Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Great Battle and the Opiate of the Masses

The past two weeks we have looked at different parts of the war between Satan and God. Revelation 12:1-17 specifically talks about how God thwarted Satan's plans to harm his son Jesus, how Satan rose up and the angels fought him, and how he was cast to the earth, bringing 1/3 of the angels with him. Then in Revelation 13:1-10 we saw representations of an "unholy trinity" being introduced. The first beast representing a counterfeit Jesus, looking like he was slain but still being alive.

This war has been going on for all of history. Revelation gives us a glimpse into the spiritual realm, where the span of time is condensed into the major acts of aggression and God's success against them. When seen through this perspective, the events of earth are by-products of the events of Heaven and the war Satan is waging against it.

One of the by-products we see is Satan attacking God's people (Revelation 13:7). Paul McFarthing discussed some of the ways Satan goes about it. You can listen again here. The most obvious way being open opposition to the church and its people. Any time there is a world view bent on destroying the blessings and generosity of God's people, you can point the source back to Satan's desire to overthrow God's kingdom and rule.

Another way he fights is less obvious and that is through the comfortable life. I call it here the "opiate of the masses" as a play on Marx's dislike of religion. This is a powerful opiate. We can easily be lulled into seeking success, making plans, investing money, and putting all our focus on this. This is the great god of our age: a comfortable and well planned retirement! Now, I've harped on about this in two of my posts and I can hear in my head some people thinking "You're not practicing what you preach!" and it's true! This is why I know you have the same problem. If you don't, then you trust God a lot more than I do and I need to learn from you! I'm not saying that you have to dump your 401k and become a hermit, I'm saying that we need to contemplate why we need a lot of money to live in this world. We need to meditate on what we're really putting our trust in for our future. For me, this is the most difficult, because I would love to say I trust God completely in this area, but one of my goals is to retire comfortably.

The final way he makes war on the saints is through an even more subtle path. If we aren't to trust in our money then are we to trust in our poverty? If we aren't to trust in the plans of men are we to trust in ourselves? I ask these questions because there are a myriad of ways that seem right and noble, but none of them are the way God has set up. All other ways are the ways Satan has set up. The bible plainly states "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me." (John 14:6). This simple statement holds within it this startling implication: anything that isn't Jesus is a way that was set up long, long ago as a method to get God's people (and anyone else) to stray away.

We are easily duped because we are very simple. God knows just how simple we are and makes the right way very simple too.

Follow Jesus and you will win this ancient war, because we know how it all ends.

1. What small thing can you change today to follow Jesus more fully? Maybe ways you can simplify your life now so you don't need to retire with a large home? Meditate on how you can cut out what isn't honoring God, like do we need the latest smart-phone?
2. Do you feel particularly aware of any of these "ways" that Satan makes war on us? Meditate on Ephesians 6:10-18, considering how you can put on the full armor of God.
3. Pray that we all begin to trust more and more in Jesus.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

He is Risen Indeed

“Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’” (Revelation 11:15)

This past Sunday was Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, and rightfully the most important holiday in Christian tradition. However, it’s not the most widely celebrated. That would be Christmas, because anybody and everybody tends to get behind the idea of having 'peace on earth' and exchanging gifts with loved ones. 

But Easter is more important, because Easter is the reason that Jesus was born into this world in the first place. Yes, he was a teacher, and taught us many good and wise things about how we are to relate to God, even modeling a perfect relationship with the Father. Yes, he was a healer, working many miracles in the lives of those who had given up hope of ever being whole again.
But, most important of all, Jesus came…to die.

He was arrested, beaten, and crucified, not because he did anything wrong, but because we did. All of the sins we have committed against each other, or will commit, the Father also keenly feels, because we are His children. Yet He laid the punishment for our sin upon His son, Jesus, rather than on us.  

The reason we celebrate Easter, though, is because that isn’t the end of the story. Days later, God raised Jesus from the dead. And so, as David pointed out on Sunday, every Easter we are forced to ask ourselves this question: “Will we believe in Jesus and devote ourselves to Him? Or refuse to believe and reject the Son of God?”

When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on that first Easter morning (John 20:1-18), I wonder what she was feeling. She had devoted her life, her time, her energy, her money, her very heart, to this man, this Rabboni (or teacher), as she called him, witnessing his miracles, experiencing his presence changing her from the inside out. Imagine seeing the darkness falling as Jesus died, seeing the stone rolled over the tomb that held his broken, lifeless body, unable to give her friend and teacher a proper burial as she was forced by religious tradition to take a day of rest for the Lord. Do you think that during that Sabbath she felt like celebrating her God?

Now imagine how she must have felt walking in the darkness of the early morning to the tomb, seeing the stone rolled back, no sign of Jesus anywhere. To have even that moment of closure, of washing and perfuming his body, seemingly taken from her by thieves that had stolen him and hidden his body. To run, desperate, back to the disciples, only to have them look for a moment, then desert her to go home again, leaving her behind to weep for the loss of her Jesus.

And then...imagine how she felt when she looked again into the tomb, and beheld angels where Jesus had been! Turning around, still weeping from confusion and sadness, she saw a man she didn’t know, her vision clouded by her tears. And then…he said her name, and she finally realized- it’s Jesus! He is alive!

In the face of this miracle, is it then too that she also began to realize that He was Jesus Christ, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5)?

When I think about this life, it seems to me that we are all waiting in the darkness around the tomb of the world. But, while Mary could not work out what had happened, we have a promise that Jesus is coming again. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Revelation 1:7). Indeed, the kingdom of this world is already becoming the kingdom of our Lord, wherever His Holy Spirit is present (Revelation 11:15).

So even though we are in the darkness, we can see the stone has been rolled back, and we know that soon we will be with the risen Lord. What will we ourselves feel in that moment, when we meet Jesus? When He comes again? When we see the “one like a son of man,” with eyes like “a flame of fire” and a voice “like the roar of many waters” (Revelation 1:13-15)? Will we weep with joy, our hearts bursting with the gladness of it, just as Mary did? Will we fall at His feet as though dead (Revelation 1:17)?

In the meantime, in this darkness, we must continue to put our hope in the heavenly realm, and build up our treasures there, for surely, this life will not last. We must preach the Gospel, live the Gospel, breathe and be the Resurrection people that God has called us to be. As David told us two weeks ago, the Gospel is both bitter and sweet, sweet for those who have accepted its truth, but bitter in that there are so many still who have not heard the truth and who desperately need to hear it (Revelation 10:8-11).

As a church, then, let us be witnesses to the people of this world and of the time we are in. Let us be the peace bearers and the truth bringers, the olive trees and the lampstands (Revelation 11:4), faithful witnesses walking with the power of the Spirit of God. Let us choose to love others, as He loved us, even to the point of death, knowing that, ultimately, even if we should die, our witness will one day be vindicated. Just as Mary’s was. Let us devote our time, our heart, our energy, our very lives, not to just a good teacher or to just a miraculous healer, but to the very Son of God, the one who knows us intimately and completely, and who loves us in a way that no one else can.

Oh, how He loves us.  

  1. Mary knew it was Him by the way He said her name. Jesus said the sheep know their shepherd by His voice. When is the last time you heard God speak to you, in word or music or other means? If you feel so moved, try to take five minutes to sit silently, and ask Him to speak to you again or even for the first time.
  2. The resurrection and the cross completed God’s act of salvation, but the final redemption of the world is still coming. Spend some time reflecting on your role as part of God’s “resurrection people”- who are the people at work, at school, at home, or elsewhere that you feel called to speak to about God? What is one step you can take to show them God’s love in the next week?
  3. Pick a book or song from the following recommendations and just spend some time allowing  His Spirit to work through it to connect you to the heart of God.
    • Recommended Reading: 
      • John 20:1-18, Luke 15
      • "Guess How Much I Love You?" by Sam McBratney
      • "The Runaway Bunny" by Margaret Wise Brown
      • "King's Cross" by Timothy Keller
    • Recommended Music:
      • "I Can Only Imagine" by MercyMe
      • "How He Loves" by David Crowder Band
      • "Savior King" by Hillsong United
      • "God Speaking" or "He Will Come" by Mandisa

Monday, April 6, 2015

Time, Times, and Half a Time

 "…but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. And I will give authority to my two witnesses and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sack cloth" (Revelation 11:2)
In Revelation 11, John is given a measuring rod with which to measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. It is revealed to him that the space left unmeasured outside the temple is given over to the nations who will trample the city for 42 months. For the same period of time- 1,260 days (this is 42 months where a month is considered to consist of 30 days)- two witnesses will prophesy clothed in sackcloth. This period of time appears elsewhere in Revelation, specifically in 12:6 and also in 12:14, where it is described as "a time, and times, and half a time" (this phrase can be understood to mean three and a half years, which is also 42 months or 1,260 days). 

This period of time then, seems to hold some significance, and it has led many to pose the searching question of when exactly this time is, or was, or will be. It is generally agreed that it can be connected to similar revelations in the book of Daniel (if you want to read them take a look at Daniel 7:25, 9:27; 12:7, 11-12 – I recommend reading the chapters around them for context). These in turn correspond to the prophecies in Jeremiah chapters 25 and 29. For those who are interested, I’ve outlined below in bullets how this might play out in history according to Poythress' guide to the book of Revelation. I will explore how that might be relevant to us after the bullets.

If you’re really not all that bothered, the most important thing to know is that the "1,260 days, 42 months, and time, times, and half time" all symbolically represent the time of the church between Jesus' resurrection and his second coming. 
  • Jeremiah prophesied 70 years of exile after which the people were restored to the land.
  • But that restoration was only temporary, so in Daniel 9:24, we find a second period of similar length is to happen after this, which is described as a period of 70 weeks until the people will find final restoration and final rest.
  • In the very last of those 70 weeks, it is revealed to Daniel in 9:25-6 that an anointed one will come, who we now understand to be the Messiah, Jesus.
  • In the middle of the last week, according to Daniel 9:27, the sanctuary is destroyed –we know that the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70.
  • So the very last half a week referred to in Daniel is the period from AD 70, after Jesus’ life as told to us in the Gospels, to the second coming and His return. It’s the time we’re in now. It’s the time, times, and half a time referred to in Daniel 7:25 and 12:7…. And it’s also the 42 months, or 1,260 days referred to in Revelation.
Is your head hurting yet? Well, you’re in good company because mine is too! It’s probably not helped by the fact that the Scripture seems to play around with years and weeks and months sometimes as though they’re all interchangeable.
When we approach these numbers, we really need to keep in mind that they are intended to be figurative; we know that the time from the destruction of the temple to Christ’s second coming is not literally half a week or 42 months, as we’ve far exceeded that already. Rather than being inaccurate, we should realize that it’s consistent with the symbolism in the rest of Revelation to say that these time periods are symbolic also. 

If you listen to the message on this chapter, for instance, David talked about how the two witnesses who prophesy in Revelation 11 are unlikely to be specific people but are rather representative of the church and as such are examples for us to imitate- we are to be lampstands, shining light into the darkness of this world, just as they are. Similarly, in verse 8, we are told that the ‘great city’ referred to here is symbolically called Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem where Christ was crucified, and so is actually representative of oppressive kingdoms and powers that have sought to crush followers of Christ in the past.
So if the numbers are symbolic what might they be meant to symbolize? What are we meant to take away from this? Well, here are a few suggestions.
First, we’ve already mentioned on this blog and we’ve heard through the messages how the number 7 is used in Revelation and occurs repeatedly to represent ‘completeness’. By contrast, what is being described here is half of 7 years (3.5 years, 42 months, 1,260 days). That’s important because this period in history, which describes where the church is today, according to Revelation 11 is both one of incredible power (in the church’s witness) and spiritual protection (in the measuring off of the worshippers in the temple), but it is also one of violent persecution where at times it will feel as though Satan has won. The witnesses are made war on, conquered, and killed, and their bodies are left in the street that their deaths might be rejoiced over, signifying the greatest depths of shame possible.
But this period of oppression and suffering is not complete – it is cut short. God has the final say, and only His purposes are brought to completion. This is highlighted in verse 11 where after three and half days God Himself acts to brings back to life the slain witnesses in an echo of the three days Jesus lay buried in the tomb before his resurrection, a powerful reminder that we as his witnesses share in this resurrection power and can look forward to its completion. The beast may rage and ‘make war’ on God’s witnesses, but with one single breath, just as He did at creation, God will restore life that has wrongly been taken. As we celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection this Easter weekend, what a powerful image of hope this is for us!
Speaking of the three and half days that appears in verse 11, Poythress puts it like this,
“Not only in the Roman Empire, but nowadays, and in the final crisis, faithful witnesses sometimes seem to go down in defeat. Christians are all in prison or dead, and apparently the idolatrous state has triumphed. The anti-Christian tyrant is in control, whether Domitian or Diocletian or the Spanish Inquisition or North Korean communism or Saudi Arabia’s Islamic state. But note: three and half days are seven days cut in half, signifying that domination that aspires to completeness is cut off halfway through.”
Second, although the numbers don’t always make a lot of sense to us, perhaps they are there to remind us that God is working to a detailed and precise plan. This, after all, is the God who is familiar with the number of hairs on our head, who knows the exact number of grains of sand on every sea shore. In the measuring off of the inner part of the temple, He is a God who measures off a place of safety for his people with incomparable accuracy and care. Just as in those instances, so too in this one- I don’t need to know the figures, or the exact measurements, I just need to know that He knows.    
Finally, as I thought about these passages, I was struck by the connections that Revelation makes back to other Old Testament visions and prophecies. It is difficult to look at these verses in Revelation and find meaning in total isolation. It challenges us to delve into Scripture and engage with what we find there. Like the witnesses in Revelation 11, Daniel too is an example of someone who refused to hide his true beliefs, even when they rubbed with what society expected of him, and at times, this put him in grave danger. At the end of Daniel he is encouraged to persevere until the end: "And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days." (Daniel 12:13). May we, like Daniel, also draw confidence to stand firm, resisting worldly pressure, that we may experience God’s promise of peace and homecoming in the fulfillment of His kingdom.

  1. "In a sense, the impressions created on the reader are as important as an understanding of the details." (Sinclair B Ferguson on Daniel) Read through Revelation 11, and ask God what impressions He wants to make on you from this passage even though you may not understand every detail.
  2. "How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?" (Psalm 137:4) Even though God’s message may be unpopular to share with those around us, how can we be faithful witnesses?
  3. As we enjoy the privilege of celebrating this Easter in freedom, spend some time praying for those Christians around the world who are experiencing violent persecution for their beliefs because of an oppressive ruling government.