As you read this week, try asking yourself a few simple questions. These may help encourage some deeper reflections.
- what is something new I learned?
- which part stood out among the rest?
- what good news is in this text?
- what didn’t I understand completely?
- how can I understand it?
- how can I apply this to my life?
We’ve gone the route of seeing the forest for the trees this last year. From Spring of 2012 through the winter of 2013 we read the entire Bible.
Beginning the first Sunday of June, get ready to take a closer look at one of the trees.
I just uploaded the final focus passage of this Year in the Bible. It is the first of the upcoming week of “lasts.” I’ll use it as one more chance to invite y’all to take a look at these. This site will take a short hiatus until I figure out what is next, but take advantage of what lives here. We have about 300 posts on all sorts of Bible passages and have a devotional for every week of the year. As great as it is to have read so much, we can’t forget to slow down and meditate on God’s Word, and the focus passages afford us that opportunity.
Of course, there are many places to find devotionals. Just find some. Keep reading. That’ll be a theme of this last week. If not here on the site, if you’re around me in person. It’ll probably be annoying. I really want this to spur us all on to stay in the Bible and continue to grow together as we read.
We read this week of more judgment that is poured out upon the earth and there are parallels to the plagues that afflicted Egypt. This similarity is helpful in understanding how these trumpets, seals, or bowls operate in God’s grand plan. Just as the plagues in Egypt were not random acts of God’s vengeance, neither is what we see in Revelation. The plagues were a judgment on Egypt, but there were also the means by which God brought about the deliverance of his people. Likewise, the wrath that comes upon the earth is judgment, but it also has the purpose to be a means of God’s restoration of his creation. It is judgment, but it also plays a part in how God’s faithful people will be saved.
There are a great number of ways people think about the end times. Much of the discussion is based on how we interpret the book of Revelation. Since it is easy to get lost in all these confusing philosophies, I thought I’d give a very brief run down on some of the more popular views about what is called “eschatology,” especially in regards to Revelation. Forgive me if in pursuit of brevity, I lack in precision.
Everything in this book is about events that have already happened. It could be that Revelation is all about persecution of the early church, Rome, and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
Biblical prophecies line up with historical events, but these parallels are still ongoing.
Prophecy can match up with history, but a book like Revelation is more about future events.
Revelation is not a historical book, but its imagery is symbolic of the struggles and good and evil, and of God’s ultimate victory.
Much conversation centers around a thousand year reign of Christ–a millennium. It is only mentioned in Revelation 20, but has garnered a lot of attention. The views on this are as following, again briefly, with a warning about unnecessarily long words:
Christ comes again and begins a literal thousand year reign on earth. Within this view there are differences about a rapture of God’s followers as to when it happens-before a seven year tribulation, in the middle, or afterward.
Christ comes after a thousand year reign that takes place on earth, either one that has begun already or that is still to come in the future.
There is no literal thousand years. Christ is already reigning at the right hand of God and he will return at a time unknown.
That is just a brief hint of the discussion that can consume your entire day if you let it. But if you would like a few more sentences on it you can read more here and here.
You sticking with it?
Revelation can be a tricky little book, but I hope (for those who’ve heard recent sermons here at church) that you’ve benefited from the preaching the last two weeks. Keep on going, just two more weeks and it’s a happy ending.
I was wondering how many of you have plans for what you’ll do when these two weeks are up? What will you read next? Are you looking for another plan? Might you repeat this one? Was it good to have assigned readings in order to keep you on the ball, or are you now going to read a bit more randomly or as “the Spirit leads you”? I’m curious what the plan is–if there is one. As I’ve said before, we didn’t do this so that we finish reading the Bible, but that in reading it completely we’ve built up habits that will serve us for a lifetime.
Last little announcement: RSVP if you’re coming to our celebration dinner at Triangle Pres. on March 24, 6pm. I need a a head count to figure out the foods.
As we’ve read through Psalms, there is a desparation that comes through for God to act on our behalf. In Psalm 141, the psalmist asks for God to manage his speech and protect his heart.
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
keep watch over the door of my lips!
Do not let my heart incline to any evil,
to busy myself with wicked deeds…
I love the understanding that such deeds are not accomplished on our own. We cannot just will ourselves to be better. Rather our hearts naturally incline toward the evil, and as we read in James, our tongues are uncontrollable. We need outside help. If we don’t look for it and accept it, yet still try on our own, it will lead to both failure and then to something like depression or self-pity.
Thankfully we are not alone. We have a God who does listen to our prayers and who–with such grace–wants to help us. This is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
How much of this prayer is about God’s action? It gives glory to God, calls for his kingdom and his will, and asks for God to provide for us. We need God to give us our daily bread and for him to forgive us. Like in Psalm 141, we need God to lead us away from temptation and deliver us from evil. These aren’t just nice words. We confess what it is true when we pray that way. In every way at every moment, we need our God to take mercy on his people.
I’ve shared this quote a few times this week in talking about Revelation, so why not share it here, too? I’ve been reading from NT Wright’s commentary on Revelation and he describes the view he has on the events that take up a large segment of the book. This quotation comes as he describes chapter six, with its seals, but it applies to where we are now and what is to come. He thinks that the events in Revelation aren’t all chronological and can be understood as restatements from a different perspective. Beyond describing this view, he confronts the issue of evil and its role within God’s plan, which he sees as having been given its chance to rule so that when God defeats evil, he will do so completely with no doubt to the sufficiency of his victory.
This is one of the differences between writing something with words and writing it with music. In music, you can have several lines which all happen at the same time; but with words you have to say everything in sequence. This sevenfold sequence (four down, three to go, so far) is not chronological. It is an exposition of a sevenfold reality.
In the same way, we should not suppose that this sevenfold sequence of ‘seals’ being opened is supposed to take place before the subsequent sequences of the trumpets (chapters 8—11) and the bowls of wrath (chapter 16). Rather, each of the sequences – and the material in between, too – is a fresh angle of vision on the same highly complex reality. If we look at the problems and pains of the world from this angle, God’s answer is to draw out the arrogant wickedness of humans to its full extent and show that he is bringing his people safely through (chapter 7). If we look at those same problems and pains from the next angle of vision, God’s answer is to allow the forces of destruction to do their worst, so that he can then establish his kingdom fully and finally over the world (chapters 8—11). And if we take a deep breath and begin the story again from yet a third angle of vision (chapters 12 and 13), we see the full depth and horror of the problem, to which God’s answer will be to inflict on the rebellious world the equivalent of the plagues of Egypt, before finally rescuing his people and judging the dark powers that have for so long enslaved them (chapters 12—19).
Then and only then can the darkest power of all be dealt with (chapter 20). And then and only then can the new heaven and the new earth be established, without any fear that there may be lingering sicknesses still unhealed, buried sadnesses still to produce grief. Revelation 6—20 is not what we wanted to hear, just as the news from the doctor or the pastor may not be what we wanted to hear. But it is what we must hear if the world is to be healed.
Wright, N. T. (2012-05-22). Revelation for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 63). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.