The end is at hand, the end is at hand!
Revelation 17: The Lamb will defeat them, proof that he is Lord over all lords, King over all kings.
John’s mysterious journey continues with disturbing scenes and promises of divine judgment. He sees a woman riding a beast. She’s branded as Babylon, but he’s told that that, too, is a riddle name, and the city, Rome, is described. In John’s day, seeing Rome as the seat of evil in the world makes a lot of sense. Some continue to take the woman, Babylon, and description of the riddle to add up to the literal Rome, carrying with it lots of religious overtones. Frankly, it’s beyond me (seems I’ve been saying that a lot lately). If it isn’t to be taken literally, it may be that the “Babylon” represents a current world power that dominants the world as Rome did in John’s day. All of this is the set up for the big battle. This world power will rally the nations of the world to battle against the Lamb of God. Then, before the battle is even described, we’re told the outcome of it. The Lamb wins. In the end, there will be no doubt as to his high standing: Lord over all lords, King over all kings. The descriptions of judgment, war, and destruction are soon to give way to victory, worship, and the exaltation of the Lamb of God.
Take Away: We don’t have to understand everything to understand this: in the end, the Lamb reigns.
The way to die
Revelation 14: Blessed are those who die in the Master from now on; how blessed to die that way!
In this passage the harvest of the world is about to be described but prior to that there’s another description of God’s people standing “passionately patient, keeping God’s commands, staying faithful to Jesus.” Then John is told specifically to write about those who finish their lives while being “passionately patient.” They serve God through their lives, looking for Jesus to return, overcoming the hardships and trials of their journey. In the specific case of this passage there’s considerable pressure on them to follow the general population in worship of the Beast. These saints resist and at personal cost persist in being “faithful to Jesus.” Now, for them, the battle ends. Their “hard, hard work” is over and “God blesses them for it all in the end.” I’ve known people such as these described in this passage. They loved the Lord and served him through their lives. When hard times came, they wished for a way out, but way out or not, they continued to trust God. Physically, they were ultimately defeated. Spiritually though, they were victorious. John is told to remind God’s people that those who “die in the Master” are blessed. Unless Jesus comes back first, my turn’s coming. I want the same kind of passionate patience, the same faithfulness to God’s commands, to be the hallmark of my life. As this passage says: “how blessed to die that way!”
Take Away: Live the right way so you can die the right way.
Revelation 12: She was giving birth to a Child.
John’s vision shifts to new images including that of a dragon and war in heaven. It’s my guess that his original readers better understand the symbolism than we do. Interpretations are all over the map but due to the fact this book is written to be read by first century Christians I lean toward understandings of it that keep their perspective in mind. Also, there’s such a strong parallel to the story of the birth of Christ that I tend to think that John’s using that well known story to illustrate something more. Mary, the most blessed of women, gives birth to the Son of God. Immediately, Satan tries to have him killed but, being warned in a dream, his earthly father, Joseph, takes them and flees to the desert, Egypt. Throughout his ministry there’s a war for the hearts of men, women, boys, and girls. Ultimately, though, Satan’s defeated as Jesus goes to the cross, winning the ultimate victory for all who will come to him. It all fits, kind of. The question for Bible scholars is “What does it illustrate?” Most say that the woman represents the Church and that the battle represents the war waged by the enemy of our souls in an attempt to defeat the Church. If that’s right the message here is one of divine protection and ultimate victory. Even readers like me, in spite of my struggles in understanding the passage, can conclude that, whatever the exact meaning here, God will protect his people and that ultimately, in Christ, victory is ours. I know I don’t get everything that’s going on here, but that’s a pretty good place to start.
Take Away: We don’t have to understand everything to have a firm grasp on the fact of the Lord’s provision for, and protection of, us.
Victory in Jesus
Revelation 7: Who are these dressed in white robes, and where did they come from?
As the worship scene in heaven unfolds John sees more and more worshipers. First, there are 144,000 people from the family trees of Israel. Then, he sees thousands and thousands from “all nations and tribes.” The number is too vast to count and they all begin singing praise to God and to the Lamb. John is transfixed by the scene but his focus is interrupted when one of the Elders asks him a question. He asks John who they are, this white robed, too-vast-to-be-counted throng of worshipers. John doesn’t know, but the Elder answers his own question. These are those who have come through the great tribulation. This huge multitude isn’t made up of everyone in heaven, just of those who faithfully serve Christ right at the end, as earth’s history is being wrapped up. A couple of things come to mind at this point. First, heaven won’t be a lonely place. In spite of “many called, few chosen” the “few” comprise a huge number. Second, as bad as the time of tribulation might be, by God’s power his people can overcome, not just surviving, barely limping in, but thriving in numbers too great to count, coming through clean and rejoicing. This is a testimony, not to human perseverance, but to God’s power at work in the lives of his people.
Take Away: By the grace of the Lord, by his power in our lives…by the Lord, we can hold fast in our faith and receive a glorious entrance into the place he’s prepared for us.
Not a walk in the park
Ephesians 6: Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.
Several years ago a popular song included the phrase “I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden.” Know what? That’s life in general and, in light of this passage, the Christian life in particular. Paul writes this passage from jail. He warns his readers that they have an enemy who’s intent on destroying them. Their spiritual journey is no game and how they live in the here and now has eternal consequences. If a person starts out living for the Lord thinking it’s going to be a stroll in a rose garden they’re in for some unpleasant surprises. The Apostle focuses on spiritual adversaries, unseen but real. It’s not unreasonable to add the common inconveniences and out and out tragedies of life to this mix. I’m not to be naive about all this. There are times when it becomes clear that I’m up against far more than I can handle. Happily, the Lord hasn’t put us out here in real life without some resources. Paul urges us to take advantage of many powerful resources that are at our fingertips. He reminds us that “Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words.” He directs us to God’s Word and prayer. It’s no rose garden, but I have everything I need to live a victorious, overcoming life.
Take Away: Life isn’t always easy but it’s important to remember the Lord’s faithful provision for us.
God’s answer to sin-in-me
Romans 8: With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved.
What’s the answer to a failure filled Christianity? Am I destined to a defense oriented spiritual life? Is my constant excuse, “the spirit is willing but the body is weak”? The gloom of Romans 7 is blown away by the opening words of Romans 8. Before Christ, Romans 7 was the norm, but it’s the norm no more. In Christ “a new power is in operation” and everything’s changed. When I cry out to God for relief from sin he responds in Christ to defeat sin-in-me once and for all. The blood of Christ is applied to my life to bring about a “deep healing” and sin-as-a-condition is defeated. Now, a new day dawns in my spiritual life. I’m led “out into the open, into a spacious, free life.” I’ve been “delivered from that dead life” and the Spirit is now living in me. As a child of God who struggles with sin, I cry out to my Heavenly Father for help. He responds by doing a work in me as “God’s Spirit touches” my spirit resulting in a deeper relationship with God and a level of spiritual living I never before dreamed possible.
Take Away: In God, there’s wonderful freedom from self and sin.
The great Deliverer
Isaiah 42: He won’t be stopped until he’s finished his work — to set things right on earth.
Even as Isaiah writes words of comfort to those banished from Jerusalem by the crushing might of Babylon, he looks forward to a great day of deliverance. “One day,” he promises, “God will send the ultimate Deliverer, his prized Servant, to the world. He’ll do an even greater thing than bringing a scattered people back to their homeland.” Isaiah looks to the coming of the Messiah, a man filled with the Spirit who’ll “set everything right.” One day, in Isaiah’s distant future, a man will be baptized and God’s voice will be heard proclaiming, “This is my Son.” Here we see that proclamation being foretold as the Lord declares through Isaiah, “He’s the one I chose, and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.” The prophet doesn’t have all the details. In fact, it’s unlikely that he has a vision of Calvary or of the empty tomb of Easter. Isaiah doesn’t see a cross, but he does see a Messiah. This Promised One will overcome every hindrance to accomplish his work. That’s just what happens when even a cross can’t stop this Servant of God. Know what? Neither can he be stopped by the seeming insurmountable obstacles of the world today. We Christians need to remember this and join the Messiah’s mission. Followers of his don’t sit around wringing their hands while lamenting the state of things. This Messiah won’t quit until things are set “right on earth.” That’s our mission as well as our hope.
Take Away: It’s not that there aren’t any challenges because there are. Still, the fact remains that the Son of God will, without question accomplish his mission of redemption.
Singing songs that rhyme
2 Samuel 22: I stood there saved — surprised to be loved!
As a conclusion to David’s story we’re given what is probably a favorite song from the great king. We might call this a displaced Psalm. With characteristic passion and absolute honesty David praises God but also tells of dejection and fear. God answers with earth shaking power. He rescues the one he loves and puts him back on his feet, giving him victory. From that experience, David says he’s learned some things about God. The Lord sticks by people who stick by him. When I turn to him, I find he’s already turned to me. And, even when I know I’m unworthy, I’m surprised by his wonderful love for me. David concludes, “That’s why I’m singing songs that rhyme your name.” I see why the writer of these books of Samuel likes this song!
Take Away: The Lord is good to us and we have every reason to sing his praises.
Marching to victory
2 Samuel 8: God gave victory to David wherever he marched.
David is now firmly established as king of Israel. He undertakes the great mission of retaking territory that has been lost and subduing or destroying their enemies. War isn’t pretty and the best I can do here is to simply read the historical account and see it as descriptive of what David is able to do by the power of the Lord. These events are distant from me in time and culture. For David, this is about making Israel safe, secure, and firmly established. The lesson here is not that God will help me inflict pain and death on my enemies, but instead, that God will help me live in victory over those things that would destroy me.
Take Away: By the Lord’s help I can defeat all that would defeat me.