Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 41, The Two Witnesses, Part Two

Yesterday we were told that the two witnesses will give their testimony for 1260 days. People will want to harm them to shut them up, but John told us that when anyone tries to harm them "fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies". They will have the power to perform signs and wonders while they preach the gospel in order to lend authority to the message they're preaching. 

When the period appointed for their ministry is finished, they will be martyred for their faith. Our text today says: "Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them." (Revelation 11:7) We're going to talk about who this beast is, but first I want us to stop a minute to take note of the fact that he has no power over the two witnesses until they finish their work. He would have liked to take their lives on the very first day they started preaching, but God wouldn't allow it. 

The same is true in our own lives. Satan would love to take us out of this world so we can no longer give our testimonies about Christ, but he can do nothing to shorten the appointed lifespan God has set for each of us. I think we can do things that shorten our lifespans or that diminish our quality of life. God has given us free will and sometimes we make bad health choices. But the devil can't lay a finger on us without God's permission. For example, Satan had to ask God for permission to bring trouble into Job's life. He couldn't interfere in Job's life unless God allowed it, and God only allows things to happen to His children if those things serve a purpose that line up with His will for them. In Luke 22 the Lord Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked to sift the disciples like wheat, but that He had prayed for their faith to stand strong. I take that to mean that God was going to allow some "sifting" but that Jesus was praying for them to come through the test with flying colors. We don't want to get so caught up in thinking about the terrible beast from today's passage that we forget about God's protective hand on those who are His. Many times Satan has asked the Lord to do this or that to you and me. Many times he's been denied. And when he hasn't been denied, we can rest assured that the Lord Jesus was praying earnestly for us to stand strong and to come through with flying colors.

Now who is this beast from the Abyss? Some scholars say he is Satan while others say he is the Antichrist. Later in Revelation we will meet an "unholy trinity" made up of Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet. Satan is going to try to mimic the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I can't say for sure which member of the unholy trinity this beast from the Abyss is, but I tend to lean toward the theory that he is Satan. As we get farther along in our study we will find John witnessing the emergence of the Antichrist onto the world scene. When we get there we'll discuss the symbolism of why he sees the Antichrist coming from the sea. He doesn't come out of the Abyss. In our text today we are told that the beast who kills the two witnesses comes up out of the Abyss, so I think he is Satan himself, especially since we already saw some demonic, unearthly things coming up out of the Abyss in Revelation 9. Since the Antichrist is believed to be human, we wouldn't expect him to emerge from the Abyss. In addition, if we take a look at Luke 8, we find a horde of demons pleading with Jesus not to send them into the Abyss when He casts them out of a possessed man. They desperately want to inhabit a body, probably so they can do more harm on the earth, but their pleading indicates that the Abyss is the abode of fallen angels. Based on these things, I think the beast who kills the witnesses is Satan, but we can't be positive because John doesn't identify him as Satan.

People from all over the world will be able to see the bodies of the two witnesses lying on the street in Jerusalem, and this is something that wouldn't have been possible in John's day. He doesn't even try to explain how people from every nation will be able to see them. He couldn't have understood the technology that would allow millions of people to see this sight on their televisions, computers, and smart phones. "Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city---which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt---where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because the two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth." (Revelation 11:8-10) 

We know these men die in Jerusalem because John tells us they die where the Lord was crucified. He figuratively refers to Jerusalem as "Sodom and Egypt" because in the Scriptures these names are used as examples of sin and idolatry. John may be referring to Jerusalem as Sodom and Egypt because the Lord was rejected and killed there, or he could be referring to the terribly wicked spiritual state of the people who will be inhabiting Jerusalem in the last days. We've already learned that the Antichrist will desecrate the third temple, set up an image of himself there, and insist he be worshiped. The Jewish people who live in the nation of Israel (those who are religious, at least) will refuse to bow to the image and they will have to flee Jerusalem to remain alive. When we began Chapter 11 we were told that the Gentiles would trample Jerusalem during the 1260 days of the ministry of the two witnesses, meaning these Gentiles will have control over the city. These are not Gentiles who came to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation but are Gentiles who continue to live in rebellion toward God.

It has long been considered the ultimate act of contempt to allow the bodies of one's enemies to remain unburied. Many ancient cultures didn't think it was enough to kill their enemies; they wanted to inflict one final insult by leaving the bodies exposed. There are several instances in the Bible of bodies being left exposed in order to further heap abuse on a person after his death. There are instances in the Bible of people from Israel and Judah bravely retrieving the bodies of their dead to put a stop to such indignity. The wicked people of the world are going to gloat over the death of the two witnesses so much that they won't want their enjoyment curtailed by having the bodies out of sight.

These people are going to celebrate the death of the witnesses because they were tormented by them. I think mainly they were tormented because the truth the witnesses preached was troubling their hearts. The gospel says that we are all sinners who need a Savior. People who want to only do their own thing and live the way they please don't want to be told they are sinners. They don't want to be told there is a holy God who will someday judge their actions. If they can convince themselves there is no God, then they can't be sinners. And if they aren't sinners, then they don't need a Savior. These people are going to be overjoyed when they don't have to hear the message of the two witnesses anymore. They are going to celebrate by giving gifts to each other. Quick-thinking entrepreneurs may even create merchandise to commemorate the death of the witnesses. All kinds of wacky and tacky things may go on sale immediately after the death of these men. In my area of the country, we had a major blizzard in March of 1993, and while the snow was still on the ground I saw merchandise in the stores that said, "I survived the blizzard of '93." I can easily picture those who hated the witnesses callously enjoying wearing T-shirts and buttons that celebrate the death of the two preachers.

The celebration won't last long. "But after three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, 'Come up here.' And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on." (Revelation 11:11-12) The Lord resurrects them and calls them to heaven in a similar manner in which He took the church (those who were still alive at the rapture and those who were already dead prior to the rapture) to heaven. The world has viewed the bodies of these men for three and a half days. There is no doubt they are dead. They haven't moved or breathed. Their bodies have begun to decay as they lay in the public square of Jerusalem. While people are watching either in person or on their various electronic devices, the men come back to life and are called to heaven to be with the Lord. Imagine the shock! Imagine how quickly the celebratory parties come to a screeching halt. How to explain such a thing? Some of the people who witness this and who survive the event that happens next will repent and turn to the Lord.

"At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed during the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon." (Revelation 11:13-14) The Lord mercifully appointed the two witnesses to preach to the world so the inhabitants of earth would have an additional 1260 days in which to repent. Even after people rejected the message of the witnesses, they were given another chance to repent when they witnessed the miracle of resurrection followed by a tremendous earthquake. The seventh trumpet is about to sound in tomorrow's passage. Time is drawing very short now for the people on the earth. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 40, The Two Witnesses, Part One

In today's passage we are going to meet a couple of the most mysterious characters in the book of Revelation. The Lord refers to them as "My two witnesses".

Yesterday John was told that the holy city (Jerusalem) would be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles for 1260 days. In John's day, the calendar he would have used counted 360 days as a year, so if we divide 1260 days we come up with 3.5 years. These years most likely correspond to the last half of the seven years of the Great Tribulation. So far in Revelation we've seen several major disasters along with war, famine, and disease. Some supernatural plagues have befallen the earth. But we've been told that many people of the world are still refusing to acknowledge the living God, because at the end of Chapter 9 the Bible says that still the people did not repent of the work of their hands---of their idolatry, their cruelty, their association with occult practices, and their sexual immorality.

Even so, God is going to give the world one more chance during the last 3.5 years. While the world is going mad, while unbelievers are doing whatever they please in the city of Jerusalem and at the now-desecrated third temple, while the Antichrist is reigning as the most evil dictator of all time---God is going to appoint two witnesses to preach the truth to the world. The Lord says, "And I will appoint My two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1260 days, clothed in sackcloth. They are 'the two olive trees' and the two lampstands, and 'they stand before the Lord of the earth.'" (Revelation 11:3-4) The Biblical definition of "to prophesy" doesn't include only predictions about the future. It also means "to proclaim". I think they will do a combination of both: they will proclaim the gospel and they will warn of the dire future ahead for those who continue to reject the gospel.

The word that has been translated as "witnesses" in English is the Greek "martuj". It is pronounced "martoos" and you will see the similarity between this word and the word "martyrs". While martuj is defined as "one who gives testimony in court or one who is a spectator at an event", the word came to be closely associated with losing one's life after so many early Christians lost their lives for giving their testimonies about the Lord Jesus Christ. This Greek word is a masculine noun, so we know these witnesses are men even though the Bible never refers to them as "him" or "he".

The Lord quotes from the book of Zechariah when He refers to the witnesses as "the two olive trees" and says that "they stand before the Lord of the earth". Zechariah had a vision of a solid gold lampstand with seven bowls on it, and instead of the bowls having to be replenished with olive oil, they were fed directly with oil by an olive tree on each side of the lampstand. A lampstand that never runs dry of oil is going to produce a perpetual flame. Since oil is used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, we can deduce that the two witnesses are going to be filled with the Holy Spirit during the days of their ministry. This is where their power comes from, the same power that filled the prophets of old. They will be invincible during the 1260 days of their appointed ministry. Their invincibility won't come from their own strength, but as the Lord said in the book of Zechariah, they will live "not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit." (Zechariah 4:6)

People will want to put them to death, but the Lord won't allow it while they fulfill their calling. "If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want." (Revelation 11:5-6)

So who are these men? We're going to take a look at the top three theories regarding their identities.

Throughout the centuries many scholars have taught that they are Moses and Elijah. They've taught this as though it is fact, so it has become the most well-known theory. But the main connection the witnesses have with Moses and Elijah is their connection with fire and drought and plagues. Elijah called fire down from heaven during his showdown on Mount Carmel with the wicked prophets of Baal. Elijah prayed for the Lord to prevent rain from coming on the earth for 3.5 years and no rain came. Moses called down plagues on Egypt when Pharaoh was refusing to let the Hebrew people go. One other reason these men could be Moses and Elijah is because the Jewish people regarded them, in combination, to represent the entire law and all the prophets. That may be why Moses and Elijah met with Jesus on a mountain to discuss His impending death. (See Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-4, Luke 9:28-31) These men had long been in heaven, but they met with Jesus and "spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem." (Luke 9:31) So it's not impossible for the two witnesses to be Moses and Elijah since they've already made an appearance in the New Testament.

But there are some problems with these men being Moses and Elijah. When John saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus on the mountain, he immediately knew who they were even though he'd never seen them before. Many people have taken this to mean that when we get to heaven we will automatically know who everyone is, and that may be true. But if John saw Moses and Elijah before and knew who they were, wouldn't he recognize them as the two witnesses? If these men are Moses and Elijah, I tend to think John would tell us. Another problem I have with this theory is that Moses has been dead and buried for thousands of years. The two witnesses will eventually be martyred for their faith, and I find it hard to believe that the Lord would bring His faithful servant Moses back to life in order to cause him to die again.

A better argument can be made for one of these men being Elijah because Elijah never died. In 2 Kings 2 we learn that the Lord took him up to heaven in a whirlwind. Since Elijah never died, he would not be dying again here in Revelation. This is why some scholars believe one of the witnesses is Elijah and that the other is another man who never died. Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah, was taken by God without experiencing death. The Bible gives us very little information about him; it only says, "Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away." (Genesis 5:23-24) The book of Hebrews gives us a few more details: "By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: 'He could not be found, because God had taken him away.' For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God." (Hebrews 11:5) Elijah and Enoch were granted the special privilege of being taken to heaven without experiencing death because they walked so closely with the Lord. I have trouble imagining that the Lord would bring them back to the earth and cause them to die for their faith---the faith which so pleased Him that He bestowed a special blessing upon them.

The third theory is the theory I feel is the most satisfying, but we are all free to come to our own conclusions on this matter. I'm not going to be dogmatic about what I think. I respect the opinion of anyone who disagrees with me. But they may just be two believers who are living on the earth in the end times and who are given power like the great men of the Bible. God will anoint and appoint them to preach the gospel to the world with all the fiery passion of an Old Testament prophet. I think they will probably be Jewish Christians because here in Chapter 11 John has been speaking about Jerusalem and about the temple, and these men seem to be closely connected with that passage. They will perform signs and wonders not only like an Old Testament prophet such as Elijah, but like the New Testament apostles such as Peter and Paul. In the New Testament, the preaching of the apostles was accompanied by miracles in order to lend authority to their teaching. People could argue with what the apostles said, but it was difficult for them to argue that they hadn't just witnessed a miracle. Having miracles accompany the gospel message was intended to prove to the world that the gospel is true.

John doesn't appear to know the identity of the two witnesses. Since he recognized Elijah and Moses on the mountain without ever having met them, I feel that he would automatically recognize any other Old Testament character. He would recognize them if they were any great apostle of his own day. I think he doesn't recognize them because they haven't yet been born when he receives the information included in the book of Revelation. They are probably going to be two human beings who are on the earth in the last days, who come to Christ during the Great Tribulation, and who live so closely to the Lord after their conversion that they are called by Him to be the greatest evangelists of the end times. We don't really need to think the two witnesses are reincarnated Biblical characters just because we don't know who they are. We don't know who the Antichrist is either, but most modern mainstream scholars believe he is going to be an actual human being who is alive on the earth during the end times. He will be so wicked at heart and so willing to "sell his soul to the devil" that he will be possessed by Satan himself. Scholars don't suggest he is a reincarnated evil man from the past just because John doesn't recognize us or tell us his name. John doesn't tell us his name because he doesn't know his name, any more than he knows the names of the two witnesses.

Since John doesn't seem very concerned about the identity of these two men, we don't want to get hung up on the subject for too long. What they do is more important than who they are. In tomorrow's study we are going to learn some amazing things about these men and about what happens to them---things that will shock the world population of the end times.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 39, The Third Temple And The Outer Court

We are still in the pause between the blowing of the sixth and seventh trumpets. Today we learn something interesting about the third temple of the end times and about the previous two temples.

John is told in our passage today to measure the temple in Jerusalem. This is the third temple, the one that the Antichrist will desecrate at the 3.5 year mark of the seven-year Middle East peace treaty. Some people in our day scoff at the idea that the temple will ever be rebuilt due to the religious tensions and conflicts in the region, but the Scriptures promise a third temple. I think a third temple is very feasible politically as well, because for a long time now politicians have tried to arrange a two-state agreement that persuades the Palestinians to live peacefully alongside Israel. Earlier in our study we discussed the fact that archaeologists now think that the temple Solomon built may have lain slightly to the side of where the Dome of the Rock stands now. If so, the two-state agreement may allow for the temple to be rebuilt right beside the dome. The Antichrist is probably the political figure who finally manages to put this two-state agreement in place.

The third temple is also financially feasible. The people of Israel are ready to rebuild the third temple. An organization in Jerusalem called The Temple Institute has been in place for quite some time. This institute has been getting all the temple vessels and furnishings ready in preparation for the day when they can move ahead with the project. They are making all these items in accordance with their description in the Old Testament. If you're curious, The Temple Institute has a very interesting website that explains everything in detail. My boss at work, who has visited Jerusalem a number of times and who has visited The Temple Institute, donates to the project on a regular basis. Many evangelical Christians all over the world support the nation of Israel and look forward to the building of the third temple, so Gentiles as well as Jews are donating funds for the building of the third temple.

John tells us: "I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, 'Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months." (Revelation 11:1-2) Before we talk about why the Gentiles of the end times are going to "trample" Jerusalem in the last days, we need to take a look at the outer court of the first and second temples. The outer court was intended for Gentile worshipers. Gentile converts to Judaism were not allowed inside the temple proper, but they could worship the God of Israel in the outer courtyard. This is the courtyard in which Jesus often taught, for He wanted both Jews and Gentiles to hear the word of God. He did not discriminate against anyone. But some things that went on in the outer courtyard in Jesus' day were highly discriminatory against Gentile believers.

The outer court is the courtyard Jesus cleared of those who had set up booths to change money and to sell sacrificial animals. The money changers were there to make a profit because monetary offerings at the temple had to be paid with shekels. Gentile believers traveling from other countries would not be in possession of shekels, so their money had to be changed. Most foreign money had images of kings and emperors on it, a thing that was forbidden to the Jewish people, and most foreign money had blasphemous statements written on it, such as statements that declared emperors or kings to be God. This is why foreign money could not be used at the temple. The money changers charged a hefty fee for exchanging currency, so much so that it had become a form of robbery by Jesus' time. He threw the money changers out of the courtyard because they had made the temple "a den of thieves". (Matthew 21:13)

Jesus cleared the courtyard of the sellers of sacrificial animals because they were also robbing the people, and this particularly imposed hardship on Gentile believers. Gentile believers sometimes came a long distance in order to worship at the temple for the three major festivals at which all Jewish males (and male converts to Judaism) were required to appear. It was difficult and impractical for them to lead animals for days or weeks across all types of terrain, so sellers set up booths inside the courtyard for them to purchase animals at highly inflated prices. Some scholars think a portion of the priests were in cahoots with the sellers of animals because any animal brought to the temple had to be inspected by the priests before it could be offered. If the animal was rejected, the person had no choice but to purchase another one, and "pre-approved" animals were available in the courtyard supposedly for convenience of the worshipers but in reality as a profitable business in which the sellers of animals may have been sharing a portion of the profits with the priests.

Neither the money changers nor the sellers of animals had any business being inside the temple complex. They belonged outside the complex on the side of the street. The space they took up was space that was set aside for Gentiles to worship God. They were crowding a lot of these people out altogether, and it made Jesus angry, and on the day when Jewish people were to cleanse their homes of leaven (a symbol of sin) before the Passover, Jesus cleansed His house (the temple) of these sinful thieves.

John is not to measure the outer court of the temple because Jerusalem will be "trampled" by Gentiles for 42 months, which equals 1260 days, or 3.5 years. This would be the final 3.5 years of the Great Tribulation. Since the outer court was originally intended for Gentiles who served the God of Israel, the fact that Gentiles will trample it and Jerusalem in the end times indicates that these Gentiles do not serve the God of Israel. These people are not good people. On an occasion when the Lord Jesus was speakings of the end times, He warned the people to escape Jerusalem when they saw the temple (the third temple) desecrated. He told them that this would be the fulfillment of the prophecy in the book of Daniel regarding an "abomination" in the temple. This abomination corresponds with what we've been told in Revelation about the Antichrist setting up an image of himself in the temple 3.5 years into the seven-year treaty. The Lord warned the people to flee Jerusalem in those days because terrible times of persecution were about to come against the Jewish people. In Luke's account of one of Jesus' discourses on the end times, we find Jesus saying, "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (Luke 21:24b)

We don't know exactly what the Gentiles are going to do in Jerusalem and at the third temple during the Great Tribulation. We know the Antichrist will set up an image of himself in the temple and insist that he be worshiped as God. Jews who are Jewish by religion and not simply by genealogy are going to refuse to do this. Some scholars think that a portion of non-religious Jews may think the Antichrist is the Messiah, and I can't speak with any certainty on whether or not this is true, but a great number of non-religious Gentiles will think he is the Messiah. They won't know the Scriptures and won't recognize the Antichrist for who he is, so they will support him in his terror campaign against the Jews. The Jewish people will have to flee Jerusalem for their lives. The Antichrist will hate the Jewish people more than anyone has ever hated them before, and so will the Gentiles who give their allegiance to the Antichrist. Since the temple will be unfit for Jewish believers to worship God during the last 3.5 years of the Great Tribulation, most of the people who visit the temple in those days will be Gentiles. Most of the people in Jerusalem in those days will be Gentiles since so many Jews will have fled the city. These will not be Gentiles who come to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation, and these will not be Gentiles who have converted to Judaism. These will be Gentiles who serve the Antichrist and who adhere to the false religion of those days.

Remember in the beginning of our study of Revelation when we talked about the apostate church of the end times? It's going to involve a mix of paganism, humanism, and all sorts of other ungodly beliefs and practices. This is why those who come to Jerusalem and the temple in the end times are said to be "trampling" it underfoot. They are unholy. They are bringing in beliefs and rituals that defile the house of God. They are not honoring the Lord in any way. So, when John excludes the outer court when he measures the temple, he is symbolically excluding these pagan Gentiles and their sinful and immoral beliefs. The only Gentiles who were allowed in the outer court of the first two temples were Gentiles who converted to Judaism. Pagan Gentiles could not enter. Pagan Gentiles could not be counted as the people of God. So in the end times we see that these Gentiles who enter the third temple are said to be trampling the courtyard underfoot because they don't belong there. They are not the people of God.

As terrible as all this sounds, something amazing is going to happen during the final 1260 days of the Great Tribulation. The Lord is going to appoint two mysterious characters known as "the two witnesses" to prophesy to the world during those 1260 days. They are going to be able to perform signs and wonders comparable to those of Old Testament figures like Moses and Elijah. In tomorrow's study we are going to meet these fascinating characters, discuss who they may be, and learn about how they astonish the world.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 38, The Mighty Angel And The Little Scroll/A Comparison Of Revelation 10 With Daniel 12 And Ezekiel 3

Earlier in our study there was a pause between the opening of the sixth seal and the seventh seal. Today there is a pause between the blowing of the sixth trumpet and the seventh trumpet. During this pause John sees a mighty angel holding a little scroll. We discuss how Chapter 10 of Revelation compares with Daniel 12 and Ezekiel 3, plus we discuss the possible identity of this mighty angel and we talk about what may be contained in the little scroll.

"Then I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head; his face was like the sun and his legs were like fiery pillars." (Revelation 10:1) Some very well-respected scholars identify this angel as Christ, while many other well-respected scholars think he is be the archangel Michael. We will briefly discuss both these theories.

I personally don't think he is Christ, although there are a couple of similarities between his description and the description of Christ in Revelation 1. But I think if this angel were Christ, John would know it. He immediately knew who the Lord was when He appeared to him on the Isle of Patmos, in spite of how different He looked from when He walked the earth as a man. John immediately knew who the Lord was when he saw Him in heaven in His role as the Lamb who was slain. Also it's only in the Old Testament that we see Christ referred to as "the angel of the Lord" during His pre-incarnate appearances. Ever since He became flesh and dwelt among man, He has been referred to by many honorable titles but not as an angel. If we look at how John describes this angel in the original Greek, he's saying, "I saw alloj (another, more, in the same order of) iscuroj (mighty, powerful, strong) aggeloj (messenger) come down from heaven." In other words, "I saw another mighty angel similar to the mighty angels I've already seen."

I feel that the theory that the angel of Revelation 10 may be the archangel Michael makes more sense than that the angel is Christ. This is because while the archangel Michael was providing the prophet Daniel with information about the end times, he did and said some of the same things the angel does in our passage today. We will compare the similarities as we go through Chapter 10.

When John sees the mighty angel, he tells us: "He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.' And the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and said, 'There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as He announced to His servants the prophets." (Revelation 10:2-7)

The prophet Daniel was given a great deal of information about the end times by the archangel Michael. In Daniel 12 a mighty angel who is communicating with him answers Daniel's question regarding how long it will take for the worst half of the Great Tribulation to be completed. The majority of scholars believe the angel of Daniel 12 is Michael because Michael is the one who has communicated with Daniel a number of times already. When Daniel asks his question of the angel, the angel lifts his right hand to heaven and swears by Him who lives forever, saying that this period would be for "a time, times, and half a time", which is generally interpreted as 3.5 years. (We have already learned in our study that the Antichrist will orchestrate a seven-year peace treaty which he will break halfway through and that the second half of his reign as world dictator will be the worst part of the Great Tribulation.) The angel of Daniel 12 and the angel of Revelation 10 both lift their right hand to heaven to swear by Him who lives forever, indicating that these two angels may be one and the same.

John says that when the angel roars, "the voices of the seven thunders spoke". The identity of the seven thunders is not clear. John doesn't give us any further explanation, and the authors of various commentaries and books on Revelation don't speculate much on the identity of the seven thunders because not enough information is provided. Whatever these thunders say, John is prohibited from writing it down. If we needed to know what they said, the Lord would have allowed us to know what they said. But in our specific time in history prior to the Great Tribulation, it is not necessary for us to know. The same thing happened when Daniel wanted to know more about the end times than he had already been told. The angel replied, "Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end." (Daniel 12:9) Daniel wasn't going to be on the earth in the end times and there were things he simply didn't need to know, things he would have been unable to understand in an era long before Christ was born. Would Daniel have known who the Lord Jesus was if He'd appeared to him as He appeared to John on the Isle of Patmos? No, because the symbolism of the aspects of Christ's appearance in Revelation 1 would have made no sense to him, but these things did make sense to John and to us. Would Daniel have had any idea what was happening if, like John, he'd seen Christ in His role as the slain Lamb standing before the throne of God? No, because he lived too long before Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world came into the world and gave His life for mankind.

When we began our study of the book of Revelation, we talked about how Revelation unseals the sealed things of the book of Daniel. Until the Lord Jesus came into the world in the flesh and dwelt among mankind, until He said and did things no mere man had ever done or said, until He gave His life on the cross, until He rose from the dead, and until He ascended to the Father, it was impossible to make much sense of the prophecies of Daniel. But when the risen and glorified Lord appeared to John and provided him with information about the end times, the prophecies of Revelation matched up with the prophecies of Daniel, thereby unsealing the things Daniel was told were "rolled up and sealed until the time of the end". This is because, ever since Christ ascended to heaven, we have been living in the last days leading up to the end times. This is because the people of our day who are not Christians need to understand the prophecies and take them to heart so they can be redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ. This is because the people of our day who are Christians need to keep in mind the blessed promise that Christ will call for us soon and that we need not fear the Great Tribulation because during that dark time we will be with Christ in heaven. The people of Daniel's day did not need to understand these things because the time of the end was still too far in the future.

Is the little scroll in the angel's hand in Revelation 10 the scroll that the angel of Daniel 12 says is "rolled up and sealed until the time of the end"? I think it very well could be since the book of Daniel is unsealed by the book of Revelation. Here is what happens with the little scroll of Revelation 10: "Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: 'Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.' So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, 'Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.' I took the little scroll from the angel's hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, 'You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.'" (Revelation 10:8-11)

The angel quotes Ezekiel 3:3 when he tells John the scroll will taste like honey in his mouth but will turn his stomach sour. Ezekiel was also instructed to eat a scroll, a scroll that contained prophecies regarding his people. Some of Ezekiel's people would remain faithful to the Lord while some would continue to rebel against him. This is why the scroll was both sweet and bitter, because the future of the faithful and the future of the wicked were going to be very different from each other. The word of God is sweet to those who love Him, as King David declared, "How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (Psalm 119:103) The one who serves and loves the Lord draws comfort and strength from what He has to say. The promises and the blessings of the Scriptures belong only to those who belong to the Lord. To those who live in rebellion against Him, His word is bitter because the only words in the Scriptures that apply to the rebellious are words of judgment. The scroll John eats contains the fact that God is going to accomplish everything He has ever intended to accomplish for the creation, so the scroll tastes sweet in his mouth. The child of God ought to long for the day when His kingdom comes. But the scroll also contains judgment for the wicked, and this is a bitter thing even though the wicked bring their judgment upon themselves. God is righteous and must judge sin. We could not love or serve a God who won't judge wickedness and cruelty. We---the children of God---will rejoice on the day all wickedness is judged and when sin is vanquished forever. But for those on the receiving end of this judgment, the fulfillment of the prophecies of the end times will be a bitter thing, not a thing to be celebrated.

When the angel of Daniel 12 told him the prophecies he'd been given were sealed until the time of the end, the angel said, "Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand." (Daniel 12:10) In Revelation 10 the angel tells John, "You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings." (Revelation 10:11) John lived a few more years after receiving the prophecies of Revelation. During those years he must have taught these prophecies to anyone who would listen. The words he wrote down were copied and sent to the churches and on out into the world. We are still studying these words today, so John has indeed continued to prophesy just as the angel said he would. And, just as the angel of Daniel 10 said, some take the words to heart (those who are wise) and some don't understand the words because they don't want to understand the words (those who are wicked). As we study the remainder of Revelation, we will learn about the glorious future of the wise and the terrible fate of the wicked.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 37, The Sixth Trumpet/A Fiery Army

The sixth trumpet sounds today, releasing the second woe.

"The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, 'Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.' And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind." (Revelation 9:13-15) We don't know the owner of the voice that speaks from the altar. It may be the voice of the angel who ministered at this altar in Revelation 8, offering incense to God along with the prayers of His people.

I think we can be fairly certain that the four angels who are bound at the Euphrates River are fallen angels. I can't imagine any reason why God would place His faithful angels in restraints like prisoners. We don't know what these four angels did to merit such punishment, but there is a precedent for the chaining of wicked angels, for the Lord's brother Jude spoke of a particular group of angels who were so wicked in their rebellion that the Lord placed them in chains where they will remain until the day of judgment. (Jude 1:6) The angels Jude speaks of can't be the four angels at the Euphrates, or else we wouldn't yet see the angels being released, but it appears that these four want to bring death on human beings. They may have been so vicious in their hatred of mankind that God had to put them in chains long ago, and only now in Revelation 9 does He have any use for them. He is going to release them to do what their evil hearts want to do. Though they take delight in causing harm, they are only able to do what God allows them to do. They can't wipe out the human race. They will only be allowed to take the lives of a third of the population left on earth in those days.

Remember, the earth's population has decreased significantly by Chapter 9. All who belong to Christ were taken to heaven before the Great Tribulation began, and this means billions of people vanished. In addition, we've learned in our study that war, famine, and disease took the lives of many who were left behind. We found out that a number of people who accepted Christ during the Great Tribulation lost their lives due to persecution for their faith. On top of all this, we've seen some major natural disasters and plagues occurring on the pages of Revelation, and we've been told that many lost their lives due to these events. It's impossible to accurately speculate what the world population is in Revelation 9, but it doesn't come close to comparing to our world population today. The Lord let the four angels loose to take the lives of a third of that population.

Do any Christians lose their lives as a result of the sixth trumpet being blown? I tend to think not, based on the concluding verses of our passage today, but first we are going to take a look at what happens when the four angels are released from their chains. They are going to lead a vast army. "The number of the mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand. I heard their number." (Revelation 9:16) This army is made up of two hundred million troops. No earthly army has ever been this large. If we add together the number of troops in all the armies involved in the first or second world wars, they still would not come close to numbering two hundred million. Considering that the world population has been drastically reduced by Revelation 9, it's doubtful that an army of this size could be amassed. Just as the locusts from yesterday's study were of supernatural origin, I think the enormous army in our passage today is of supernatural origin.

The description of these troops and their horses is nothing like anything we've ever seen. "The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths. The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having head with which they inflict injury." (Revelation 9:17-19) The only way I can fathom this being an army of human origin is if John is describing high tech weaponry. We don't fight much from horseback anymore, and an army of two hundred million has never been known to exist even with the world population at its peak, but if these horses and their riders represent unmanned weaponry (such as drones or computer-guided missiles) then John may be talking about two hundred million of these deadly objects, not two hundred million actual men and horses.

The Lord forbade the locusts of the fifth trumpet (the first woe) to take the lives of human beings. They were only allowed to cause a great deal of discomfort to those who had not yet accepted Christ during the Great Tribulation. I believe the purpose of this was so that many who had rejected the Lord up to that point would repent and turn to Him. They had continued to reject Him in spite of the war, famine, disease, and natural disasters occurring all around them. They were able to resist the call of God during those events. They were still sound in body, so they had the strength to keep telling themselves everything was going to be alright. But it's hard to pretend everything is alright when your body is in a lot of pain. The locust plague was intended to get the attention of those who had successfully managed to keep pushing God to the side even while the world was falling down around them.

We don't know if anyone repented during the locust plague. I think some did. But many continued to resist the Lord and blaspheme His name, so the woe of the sixth trumpet allows a third of these people to be killed. You would think that this would serve as a warning to those who remain alive and that they might take stock of their lives and made things right with God, but John is going to tell us that they don't. This indicates to me that those killed by the second woe were not people who had accepted Christ, but that they were from among those still living in opposition to God. John concludes today by describing the character of those who, in spite of all that's happened, have no interest in worshiping their Creator. "The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood---idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts." (Revelation 9:20-21)

This group is made up of idolaters, murderers, occultists, adulterers, and thieves. They prefer this type of living over holy living. They believe in living for themselves and in "following their hearts". In our day we often hear people say, "I have to follow my heart," and a lot of the time they are using this expression to try to justify something they know is wrong. For example, I've known a few people who walked away from a spouse and children in order to be with someone else, and their excuse was, "I have to follow my heart". We can't follow our hearts if our hearts are telling us to do things that are contrary to the word of God. The prophet Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." (Jeremiah 17:9) If we allow our lives to be led by our emotions, we are going to do deceitful and wicked things. That is why God has given us His word so we can lead our lives according to what is good and right and holy. We are not at the mercy of our emotions. God created us with intelligent minds that are capable of overriding our emotions. He gave us the ability to think things through, and if we want to live godly lives we have to shine the light of God's word on all our major decisions. Our hearts will lie to us. Our emotions will overwhelm us if we let them. But God has equipped us with the ability to reason things out, and He intends for us to use our reasoning by comparing our motives and our deeds with what His holy word says.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 36, The Plague Of Locusts From The Abyss

When the fifth trumpet sounded we learned that a being John calls a "star" has the key to the shaft of the Abyss. Today this being opens the Abyss and John sees what looks like a plague of locusts coming out of it.

"When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth." (Revelation 9:2-3) We are reminded of when, in Exodus 10, the Lord sent a plague of locusts upon Egypt during the days when Pharaoh refused to allow the Hebrew people to leave.

The locusts of Exodus destroyed all the crops in the Egyptian's fields and all the fruit on the Egyptian's trees. The locusts from the Abyss will harm no plants or trees---only human beings. "They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads." (Revelation 9:4) In Exodus the plagues fell only on the Egyptians, on the Hebrew people living in the Egyptian territory of Goshen. In the same way, the Lord will protect those who are His from the locust swarm of Revelation. Previously we saw that the Lord sealed 144,000 evangelists from the twelve tribes of Israel. Here it is believed by many experts on the book of Revelation that the people who have "the seal of God on their foreheads" represents not only the 144,000 but all who come to Christ during the Great Tribulation.

What is this seal and is it visible to all the world? I don't think humans can see it, but the Lord sees it because He knows those who are His. (2 Timothy 2:19) All the entities of the spiritual realm see it, because the locusts from the Abyss see the seal and pass over those who belong to the Lord. I think the seal may very well be the Holy Spirit, for we are told in 2 Corinthians 1:21, "Now it is God who makes both you and us stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." Ephesians 1:13 says, "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit." And Ephesians 4:30 assures us that we who believe in Christ were "sealed for the day of redemption" by the Holy Spirit. This means that everyone who belongs to Christ has the seal of the Holy Spirit. The people who turn to Christ in the end times are going to be sealed by the Holy Spirit. I can't look at you and see if you have the seal of the Holy Spirit, but rest assured that the Lord sees it. Every angel of heaven and every demon of hell sees it. There is no doubt as to Whom you belong. In Revelation, when the locust swarm comes out of the Abyss and is told not to harm those who are sealed, this means that they only harm those who are still living in rebellion toward God, who are refusing to acknowledge Him, and who are refusing to repent.

These locusts are not the locusts we are familiar with, but are of supernatural origin, and we will see what they look like in just a moment. Some Bible scholars think they are demons (fallen angels). If they are, then their inability to harm those who belong to the Lord should comfort us, because they can't do anything the Lord doesn't allow them to do. They would like to be able to torment those who belong to Him, but He forbids them to touch His people. The Lord's authority over the entire spiritual realm is further displayed by the fact that He orders these locusts not to kill those who hate Him, but only to torment them for a time. "They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them." (Revelation 9:5-6)

As terrible as all this sounds, it is the the act of a merciful God who wants everyone to come to repentance. The plague falls on those who are still rejecting Him, not as punishment but as an incentive to repent. If God were trying to punish them, He could just allow the locusts to kill them, but we are told that these people can't die during this time even though the locusts are making them so miserable that they want to die. The Lord is holding them in this life so they can be given every opportunity to repent. I've read some commentaries in which the authors suggest that some of these people will try to commit suicide and fail because God is compelled, out of His love for mankind, to give them as much time as possible to come to Christ. And if they never repent, at least they can never say that God didn't give them the opportunity.

We will conclude today with John's description of what these supernatural locusts look like. "The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer)." (Revelation 9:7-11) When I was a little girl I had a book that included the story of Pandora's box. There was an illustration of a swarm of small, terrifying-looking things flying out of the box after Pandora opened it. Any time I read verses 7-11 I'm reminded of that illustration. Wicked things were in Pandora's box. They were bizarre and ugly. Wicked things reside in the Abyss, and they are bizarre and ugly. I don't know whether the locusts will be visible to human beings, but John saw them so it's possible humans will be able to see them. Or it could be that they will be invisible to the human eye and that the humans stung by them will feel the sting but will not see the creatures.

John tells us that the leader of these locusts is called "Destroyer". Some interpret this to mean their leader is Satan, since the Lord Jesus referred to Satan as a thief and said he only wants "to steal and kill and destroy". (John 10:10) Others think the Destroyer is a demon of high rank. I've found other commentators suggesting that he is not an evil being but an angel who holds the locusts of the Abyss in check until the day when he will let them loose and give them their instructions. This has led some to speculate whether he might be the angel of death from the book of Exodus. The angel of death struck down the firstborn of Egypt but passed over the firstborn of all the Hebrews who painted the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of their houses. The angel of death was likely not a fallen angel but an angel who served God. We can see the similarity between the death angel passing over the houses that had the blood applied to them and the plague of locusts in Revelation passing over those who have the blood of Christ applied to them. It is the shed blood of the Lamb, and the believer's faith that the blood was shed for our sins, and the believer's faith that the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins, that makes us righteous in the eyes of a holy God.

"The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come." (Revelation 9:12) The fifth, sixth, and seven trumpets each have a "woe" connected with them. Tomorrow we will see what happens when the sixth trumpet is blown.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 35, The Fifth Trumpet/The Identity Of The Angel Of The Abyss

We move on to Chapter 9 today and the blowing of the fifth trumpet.

"The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss." (Revelation 9:1) Right away we notice something unusual about this star. Unlike the previous times John has mentioned stars, (which may have represented meteor showers or other objects from outer space falling to the earth), in this case he seems to be using the word "star" to describe a being.

It's interesting that John doesn't refer to him as an angel, but some scholars believe this is a fallen angel, not an angel like the ones John sees going about God's business in heaven. There are two reasons they think so. First, we are not told that John sees this star fall to the earth, but instead he says he sees a star that had fallen to the earth. This "falling" took place some time in the past, not during the time John has been receiving visions of the end times. This may indicate that the star of Chapter 9 is one of the angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God. When we get to Chapter 12 we will be told that when Satan rebelled, he took a third of the angels with him, and the Scriptures will refer to these fallen angels as stars who were flung to the earth. Second, the star who has the key to the Abyss may be the same angel of Revelation 9:11 who is king over the terrible things that come out of the Abyss and whose name means "Destroyer". We wouldn't expect a faithful angel of God to have a name like that.

Other scholars think the star is a good angel who has been sent to earth to do the Lord's bidding. He may have been on the earth for quite some time---maybe ever since Christ ascended to heaven---waiting for the Lord's command to open the Abyss and release the fifth trumpet judgment upon the world during the end times. Remember, the Lord Jesus said that no one but the Father knew the day and the hour when the church would be called out of the world. Since no one but the Father knows this, and since the church is to be called out of the world prior to the Great Tribulation, the angels of heaven don't know the day or the hour when any of the things in Revelation will take place. This angel may have been standing ready ever since Christ ascended to heaven, because ever since Christ went home to the Father's house to prepare a place for us, we have been living in the last days that are leading up to the last days.

The third theory about the identity of this star is that he is not only a fallen angel, but that he is Satan himself. They use the following two verses because of their similarity to verse 1 in our study today. When the prophet Isaiah spoke of Satan, he referred to him as a falling star, saying, "How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!" (Isaiah 14:12) The Lord Jesus told His disciples about having witnessed the fall of Satan, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." (Luke 10:18) The Lord's words cause us to imagine a streak of light falling from the sky, in the way that we often refer to meteors as falling stars.

So we see that there is Scriptural evidence that fallen angels, and Satan, are referred to as stars in the Scriptures. There are some good reasons for believing the star John talks about in Chapter 9 is a fallen angel. However, there is a good reason for believing he is not a fallen angel, because he may be the same angel we will see in Chapter 20 who has the key to the Abyss and who chains Satan and throws him into the Abyss. If the star of Chapter 9 is the same as the angel of Chapter 20, then he cannot be a fallen angel. If he were, we wouldn't be likely to find him binding Satan---his king and lord---and throwing him into the Abyss. The Lord Jesus once pointed out how ridiculous it was to expect evil beings to punish other evil beings. At that time His enemies were accusing Him of performing exorcisms by the powers of darkness and not by the powers of God. They refused to believe He was the Christ, so they sometimes resorted to making preposterous accusations against Him. When accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan, He replied, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?" (Matthew 12:25-26)

We can't come to any certain conclusion about the identity of the one John refers to as a fallen star. But he is going to perform a duty that allows the woe of the fifth trumpet to invade the earth. He is going to open the Abyss, and horrible things will come out of it. John will compare these things to a horde of locusts, but it will be clear that they are supernatural creatures, possibly demons. In tomorrow's study we will take a look at the opening of the Abyss and we will learn what these creatures do when they are released from it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 34, The First Four Trumpets Of The Trumpet Judgments

The Lord has opened the seventh seal on the scroll and now we are about to study what is called "the trumpet judgments". Today we are going to take a look at what happens when the first four of the seven angels blow their trumpets.

"Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them. The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up." (Revelation 8:6-7) This is reminiscent of something that happened in the book of Exodus, when Pharaoh closed his ears to the word of God spoken to him through God's servants Moses and Aaron. Pharaoh stubbornly refused to repent of the mistreatment he had heaped upon the Hebrew people in the land of Egypt. Because he would not relent and let them go free, God sent a hailstorm so severe that it destroyed everything growing in the fields and stripped the trees bare. The Bible tells us this hailstorm was "the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation". (Exodus 9:24)

The hailstorm in Revelation 8 will be the worst storm in all the world since the world was created. This storm comes because, although they've been given opportunities to repent, many citizens of earth have closed their ears to the word of God spoken to them by His servants. This storm comes because so many inhabitants of the world are stubbornly refusing to repent, even though they know that the disasters they've witnessed prior to Chapter 8 were sent from God. Just like Pharaoh of Egypt, who didn't want to budge an inch even though he'd already witnessed plagues prior to the hailstorm, many people of earth in those days will continue to defy the living God.

"The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned to blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed." (Revelation 8:8-9) There is some disagreement among Bible scholars as to whether "the sea" means all the oceans of the world or whether it means the Mediterranean Sea. In the Apostle John's day, "the sea" was a term generally used to indicate the Mediterranean Sea. Either way, this event will certainly get people's attention. The object that falls into the sea, which looks like "a huge mountain, all ablaze", may describe a major meteor strike. The earth has been pelted by large meteors and asteroids in the past, and the earth bears the resulting scars in the form of craters.

In the book of Exodus, one of the plagues of Egypt was that the Nile River and the other water sources of the land turned to blood. This plague was sent right after one of Pharaoh's refusals to listen to Moses and his brother Aaron. The Bible tells us, "Pharaoh's heart became hard and he would not listen to them." (Exodus 7:13) The hearts of the people of earth have become hard by the time John sees the burning mountain fall into the sea and turn the water to blood. They've resisted the call to repentance for a long time, in spite of how much God has spoken to them and tried to reason with them. But each time a person refuses to heed the voice of God, his heart grows a little harder. Each time a person closes his ears to the voice of God, his spiritual hearing gets a little duller. Eventually only the harshest of conditions is capable of cracking the tough shell around his heart, and for some people no amount of tribulation will compel them to honor and worship the living God. Just as the Lord turned the waters of Egypt to blood, He turns a third of the waters in the sea to blood in Revelation 8 in an effort to shock the hard-hearted out of their complacency, but even then some will still resist the Lord's offer of mercy and forgiveness. They will be like Pharoah, who witnessed the bloody waters and didn't repent. Instead, "He turned and went into his palace, and did not take even this to heart." (Exodus 7:23)

"The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water---the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter." (Revelation 8:10-11) It could be that this "star" is a nuclear weapon that pollutes a third of the fresh water sources on the earth. Or it may be another meteor or asteroid strike, only this time it affects fresh water instead of salt water. Since one object as large as a mountain has already struck the earth, this could be a piece of the original object that broke off when the object entered the atmosphere. John describes it as a falling star because that's what it looks like to him.

The word "wormwood" means "bitter". Quite a few theologians and experts in Biblical prophecy have drawn a comparison between the object known as Wormwood in Revelation to the now abandoned city in the Ukraine that was called Chernobyl. The Russian word "chernobyl" actually means "wormwood", and the city of Chernobyl was once the site of a nuclear power plant. Due to an accident at the power plant which occurred while conducting a test, radioactive contaminants were released into the air for nine days, and over 100,000 people from that city and the surrounding areas had to be evacuated. This is why some Bible scholars think a nuclear weapon (or nuclear accident) will be to blame for the bitterness of the waters and the death in verses 10 and 11 of our study today.

Although these scholars make a compelling case, we discussed earlier in the week the fact that the events which happen following the opening of the final three seals are acts of judgment from heaven. The events which occurred following the opening of the first four seals appeared to be acts of man, such as tyranny, war, and the price inflation and famine and death that often follow war. So I tend to think that this object called "wormwood" which makes water bitter is not a manmade object but something that enters the earth's atmosphere from outer space---from "the heavens". I think this because words such as "bitterness" and "wormwood" were used in the Old Testament as symbols for sin and for the judgment for sin.

The Lord compared the sin of idolatry to a bitter poison because idolatry brings nothing but harm on the person who participates in it. (Deuteronomy 29:18) King Solomon warned about the dangers of sexual sins such as adultery, saying that though an immoral woman speaks sweet words, she is actually as bitter as wormwood. (Proverbs 5:2-5) In Lamentations 3:15,19 the prophet Jeremiah speaks of how bitter the judgment is for his people's idolatry, comparing the bitterness of Judah's defeat and exile to the bitterness of wormwood. Jeremiah also said to his people in the book that bears his name, "Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces the heart!" (Jeremiah 4:18) The prophet Amos compared unrighteousness to wormwood in Amos 5:17 and Amos 6:12 because unrighteous conduct brings bitterness into a person's life. The prophet Zephaniah foresaw the judgment of the Great Tribulation---often referred to in the Scriptures as "the day of the Lord"---and he said of it, "The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts His battle cry." (Zephaniah 1:14) So we see that the bitter "star" known as Wormwood likely represents the judgment of God on a world that continues to reject righteousness. If Jeremiah or any of these other prophets were in the world during the end times, they could say to its citizens, "Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces the heart!"

"The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned black. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night." (Revelation 8:12) What could cause such a thing? What could reduce the amount of hours of daylight? We don't know, but this isn't the first time God has brought darkness on the land. In Exodus 10:21-29 the Lord sent a plague of darkness upon the land of Egypt for three days because Pharaoh was still too hard-hearted to let the Hebrew people go, even though many other plagues had preceded the plague of darkness. This darkness was so deep that the Bible says it was a "darkness that can be felt". (Exodus 10:21) As he had several times before, Pharoah promised to allow the Lord's people to go, but he wanted to keep all their livestock. When Moses insisted that his people were to take their livestock with them (saying that "not a hoof is to be left behind"), Pharaoh became angry and ordered Moses out of his sight. He threatened Moses that if he ever saw his face again he would kill him. Moses agreed, telling him, "Just as you say." In other words, "Have it your way." Following the plague of darkness, the worst plague to strike Egypt was about to come, and that was the plague of the firstborn in which the firstborn males of the people of Egypt and the firstborn males of all the flocks of the Egyptians would die.

A large portion of the remaining population of the world will still not repent following the plague of darkness in Revelation. They will be as hard-hearted as Pharaoh of Egypt. Because they persist in their stubbornness, the Lord will say to them what Moses said to Pharaoh, "Just as you say." Just as the worst plague was still ahead of Pharaoh when he refused to repent during the plague of darkness, the worst days of the Great Tribulation are still ahead of the world when its citizens refuse to repent during the plague of darkness. This is why John hears these words spoken: "As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: 'Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!'" (Revelation 8:13)

I want to conclude by pointing out something that we mustn't miss. Just as the Lord would have stopped sending plagues on Egypt if Pharaoh had repented following any of them, the Lord would stop sending plagues on the world in the end times if, following any of the plagues, the people of the world repented and turned to Him. God doesn't want to send the disasters we are reading about on the pages of Revelation. But so often it seems like disasters are the only way to get the attention of a hard-hearted person. The Lord's kindness and mercy has had no effect on them. His patience with their continual sin and rebellion means nothing to them. The only way He will be able to get through to some of the earth's citizens in the last days is to get their attention with hardships and disasters. And even then, as we will see as we go on, many will not repent but will curse His name instead.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 33, The Seventh Seal

In our passage today the Lord opens the final and seventh seal on the scroll.

Revelation has long been one of my favorite books of the Bible and I've studied it many times, but something stood out to me this time that I've never noticed before. When John observes the Lord opening the first four seals, he refers to Him as "the Lamb". But when John observes the Lord opening the last three seals, he merely refers to Him as "He". Of course Christ, the Lamb, is still the One opening the seals on the scroll, because earlier in our study we were told that He was the only One worthy to take the scroll and open its seals. So why does John suddenly stop referring to Him as "the Lamb" during the opening of the final three seals?

I think there's a reason for this change of terminology, but I can't find any references to it in any of the books or commentaries I own or in any online commentaries. I have a theory about it though. The events which occur following the opening of the first four seals are caused by the Antichrist and the war he brings. We previously learned that extreme price inflation, famine, disease, and the loss of many lives occurred as a result of that war. Although the opening of the first four seals represents the beginning of the Lord's judgment on the world, the terrible things that happen after the opening of the first four seals are caused by the man of sin and are not caused directly by the Lord Himself. The Lord allows the Antichrist to perpetrate deception upon the world and to tyrannize the world's occupants, but the bad things that happen when the first four seals are opened are primarily of human and worldly origin. The things that happen after the opening of the last three seals are of heavenly origin. As the Lord opens these three seals, we see Him more in His role as "judge of all the earth". (Genesis 18:25) He is not acting in His role as Lamb here, but as Judge. He still is the Lamb to all who place their trust in Him, but He is the Judge to those who persist in rebellion and who maintain an unrepentant heart. To John, Christ will always be the Lamb of God who took his sins away, but right now John is seeing Him bring judgment on the world, and I feel this may be why he doesn't refer to Him as "the Lamb" during the opening of the final three seals. To those who reject the Son of God, thereby treading Him underfoot and treating His sacrifice as an unholy thing, the author of Hebrews gives this word of warning about the coming judgment: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:29-31)

"When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them." (Revelation 8:1-2) Up til now in our study, heaven has been a noisy place, filled with songs and shouts of praise. But when the Lord opens the seventh seal to release what is most commonly called "the trumpet judgments", all sound stops. It's a breathless silence. It's a waiting silence. It may even be a shocked silence. Many scholars believe that the things to come are so dreadful that the action in heaven comes to a halt while its inhabitants observe---not just a moment of silence---but a full thirty minutes of silence. Dr. John Walvoord, one of the leading and most highly respected experts on Biblical prophecy, says about the silence of verse 1: "It may be compared to the silence before the foreman of a jury reports a verdict; for a moment there is perfect silence and everyone awaits that which will follow." (From The Revelation Of Jesus Christ, page 151.)

Another theory for these thirty minutes of silence is that its purpose is to create a pause during which the prayers of God's people can be offered to Him like incense on the altar of heaven. As long as man has existed, the people who belong to God have prayed to Him for relief from their enemies, for Him to judge the wicked and reward them with the penalties their dark deeds deserve, and for His kingdom to come. The Lord is about to answer these prayers to the fullest. He is going to bring judgment against wickedness. He is going to set up His eternal kingdom in which there will never again be death, sorrow, crying, or pain. (Revelation 21:4) John tells us this is what happens next: "Another angel, which had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar, He was given much incense to offer, along with the prayers of all God's people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God's people, went up before God from the angel's hand." (Revelation 8:3-4)

The saints of God do not have to bring a sacrifice to the altar. The sacrifice has already been made for them by Christ. Instead they bring their prayers---the prayers of the redeemed---and these prayers smell like the finest of incense to a holy God. Their prayers are pleasing to Him. Their prayers are acceptable to Him, and as He always does when prayers are pleasing and acceptable to Him, He answers them. We know it because, after accepting and approving the prayers offered with incense upon His altar, the Lord allows the angel to do this: "Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake." (Revelation 8:5)

When the Lord Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, part of that prayer included this request to be made of God: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10) God's will is always done in heaven, but His will has not always been done on earth. Man has often rebelled against the will of God. But here in the book of Revelation, we see His will being done on earth. We see His kingdom come. After the kingdom comes, nothing that goes against the will of God will ever happen. That is when no tear will ever fall again. That is when no sickness or death or pain will ever again befall mankind. Those who have trusted in Christ will live forever with Him and will hear His voice from the throne saying, "I am making everything new!" (Revelation 21:5)

Monday, July 22, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 32, The Great Multitude Saved During The Great Tribulation

In yesterday's study we saw 144,000 people from the twelve tribes of Israel receive a divine seal from God. This placed God's protection upon them so they could share the light of the gospel in the darkness of a world under the rule of the Antichrist. Today we see the fruit of their labor: a great multitude who came to Christ.

Right after John sees the 144,000 sealed, he says, "After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'" (Revelation 7:9-10) One of the twenty-four elders will soon explain to John that these people were saved during the Great Tribulation, and this is in large part due to the 144,000 Israelites who accepted Christ and who preached Him to their nation and to the world. This is similar to what happened right after the resurrection of Christ. The gospel was first accepted and preached by the apostles who were Israelites. Though the majority of Jesus' nation didn't accept Him, the first sermon was preached in Jerusalem by the Apostle Peter, and the gospel spread out to the Gentile world from there. In Revelation we find Jewish men preaching the word of Christ to their own people---many of whom come to faith in Jesus---and from there the gospel spreads out to the world where a great number of Gentiles also believe.

I think in the end times the largest revival of all time breaks out, in spite of all Satan tries to do to stop it. We can understand why so many people are willing to hear and accept the gospel if we think about all that they've experienced so far during the Great Tribulation. Not only have they witnessed war and natural disasters, but before these things happened, right before the Great Tribulation began, millions of people disappeared from the earth when Christ called His church out of the world. Imagine how shocking this was. Imagine the chaos that ensued when so many human beings vanished while performing their jobs, while driving cars, while flying planes, and while operating buses or trains. Those left behind will have to come up with a satisfying explanation for this mass disappearance. This will cause many to look for a spiritual explanation, even if they've previously ignored God all their lives. They will search the Scriptures. They will listen to those who preach the gospel, they will understand what has happened, and they will give their hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ. What do a lot of people tend to do in troubled times, even if they don't think much about the Lord during the good times? They turn to the Bible. They turn to prayer. They turn on their TVs and radios to religious programs. They attend church services. When the world is turned upside down during the last days, millions will seek a spiritual answer and they will find it, and John sees these people gathered around the throne.

What about those who don't want to accept that there is a God who is holy and that someday they will have to appear before Him to answer for their rebellion and their refusal to repent? They won't accept the explanation of the Scriptures but will come up with alternate theories. Some years back I read a commentary on Revelation which suggested that a number of people on earth will think that the missing people have been abducted by aliens. When I first read that line in the book I laughed out loud, but as time has gone on I'm beginning to think the author was onto something. Just turn on your TV to the Guide channel and see how much programming involves shows about aliens. Take a look at how many books are on the market regarding UFOs and alien abductions. Right now there's a plan in place for thousands of people to storm Area 51 later this year. It started out as an internet joke but it has picked up so much momentum that it looks like it may literally take place. There are people in just about every nation of the world these days who believe there are aliens; this belief is now so strong within them that they might actually try to get inside a heavily guarded military installation. So the explanation of those left behind who don't want to believe Christ took on flesh and blood to redeem mankind from sin, and who don't want to believe He removed His church from the world just like He promised, may go something like this: "Jesus was an alien! He wasn't the Son of God but an extraterrestrial. He took on the form of a human, not so He could die for man's sins (because we aren't sinners!), but so He could interact with man and try to teach man a better way to live on this planet. He didn't actually die and rise from the dead. He's an alien who either lives for thousands of years or who is immortal. People didn't understand this so they thought He was a God. Now He's actually beamed up the people who believed in Him."

The Antichrist himself may offer an explanation to the world for what has happened. He may use the alien theory or he may use something else. We don't know whether the explanation will fully satisfy anyone, but human beings are masters at deceiving themselves when they want to. Some, however, won't accept any explanation the Antichrist or the unbelievers put forth. They will have heard just enough Scripture in their lives to suspect what's going on. It won't be lost on them that everyone who disappeared was a Christian and, unlike those who want to think Jesus is an alien, they are going to acknowledge that Jesus is exactly who He always said He is: the Son of God---the Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world.

After this multitude gives praise to God, the angels join in. "All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: 'Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!'" (Revelation 7:11-12)

John knows the multitude dressed in white robes must represent people who have been redeemed by Christ, but he doesn't recognize them. By now he knows the twenty-four elders dressed in white robes represent the church that was called up to heaven before the Great Tribulation. By now he knows that the souls under the altar who have been given white robes are those who were martyred for their faith. But this group is a new group. One of the elders sees the puzzled look on John's face. "Then one of the elders asked me, 'These in white robes---who are they, and where did they come from?' I answered, 'Sir, you know.' And he said, 'These are they who have come out of the Great Tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'" (Revelation 7:13-14)

When I was a child and would hear anyone preach on the book of Revelation, I didn't understand that people would still be given the opportunity to repent and be saved during the Great Tribulation. I thought that, following the rapture of the church, those left behind were doomed. John may have thought that too, until the Lord appeared to him on the Isle of Patmos to explain the things to come in the end times. I imagine John's soul must have rejoiced along with the great multitude before the throne when he found out that the Lord will continue to extend mercy and offer forgiveness even during the Great Tribulation.

Did this multitude die during the Great Tribulation? Is that why John sees them in heaven at this point in the book? No one knows for certain, but I think their presence in heaven at this point suggests that they are from among those who came to Christ in the last days and died during the last days. Some scholars think they may have died due to the wars, famines, diseases, and natural disasters that occur in the end times. If any of this group had been martyred for their faith, we would expect to see them under the altar as we previously saw the martyrs of the end times, but we can't exclude the possibility that some of this multitude died for their faith either by execution or by being imprisoned under inhumane conditions.

A special blessing is pronounced upon these saints who gave their hearts to the Lord during the Great Tribulation. "Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. 'Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,' nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; 'He will lead them to springs of living water.' 'And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'" (Revelation 7:15-17) The elder quotes from Isaiah 49, a chapter in which the Lord promises a future glory for the people of Israel. In that chapter the Lord calls Israel His servant and promises to gather Israel back to Himself and to restore her twelve tribes. The elder also quotes from Isaiah 25, for in that chapter the Lord promises to be a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat, and He promises to wipe away the tears from all faces. This multitude, made up of both Jews (the promise to restore the nation and her tribes) and Gentiles (the promise that tears will be wiped from all the faces of those who trust in Him), has endured the storm and the heat of a world gone mad. This multitude shed some tears while on the earth. What John sees them doing, as they rejoice before the Lord, is the fulfillment of God's promise in the book of Isaiah that "In that day they will say, 'Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.'" (Isaiah 25:9)

The multitude who came to Christ during the last days has experienced the things the Lord promises to protect them from forever. They have hungered and thirsted. They have endured the fierce heat of trials and tribulations. But the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Bread of Life (John 6:35) and the Living Water (John 7:37-39), will supply everything they need for eternity. They wept many tears on the earth, but the Lord will gently wipe their tears away. There will be nothing to ever cry about again once they enter His presence.

But our study of the terrible times of the Great Tribulation has only just begun, and after assuring us that people will still be saved during those dreadful days, in tomorrow's passage we will see the Lord opening the seventh seal. This will usher in the worst part of the Great Tribulation, and in the coming days we are going to study in detail the natural disasters that are going to take place and the tyranny that will ensue during the reign of the world dictator who will be under the control of Satan himself.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 31, The 144,000

The action in Revelation pauses between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals on the scroll. For the past several days we've studied unsealing, but today some sealing must be done. This sealing has to do with the nation of Israel.

"After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree." (Revelation 7:1) John says "after this", meaning after the great earthquake that occurred in Chapter 6. He now sees four angels preventing any wind from blowing from the north, south, east, or west. Some scholars suggest that these winds may symbolize the four horsemen of the apocalypse and that the Lord temporarily pauses their activities while He seals 144,000 members of the tribes of Israel. It's difficult to say for certain whether these winds are literal or symbolic, but either way, a sudden hush falls on the world. The Lord pauses the action because something needs to be done between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals. The opening of the seventh seal will unleash the most terrible disasters the world has ever known. The final, and worst, days of the Great Tribulation will begin then and Satan will do everything he can to bring hell on earth. The Lord has to place a protective seal upon a particular group of people so they can make it through those days.

"Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God." (Revelation 7:2a) In ancient times, the seal of a king or other great authority was a symbol of ownership. At this particular point in our study, the Lord is going to mark a certain group of people with His seal of ownership.

The angel holding the seal speaks to the four angels who are holding back the winds. "He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 'Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until the put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.'" (Revelation 7:2b-3) These four angels have been given power to bring destruction on the earth. Their stopping of the four winds is merely the calm before the storm. But before they unleash calamities, and before Satan makes the most of the time he has left because he knows his "time is short" (Revelation 12:12), the Lord wants to put a special mark on His servants (likely priests) from the nation of Israel. This seal marks them as His own, it sets them aside for His service, and guarantees their safety during the Great Tribulation.

"Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000." (Revelation 7:4-8) I want to stop for a minute here to point out that there are some Christian denominations that have attempted to make the 144,000 about them, and this is a misuse of the Scriptures. The Bible plainly tells us that the 144,000 are from the twelve tribes of Israel and that the sealing of the 144,000 doesn't take place until during the Great Tribulation. Attempting to apply these verses to any denomination on earth at this time or to any group of Gentile believers is an error. The Bible couldn't make it any clearer that the 144,000 are Jewish people and that their sealing takes place in the final days before Christ comes to rule the world.

I agree with the vast number of scholars who feel that the 144,000 represent Jewish people who have accepted Christ as Lord during the end times. This doesn't mean that only 144,000 out of the twelve tribes of Israel will come to Christ in those days, but that these who are sealed may be specially chosen Jewish evangelists who will preach Christ to the nation of Israel during the remainder of the Great Tribulation.

It is believed by a number of Bible scholars that the sealing of the 144,000 is part of the fulfillment of a prophecy given to the nation of Israel by the prophet Joel. The Lord told Joel to tell the people this: "I will pour out My Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls." (Joel 2:28-32)

The Apostle Peter said that this prophecy from the book of Joel began to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost in the second chapter of Acts when the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers. On that day, with so many converts to Judaism coming into Jerusalem for the religious holiday, thousands of people were present whose native tongue was different than that of the apostles. Yet the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the ability to preach the gospel in other languages, languages they had never learned, so that these visitors could hear and understand the gospel and so that they would know that the power of the preaching was not of human origin but of divine origin. On that day, the Lord began to pour out His Spirit on all people, both the Jews and the Gentiles who were putting their faith in Christ. On that day, the prophecy of Joel began to come true, but it won't be completely fulfilled until the last days when untold numbers of Jewish people call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In those days, when the sun is darkened and the moon is turned red like blood (as we saw in our passage yesterday), these believers will be filled with the Holy Spirit and will prophesy in the Spirit and will have dreams and visions in the Spirit. It is clear that this prophecy is about the Jewish people because Joel references Mount Zion and Jerusalem. In addition, the Lord refers to these people as "your people" when He speaks to Joel, and Joel himself was of the nation of Israel.

There are nations in the world today who would like nothing more than to see Israel wiped off the map, but the Lord will never allow His people Israel to be destroyed. In many ways, He has only just begun to bring about the beautiful promises He's made to Israel. None of the tribes are "lost", though they may be scattered throughout the world. The Lord knows the location of every descendant of every tribe, which is why He is able to place a calling and a seal upon 12,000 from each tribe. These 144,000 will be His witnesses, like the prophets of old, to the nation of Israel. The Lord has to place His protective seal upon them so they can endure the hardships of the last days and still be standing when we see them later on with Christ on Mount Zion. They need to be able to endure til the end so they can preach the gospel of Christ to the twelve tribes of Israel through the remainder of the Great Tribulation. These 144,000 represent only a fraction of the Jewish people who will become a part of the body of Christ in those days.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 30, The Sixth Seal/The Worst Earthquake Ever

The Lord opens the sixth seal and the worst earthquake in the history of man's time on earth takes place. This earthquake is so bad that it causes other natural disasters to occur. The people of the earth will recognize these things as the judgment of God, yet many of them will still refuse to repent.

"I watched as He opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place." (Revelation 6:12-14) I did some research to look for scientific explanations for why the sun would turn black and why the moon would turn red. I learned that what probably happens is that this earthquake is of such magnitude that it causes an upsurge in volcanic activity all over the world. These eruptions would fling dust and hot vapors up into the atmosphere, creating a sort of "black out curtain" between the earth and the sun. These materials would hang in the air for however long the volcanoes continue to erupt and for days or even weeks afterwards. At night when it's dark, the only place people will be able to see these materials hanging in the air is by looking at the moon, and this weak reflective light will cause the dust and vapors to take on a reddish hue. Such things have happened before following volcanic eruptions, but these conditions were localized to the region where the eruption occurred. John is seeing these conditions occurring all over the world for a period of time.

The falling stars John sees could be heavy meteor showers. Or they could be burning rocks and lava that were flung up into the sky by the volcanoes. I'm not sure why he says the heavens roll up like a scroll, but at night the only heavenly body that will be visible is the red moon. The stars and planets that can normally be seen in the night sky will be blocked out by the debris in the atmosphere, causing it to appear as though the heavens have disappeared. The earthquake will be so strong, and the tectonic plates will shift so violently, that the topography of the earth will be changed, so John says "every mountain and island was removed from its place".

The prophets of the Old Testament foresaw the things John describes for us. The Lord said to Isaiah, "Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the Lord Almighty, in the day of His burning anger." (Isaiah 13:13) Joel said, "Alas for that day! For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty." (Joel 1:15). "The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." (Joel 2:31) Zephaniah said, "The great day of the Lord is near---near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts His battle cry. That day will be a day of wrath---a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness." (Zephaniah 1:14-15)

In New Testament times, the Apostle Peter spoke about the end times like this: "The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare." (2 Peter 3:10) The Lord Jesus gave warnings about the end times and the judgment that would take place on the wicked of the earth. "Immediately after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken." (Matthew 24:29) "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and the tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken." (Luke 21:25-26)

The expression "the day of the Lord" has always been understood to mean the end times, the last days, the Great Tribulation. John, in his vision, is witnessing "the day of the Lord", and he is writing down what he sees because the Lord told him to write everything down. The world needs to know these things so that as many people as possible can turn to the Lord and escape the wrath of those days. But if they read or hear the message of the Lord in Revelation and still refuse to repent and turn to Him, they will never be able to say they weren't warned.

What do the people of earth do when these disasters begin to happen? "Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and to the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?'" (Revelation 6:15-17) What type of people want to hide from God? Those who love darkness instead of light because their deeds are evil. (John 3:19) I think this group who hides from the Lord when the natural disasters begin are those who are still living in rebellion.

Remember, the church was taken to heaven before the Great Tribulation began. These people John sees hiding from the Lord were left behind because they didn't belong to the Lamb. No one who belongs to the Lord Jesus has to fear His wrath: "Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him!...Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 5:9, Romans 8:1) The people we see in our text today who are hiding in the caves and among the rocks are those who have not yet, or are not going to, accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Some of the people of the earth repented after the church was removed, and some will continue to repent all throughout the years of the Great Tribulation. Many scholars like to refer to these believers as "Tribulation saints". But those who want the mountains and rocks to fall on them to hide them from the Lord are not "Tribulation saints". If they had given their hearts to Christ, then they would be justified by His blood, and they would be saved from the wrath of God. Those who come to Christ during the Great Tribulation may have to endure the wrath of the Antichrist and the wrath of wicked people on earth, but they will never have to fear the wrath of Almighty God.

The wickedness in the hearts of those John talks about in verses 15-17 is revealed to us by what they do (hiding from the Lord) and by what they don't do (repent). John makes it clear that these people are aware that the natural disasters are occurring because of God's wrath. But instead of coming clean with God and getting their sins out in the open before Him and obtaining forgiveness from Him, they draw even further away from Him. They are fulfilling Old Testament prophecies spoken against the wicked people of the last days, for the prophet Hosea foresaw them hiding in the caves and rocks and said of them, "Then they will say to the mountains, 'Cover us!' and to the hills, 'Fall on us!'" (Hosea 10:8) Instead of repenting and making things right with a holy God, these people are wondering how they will endure those dark days, asking each other, "Who can withstand it?" The prophet Nahum knew they would ask such a thing, because he foresaw this: "Who can withstand His indignation? Who can endure His fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before Him." (Nahum 1:6)

Many people will not repent even during the worst times the world has ever known. But quite a few will. The Lord is so merciful to allow mankind a second chance even while His wrath is being poured out. His ear will be tuned to hear even the weakest cry of those who call upon the name of Jesus. To a world in troubled times, to a world falling apart, to a world filled with people who have---up til now---rejected the laws and commandments of a holy God, the Lord still issues the invitation to come to Him and be made holy. The Lord still offers to save the people of the world from their sins and from the wrath that falls upon sinners. Remember what Jesus said to the people of the seventh and final church age, the era of the Great Tribulation? He said, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with Me." (Revelation 3:20)

If you've never opened the door of your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, there's no better day than today. We don't know when He will call His church out of the world. We don't know when the Great Tribulation---the day of wrath---will begin. This is why the Scriptures say to all who will listen: "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." (Psalm 95:7b-8a, Hebrews 3:7-8a,13,15, Hebrews 4:7)