people home into the new creation. Meanwhile, we live in his grace, redeemed from all our sins, reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrifice, and ready for eternal life in a new and perfect creation. As John writes, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

Jesus’ message to the Church in Thyatira (and to Christians today)

“Only hold fast to what you have until I come” (Revelation 2:25—read Revelation 2:18-29).

Like the congregation in Pergamum, the congregation in Thyatira was too tolerant. In this case, they were tolerating a woman whom Jesus calls Jezebel. In the Old Testament, Jezebel was queen of Israel, the northern kingdom. She was married to King Ahab, but she was not an Israelite. She came from Lebanon (Phoenicia) and was devoted to the Canaanite gods, especially Baal. The showdown Elijah prompted between the Lord and Baal involved Jezebel, who vowed to kill Elijah after he humiliated and destroyed the priests of Baal.

The Jezebel in Thyatira, according to Jesus, was seducing his servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. Paul addressed the topic of eating food sacrificed to idols in his letters to the Romans and the Corinthians. On the one hand, food is food, and the fact that it had passed through a pagan temple made no difference to the Christian whose faith in God was secure. On the other hand, some Christians are insecure in their faith. Seeing fellow Christians appearing to conform to pagan beliefs could damage their relationship with Christ. Therefore, Paul resolved—and advised others—to do nothing that would damage the faith of the weak. A Christian was free to eat food offered to idols privately. Out of love for others, the same Christian would not eat such food in the presence of someone whose Christian faith might be damaged by such eating.

The applications for today are numerous. A loving Christian would not drink beer in the presence of a recovering alcoholic, let alone offer that person a beer. Certain kinds of music trouble the consciences of some Christians, as do certain entertainments such as dancing or playing cards. Each Christian makes up his or her own mind about whether to do these things privately or to give them up as a sacrifice to the Lord. To encourage a Christian to change his or her personal rules, to end a voluntary sacrifice, neither honors God nor shows love for that fellow Christian.

At the same time, no Christian should confuse his or her sacrifices to the Lord with the sacrifice of Christ. Only Christ’s sacrifice removes sin and reconciles a sinner to God. The sacrifices we offer the Lord are only thank-offerings. They earn neither God’s forgiveness nor our place in heaven. The Christian who gives up drinking or dancing in the belief that such a sacrifice earns forgiveness of sins should be gently and lovingly corrected.

Sexual immorality is always wrong. God created us male and female so we could be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Also, we are male and female so we can be loving partners, supporting and upholding one another. Every marriage is a picture of God’s love for his people; he is a husband to us all. Every thought, word, or deed that tarnishes marriage is an insult to God as well as a sin.

Christians today are being asked to tolerate many insults to marriage. The spirit of Jezebel is as active today as it was in ancient Thyatira. Jesus knew many good things about the Christians in Thyatira. He mentioned their good works, their love and service and patient endurance, and the fact that their latter works exceeded the first. They had not lost their first love, as the Christians in Ephesus had lost. But tolerating Jezebel and her seduction of the saints was a blot on the record of this congregation. Jezebel was drawing them into what she called “the deep things of Satan.” Jesus does not want us to blend truth with falsehood. He does not want us to try to please both the Lord and Baal, both Christ and the sinful world.

Therefore, Jesus says that he has no additional burden for them. They are to hold fast to what they have until he comes. Jesus will come in judgment to strike down false religion and to punish all those who pervert his teachings. We do our best to warn others against the corrupting influences of the world, but we cannot defeat evil. Only Jesus can overcome and provide the victory. Because Jesus has already won this victory, we rest securely in his arms, finding strength in him to do what is right and knowing with confidence that we belong to his eternal kingdom.

From “Unveiling Revelation,” a work in progress. J.

What is yet to come?–part three

In the days before his crucifixion, four of the apostles came to Jesus with questions about the Day of the Lord. They wanted to know when it would be, and what would be the sign of his appearing and the end of the age. In response, Jesus gave them seven signs—six negative and one positive. He mentioned false christs, wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution of the Church, and the gospel proclaimed to the whole world. Yet Jesus did not call these signs a countdown to the Day oi the Lord. Quite the opposite: he said, “See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:7).

Wars and earthquakes remind people that the world is under judgment. Wherever and whenever they happen, they prepare sinners for the Last Day, calling them to repent before it is too late. Storms and other natural disasters have the same purpose. The violence in nature is a reminder of the wrath of God. The violence of people in wars, terrorist attacks, crime, and other violence also reveals the wickedness of sin and the need for a Savior to come. And, because of that need, Jesus did come to redeem sinners and will appear in glory on the Day of the Lord to make everything new.

Wars and earthquakes have happened all over the world in every century since Jesus spoke those words. They are not a countdown to the Day of the Lord; they serve as reminders that the Day of the Lord is coming. Jesus describes his appearing as sudden and unexpected. “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the appearing of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27). “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the appearing of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:28-29).

What, then, of the great tribulation that is supposed to precede the Day of the Lord? Jesus does not omit the tribulation. He says, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened….” (Matthew 24:29). So tribulation will precede his coming, but when does it begin, and for how long does it last?

The book of Revelation is filled with sevens. It is addressed to seven congregations. It includes a scroll with seven seals, the blowing of seven trumpets, and seven bowls of wrath. In literature like Revelation, numbers bear significance; they have special meanings. Seven is the number of completeness. There are seven days in a week because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Therefore, a letter addressed to seven congregations is intended for the complete Church in every place and every time. Likewise, the seven seals and seven trumpets and seven bowls of wrath speak of complete judgment on a sinful world.

But wait—there is more! The number seven is sometimes cut in half in Revelation, to three-and-a-half years, or forty-two months, or 1,260 days. This matches the words of Jesus about the tribulation: “If those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:22). In other words, the complete suffering of the tribulation will be limited by God’s power and will not be as bad as it could have been.

The tribulation, then, is not a future set of events. It is felt in the wars, the earthquakes, the false teachers, and the persecution of the Church, all of which have been happening for twenty centuries, and all of which will continue to happen until the Day of the Lord. The execution of Stephen the deacon and of James the apostle were part of the tribulation. The false teachers whom Paul confronted were part of the tribulation. The siege of Jerusalem forty years after Christ’s resurrection was part of the tribulation. So are the present wars, earthquakes, and persecutions—they all are part of the Great Tribulation described in the Bible.

But another picture of this same time invokes a different number. Many Christians are confused about future history because they have failed to notice a hidden seven in Revelation. In that book, the Day of the Lord is described, not once, but seven times. After the first six descriptions, the book rewinds to current events and approaches the Day of the Lord from a different point of view. Only after the seventh depiction of the Day of the Lord does the book of Revelation begin describing the new creation that will begin on that Day.

So in Revelation 20 we find an angel coming down from heaven and binding the devil, pictured as a dragon, sealing him in a pit for a thousand years. During those thousand years, Christ rules the world, accompanied by his saints who are seated on thrones. At the end of the thousand years, the dragon is released from his prison, gathers the world in rebellion against Jesus, and is finally defeated. Then comes the judgment—the seventh and final presentation of the Day of the Lord in Revelation.

What does all this mean? The devil is defeated whenever the gospel of Jesus Christ is shared and believed. When his missionaries reported back to Jesus after they had gone out to preach, he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Satan’s fall is also pictured in Revelation 12. But the fall of Satan does not happen at one particular time in history. Satan is continually falling as the gospel continues to be taught and proclaimed everywhere in the world.

How, then, does Satan become unchained? Since the Word of God chains him, whenever that Word is rejected Satan is unchained. All those who mock the Bible and scorn its teachings are releasing the devil. Where the Bible is forgotten, where it is ignored, where it goes unused, Satan is free. But where the Bible is proclaimed, where it is trusted, where it is studied and shared, there Satan remains bound. There Christ rules, and his saints rule with him.

Did you think Jesus had to physically appear to rule the world from Jerusalem? He is in charge today. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus says (Matthew 28:18). “He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (I Corinthians 15:25). Even today Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades (Revelation 1:18). We are living in the millennium today, even though we also face tribulation today. But compare the numbers: tribulation is assigned seven years, but then it is cut in half. The reign of Christ is assigned a thousand years. The power and authority of the Lord far surpasses any trouble or hardship he permits in our lives today.

But do Christians rule the world with Christ? Indeed we do. First, he has given us the privilege of prayer. “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). Second, he has given us the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19). We have royal authority, not to resist Jesus or to defy his rule, but to rule along with him and in his name.

Sad to say, not everyone wants to rule with Jesus. Some prefer to defy his power. They choose their sins over their Savior. They reject a place in the eternal kingdom of God. I will have more to write about this in my next post. J.

Three French hens

The third day of Christmas is also the festival of St. John. This John wrote one of the four Gospels, three epistles (including two of the shortest books in the Bible), and the Apocalypse or Revelation, the last book of the Bible. He presents himself in his Gospel as Jesus’ best friend, or “the disciple Jesus loved.” In fact he never mentions his name in the Gospel, which leads some scholars to question whether or not he wrote the book of Revelation, since in the first chapter of that book he mentions his name twice.

In the original Greek, and in most English translations, John’s writings contain the simplest words and grammar but express the most profound thoughts. His Gospel begins with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Only one of those words contains more than one syllable, yet the mystery of the Holy Trinity is stated with these words.

Early Christian histories and traditions say that John was the only apostle of Christ not to be martyred. Before dying, Jesus entrusted care of his mother Mary to John. After the resurrection, when Peter asked Jesus about John’s future, Jesus refused to answer, saying only, “What business of it is yours if I chose to let him live until I return?” John quickly points out that Jesus never said that John would not die, but because of his long life some early Christians believed that Jesus had meant John would not die.

The apostle John did die, and centuries later the emperor Justinian built a basilica where John was buried. Yet, like Stephen, John also is with Jesus in Paradise and will return when Christ comes in glory. On this festival day, Christians thank the Lord for faithful witnesses such as John the apostle. We rejoice to have his writings teaching us today about Jesus. J.