Hearing and Seeing the Apocalypse: A Sunday School Introduction

The following are my brief notes written as a Sunday School introduction for adults to the book of the Revelation that I taught May 13, 2018 at New Life Assembly of God in Ellendale, ND.
What is “apocalypse”? It is a “revealing” of something. This book belongs to a broader genre of writings known to the second temple period of Jewish writings (and early Christian writings) that involved visions, dreams, angelic guides, experiences of the heavenly realm/s all with an eye (and ear) toward the culmination of all things wherein God will set everything right in final judgment (with reward and punishment).
Introduction (1.1-3) – What is the point of this book? Jesus! And remaining faithful to Jesus no matter what comes as God’s self-giving revelation testified to in the Spirit. If we get distracted by anything else in the Revelation than we miss the very point.
Traveling with John the Revelator (these reveal one cannot follow John of their own accord toward understanding)

  • In the Spirit on the Lord’s Day (1.10)
  • In the Spirit in Heaven (4.2)
  • In the Spirit in the Desert (17.3)
  • In the Spirit to a great and high mountain (21.10)

On “hearing” and “seeing” in the Apocalypse

  • 1.3 – Blessed are those who hear… others of the seven beatitudes (14.13; 16.15; 19.9; 20.6; 22.7, 14)
  • Overcomers “hear” in faithfulness and obedience: 2.7, 11, 17, 26-29; 3.5-6, 12-13, 21-22.
  • Hearing and seeing function to highlight and expound (offering interpretations and expansions of each other to further the knowing and worship of those who would hear and see), examples: 1.10-20; 5.1-14; 7.1-17.

A hearing and seeing of sevens (suggesting there is much more than what meets the ears and eyes in the enumeration):

  • Horns and Eyes/Spirits (5.6)
  • Churches (and their angels: 2-3)
  • Seals on the scroll (5-8.5)
  • Trumpets (8.6-11.19)
  • Thunders (silenced: 10.3-4)
  • Bowls with plagues (15-16.21)

Overcomers Win or Why Quitters Go To Hell: A Sermon on the Revelation

seven horned seven eyed slain alive lambHere is a 30 minute sermon I preached at the chapel of Trinity Bible College and Graduate School (Ellendale, ND) on Tuesday, November 10, 2015 on the entire book of the Revelation titled “Overcomers Win or Why Quitters Go to Hell”.


#maytheLambbepraised #Heisworthy 🙂

Joel and The Revelation: Sounding the Trumpet

ApollyonI have been teaching The Minor Prophets this semester and as we covered Joel I was struck by the use of Joel which John makes in the Revelation (particularly chapter 9) of the book of Joel. Here are some connections I noticed in my brief study (followed by a few random reflections):

  1. The sounding of trumpets (Joel 2.1; Rev.9.1, 13)
  2. An army of locusts (Joel 1.4; Rev.9.3)
  3. An innumerable army (Joel 1.6) and an army of 10,000 times 10,000 times 2 (Rev.9.16)
  4. “teeth like/of a lion” (Joel 1.6; Rev.9.7)
  5. Contrast between the utter destruction of plant life by the locusts (Joel 1.4-12) while the “locusts” in the Revelation are not allowed to do any harm to plant life (Rev.9.4)
  6. The locusts appear “like war horses” (Joel 2.4) or “like horses prepared for battle” (Rev.9.7)
  7. The armies of locusts each sound “like chariots” (Joel 2.5; Rev.9.9)
  8. Destruction by fire goes ahead and behind (Joel 2.3; Rev.9.18-19)
  9. Columns of smoke are directly connected to each (Joel 2.30; Rev.9.2-3)

In each, repentance should be the response. In Joel hope resounds by the end, but in the Revelation the people persist in their many idolatries (even as hope will be had by the overcomers by the end of that book).
Another preliminary thought concerning each: Joel 1 and 2 are often believed to be speaking about an “army” of locusts (1) and the armies of Babylon (2) though such a clear distinction cannot be made and likely (in my thinking) should not. If asked which is represented in chapter two I would answer, “Yes”. Both the “locusts” and the “Babylonians” seem intended. In regard to Revelation 9, it appears that perhaps the same issue is at stake where there is some distinction between each of these groups: the army of “locusts” and the demonic cavalry where the former only harms humans (but doesn’t kill) and the latter destroys everything and everyone before them up to a third of humankind. However, we have two armies represented that in some sense are reiterative of the movement between Joel 1 and 2 concerning the locusts and cavalry.

The Number of the Beast and Wild Claims

A friend recently posted a video that makes claims concerning the “number of the beast” in Revelation 13:18 (it can be viewed HERE) . I found the following graphic posted on Facebook of Walid’s claims about the symbols/words written in “Sinaiticus” (a Greek codex with many sections dating from the fourth century). Walid claims that the bottom line is actually depicted properly by the top line with crossed swords (an Islamic symbol) and the Arabic word/s meaning “In the name of Allah”
Supposed symbols in the text
Walid mentions (and draws) the top lines characters which do NOT appear in any Greek manuscript. As it turns out Codex Sinaiticus (which he specifically says to go check out) does not have even an abbreviated form of the number, but has the fully written form for each number. As it turns out all one needs to do is go online and verify with the manuscript (which is freely accessible to anyone with internet access). See the image HERE.
It is found in the third column [lines 21-22]: εξακοϲιαι εξηκοτα εξ

Anyone can see that his claims have no factuality when looking at the manuscript itself (even if one did not know Greek they could still note that these symbols are nowhere present in the text). Further, if one were to check the Nestle-Aland text of the Greek New Testament they will find that with the many variants preserved in the manuscript traditions (and reported in the text-critical note of the NA text) not one contains any such markings representing numbers. In other words, his entire claim is false and easily proven so.
Yet, such drivel will continue to be received by many in the West who simply WANT Muslims to be the tools of the Antichrist and somehow the Beast/s of the Revelation. Perhaps it is our concern not to be found ourselves numbered a part of that beastly system which opposes Jesus rightful rule over all? Perhaps what we do not really understand and yet fear (rightfully or wrongfully) always seems readily at hand to explain the beasts of our apocalyptic nightmares? Perhaps we seek “hidden knowledge” that “verifies” our fears because if our fears were proven unfounded we might have to consider how we ourselves may be surrendering to all that rejects Jesus the king of all?
To those who overcome…

Gog, Magog, and Premillennialism

magog
In a recent conversation about events in the Middle/Near East, a question was raised as to the potential for fulfillment of prophecy, specifically concerning “Gog and Magog”.

Gog and Magog have so captured the imagination that their very mention seems clouded by mystery and ready at hand to apply to nearly any particularity in contemporary geo-politics involving the modern nation-state of Israel. However, few consider the actual texts where these terms are mentioned in Scripture. Gog (the referent to the prince of the eschatological hordes) only occurs two places in Scripture (excluding the referents which point to a genealogical figure): Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20.
In Ezekiel, Gog is the prince from Magog (meaning “place of Gog”). This ruler is brought by the will of Yahweh to a restored Israel to make war. He is gathered with hordes from the corners of the known world (6th century BC). These two chapters are spent describing the hordes and their ultimate destruction and burial. Interestingly enough the valley of Hamon-Gog where the bodies are buried over 7 months immediately follows another valley filled with dead: the valley of very dry bones (Eze.37). That first valley was the slain of Israel, restored by the Spirit of Yahweh and even restored as a united people in the land of promise. This latter valley becomes the resting place of all who would think to destroy the work of Yahweh to live in peace in the midst of His people.

While numerous people groups are included in this horde (including Persia [part of modern Iran]…a favorite current target of prophetic prognosticators) the intention is not to locate the people groups specifically. It seems to function more toward all those who are from far away (from the very boundaries of civilization) who would gather together against the work of Yahweh (though brought by the “hook” of Yahweh to the land). This is NOT intended as Ezekiel’s message against a restored Caliphate (something imagined by Muslim extremists and fear-mongering Westerners). Nor is it against any of these people groups. It is against all who would oppose the ultimate plan of Yahweh to dwell with His redeemed people (Israel for Ezekiel, but inclusive of all of God’s people in the NT).

In the Revelation 20.8, Gog and Magog function as stock phrase for the opposing hordes from the four corners of the earth in an even more broad sense than Ezekiel. This is in contrast to “Gog” who was “from Magog” in Ezekiel.  Here (if one is following a sort of “timeline” of events in the Revelation) is the final battle to end all battles. This one follows the 1000 year imprisonment of Satan and the 1000 year reign of Christ. It immediately precedes the final judgment and the coming of the New Jerusalem and the New Heavens and New Earth.

Given the above passages (from a Premillennial eschatology) it should seem readily apparent that anyone attempting to discern “Gog and Magog” in our contemporary setting has no grounds. Not only do the passages not support such an interpretation (even if one is not Premillennial) given their prophetic/eschatological nature to depict things in more broad terms, but they also would not support such following the predominant western Evangelical approach of Premillennialism which would locate this war at the very end of the millennial reign (and distinguish it from the Battle of Armageddon immediately preceding the Second Coming). Meaning it would be a thousand years from the Second Coming. The face of the planet (and her empires) would be radically refashioned from the current geo-political make-up.

In brief, finding Gog and Magog in contemporary news and prognostications is biblically unfounded. So stop looking at Russia, Turkey, or Iran. We need look no further than locating it with all who ultimately oppose the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ and his reign over the earth.

I'm Getting a Tattoo

Mike TysonYes, you read that correctly. I am getting a tattoo. And, yes, I am still a pastor and Bible college faculty member. And I am not just getting any tattoo. The kind you are probably thinking that I am getting is so cliché…so 2013.
And my tattoo will not be something covered by sleeves or pant legs. We are talking about one for my face so everyone can see it. And Mike Tyson has nothing on what I’m getting.
And don’t bother trying to talk me out of it. This is a done deal. I’ve made up my mind and I’m sticking to it no matter what.
Just to be clear, I’m getting a tattoo that no one can replicate. I’m getting a tattoo that never needs upgrading and is the ultimate tattoo of tattoos. I am getting a tattoo that sets me apart from the world. And I hope (and pray) you are getting one as well:

“All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God– the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.”
“Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”
“No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him.
And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads.” (Rev 3.12; 14.1; and 22.3-4 NLT)

The one that declares, “I listen to the Spirit, and thus belong to God, because I love and worship Jesus no matter what.” Now THAT is my kind of tatt.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!

The Heart of Leviticus

The enigmatic book of Leviticus is not a first choice for the Church to read or study, yet I’ve been taking my congregation through it (verse-by-verse…believe it or not) for our Wednesday Bible study.  Last night we covered its theological center (or heart) which can be found in chapter 16.  Lev. 16 concerns itself with the holiest day in Judaism: the Day of Atonement (in our day referred to as Yom Kippur).  As we discussed this amazing chapter last night, we conversed about the point of this fasting day for atonement in light of everything leading up to this chapter (the sacrifices, the ordination of priests and a high priest, what is “clean/unclean and holy/common”).

So what is the point?  The point can be found in a commonly used term in the sixteenth chapter (Lev.16:7, 16, 17, 20, 23, 33; and many other places elsewhere in the Torah): the tent of meeting (Heb. אֹהֶל מוֹעֵֽד).  This “tent of meeting” (or “tabernacle”) was intended for one purpose: to be the place where Yahweh, the God of Israel, met with Israel.  The presence of Yahweh was always the point.  This is emphatically stated in the first verse of chapter sixteen which reads: “The LORD said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.'” (NIV)  Yahweh made a way for His presence to remain and for the revelation of His presence in the midst of His people (without them simply being destroyed by the need to be “clean” and “holy”).

We quickly become lost in the regulations about purity and sacrifices.  We tend to think that such matters were primarily (or even only) concerned with sin.  Not so.  That was not so.  The point was presence and relationship.[1]  Yahweh longs for relationship and makes a way back for a people of His choosing who will do what is necessary to live in His presence.

This is also the point of the gospel.  The point is not about overcoming sins or being forgiven of sins.  That is only initiatory to being received into God’s presence…to having God with us (e.g., Immanuel) and even in us.  God desires a people to Himself (Rev.21:3) and has made the way to have such immediacy even in the face of His absolute otherness.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the fresh and living way that he inaugurated for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. (Heb.10:19-23 NET)

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[1] Gordon Wenham only includes the “presence of God” as one of the theological highlights of Leviticus, see his The Book of Leviticus (NICOT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 16-18; and John E. Hartley, Leviticus (WBC 4; Dallas: Word, 1992), lxiii-lxiv.

The Mark of the Beast Revealed!

We live in a time where there is extreme fascination with things found in the book of the Revelation (though this has really always been the case). You know…that book at the end of your Bible with all of those psychedelic visions of creatures doing bizarre things, angels trumpeting or pouring out destruction on the earth. This is a book that has held the attention of generations, but as many have bought into the notion that the Mayan’s were onto something about the end of the world in 2012, the thirst for seeking out such concerns has only grown.

What is the point of this last book of the Bible anyways? Does it reveal who the Antichrist is? Is it to guarantee we don’t receive some micro-chip implantation as the “mark of the beast”? Or perhaps to give us a timeline to Armageddon? All of these things have been proposed ad nauseum with charts, graphs and research to demonstrate the authority of their interpretation of the meaning of the Revelation. But is this really the point?

The answer is simple: No! The point of the Revelation is to reveal the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact the actual name of this final book is not “Revelations” (as if to be about revelations of all sorts of things), but “The Revelation”. The fuller name is even “The Revelation of Jesus Christ”. This book is about the one who knows and holds his own and will both reward and punish according to their faithfulness to him (Rev.2-3).

This book is about God’s final justice demonstrated in the reaction of the world to the revelation of Jesus. This world will not bend the knee to Jesus willfully, but reject him to the last (though multitudes from every people group will indeed place their trust and obedience in him). This world will offer its own “christ” and its own kingdom, but at the last these will all be destroyed. It is, in the end, about the glory of Jesus the Christ as sovereign over every power and authority, including death and the grave. And about those who overcome all opposition to faithfully give testimony to Jesus as Lord and Savior. He is the one who gives life (and is life) and he is the light of the world. He is the only one worthy of praise and glory and honor. And he is coming soon. Even so…come quickly Lord Jesus!

[This was an article I had published in the North Star News – Thursday, August 23, 2012]

"Fourteen" Generations?

This week I preached from Matthew 1:1-17 on the genealogy of Jesus.  Talk about a fun text!  Needless to say, one of the elements of this text that is troubling (at a certain level) is the emphasis by Matthew on “fourteen generations” from Abraham to David, then David to the exile in Babylon, then the exile to the Christ.  When one counts the names in each list it becomes readily apparent that there are not fourteen in all three.  The first is fine, but the other two are not. 

There have been a number of proposals for resolving this and I’ll just mention them briefly followed by my own proposal.
1) At least one of the names should be counted in both lists.  For instance, David or Jeconiah.
2) The three groups of fourteen are meant to refer to six groups of seven (which is considered a number of completion).
3) Fourteen should be understood as gematria (where the letters of the alphabet represent numbers) and David in the Hebrew (דָּוִד dawid – only the consonants have numeric value) is 4+6+4 which equals 14.  Thus, David and Jesus connection to him as the Christ is the central point.

The first should be rejected because there is actually no clear indication of adding only one name twice.  It fails to work out intelligibly in any counting.  The second proposal fails because Matthew emphatically notes “fourteen” and not seven.  This would also place Jesus within the groups and fails to actually count the names.  The third (being the leading preference for interpreting this passage) falls short (in my opinion) because it requires a Hebrew gematria reading of a Greek text, which seems overly complex.  The use of a name being equal to the number is also not noted (as elsewhere in Scripture – cf. Rev.13:18).

My own proposal is simply to consider the “fourteen” generations for each of the groups as referring to the fulness of time.  This is then taken to point to Jesus as the Christ coming in the line of the promise to Abraham to bless all the nations, and to king David to have a son who would sit on the throne forever.  Thus, making this text a wonderful fit for Advent season (on which also see the post by Dan Thompson concerning “hope”).  To be certain, the number “fourteen” in this context is ambiguous at best.  One can only guess that Matthew’s original audience understood what was meant.  So what are your thoughts?

Teaching the NT in Two Weeks (for 7th Graders)

The New Covenant: The Life of Christ (Matthew-John)

The One Who Comes – The path of the LORD was prepared by the coming of John the Baptizer.  Jesus of Nazareth was born to fulfill the word of the LORD and as such was actually the Word himself.  When John baptized Jesus the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and the Father spoke His blessing from heaven.  (Luke 2:67-79; 3:21-22) DOVE   
The Message – Jesus message was that the kingdom of God was near: the sick were healed, people bothered by demons were set free and those who knew they were sinners could be forgiven.  He not only preached this message, but had lived in the power of the message by his victories over the temptations of the devil.  The message required that anyone who was going to be a part of God’s kingdom must obey God’s word and therefore trust in Jesus.  (Mark 1:12-15; John 5:24)  BROKEN-CHAIN
The Messengers – Jesus specifically chose twelve men to deliver his message to Israel (and later to the world).  One of them he knew would betray him and the others he knew would abandon him at his final hour, but he still chose all of them.  They were to pass on all that Jesus did and said, and to do this in the power of the Spirit.  Others would also share this message as they had received it.  (Matthew 10:1-8; Luke 24:47-49) TWELVE
The Final Week – Jesus was hated for his message because it meant that Jesus is Lord and must be trusted.  This led to him being beaten and crucified by the end of the week of the Jewish Passover.  In Jesus crucifixion, he became the sacrifice for sin for all who would trust in him.  (John 19:16-37; 20:30-31) CROSS
The Resurrection – Jesus truly was dead and remained so for three days in a new tomb.  However, on the third day, just as he had told his disciples, he rose from the dead and taught them over forty days.  He finally ascended to heaven in order to send the Spirit to them ten days later.  (Matthew 16:21; 28:1-10; Luke 24:46-53) EMPTY-TOMB
The New Covenant Community (Acts-Revelation)
Alive with the Spirit (Acts) – Those Jesus sent out received the Spirit for the power necessary to be witnesses about him just as he had promised.  Everywhere they went there were signs and wonders and many people who trusted in Jesus (though many others did not).  Others also joined in the special work of sharing the good news about Jesus in distant places (to the whole world) by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4, 37-47) FIRE  
Paul and the Churches (Romans-Hebrews) – A man named Saul who had first tried to destroy the Church became a follower of Jesus (changed his name to Paul) and gave his life even while suffering and being imprisoned, to establishing the Church throughout the world because Jesus told him to do so.  As he did this, he would write many letters to the churches, pastors and people he knew to encourage them and to remind them of the things they needed to know and do in following Jesus faithfully as Jesus’ community.  (Titus 1:1-3)  ENVELOPE
James, Peter and Jude – Others also wrote letters to different to remind them of the truth about Jesus and how they were to live because of this.  Two of these are considered brothers of Jesus (James and Jude) and one was among Jesus’ closest disciples.  The call was for right living, but also against false teaching and as a result – sinful living (something which Paul and John also mention regularly).  (James 2:14-24; 2 Peter 1:3-15) ENVELOPES
John (1-3 John, Revelation) – John, the last surviving apostle of Jesus, wrote numerous letters concerning the need for faithfulness to the new covenant in Jesus.  He also received a special revelation of Jesus concerning Jesus coming again in victory and the need to be faithful to the end no matter what comes.  (1 John 2:12-14; Revelation 1:1-8) ‘V’ – (FOR ‘VICTORY’)

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The CAPITAL ITALICS are for picture representations of the respective section.  Each section also has a selective Scripture portion as representative. I taught this over two weeks to our youth following the four weeks through the OT for Seventh Graders HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.