Thursday, December 4, 2014

"The Apocalypse … REVELATION … what will take place later …"

Day #342:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 5th

Scripture Reading:  Revelation 1 - 6 …

"The time is near …" (1:3)  But 1900 years have passed since John penned these words at the direction of Jesus.  How could that qualify as "near"?  "Do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day" (II Peter 3:8).  Peter goes on to say that God is being patient, calling people to "repent," and this is the call of the Spirit to the churches in Chapters 2 and 3.  God's call to repentance has echoed throughout the world since John the Baptist, then Jesus, and then the Apostles called people to turn from their sin and to follow Jesus, the Christ.  In his "Revelation" John is given words that the church needs to hear, for in this "uncovering" lies a future that ends in victory!!

The path to victory, however, will not be an easy one.  As you and I live in this world it is important to understand that the message we and all mankind need to hear comes from God Himself.  "I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (1:8).  Revelation is written to believers, as John states at the beginning:  "To Him who loves US and has freed US from our sins by His blood, and has made US to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father …" (1:5-6).  Jesus is the One who is speaking to the churches by His Spirit of things that were, that are and that will be (1:19).  How important, then, for those who are united to Christ by faith today to hear His words and to "overcome!"

Each of the seven letters begins with this phrase:  "These are the words of  …"  What follows each of those phrases is a description of Jesus.  Here they are:  " … Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lamp stands" (2:1); " … Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again" (2:8); " … Him who has the sharp, double-edged sword" (2:12); " … the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze" (2:18); " … Him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars" (3:1); " … Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David" (3:7); " … the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation" (3:14).  John leaves no doubt as to the Author of these messages to the churches.  It is Jesus, the Head of the Church, the One Who is seated at the Father's right hand.  JESUS speaks to you and me through His Word, and to each of the churches He says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:29; 3:6; 3:13; 3:22).

God is speaking!!  And the encouragement to listen is found at the end of each letter:  "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (2:7); "He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death" (2:11); "To Him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it" (2:17); "To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations" (2:26); "He who overcomes will … be dressed in white.  I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and His angels" (3:5); "Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God" (3:12); "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne" (3:21).  These are no small promises, and each is tied to "overcoming!"

So what is there to overcome?  Satan, the world and the flesh!!  Living as a follower of Christ, then, now and in the future, has never been easy … will never be easy.  Those who say otherwise lead people astray and give them false hope in THIS world.  Jesus told His disciples, "In THIS world you will have trouble. Take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  Some believe that the last generation of believers will escape the trials that are to come, that we will be "raptured" before the Antichrist appears and we will escape the Great Tribulation.  Is that what GOD says?  Why the call to endure, to persevere, to overcome?  Was that just for people in previous centuries, or those who may be persecuted today?  Is there an easier path for US??

Having received the messages for the churches, God begins to reveal things to John in visions.  First, He gives John the same vision of heaven that Isaiah describes in Isaiah 6:1-5.  What a sight this must be.  The throne of God, the visual display of God's glorious perfection, the "living creatures," the angels flying and proclaiming day and night, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come" (4:8).  God is worthy because He is the Creator.  Anyone who worships a god that is not the Sovereign Creator of the universe and all things in it is worshiping a false god.  But as John attempts to take in this scene, he sees "a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals" (5:1).  "Apocalypse" means "uncovering" or "revelation."  The remainder of this letter describes what is revealed to John … and to us.

As the scene unfolds in Chapter 5, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David," who has triumphed, is the only One able to open the scroll.  Shortly before He ascended into heaven Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me!" (Matthew 28:18).  Here is the picture of Jesus exercising that authority.  Nothing happens except by His command or permission.  Verses 11-14 describe the worship of which only Jesus is worthy, for He is the only One who has given His life to ransom "men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (5:9).  So as we come to Chapter 6, we see Jesus beginning to open the seven seals of the scroll … You need to picture a scroll with seals around it.  The writing of what is to take place is on the scroll itself.  The opening of the seals is preliminary to what takes place when the scroll itself is opened.

Many mistakenly believe that what follows in Revelation is an allegory, a series of symbols that had some meaning in the past or that may have some meaning in the future, but which we cannot understand.  These believe we need not understand anything from these words from Jesus except that in the end, we win … or more accurately, JESUS wins!  But remember the words, "To him who overcomes …"  Revelation was an encouragement to the first century believers and should have been an encouragement for the church through the centuries since, but it will be the greatest encouragement to the generation that sees these things unfold, just as Jesus said they would.

Those who believe that Revelation is an allegory, not to be taken literally, believe that the "seals," the "trumpet judgments," and the "bowls of wrath" are three series of events all talking about the same thing, rather than a progression of judgment upon the earth.  Such an understanding, however, does not fit with what is revealed by each of these separate series of events.  We begin in Chapter 6, with the opening of the seals ... the "prelude" to God's judgment, which begins in Chapter 8.  While some say that the wrath of God begins with the opening of the seals, it is vitally important to see the difference between the trumpet judgments of Chapters 8-9, along with the "bowls of God's wrath" in Chapters 15-16, and the six seals of Chapter 6.  These seals are NOT the "day of the Lord wrath" predicted by the prophets.  Rather, they are the work of the Antichrist.

While God is still in control and the Lamb, Jesus, opens the seals, it is the Antichrist who is the "rider on the white horse" (6:2).  The first four seals describe events during the first three-and-one-half years of Daniel's "70th week" (Daniel 9:25-27).  Time does not allow me to go into more detail, but it is impossible to understand Revelation unless the events of Chapter 6 are seen as leading up to the rapture of believers and the beginning of God's judgment some time during the last three-and-one-half years prior to Jesus' coming.  The idea that the rapture is the next thing on the prophetic calendar leaves many vulnerable to the idea that we who believe will not go through the time of great tribulation that will come upon the earth just prior to the return of Jesus.

The opening of the fifth seal (6:9-11) reveals those who have been martyred during the great tribulation asking God, "How long?"  God answers, "Until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed" (6:11).  Then comes the opening of the sixth seal, just prior to the beginning of the "day of the Lord"  - GOD's judgment, His wrath poured out on the rest of mankind.  The opening of the sixth seal is parallel to Jesus' description of the events following the great tribulation and just prior to the rapture, Matthew 24:29.  Isaiah describes the same events in Isaiah 13:10 and Joel describes the same events in Joel 2:30-31.  There will be significant and unmistakeable signs in the sky just prior to the rapture of true believers, and the rapture will be followed by ... GOD's wrath!!

"Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and 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 stand?'" (6:15-17).   God's judgment will come upon the earth and all who are not washed by the blood of Jesus, who have not believed in Him, will face His judgment.  But Paul writes to the Thessalonians, "For God did not appoint US to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:9).

Praise God for His Word and for His promises to us who believe.  God is with us now and our future is secure!  Jesus is Savior and Lord and in Him we find our hope.  Almost two thousand years have passed (two days from God's perspective) since John wrote Revelation and the signs are all around us that Jesus' return is near.  So we wait, thanking God for giving us "ears to hear" and grace to "overcome!"  "Amen!  Come Lord Jesus!!"

"Heavenly Father, as You speak to us by Your Word and Spirit we hear Your call to repent, to believe and to serve Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Lord, our KING!  Give me grace to overcome the temptations to doubt or to fear, and help me keep my eyes on Jesus, knowing that He is seated at Your right hand, ruling over all things and directing all things toward the conclusion of Your plan for this world and for mankind.  I thank You that through faith in Jesus I have a sure and certain hope that I will spend eternity with You in a new heaven and a new earth where I will join with the angels in worship and praise forever!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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