Friday, February 28, 2014

Seven Trumpets (part two) ...

We resume our study of the seven trumpets of Revelation continuing from part one of this series.  John writes in verse 7 … “The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.”  If this is truly to be literal, it must also be a future event.  Should our world lose 33% of its tree’s and 100% of its grass, the effects would be so devastating that it might indeed end life as we know it on our planet.  Therefore if we consider a more historical context to apply the symbolism described here, we might find fulfillment in a few ways. 
First let us consider the implications of this trumpet being another message of great importance to the church and the servants of Jesus Christ.  In this context, the first trumpet may have sounded to announce the judgments of God on the city of Jerusalem for its complete rejection of the Messiah and the role it played in the murder of our God, done in the name of religion.  Rome destroyed Jerusalem, inadvertently setting the temple on fire, which melted the gold that dribbled down all the way between the stones in the floor.  Thus the errant Roman soldiers were told to destroy the remains of the temple and dig up the rocks so as to get the gold from its foundations, leaving “no stone upon another”.  But no Christians died in the terrible siege and taking of Jerusalem.  They saw signs in the heavens, and remembered the warnings of Christ to flee without looking back to gather your belongings.  The early Christian church was spread out into the world, and Jerusalem tasted the results of her complete rejection of the cornerstone of her faith.  If the message of the first trumpet was directed at an early Christian church under the pagan persecution of Rome, this may well have been the hail of Roman destruction, that ultimately mingled fire in the blood spilled and cast upon the earth in the temple there.
Another view of the first trumpet may have been in a more political context.  Trumpets often precede war, and are used within war to give direction to coordinate troop efforts when the noise of battle might otherwise overwhelm the sound of a human voice.  If the context were political in nature, one interpretation might be assigned to the Visigoth barbarian hordes that rained a hail of destruction down upon the once great Roman empire.  This was the first step in reducing the legs of iron into the feet of iron mixed with clay.  Constantine had divided the Roman empire into three sections in order to place each of his three sons on a throne, and to better provide for the defense of the empire.  The western seat was attacked by the Visigoth Alaric, equating to a destruction of one third of the empire at that time.  The reason to apply this particular war to the sounding of this trumpet may also coincide with a view of the ten horns or kingdoms, where three were up rooted by the little horn.  The Visigoths surely helped break up the Roman empire, but their legacy was not to be forever felt.
Finally a more modernist view of the first trumpet sounding, interpreted under the ideas that these trumpets are to sound in the last days before His returning might be found in scorched earth policies exacted in the Second World War.  A great deal of modern Ukraine was ruined during WW2 by policies of scorching the earth so that nothing of value remained.  This would have met the idea that all the grass was burnt up, and nearly a third of this area of the world destroyed in one form or another.  Regardless of the viewpoints outlined here, all interpretations include attributing symbolism described in John’s visions to events in our history.  Whether as important messages to the church, or the history of the fall of an empire, or the destruction we have witnessed in our last days – each employs the same methods of ascribing characteristics and events in parallel with what John relayed.  Again it must be noted, that perspective matters when taking this approach.  The earliest Christian church may well have interpreted the sounding of the first trumpet as described above because they bore witness to those events.  The potential modernist view is only possible from our own perspectives as now these events are a part of our recent history.
Perhaps the most important question, is how do we see Christ revealed in the view of interpretation we take of this revelation?  Do we see a warning of the consequences of rejecting the sole method of our salvation as witnessed through the destruction of Jerusalem?  Do we see that it is Christ who ultimately controls the halls of power and succession of kingdoms that traverse our history of empires?  Do we see that even in the massive destruction that occurs in our modern world of war, that Christ is still ever present and ever in control of these events, and more importantly of our salvation?  These prophecies are revelations of Jesus Christ.  They are not mere history lessons.  They are not meant to be scare tactics.  Fear does not bring about reform, only love can do that.  Only love provides the motive for reform.  So if we are to see Jesus in these revelations, how do we see Him?  Do we see the love of Christ, or have we become fixated on times and events and the things that seem to threaten our way of life?  Our lives in this world are of little consequence, they only have meaning in how we can share in the ministry of loving others to see them connect to the source of redemptive love and salvation.  Destruction is not the goal, redemption is.  Without this context, our study has little relevance.
John’s vision continues in verse 8 as he relays … “And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; [verse 9] And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.”  Again from a purely literal point of view this would also have to be a future event.  It describes what we might refer to as a meteor which descends into an ocean killing a third of life there, and a third of the naval ships in that ocean.  The level of destruction between the first trumpet and the second could all but kill life on our planet from a pure reduction in oxygen if nothing else.  So again to interpret these events as purely literal seems counterintuitive to looking at our God attempting to draw us closer to Himself that He might redeem a fallen world.  If we then attempt to interpret this passage in a symbolic form there are several meanings that might emerge.
First, if the message is again similar in context to a warning to the church, it might be applied to God’s judgments against pagan Rome.  After addressing Jerusalem in the first trumpet warning, this centers our attention on the ideas that false gods, and many gods, do not form alternate paths to the real God.  Pagan Rome had at the center of its doctrine the worship and exaltation of self.  No passion or pleasure were to be denied to the affluent citizens of Rome.  They did not use their wealth and knowledge extensively in the service of others, but instead like Israel before them, they turned inward, became corrupted and only deepened in their self-embraced slavery to indulgence.  The various forms of false gods included the ideas that war, or sex, or violence were to be praised.  While human sacrifice may not have been an official form of worship, it was highly condoned in the arenas with the gladiator slaves who were sent there to die violently to the cheers of the crowds.  The level of debauchery had no equal.  And the judgment of our God was to be felt on this ideology. 
The lesson was for us to see.  The lesson has not been heeded.  We emulate Rome nearly perfectly.  We no longer have arenas where slaves are made to fight for their existence.  But we do have a class of people with great means, who are content to see their fellow citizens struggle to survive while they spend their means indulging their every whim.  The poor aspire to be the rich.  The rich work to insure this never happens.  The class warfare exploited by our politicians is all too real, but it is waged in secret in the halls of power.  What is missing in our society was the same thing missing in ancient Rome, a desire to see wealth used to benefit all in need.  Today, we blame the poor and downtrodden for their own condition.  We judge them that it is their lack of willingness to work, to take ‘dirty jobs’, or work 60 hours a week instead of 40 that sees them remain in their poverty.  There is little if any empathy.  There is instead an abundance of apathy and self-obsession and desire to be ‘entertained’.  We too look to the needs of our empire before we look to the needs of our citizens.  We too worship the false gods of money, of power, of defense, and of control.  But worst of all, we too worship the exaltation of self at the expense of our submission to something greater than ourselves.  So what might have been a message to our ancestor role model regarding the fate of this path, remains unheeded in our day.
If the sounding of the second trumpet was to be of a political variety, then perhaps the Vandals did to pagan Rome in a physical sense, what was also seen from a spiritual one.  The Vandals grew in power in Spain eventually crossing the straights of Gibraltar into Africa.  They swept through the southern Mediterranean coasts of Africa and built a sizeable navy.  Rome, not wishing to lose the jewel of its supply lines sent its own navy to combat the Vandals.  The Vandals used combustibles and sent them into the heart of the Roman fleet.  The net result was a great fire spreading out across the fleet.  Soldiers died either in flame, or by the sword of the Vandal navy who remain relatively unscathed.  Death by fire in the sea could be seen as a more historical and political view of the sounding of this trumpet.
If we were to look for a modern day fulfillment of this trumpet sounding, with an eye towards an interpretation of keeping the trumpets in the days of the last generations; we might find its fulfillment in the great naval battles of the Second World War.  From Pearl Harbor, to the war’s end, nearly 36,000 ships were lost (just about a third of those that fought).  The imagery of fire cast into the sea, could have been seen in the testing of nuclear bombs that would have killed sea life in the area.  Or it could be fulfilled in the normal conventional naval bombing runs that occurred throughout the war.  Many millions of lives were lost in WW2, and the imagery John witnessed could have conceivably met its interpretation if we put the lens of modern perspective on these events.
Once again, no matter how we choose to interpret the imagery and prophecy of the vision John describes, we must ask ourselves, how does it reveal to us Jesus Christ and His intent to see us redeemed?  In one sense, Christ may be revealing to us, that the worship of self leads to the level of debauchery the Roman empire experienced, and to a similar fate of self-determined destruction.  He may also be revealing to those who have means, that prolonged abuse of the poor and downtrodden gives rise to the Vandal empire who may resort to physical retribution to the apathy that has kept them under the oppression of the rich.  Wealth after all, did not defend the Romans from the Vandals, but instead made them a target of retribution and theft.  Wealth is therefore, by definition, temporary.  It can be shifted.  Whereas wealth, or what is truly important in the kingdom of heaven, cannot be shifted or taken away.  Love of others, absent selfish motive, can offer a permanence that transcends even this life.  That is the kind of wealth, that does not inspire retribution, and cannot be taken by the Vandal hordes. 
If we are to see Jesus revealed in the great naval battles of WW2, what are we to learn of Him there?  Do the countless stories of heroism and self-sacrifice emerge under the conditions of fire reigning into the sea?  Does what emerges become known as ‘the greatest generation’ not because of their military prowess, but because of their willingness to finally sacrifice self and isolation to keep freedom in the world?  But if so, where is the revelation of Christ in all of it.  I am not fully certain the redemptive love of God is found in the pride of our accomplishments, but rather in the humble submission that results from knowing we need a savior, not that we are one.
John continues his revelation in verse 10 … “And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; [verse 11] And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”  Once again a literal interpretation seems unlikely.  For a star called Wormwood to fall to the earth and hit a central place where all the freshwater emanates making a third of it bitter is again unlikely.  Obviously nothing is impossible for God, but as in the previous soundings, this too seems more likely fulfilled with the application of the symbolism, than in waiting for a future literal event to occur.  What begins to emerge however, as we read these passages is yet another pattern of numbers.  In this instance what we see are the results of these trumpet soundings having an effect on “one third” of the things they describe.  In the first trumpet it is one third of the trees.  In the second, it is one third of sea life and the  navy.  In this one it is one third of the fresh water.  In the next it is one third of the atmosphere.  Each of the first four trumpets (as distinct from the remaining three woes), seems to affect one third of the objects they reference.  I am not certain how this is to be understood outside of the context of the Roman empire being divided in three parts, but it is worth noting.
If we are to seek the interpretation of the sounding of this trumpet as a message to the church, it might be found in the revelation of the difference between professed Christianity and actual Christianity.  The worldwide ascendency of the Catholic church who professed Jesus Christ in its doctrines did not set the true example of the worship and ministry of our God.  Christ, the king of all things, came to our world in abject humility and lived in humble service to others His entire life.  He amassed no wealth.  He made no elaborate cathedrals.  He required no offerings of gold or silver to obtain His favor, or purchase His free gift of redemption.  He established no doctrine of celibacy among those who were to lead His church.  And His own law forbid the crafting of graven images to serve as representations of things to worship neither in this world, or in His heaven.  Indeed, the exertion of control attempted by the Catholic church alone, was completely counter to the ideas of submission He taught and lived Himself.  To compel the conscience has never been His method, and only exclusively used by that of Satan His enemy. 
Because we ‘claim’ to serve our God of love and service to others, does not mean that we do.  Satan is all too happy to see us purport to serve Christ, but instead serve only ourselves and our own needs.  If we do not truly attempt to submit ourselves to Christ in order to see our own desires changed, we will be doomed to continue to want the wrong things.  Our struggle with sin will persist, because we do not allow Christ to change our desires within us.  What happened to the degeneration of the doctrines and example of Christ within the Catholic church of the dark ages, can just as easily happen in the hearts of the modern believer.  When we rely upon self, and refuse to be re-created, we embark on the same path, with the same predictable results.  The third trumpet sounding may well have been intended to wake us both up, to the nature of the path we tread upon.
If we are to see the continued political interpretations of the trumpets, then the sounding of the third one may well have represented Attila the Hun (the star who descended) and his hordes that forced the Romans to endure the bitterness of humility at the point of a sword.  During his rise to prominence Attila forced the Romans to pay annual tributes of gold to keep his destructive force at bay.  At one point Attila changed the terms of their agreement raising it from 350 pounds of gold per year to 750 pound of gold per year.  In addition to gold, Attila demanded a Roman princess Honoria accompanied by an immense dowry of wealth.  Indeed the bitterness of humility of the once supreme Roman empire was brought about by Goths, Vandals, and now the Huns who in concert seemed to only aggregate the damage and destruction of once thought ‘eternal empire’ of Rome.
If we were to turn our point of view to a modern application of this third trumpet, we might find it in the events of Chernobyl.  Even the meaning of word Chernobyl can be seen as Wormwood, and its effect of poisoning the fresh water of the nearby rivers and connecting underground reservoirs was devastating to the entire region.  Many died from the contamination brought about by the world’s worst nuclear disaster.  The waters were indeed made bitter, and many died from drinking them.  This interpretation definitely addresses the poisoning of fresh water, and is again something found only in our own days, the days of the last generations before He returns. 
But if we are to focus on how Christ is revealed, and upon His messages of redemption, what do we see of Jesus in these various applications of this revelation?  Perhaps the key revelation of Jesus to the church, and to the pagan Roman empire, and to modern men of science that build Chernobyl is the same.  We are all in desperate need of humility.  It is our arrogance that poisons church doctrine.  It is our arrogance that leads us to believe the empires we build will stand forever against the sands of time.  It is our arrogance that makes us think our scientific knowledge exceeds the wisdom of God, and makes us believe we need no humility or submission, instead we need only the next achievement.  Pride is said to be an original sin.  Pride is what is held in common in all three interpretations of this passage, and the inevitable destruction that follows pride, is the predictable result.
John continues his revelation in verse 12 … “And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.”  The last trumpet sounding in the sequence of four, follows a similar theme to its counterparts.  Again we avoid a strictly literal interpretation as it is difficult to imagine how it might be achieved.  But if the message is to be intended for the church it might be found in the darkness of the Middle Ages.  When once we have abandoned humility and submission to Christ, we cut ourselves off from the source of all Light.  We come to embrace the darkness of trusting in self, and lose our ability to see the Light, for we turned away from its source, instead trying to find it in the mirror.  The trumpet blast is meant to call us to look upwards once again.  It is meant to sound to call to our ears, what our eyes refuse to see.  We are not the source of our own salvation, nor is there to be found in us the truth we need to find.  The only source of truth is Jesus Christ.  The only source of change and reform is Jesus Christ.  The only way to find the Father is through the work of Jesus Christ.  The trumpet sounds to wake us from our self-imposed slumber and return us to the light of Christ.
If we were to seek a political application of this trumpet we might find it in the fall of western Rome, the last vestige of the old Roman Empire.  The once great light of Roman law, Roman representative government, Roman roads, even Roman justice had long since decayed over time, and now was finally and fully snuffed out.  The last emperor resigned, the senate had no meaning left.  The barbarian hordes had done their work, and what light remained was now gone over the course of the third of Europe.  Rome was the iron legs of the prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel.  It had now been officially reduced to feet of clay mixed with iron.  The world would never again know a universal power until the Lord returns.  To find application of these trumpets in the Roman empire instead of the Incan, Aztec, Indian, or Chinese empires has more to do with where the majority of Christians and the church of Christ were located.  To this point in time the gospel had largely been spread only in Roman territories.  The Messiah had come, lived, and died under Roman jurisdiction.  A Roman governor pronounced sentence and Roman troops insured the application of that sentence.  While the Jewish religious leadership was behind the death of their own Messiah, it was Roman hands that were sullied in the work of it.  Pilot might have released and freed Jesus.  Had he taken this bold step, he would likely have joined in the fate of Jesus, for the sacrifice must be made.  However through that outcome, Pilot might have helped to exonerate the Roman empire, and keep them from any responsibility at all of what happened to Christ under his watch.  But instead, Roman weakness, and Roman corruption led to the death of innocent blood, a pattern that was destined not to change.
If we change our perspective and look at the fourth trumpet in light of modern events, one could ascribe the application of this revelation to global climate change.  The toxins in our air have resulted in a steady decline in light that reaches our earth.  Some studies of pollution in major cities show this reduction to be nearly 37% in Hong Kong for example.  Los Angeles, New York, Mexico City, etc., the list goes on.  Major population centers with higher emissions are going to naturally result in a dimming of both night and day light that reaches our world.  This is a condition that merely 120 years ago could not have been imagined, yet it exists today. 
Perhaps the blast of the fourth trumpet is meant to be the noise we need for our ears to awaken us to look out of our darkness.  We are not meant to trust in the greatness of our political power, or our judicial systems.  We are meant to trust only in Christ.  We are not meant to pollute our world, or our souls, with the darkness of trusting to self.  But instead we are to see the light of Jesus Christ as it is revealed in His work of changing who we are into who we were intended to be.  When our eyes fail us, our ears must take up the work.  When we are mired in darkness, we must follow the sound of the trumpet and be led out of darkness.  But as with the warning of the previous trumpet, in order to be led, we must be willing to be led.  It was our lack of humility that led us into darkness.  It can only be a return to humility that will see us led out of it.  While we look to the mirror to find the light, we will find none.  We must instead look upwards, and see the true source of all light in Jesus Christ.  This is the revelation to call us to see.  This is the mercy of our God, His hand outstretched to us in all ages, in all times, in all locations.  He calls us, with blast of the trumpets, to find our redemption in Jesus Christ.
And now, as if heaven fully understood the concept of an intermission long before the first movie epic was ever filmed, John continues writing in verse 13 … “And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!”  This message would appear to tell us, that while the first four trumpets were of great importance to us.  The remaining three are of even more consequence.  This break in the flow was not done by accident.  It was done by intent.  It is to cause us to focus even more on what is to follow.  A trumpet blast is meant to garner our attention.  No matter our method of interpretation of what is to come, its import should not be overlooked.
And so we remain vigilant as the last three trumpets are about to sound …

Friday, February 21, 2014

Seven Trumpets [part one] ...

We don’t know, what we don’t know.  One of the beauties of studying scriptures and specifically the prophecies of revelations of Jesus Christ revealed to John is that they bring us closer to Jesus.  The very act of reading these passages and looking towards how they are to be interpreted is intended to strengthen our faith and help us discern the messages Christ would wish us to know and understand.  But as in the days of the Pharisees that preceded us; we must be careful to avoid assuming we have an absolute lock on what the Bible says, to the exclusion of all other ideas or value to be gained from other parts of the body of Christ.  In order to be led by Christ, we must be willing to be led.  This begins with an acknowledgement of our need, an embrace of much needed humility, and a realization that our loving God is trying hard to see us redeemed and reconciled back to Himself.  The entire goal of scripture is to see us redeemed back to God the Father, and His Son.  Therefore when examining prophecy we should keep our focus in this context.  It is not fear that should govern our view of difficult passages, but a Spirit of enlightenment and discernment that has at its center the goal of the redemption of us all.  We should not consider our interpretations and understandings to be absolute, but instead be only a reference or point-of-view into the beauty of the love of God.  When considering truth from other parts of the body of Christ, we should remain open that there will always be more to discover and deeper meanings than our first thoughts might have revealed.
The vision of John that begins in the second verse of chapter 8 of his book of Revelations describes the events that occur during the sounding of seven trumpets one after another.  We have already seen a pattern emerging in this book of messages from God that appear to come in sequences of seven.  Revelations began with describing aspects of the God of creation who made the world in seven days, with messages to seven angels, that were carried to seven churches.  There was a book that could only be opened by the Lamb of God which was sealed by seven seals, each being opened one at a time.  In the following passages we will read of seven angels who blow seven trumpets in yet another sequence, followed by a series of seven judgments or plagues upon the wicked.  It would appear that the use of the sequence of seven in these Revelations is intended to show the perfection of God, and the wholeness of completeness of the ideas He wishes to convey to us.  It is also interesting to note that the seventh item in nearly all of these themes is the last event to occur either at the second coming of Christ, or immediately after it (as is the case in the seventh seal).  The idea of the rest and sanctification of the seventh-day, seems to be made parallel in each of the series of seven described in this book.  Perhaps one of the more subtle messages John was meant to convey, was that the God of creation who made holy a day of rest in the sequence of seven is still longing for us to see His power of creation and avoid allowing a dilution of our faith by the acceptance of other ideas of how we came to be, and what He would wish for our ultimate destiny.  We are creations of a loving God, not the random assembly of periodic table elements that somehow defied logic and became animated.
The meaning of the messages contained in the seven trumpets can be interpreted using a number of different methods.  There are those who take a historical perspective, and believe the interpretations of these trumpets correspond to seven periods of church history, or political history, and find them fulfilled from the time of His ascension until His second coming to take us home.  Given the parallels between the seven churches and seven seals this makes a great deal of sense.  There are still others who believe the sounding of seven trumpets happens just before the time of His returning, therefore are fulfilled within the last generation before He returns (perhaps within our lifetimes) or still to be seen in a future time span.  To interpret the sounding of these trumpets from a historical or even present point of view, one must begin with seeing the symbolism described as having fulfillment in times or events.  In either case, the interpretation is not literal but to some extent figurative.  As with the seven seals, there is little expectations of seeing four literal horsemen who have or will appear bearing the characteristics described in John’s visions.  However, seeing their characteristics fulfilled in various periods of the faith seems to make much more sense.
If the passages John describes here are in fact precisely literal, their interpretation could only be found in a future event, for nothing exactly as described here has been seen to date in our world.  What is more likely then, is the sounding of the trumpets and the events and time spans described are not literal but more symbolic.  Consequently their interpretation will be influenced by our own point of view.  Those who studied these prophecies a century ago might have an entirely different perspective than those who study them today given how far the world has advanced in just the last 120 years.  There is sometimes a danger of trying to apply particular historical events or current events to the interpretation of prophecy.  As history continues to unfurl, and time continues to proceed, what was once thought to be clearly relevant and singularly applicable becomes less so.  This happens more often when interpretation is influenced by fear as the motivator instead of redemptive love.  What may look like disaster is not sent to us to add only more misery to our already miserable lives, bound in a slavery to evil.  Often cataclysmic events are meant to awaken us to our need of a Savior, and remind us that we are truly NOT in control of anything, neither events nor our own salvation.  Our lives are a gift to us, given by a benevolent and loving God.  Our redemption is also His gift to us, and this gift transcends the events that occur in our world.  We should be looking beyond what is immediately in front of our eyes in this world of pain, brought about by the embrace of evil, and the slavery to serve self.  We should see that our redemption frees us from these short term priorities; our redemption matters infinitely more than anything that occurs in our world today.
So as we examine what John relays, let us take the position that these trumpets might find their fulfillment in perhaps more than one method of interpretation of the symbolism described.  Let us remain personally open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and seek for Christ to be revealed in what has or will transpire.  John opens this vision in Revelations chapter 8 and verse 2 saying … “And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.”  John again describes seeing seven angels, not men, nor elders, nor other life forms in this case, who stand before God.  Up to now, apparently they were not carrying trumpets, as John witnesses the giving of them in his vision.  This may imply there is an appointed time when the trumpets were or will be needed.  He continues in verse 3 … “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.”  This passage is reminiscent of the sanctuary services described in the Old Testament where incense was considered to be mingled with the prayers of the people of God to ascend up to His throne.  Because of the traditional role of the High Priest in special events of this nature, some have interpreted this particular ‘angel’ as being Jesus Christ (our High Priest).
John continues in verse 4 … “And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. [verse 5] And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.”  In the first section of this passage, the function of the incense seems to be similar to what happened in the original sanctuary services.  However, filling the censer with fire, and casting it to the earth is decidedly not.  Those who would take too close a parallel in the original sanctuary services and events in these prophecies have no counterpart for what occurs here.  The first result of casting this censer to earth is “voices”.  We do not know who these voices belong to, or what they were saying, only that they could be heard.  Thunderings and lightnings are events that occur in a storm.  But there have been so many storms in the history of our world, it is hard to find special significance in this one.  Lastly there was an earthquake.  Again, earthquakes are all too common an occurrence in our history as well as our present. 
A scarier thought might be, that there has been or will come an interruption in the normal process of our prayers.  Perhaps what we pray for could use some reform.  If our prayers reflect our desires, and our desires are attuned only to our own needs and self-serving, perhaps they warrant being cast back to us, instead of finding the answers we seek.  Perhaps we should be seeking reform of what we want that would then be reflected in what we pray for.  Perhaps then our prayers will mingle better with the incense and not be cast back to us here.  But if the events of the seven trumpets are to be seen in the history of the world until He returns, perhaps the change in how worship is conducted in heaven was due to the fulfillment of the original sacrificial system by the Lamb of God.  Perhaps the censer is cast down to earth because it was no longer needed.  The forms of symbolic worship of the original sanctuary service were no longer the method needed after the ascension of Christ.  No more was there a need for the literal blood of lambs, as now the blood of The Lamb was shed instead.  No more was needed the altar where blood was placed on the four horns, because the blood required for our redemption was already there.  Perhaps now our prayers could be seen in the light of Jesus Christ, and be reformed as we submit ourselves to Him.  The transition between the old sanctuary services and the new early Christian church would have happened at Calvary and His ascension, which from a timing perspective would have preceded the coming events of these trumpets sounding.  And at His death, there were decidedly thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake, as well as perhaps the voices of the first fruits of His resurrection.  Just a thought anyway.
John continues in verse 6 … “And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.”  So it would appear after the events described above, the cycle of incense being offered with our prayers, and the event of casting the censer back to earth; there is still a work of preparation the angels do to make themselves ready to sound their respective trumpets.  It would appear the work of sounding these trumpets was not a mere casual activity, but instead required preparation by the angels assigned to do this work.  Some have offered the idea that the seven angels described as being assigned to the seven churches were actually symbols of seven spiritual pioneers who brought messages of great inspiration to the churches of their respective time periods in history.  The first might have been Paul or Peter or John who were so vital to the earliest apostolic church, or the church of Ephesus in history.  Following this idea, later messengers may have included Wycliffe, or Luther, who had messages so needed in their day.  If this application has merit, then perhaps the messages intended by these trumpets may have also had ramifications in the faith, and may have been delivered by these same men, after they had time to prepare themselves for the sounding.  Trumpets after all are used to garner attention, or to precede an announcement of great importance.  They are sometimes a call to arms, sometimes a call to celebration, sometimes a call of warning.  They do however focus our attention on what is happening now or about to happen next.
It is interesting as well, that in the study of the series of seven that occur throughout the book of Revelation, there seems to be a division between the first four things and the last three.  It is not as if any of these items are completely disconnected (the first four from the last three), but the break between them does seem to be consistent.  In the messages to the seven churches for example, most interpretations are fairly universal about the time periods of the first four churches.  There is considerably more variation regarding the last three.  In the opening of the seven seals, the first four are the horsemen.  The remaining three seals have an entirely different use of symbolism and characteristics, even though they share the commonality of being seals.  Here as we examine the sounding of the trumpets, the first four seem to proceed a series of three “woes” that were distinct and apparently of even greater import than the first four.  It is unclear what the division of seven items seemingly being grouped into fours and threes may mean, but it is worthy to note it.
And the first four trumpets were about to sound …

Friday, February 7, 2014

Schindler's List and Your Own ...

In the middle of chapter 7 of his book of Revelations of Jesus Christ, John again describes another scene of the redeemed standing in front of the throne of God.  This should be a scene of worship and jubilation such as has yet to be experienced by mankind in all of history to date.  And so it begins this way, but the ending contains a twist.  We begin by setting the context, John has recently been describing a series of events that occur as each of the six seals are loosed on a book that God the Father offered only to one who was worthy to open it.  Jesus Christ the Lamb had taken this book and so far, has opened six of its seals.  Upon the sixth one, He returns to take the redeemed home.  However, John interrupts the sequence for a moment to pause, and show in the first part of this chapter, a special sealing of the people of God nearly right before He returns.  This sealing identifies 144,000 servants who will have a special role throughout the end of earth’s history and will remain especially dedicated in the kingdom of heaven.  However, John seems to want to be clear from the next section of his vision, that it is not ONLY the 144,000 that will be the redeemed who stand before the Lamb in the kingdom He prepares for us now.
So John continues in verse 9 … “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;”  Notice first, John describes seeing a great multitude which were beyond the numbering.  He could have said thousands times thousands times thousands for it is clear from later passages he understood the concept of numbers this high.  But he did not.  Instead he is clear that this throng or multitude is too great to even categorize in this limited way.  Next, John is clear to write, that these people are discernable to be from ALL nations AND kindreds AND people AND tongues.  Talk about diversity.  The salvation of God is NOT limited only to the Jewish nation descending from Abraham.  But instead it includes people like Melchizideck a priest of God alive in the time of Abraham, and the sheik of Midian who fathered Zipporah the wife of Moses and was aware of the God who sometimes seemed present on Mt Horeb, it includes the harlot of the wall of Jericho, and Ruth the Moabitess daughter-in-law of Naomi and grandmother of David.  All through Biblical history salvation was always intended and available to any who sought to find the redemption of the true God.  His hands were alive from the lives and visions of Pharaoh in the time of Joseph, to that of Nebuchadnezzar in the time of Daniel.  And since His ascension, the gospel was going to ALL nations and the harvest described here was great; people from EVERY ethnicity, group, and language.   The crowd standing before the throne had the commonality of white robes, and palms in their hands.  Despite our diverse origins, our fate of salvation has us ALL stand equally before the throne of the Father, and of His Son Jesus Christ, both discreetly identified in this passage.
John continues in verse 10 … “And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”  Notice again the shouts of praise are directed at BOTH our God upon His throne, AND unto the Lamb who is also present.  It is clear this is the shouts of praise from mankind dressed in the white robes the Lamb has provided to everyone there, His righteousness for our own.  For our chief reason for being there, is on the topic we praise Him for, our salvation.  This praise elicits a wider response as John continues in verse 11 … “And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, [verse 12] Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.”  The innumerable host of the redeemed are joined by the entire throng of angels who add their own praises to ours as we all worship our God and the Lamb.  Notice too, that even when the work of our redemption has been completed, still present at the throne room of heaven, are specifically listed the 24 elders, and the 4 beasts or other life forms John has already described.
And as is the practice of those in heaven, who love to hear of the goodness and salvation of our God, one of the elders poses a somewhat rhetorical question to John as he writes in verse 13 … “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?”  The elder gives John a chance to reflect on the enormity of the harvest that the love of God has been able to redeem.  John answers in verse 14 … “And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  Therein is the key to our salvation.  It is not a lack of trials and tribulations that sees us made free.  It is an embrace of them.  It is for us to go through these things, and grasp to Christ, to find His righteousness instead of our own.  We are made pure through His love, imparting purity within us when none existed there before.  We wash the filth of our attempts at self-salvation in the purity of His sacrifice of blood of our behalf.  It may be our tribulation that drives us to the foot of the cross.  It may be our hardships that remind us of our so great need.  It may be the things we want and are denied that teach us to want something more, and something different, than just what would satisfy our naturally selfish desires.  It is a reform of who we are, that is what we need, and what He offers.  It is our tribulation and clinging to Christ throughout it, that sees us take our place in the vision John describes.  Perhaps he looks directly at you in this scene.  He would not know you by name, because you were born so many years after his passing.  But he may recognize you once again as we are all reunited in the scene he foretells that will come to pass here.
The elder speaking to John continues to describe what happens next in verse 15 … “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.”  The redeemed are welcomed into the very throne room of God the Father, and have the high privilege of serving him for all eternity.  The concepts of day and night become irrelevant.  Perhaps the concept of time itself is to become irrelevant as we grow tired of measuring it in the light of the infinite.  The elder continues in verse 16 … “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.”  Here the elder destroys all the priorities of our life on earth in a single sentence.  We spend the majority of our lives here on earth struggling to survive and meet our most basic needs.  We need to eat, to drink, and to find shelter to cover us from the elements.  We rationalize how much of our spiritual lives we are willing to sacrifice in order that our basic needs are met first.  In one sentence the elder speaking to John, addresses these so paltry concerns.  We shall hunger no more, nor thirst, nor are we to worry about the heat of the sun, or the cold of the night.  These so high priorities were NEVER supposed to be something we worried about.  Not in heaven, nor in this world.  For His promise was to see our needs met in this life as well as the next.  We simply do not trust Him enough to fulfill His promises here and believe we must ‘help’ Him do so.  So we offer like Cain our best efforts, and reflecting the trust of Cain in our worry and reality that they are simply not enough nor could they ever be.  Yet the promise here says plainly our needs are to be met.
The elder continues in verse 17 … “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”  Here the elder cuts to the heart of the matter.  We shall hunger no more because we are to be fed, again not of work of our own making, but by the Lamb Himself.  As He promised us here on earth and we failed to heed Him on the matter, in heaven we are to “led” unto fountains of living waters.  We do not find them on our own, or through the work of our hands.  They are a gift He leads us to find.  We cannot find them when we attempt to lead ourselves there.  Nor can we find food and water while we are too busy to allow Him to do as He promised; instead we find ourselves always distracted by the work we think we must perform in order to eat and drink.  Our American ethic lives in contrast to the word of God.  As Americans we believe it is our hard work that sees us survive and succeed.  His Word tells us that our survival is His gift to us, that He offers freely.  Should we elect to let Him lead us, we can free ourselves from the worry and stress of our survival and enter into His peace and surety that what we need will be provided in the day in which we need it, according to the mercy of His so great love.
But there is in this last text in chapter 7, a phrase which is too often overlooked.  The elder promises John that God the Father will “wipe away all tears from their eyes”.  One could apply many meanings to this text.  In a scene of such jubilation, we could assume these are tears of joy, but then, why would God feel the need to wipe away tears of gratitude and thanksgiving, for those are sure to be repeated nearly every time we ponder the enormity of His gift to us.  No, I believe the tears here described are those of a profound sadness, we have yet to ever even consider.  Despite our surroundings, perhaps even because of them, I believe a sad recognition is to come upon us.  On this day, no matter how far we progressed in the re-creation of His love in us here on earth, in heaven we will finally know the fullness of His re-creation of who we are.  We will on this day, truly know what it means to love as He loves.  We will truly know the full absence of self-centered, self-focused, self-motivated lives.  Instead we will be in perfect harmony with Him.  We will be in like-mind with Him, a pure reflection of His image without the distortion of self to cloud it.  In this setting we will at last be made perfect, and know perfect love for others.
And then it will dawn upon us.  That great and final day of judgment Christianity has long feared.  Not the scenes of courtrooms where the damned attempt to plead their case before a punishing God judge ready to pronounce sentence of eternal torture.  This is not what John just wrote.  But instead, surrounded by the perfection of heaven, standing and welcomed even in to the throne room of God the Father Himself.  Our perfection completed by the work of Christ within us, and no tempter or accuser of the brethren present to torment us.  Only us.  We will stand in perfection of love for others and come to the realization of just how little we did while still on the this earth for the millions who did not share our fate of His mercy.  We will realize like Oscar Schindler at the end of Steven Spielberg’s movie that even if he had done just a little bit more, another life could have been saved, another life could have been there enjoying protection from the chaos and destruction of evil that surrounded them.  We, like Oscar, are doomed to repeat this scene, and repeat this knowledge.  It will not be a vengeful God who stands in judgment of our pathetic earthly lives.  It will be us.  It will be our purity that remembers with infinite precision the slights we did to others on this earth.  We will remember our sins with perfect clarity and know how little we did to help others see the heaven we now reside within.  We will remember even worse the actions we took that drove others away from the source of love.
Our sins have long caused ripples of pain that resulted in the sacrifice of Christ’s blood to redeem us.  And our hearts remained unmoved.  We never fully appreciated how much our burden was upon Him until now.  And now as we share a like-mind with Him, we begin to know what it means to see love rejected.  We begin to see even worse how our own lives and actions may have driven others away from God, away from forgiveness.  We may have prompted others to do evil with us, or to do evil because of us.  In so doing, we were agents of evil, that drove others away from His redemption and to a fate we ourselves deserve.  Perfection is no barrier to memory.  This is the true judgment all Christianity should fear.  Not one of a vengeful God inflicting eternal torture by flame which is a myth of His character and in reality is scheduled to have a final end anyway.  But one of infinite remorse, and regret, for what we today refuse to do; to love others.
Our lives spent in hateful words of condemnation that bear no fruit.  That is the saddest picture of Christianity there will ever be.  Instead of working with Him in like mind to love others back to the throne of grace, we spend today finding it convenient to ignore our brother’s need, or worse, add to it. When the perfection of love finally embraces us.  It will cause us to remember a time when we refused to be so molded.  And when in our stubborn refusal, we did evil in the sight of the Lord, and caused pain to those who are not present to forgive us.   We will never know the forgiveness of those who were lost because we could not find the energy to love them in spite of what they did to us.  We, whether victim or perpetrator of evil by those who are not present in heaven, will bear the heaviest of hearts at their absence.  It will not be a thing celebrated.  It will not be a thing of threats used to condemn others and make ourselves feel better about our own inadequacies.  It will instead be a thing of great personal pain that we simply DID NOT DO MORE.   Oscar Schindler had a list that in retrospect he believed was just not long enough.  So will you.  So will you see your own list of those who you just did not love enough, or love rightly.   This list will haunt you in the halls of perfection.
It is for this reason, that God the Father MUST wipe away the tears from our eyes.  If He did not, we would spend the eternity of heaven mourning those who refused to be a part of it with us and because of us.  If He did not, we would not ever be able to forgive ourselves as He has forgiven us.  But the lesson is not only intended to show us His final infinite mercy.  It is to remind us that there is YET TIME TO LOVE.   There is yet an opportunity to show love to your spouse, or your children, or your parents, or your friends, or more important still – to those who would call you their enemy.  The distinction of enemy will no longer exist in the perfection of heaven that is to come.  There, you will only call brother, who now you would use other names to describe.   There, you will finally recognize the extreme value and importance of he or she who now you perceive to be the bane of your existence.  There is NO enemy you carry in this world, who you will not one day mourn with the heaviest of hearts for your personal part in their lack of attendance in the jubilant scenes of worship.  And there is no forgiveness you will be able to offer yourself, for the loss of someone dear to you, who also you simply did not love enough while there was yet time to do it.  We will NEED for God to once again wipe away the tears from our eyes lest we never cease for weeping.  But despite knowing our past will one day require this mercy from the Lord, there is still YET TIME TO LOVE.
No act of love you perform in this life will ever be cause for regret in the next one.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ that should be most salient to us all is His life of purest love for others while He lived it in this world.  We should take the time to submit ourselves to Christ, so that while there is yet time in this world, we can be re-created in His image, and come to know what it means to love others as He loves them and us.  As we are molded into a purer reflection of His love, we will find ourselves with renewed energy to love others and think nothing of the ‘cost’.  Those acts of selfless love, will be the acts that move others closer to the throne of grace.  They will be in our memory a stark contrast from the acts of self-love that pulled others away from the presence of Christ.  Acts of love for others will not require a wiping away of our tears, and there is yet time to see them done, and to know joy in the doing of them.
The first verse of chapter eight resumes with the opening of the final seventh seal.  John records there … “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.”  The pause is over.  The sealing is completed.  The Lord has returned to claim us in the sixth seal.  The scene of praise John has just described in heaven is about to take place.  Perhaps upon the opening of the seventh seal, heaven is silent because we who have been redeemed are on our way back to it from the recently destroyed earth.  We are journeying home to the Father.  Our earthly lives completed.  The time to love here on earth at an end.  We carry now, only the list of those to who we loved, and those who we did not.  Our jubilation will yet be tempered by our tears.  But His mercy and love are greater still and will see those tears yet wiped from our eyes …
And further Revelations were still to come …