faith, Revelation

Punk in Paradise

Last week was lame. I was awakened at 3 am Tuesday with an am-I-dying? caliber stomach pain followed by nausea and violent vomiting at 4. The rest of Tuesday was spent on the sofa, dozing off and on, shivering under a pile of blankets.

100% out of commission.

I was about 60% useless on Wednesday. I didn’t even feel like reading.

But even though I felt varying degrees of punk all week, it was a good week.  My study of Revelation has me in heaven, and heaven is going to be good.

All good.

People sometimes say, “I hope Jesus doesn’t come back quite yet because I want to experience this or that first.” And I’m perplexed.

Because no good thing will be absent from the new heaven/new earth. Scripture says everything is going to be restored back to the way God intended. And Eden lacked nothing good.

It was all good and very good.

One woman said she will miss the butterflies.

Why won’t there be butterflies? Butterflies are good.

When I started following Jesus, at age 21, my youngest sister asked, “Are you going to lose your sense of humor?” I thought about it for a second and then gave an inspired answer, “Not if there’s nothing wrong with it.”

Only the bad stuff will be absent: Sickness, deception, worrying about dying, conniving, manipulation, things that disturb my peace in various ways.

Nothing will disturb our peace.

Imagine your day with all the good elements and none of the bad. Imagine your work, your relationships, yourself without any of the things that cause you the slightest stress.  Heaven.

In our crack-of-dawn leaders’ discussion yesterday, question #5 asked, “How would you describe the state of the world today? How does the Bible describe it, and how did it get this way.”

“Totally depraved…sinful…evil…,” were the popcorn answers that pinged around the circle for part a.

I looked down at what I had written on my answer sheet: “A mixture of dark and light, good and evil, beauty and blight.”

My answers agreed with the others on parts b and c of the question though:

Romans 8: frustrated, in bondage to decay, groaning for something better.

Genesis 3: deception, disobedience

But that first third of the question illustrated for me, once again, how indoctrinated we’ve become.

Totally depraved…sinful…evil….

Our well-worn answer betrays our eyes – which see beauty amidst the blight, our hearts – which witness love and kindness amidst the violence and cruelty, and even our songs.

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

We are evangelically taught, “the world is bad” and, therefore, it is. Totally.

The pastor called the children forward this morning, as always, before dismissing them to their classrooms. He reminded them that when they put a grape or a strawberry or a bite of peach into their mouths, and it tastes so good, that ability to taste is evidence of God’s love for them.  “Go out today and smell as many flowers as you can. That sweet aroma in your nose is God’s love for you. The whole world is revealing the love of God to us.”


life, Light, Revelation


There’s a story I heard years ago about a young girl who was walking through the woods on a glorious spring day. Suddenly a snake appeared in her path. She turned to run but the snake called out to her:

“Please! Don’t run away. I’m lonely and I need a friend.”

“But you’re a snake,” the girl replied. “you’ll bite me.”

“I won’t bite you,” the snake promised.  “I’m a bit cold and I’m very lonely and I just want a friend. Besides, I’m one of God’s creatures, too.  Won’t you be my friend?”

The tenderhearted girl looked upon the lowly creature of God and had compassion.  She stooped down, scooped up the snake and tucked it under her light jacket to warm it, pleased that kindness prevailed over fear.

Of course, the snake bit her immediately and the girl dropped him in horror.

And as the pain and poison coursed through her body she cried out, “Why? Why did you bite me? I thought you wanted to be my friend!”

The snake turned, as it slithered down the path, and sneered, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”

I told that story to an assembly of sixth graders last week.

I thought of it again last night as I lead a group of high school students through a discussion of Revelation 17.

Evil united to wage war against the Lamb. The scarlet beast, the mother of all prostitutes and a cadre of kings pooled their power to defeat their common enemy.

But of course their unity was short-lived.  The beast and the kings threw the prostitute under the bus – left her naked, ate her flesh, burned her with fire.

Because the snake is never your friend. His promises never mean anything. No matter how sweet his speech, no matter how much honey drips from his smooth-as-silk words. No matter how pathetically he appeals to your Christian compassion. No matter how well he exploits your sinful desires.

We are nearing the end of our study of Revelation and we’re finally getting to the good stuff, to the Hallelujahs!

Last week we took a little side trip away from Revelation to look at how God’s justice and mercy have always been woven together – throughout the Old Testament and the New.

The cross being the perfect balance of the two.

The cross. The focal point of Lent.

Some “friends” mocked Jesus on Facebook yesterday.

Ordinarily I would have ignored it, but it’s Lent, and no one ought to mock Jesus during Lent.  I mean, show a little respect.

So I reminded them – in a light, one sentence reply – that Jesus took a huge one for the team.

I don’t hold it against them, though.  Some of Jesus’s last words as He hung there were “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

My gut tells me that those young friends don’t know what they are doing.

God told Moses that He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished. (Justice intertwined with mercy.)

Perhaps it was only sin that was forgiven on the cross.

“Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”

You can sin without knowing what you are doing.

Those who don’t know what God’s standards are sin all the time without knowing it.

But, by definition, you can’t rebel without knowing it.

You have to know what God’s standards are in order to defy them.

No one is accidentally wicked. Wickedness is deliberately harming others – harm that includes enticing them to rebel against God.

All who are wicked and rebellious are sinners, but not all sinners are wicked and/or rebellious.

Jesus plead forgiveness for those who don’t know what they are doing – which doesn’t apply to the rebellious and the wicked.

Do you get what I’m saying?

I wonder whether Adam and Eve merely sinned – Eve said she was tricked, perhaps she didn’t know what she was doing – or whether they knowingly rebelled.

I’ve often wondered why God didn’t spell it out more clearly for Adam back in the garden. When He said, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die,” Adam had no experience with physical death (not human death anyway) and he had no experience with spiritual death.  So why didn’t God get really specific?  Take Adam’s face in His hands, move in close and lay out all the ramifications for him?

Perhaps He did, and Scripture just didn’t record it. Or perhaps He knew that it wouldn’t make any difference.

Whether or not He laid it out in the beginning, He’s certainly laying it out in the end.  That’s what the plagues and bowl judgements of Revelation 15 and 16 are all about – God making the choice perfectly clear. The judgments and plagues are designed to show those bent on rebellion exactly what life will be like without Him.  And He’s asking with each one,

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

No one is going to hell by accident.


Those outstretched arms welcome any sinner, any rebel, any doer-of-wicked-deeds who one day says, “I was such an idiot.”

May that day be soon.

Let Go of the Dang Door


P.S. It’s been a really busy couple of weeks – working round the clock on a project, preparing presentations and trying to keep up with life. Plus a car accident.

Life is still life, but the project is finished, the presentations have all been presented and I finally have time to catch up on some blogs.  Missed you guys!

Light, Revelation

Let Go of the Dang Door!


Remember the opening scene in Twister? When the dad held onto the door of the storm cellar (or was it a root cellar?) and got carried away by a tornado?

“Let go of the door!” I shout whenever I watch that movie. “Let go of the dang door and get down there with your family!”

That scene always exasperates me because that little girl’s dad didn’t have to be swept away. I know it adds to the drama, to the heroine’s motive for chasing storms, but it still makes me mad. Except today. Today it’s coming in kind of handy.

I’ve been pondering how to explain the compatibility of God’s love and wrath to a bunch of high school students. And it occurred to me.

In Revelation 14 it says, ‘Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.’  The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.”

We assume that evil people are being harvested and thrown into the winepress  because  of all the blood.

But what if evil is the only intended harvest?

What if “they”, the grapes = evil, not evil people?

Those who cling to the evil that is being harvested, who refuse to let go of it, end up in the winepress. Like bugs clinging to grapes, they get unintentionally swept up in the harvest. Like dads clinging to storm cellar doors.

I’m liking that possibility. It’s compatible with God’s character. It goes with His aim to save us. It goes with His desire that none should perish. I can see love in His wrath against evil. I can see Him thoroughly rooting it out because evil hurts all of us – those who love Him, and those who don’t.

Plus it goes with what He said back in Genesis 3 – that He was going to crush Satan’s head (like a grape).

church nonsense, life, Light, Revelation

Or Maybe It’s the Church’s Sins

I wasn’t going to write about the unholy trinity this week because I’ve been feeling kinda’ lazy. But then, just before I left for church this morning, I saw another “Why You Should Be in Church” post. This one posited that perhaps the reason “you” aren’t in church has to do with your sins.

Or the church’s sins, was my first thought.

And then, for the whole twenty minute ride, I kept thinking. Out loud. The hub didn’t mind.

So now I’m writing after all, but I’ll keep it short and sweet.

Revelation 13 opens with the defeated dragon standing on the sea shore, contemplating his recent failures. His failure to destroy the woman and his failure to destroy her offspring. He needs a new plan and he needs a couple of recruits.

A beast arises from the sea. A Jesus-wannabe. It has a fake fatal wound on one of its heads and that fake wound is fake healed. Everyone is in awe of it. People start to worship the dragon because of it. The beast imprisons some of God’s people, it kills others.

A second beast – another cheap imitation of Jesus – comes out of the earth looking like a lamb. It acts more like an unholy prophet.

These two beasts gain political power through intimidation and economic sanctions. One requires everyone to get a tattoo on his or her forehead or right hand in order to participate in commerce.  They use spiritual deception.

And here’s the part I was telling the hub: The second beast – the unholy prophet – made the inhabitants of the earth worship the first beast – the one who faked a resurrection.

Forced worship. Spiritual intimidation. Guilt trips. That’s the m.o. of the beast.

It’s not God’s m.o.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus said, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Perhaps some aren’t going to church because they find no rest there.

To the experts in the law Jesus said, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”

Perhaps some aren’t going to church because church just piles on. Or because it feels smug. Or because the Spirit just isn’t there.

I was not going to a church like that. To a church that was just playing church.

But I’ve found a new church. One where Jesus bids me to come and learn from Him. Gentle, humble-in-heart Him.

Light, Revelation

Pregnant Women

It was 1952 when 5 women knocked on a California door and asked Audrey Wetherell Johnson to teach them a portion of the Bible. She wrote:

These were all earnest Christian women, well versed in Bible content. My heart fell! What had I come to? There in San Bernardino was such an abundance of churches where people could hear God’s Word, while by contrast in China were millions who had not even heard His name. Am I to give more to those who already have so much? I wondered. In reply I promised to pray about their request, and when they had gone I poured out to God my longing to teach pagans. He reminded me of Jeremiah 45:5, “Seekest thou great things for thyself?” (such as seeking to train teachers for China’s millions), “Seek them not!” Again He gave me His message to Zechariah (4:10) “For who hath despised the day of small things?” It seemed He had meant this for me. “You are here, not yet recovered in health; cannot you do this small thing for Me with these dear ladies who desire teaching?”

A few days later, when these ladies returned for my answer, I said, “I will not spoon-feed you. Are you willing for me to dictate a few questions which will help you in your study of each passage? I would then like you to first share with all of us what God has given you, after which I will share with you what He has given me.” – A. Wetherell Johnson, Created for Commitment p. 200

Thank God for Miss Johnson’s method of teaching. Her willingness to teach those five women gave birth to an international, non-denominational Bible study, which is still going strong today. Bible Study Fellowship: More than 1,000 classes on six continents in 39 nations, including China. I’m forever amazed by what God will do with a little yes.

Miss Johnson taught me to take a good look at the Scriptures for myself, under the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Katherine Bushnell inspired me to take it one step further. Dr. Bushnell was an amazing woman – physician, missionary, Bible scholar and social activist. While in China as a medical missionary, she discovered that the Chinese Bible was mistranslated to support cultural prejudice against the ministry of women.  She wondered whether the same male bias might have prejudiced English translations as well. On the long sea voyage home, she renewed her study of Hebrew and Greek in order to investigate for herself. In 1911 she published Women’s Correspondence Bible Class, later titled, God’s Word to Women.  It is reported that she died believing that her work had made little impact.

It made an impact on me.

It caused my discerning ears to perk up yesterday, for example, when I heard a pastor on a video promulgate the identity theft I wrote about here.

This morning when I was reading my BSF notes on Revelation 12, I came upon this sentence:

“Finally, he was called a serpent because he is that ancient serpent who appeared in the Garden of Eden to tempt Adam and Eve (and who was cursed to ongoing enmity with them.)”

“Not them, her,” I wrote in the margin. Her. The enmity was with the woman and her offspring. Not with Adam’s offspring. I explained why here.

One of the BSF questions asked who we think the three main players in this chapter are. The identities of the dragon and the son are pretty obvious. The identity of the pregnant woman, however, is not as clear. To most. It’s pretty clear to me.

The BSF notes give several possibilities as to who the pregnant woman might be:

  • Mary
  • The Jewish people, who gave birth to the Messiah
  • The Church
  • Both believing Israel and the Church, giving birth to many people of God

The problem I have with possibilities 3 and 4 is verse 17. If the woman is the church (or all Jewish and Gentile believers), then who are “the rest of her offspring”?

No one in the leaders’ meeting Saturday morning, and no one in the notes, mentioned Eve as a possibility.

And I think she might be Eve.

Because Eve is “the mother of all the living.” The mother of all who humbly confess their sins. (You did click on the link and read Winning the War on Women, right?)

It’s interesting that Eve is fashioned in Genesis 2, but she isn’t named until the end of chapter 3. It wasn’t until after she sinned and confessed that she was named “the mother of all the living.” (Do you get what I’m saying or do I need to publish the book that lays it all out?)

It makes sense that the players at the very beginning of the epic battle (Genesis 3:15) – Eve, her offspring and the serpent – would be the same players at the end of the epic battle. (Revelation 12).


I realize that most ordinary people don’t care all that much about Revelation, but I’m not talking to ordinary people here.

And I’m hoping to hear from your extraordinary brains.

Light, Revelation

Sweet & Sour Scroll with Olive Oil

A mighty angel came down from heaven. A message, short and sweet, lay open in his hand.

He had one foot planted on the sea and the other planted on the land. The message was global.

The voices of seven thunders spoke and John scrambled to write their words down. But a voice from heaven said, “No, don’t write it down.”

Not everyone needs to know everything all the time, but God seems to always tell someone what He is going to do. On that day He took John into His confidence. I want to be taken into His confidence, too.

For the Lord detests the perverse
but takes the upright into his confidence. Proverbs 3:32

The voice from heaven told John to eat the scroll.

It was sweet and sour.

That’s how God’s words are sometimes – sweet when we take them in, but a little hard to digest, a little hard to actually incorporate into our being. Sweet in thought and word, but not in deed.

Like forgiveness. It’s a sweet concept in general, and God’s forgiveness of us, specifically, is even sweeter.  But the thought of actually extending it to certain people can make us a little nauseous.

John wasn’t eating the words on the scroll for his own personal nourishment, though. He was eating them in order to speak them. He had more prophesying to do.

And that’s it. Chapter 10 ends right there.

The scene changes and John is told to measure the temple, its altar and the worshipers.  Don’t measure the outer court, though, because that has been given to the non-believing Gentiles, who will trample the holy city for 42 months (3 1/2 years).

God will appoint two witnesses to prophesy for 1,260 days, which coincidentally works out to just about 3 1/2 years.

I wonder why 42 months is used for the trampling and 1,260 days is used for the prophesying. Perhaps because the witnesses, clothed in sackcloth, giving their mournful message, were counting the days.

They would be witnessing to a hostile crowd who was trampling on everything holy, but they wouldn’t be left defenseless. They’d be equipped to breath fire, should anyone get too close. And with the ability to shut off the rain (so everything would be dry and easy to ignite?). They had all the plagues at their disposal to call down as often as they wanted. God knew He could trust them with that.

Who were these witnesses? No one knows. Chapter 11 is considered by some to be the most controversial chapter in all of Revelation because of the variety of theories.

Some think they might be Moses and Elijah. Reasonable guess: Elijah prayed that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t – for 3 1/2 years. Elijah also called down fire from heaven. Moses was instrumental in the Egyptian plagues. Plus, Moses and Elijah both met with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. So, though they had both long since been “gathered to their people,” they were both still players in God’s grand scheme.

All I know is that they are described as lampstands and olive trees.

In Revelation 1 Jesus told John that the lampstands are churches. And olive trees produce olives, which are pressed for oil, which is used for anointing.

So are these two anointed churches witnessing to a hostile crowd in God’s holy city?


I turn to Zechariah 4.

Zechariah wrote:

Then the angel who talked with me returned and woke me up, like someone awakened from sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?”
I answered, “I see a solid gold lampstand… Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”
I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”
He answered, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I replied.
So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

Okay hold it right there. These witnesses, whoever they are, cannot prophesy out of their own intelligence or strength, but only by God’s Spirit. Same goes for us. We’ll see how true that is in a minute.

Zechariah went on:

…Then I asked the angel, ‘What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?”
Again I asked him, “What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?”
He replied, “Do you not know what these are?”
“No, my lord,” I said.
So he said, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.”

Two things: First, sometimes you have to ask more than once in order to get answers. Second, the two olive trees here are two servants who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth. It sounds like its a permanent assignment. So are they the same olive trees that John sees? Are they on duty right at this very moment?

They are protected for exactly as long as their service is required. And when their job is done, the beast is allowed to come up from the Abyss, attack and kill them.

And how do the gnarly non-believing citizens respond? They refuse to bury the two witnesses – just leave them lying dead in the street. They celebrate and give one another gifts in a bizarre sort of anti-Christmas.

Glad tidings are everywhere because there is no longer light exposing their hard, dark hearts.

Everyone can finally sin* in peace.

It’s a good thing they didn’t bury the witnesses. It’s a good thing they left them lying in the street. This way everyone could see God breathe life back into them. They could hear God call them back to heaven, maybe even hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

Whatever they heard, they definitely saw these two resurrected. And there were lots of bloodless faces gulping.

God shook the earth hard and 7,000 died. And the terrified survivors finally gave glory to God.

Those two olive trees, who may have been at their earthly post for centuries, were no longer needed. They were called back to heaven, their work on earth was done.

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet. Loud voices in heaven said:

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever.”

After generations of uttering of the Lord’s prayer – “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”

His kingdom has finally come!

The temple in heaven is opened, and within the temple the ark of the covenant is seen.

“And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder…”

A new storm is brewing, this time in the heavenly realm…


P.S. If you want to see for yourself… and add your own two brilliant pennies:

Revelation 10, Revelation 11, Zechariah 4

*Chapter 9 ended with: “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 [pharmakeia – the use of drugs], their sexual immorality or their thefts.”

Light, Revelation

Rev Sev

Bits and pieces are coming together. And that gives this clue gathering lover of the puzzle a thrill.

Two weeks ago I was studying Revelation 7 and I wondered why the tribes of Dan and Ephraim were not included among those whose foreheads were marked for preservation.

The list of tribes in Revelation 7 resembled a military census. If that’s what it was, why aren’t representatives from Dan and Ephraim being enlisted in the Lord’s army?

First I made us a table so we can all keep it straight:

rev sev jpeg

(Yes, I do know I’m a nerd.)

Then I did a little looking and found out some stuff:

As soon as the Danites captured their first city, they set up for themselves an idol, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses (or Manasseh, depending on the manuscript)  and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan.  (Judges 18 if you want to see for yourself.)

Two violations there:

  1. “Do not make for yourselves an idol.”
  2. God designated Aaron’s descendants, the Levites, as priests, not Moses’s. You can’t just willy-nilly ignore God and choose your own priests.

And then there is 1 Kings 12.  Two golden calves were made. One was set up in Bethel and one was set up in Dan. People came from far and wide to worship them. And if you know anything about God and Exodus and the Ten Commandments, you know how He feels about the worshiping of golden calves.

Okay now Ephraim. The reason Ephraim’s name is missing from the third column is pretty clear:

Ephraim will be laid waste
on the day of reckoning.
Among the tribes of Israel
I proclaim what is certain.

Judah’s leaders are like those
who move boundary stones.
I will pour out my wrath on them
like a flood of water.

Ephraim is oppressed,
trampled in judgment,
intent on pursuing idols. Hosea 5:9-11 [italics added]

But [Ephraim] continued to sin against him,
rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High. Psalm 78:9-17 [italics added]

Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,
as a warrior wakes from the stupor of wine.
He beat back his enemies;
he put them to everlasting shame.
Then he rejected the tents of Joseph,
he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim. Psalm 78:65-67 [italics added]

It looks like it was due to severe, persistent idol worship.

If you know anything about the history of Israel, you know that lots of tribes got into trouble at one time (or two or three or ten+) for worshiping idols, but Dan and Ephraim seemed intent upon it.

So then last week I moved on to study chapters 8 and 9.

Chapter 8 described the frightful events at the opening of the seventh seal and the sounding of the first four trumpets.

And then in chapter 9 the fifth trumpet was sounded and some truly terrifying locusts prepare for battle. Seriously, read their description. I’m thinking I’ll forget all the contemporary means of evangelizing. All the youthtastic stuff, the climbing walls (a church near me has one) and the sporting event outreaches and replace my small talk – things like, “What about those Tigers,”  – with, “What about those LOCUSTS?”

The sixth trumpet was sounded and a third of mankind was killed.

And then there it was, at the very end of chapter 9, the piece of the puzzle that joined it together, more evidence of the reason the descendants from the tribes of Dan and Ephraim are not listed among those marked for preservation:

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.” [italics added].

I read ahead:  A giant earthquake is coming. The terrified survivors of it will FINALLY give glory to God.

When this BSF study of Revelation began in September, many of the women expressed trepidation over looking into this book. They feared God’s wrath against people.

But having studied the first nine chapters and read two more, I don’t see it as God’s wrath against people. I see it as His wrath against His enemy, the devil. Against the sin and evil that destroy people. (God hates the sin, loves the sinner.)

It’s like He’s rooting out the cancer of sin/evil. He cuts it out and then He uses radiation and then, on whatever is left, He uses chemo.

After He levels all his weapons against it, He succeeds in eradicating it.

Chapter 11 ends with earth in remission and then chapter 12 (okay, I read ahead three chapters ‘cuz it’s a page turner) shifts the battle from earth to the heavenly realm. To the woman and the dragon.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12

Now comes the really BIG battle…

Light, Revelation

Revelation 7

As if the white horse, with its rider bent on conquest were not enough. Or the red horse, whose rider had the power to take away peace, followed by the black horse of famine – because famine often follows war.

As if Death, riding a pale horse, killing a quarter of the population, with Hades hot on his heels wasn’t enough. The martyrs crying out to be avenged, the sun turning black, the moon turning blood red, stars falling from the sky and the heavens receding like a scroll being rolled…

As if all of that were not enough, a seventh seal looms.

Four angels stand at the ready. Four powerful angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four fierce winds. They wait for the signal.

But first.

A fifth angel approaches from the east. “Wait!” Foreheads need to be marked.

Twelve thousand foreheads from each of the twelve tribes. One hundred and forty-four thousand  foreheads in all.

I pause and wonder how it is that each tribe has exactly 12,000 servants.  What if one tribe has more than 12,000 worthy servants and another has less? Doesn’t matter, God apparently wants equal representation.

Before God will allow the winds of destruction to blow, swirl, whistle and howl across every corner of the earth, a seal has to be placed on the forehead of each of His servants.

Again I pause, grateful that I am sealed with the Holy Spirit; grateful that I am guaranteed an inheritance. (Ephesians 1)

But this seal, I think, is different. I’ve been stamped with the Holy Spirit. Revelation 14 will reveal that these 144,000 are stamped with the name of the Father and the name of the Lamb.

Remember when God marked Cain – a murderer! – so that no one could kill him?

Remember when God directed the Israelites to mark their doorposts with the blood of the Lamb to protect them from the angel of death?

Not everyone is as familiar with this story from Ezekiel 9, but God was fed up with His people and His wrath was imminent. He said:

“The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land; the Lord does not see.’ So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.”

But before He unleashed the six men who were appointed to execute justice, a man in linen WITH A WRITING KIT, appeared. The Lord called to him and said:

“Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

I stop and chuckle: Gives new meaning to “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Put a mark on all those who grieve and lament.

God notices when we grieve over injustice, cruelty and all the detestable things in which our culture engages.

It reminds me of what Peter wrote about Lot:

“and if [God] rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.”

I never saw Lot as a righteous man who was distressed by the depraved conduct around him. I always saw him as a man who was cozying up to the depravity around him – which got him into trouble more than once. “Friendship with the world” is what James called it. Maybe that’s why Peter added “if this is so,” and put some of it in parenthesis. (Not that the Greeks used punctuation back then.)

Perhaps it wasn’t Lot’s own righteousness that caused him to be spared, perhaps it was solely his association with Abraham.

But I digress.

My point is that God has a history of marking people – worthy or not – in order to protect them. And that the seal on the foreheads of the 144,000 was more like the one received by Cain and the one described in Ezekiel 9 – a seal of protection – rather than a seal guaranteeing an inheritance.

The names of the Father and the Lamb, not the Holy Spirit.

Different names for different purposes?

The winds of destruction, with their seven trumpets and seven bowls of wrath, would not blow quite yet.

Not until chapter 8.

For now, the throne room is growing larger.

In chapter 4, John saw 4 living creatures and 24 elders around the throne. In chapter 5, they were joined and surrounded by thousands upon thousands of angels.

Now, a countless multitude has joined the worship. They cry in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

The names of the Father and the Lamb on the foreheads of the 144,000….

But these aren’t the 144,000. The 144,000 are still on earth to endure and survive the opening of the seventh seal.

This is a countless multitude who survived the first six seals and are now standing before the throne. They’ve been through a lot and they know a little something about from where salvation comes. Some of them may have been among the princes and the paupers cowering together begging the rocks to fall on them.  But then, they ran to Jesus. They “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” Check it out. Verse 14. “They came out of the great tribulation and they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.”

And now here they stand, with the four living creatures and the 24 elders and the thousands upon thousands of angels, wearing freshly cleaned white robes and holding palm branches, shouting the praises of the Ones who saves them.

And when they shout, the creatures, the elders and the angels fall on their faces and worship.  When you’ve seen so much destruction, when you’ve been saved from so much, you want God to remain on the throne forever, and you say so:

“Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.

The hub has been through some things. The hub has made some mistakes, and now the hub often says, “I’m just happy to be here.”

The multitude was happy to be there. So happy that they served God day and night in His temple, because when you are grateful, you want to do what you can.

And because it is in serving Him that you find your protection.

Remember, 144,000 servants were marked for protection against the devastating winds.

Standing there, at His throne, you are sheltered in His presence.

Never again will you be hungry or thirsty. Never again will the sun beat down on you.

You are under the care of the Shepherd – who will lead you to springs of living water, who will wipe away every tear from your eye.

And that is glorious. ‘Cuz you’ve done some crying.

Light, Revelation

Identity Theft

I was reading my Bible Study Fellowship notes while savoring a hot cup of black gold (with cream). The topic was John’s vision of the throne room. Everything was clipping along just fine.

“The Bible speaks of other believers who received visions of God’s transcendent nature and character,” a new paragraph began, and it mentioned Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. Good, good, good and good.

And then:

“The apostle Paul was ‘caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.’”

Whoa! What?

When was Paul “caught up to paradise”? I checked the footnote to see what Scripture they based that statement upon.

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.  I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.  I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.  Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say,  or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  2 Corinthians 12:1-7

How does Paul saying he knew a man who was caught up to the third heaven translate to HIM being caught up to paradise?

I was too comfy and too lazy to get out from under the cozy afghan on my cozy sofa to brave the 22 chilly steps (44 round trip) to my library to grab The Bible Knowledge Commentary, so I stayed put and checked an online commentary.

Matthew Henry: “for doubtless [Paul] himself is the man in Christ of whom he speaks.”

Doubtless? I’m in doubt.

Mr. Henry proceeded to commend Paul for his humility in not referring to himself directly. Paul’s humility? Since when? In that very same chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote:

I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing.  I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.  How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!   2 Corinthians 12:11-13

Those defensive and accusatory remarks don’t sound like the model of humility to me.

Even his self-deprecating remarks come off as humble brags. Take this one, for example:

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. Philippians 3:3-6

And then there are all the I, I, I’s of 1 Timothy 2: I urge, I was appointed, I am telling the truth, I am not lying, I want, I also want, I do not permit.

John often referred to himself indirectly as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and it was well within his personality to do so, he did so consistently and there are verifiable incidents that tie that descriptor to him.

But indirectly and humbly referring to himself in the third person was NOT within Paul’s personality and no where else was it his m.o.

So let’s get logical: In the context of 2 Corinthians 12:1-7 – where Paul is arguing that he is equal to the apostles who actually walked with Jesus – a humble, indirect statement just doesn’t make sense.  If ever there is a time to speak boldly and directly it is when arguing a case or asserting one’s credentials.

Perhaps it was due to Matthew Henry’s impressive and exhaustive work that this doubtful interpretation has been promulgated in commentaries ever since. Even by my beloved BSF – who taught me to read the Scriptures for myself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

When I read, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven,” for myself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,  I hear Paul saying that he knew someone who had been given a vision. And that person may have shared it with him. Or that person may have told him he couldn’t share it with him.

And I wonder whether that person was John, because John and Paul may have very likely crossed paths in Ephesus.

Or perhaps it was someone else altogether.

All I know for sure is that Paul DID NOT say that HE was “caught up to paradise.”

So why does the church twist Scripture and logic and temporarily change Paul’s personality in order to say he did?

Perhaps, when it comes to the church’s love affair with Paul, the lover is blind to its beloved’s blemishes.

Light, Revelation

Revelation 6

I know I already posted today, but I am posting again.

I know I already responded to the daily prompt today, but I am responding again.

Because I want to.

Last year I challenged myself, in the month of December, to make each daily prompt to which I respond about Jesus. In honor of His birthday.

So here I go.

I spent the morning preparing to teach Revelation 6 on Monday night. Studying Revelation is really bringing what is important in life into focus. And it’s putting all the nonsense of life into perspective.

In Revelation 4, John wept because there was NO ONE anywhere in heaven or on earth or under the earth who was worthy to open the scroll – not even Jesus.

Until He showed up as a slain Lamb.

Even Jesus wasn’t worthy until He was slain.

It was His sacrifice, not His being, that made Him worthy.

And as He took the scroll with the seven seals, there was much REJOICING in heaven.

But then He started to open those seals and, here on earth, not so much.

Jesus opened the first seal and John saw a white horse. It’s rider held a bow and was given a crown. He rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.

I wonder if that rider is Jesus on a conquest to rescue as many as possible from the coming wrath. Or perhaps the rider is the Holy Spirit, and with His bow He is going to shoot arrows of Truth, prophecy and warning.

Isaiah said, “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.” 49:2

Zechariah said, “Then the Lord will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning.” 9:14a

So I’m thinking the bow belongs to Jesus.

Then He opened the second seal and John saw a fiery red horse with a rider who had the power to take away peace, a large sword and the ability to make people kill each other.

That rider seems to be riding high these days.

At the opening of the third seal, John saw a black horse with a rider who was holding a pair of scales. He heard a voice saying, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”

The commentaries I read say this rider is bringing famine, but I disagree.  Here’s why:

The Greek word translated as a pound, is “choinix”.

Here’s how Strong’s lexicon defines it: “a choenix, a dry measure…less than our quart, one litre, or as much as would support a man of moderate appetite for a day.

So I’m thinking the rider is providing exactly what the people to whom he is riding need – their daily bread.

and do not damage the oil and the wine!”  AND, not but.

Here is more evidence that the crops are being spared, not destroyed:

Zechariah went on to say, “The Lord their God will save his people on that day… How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women.” 9:16-17

Wheat, barley and wine to make the young men and women thrive.

Now look here at Zechariah 6:1-8:

I looked up again, and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze. The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?”

The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.”

When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth.

Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.”

I rest my case.

Back to the seals.

The opening of the fourth seal brought a pale horse whose rider is Death, and Hades was hot on his heals. Death and Hades were given power over a quarter of the earth to kill by sword, famine, plague and wild beasts.

The opening of the fifth seal revealed the souls of those who have been martyred, waiting under the altar to be avenged.

And then the sixth scroll opens and things grow dark.

The sun turns black, the moon turns blood red and the stars fall from the sky.

The heavens recede like a scroll being rolled up and everything changes.

Princes and paupers alike hide in caves and between mountain rocks. Wealth, position, popularity, intelligence, cunning and celebrity cannot save them. “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne,” they cry to the rocks, “and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

No one.

Except those who take refuge in  Jesus.