Friday, April 25, 2014

Three Beasts [part one] - The Woman and the Dragon ...

John, the beloved apostle of Christ, was given revelations of Jesus in a prophetic forum, steeped in symbolism, but with a singular purpose … to see us redeemed, remade, and reconciled to God.  Throughout the book of his revelations, we have seen our redemption in every message, every warning, and every interpretation.  To find our salvation, is to find ourselves relying upon Jesus Christ.  It is He alone who is able to save us from ourselves.  It is He alone who offers us the gift of perfection, the gift that would transform who we are, into the creations He intends us to be, creations who love others and not themselves.  These messages show the supremacy of Christ, and point out our NEED of a savior outside of ourselves, to save us from the chains of self-service that we have embraced.  We are unable to free ourselves, we NEED someone to free us.  We are the enemy that needs to be remade from scratch, reborn into a new way of thinking, a new way of loving that leads us into harmony with His laws and His goals.
It is our dependence, our submission, our humility in how we perceive ourselves that can lead us to look to Christ to find our salvation.  While we think of ourselves as independent, without need, self-sufficient, that we avoid Christ and look for salvation in the mirror.  John begins his next revelation with the imagery of a woman.  Before we consider the details of this next revelation, consider why God might have revealed to us the imagery of a woman.  In John’s day, women were NOT self-sufficient.  Women depended on men, whether fathers, or husbands, or sons to own property, to be fed, to be protected and provided for.  A woman in John’s day was NOT a warrior, a leader, a general, someone who would wage war and defeat enemies.  A woman’s only weapon, and perhaps her greatest, was found in her ability to love, to support, to care for, to nurture her family, and those who she loved.  It is this characteristic that made her indispensable.  It did not matter that she was not the “breadwinner”.  It did not matter that she would be ill equipped or trained to defend her estate from marauders or fierce some creatures.  She was the prize, the pearls of greatest value that must at all costs be protected, defended, and provided for.  Her love was the gift that was so important, it was valued more than a man’s own life, for without it, life was of little consequence.
In this context, John begins in chapter 12 of revelations in verse one saying … “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:”  A woman is revealed here, she has imagery of the sun, the moon, and 12 stars.  These images were revealed long ago, in a prophetic dream that Joseph had.  His parents were the sun and moon, the 12 stars were he and his brothers.  This dream is given only 3 generations into the lineage of Abraham, just after God has established his covenant promise with Jacob, now Israel, to have the special relationship with them of being their God, and they to be His people.  The children of Israel would now represent His people, His followers, and in our modern vernacular, His church.  This woman may well represent a dependent creature whose value is found in her choice to love.  She is a follower, who is dependent on a higher power to be preserved.  She does not lead, she follows.  Her love and choice to love, is her greatest possession and gift she offers freely.  The children of Israel had a special relationship with God because they chose it to be so.  They were His chosen because they chose to follow Him, our only God.  The first group of followers, His first church, was composed as it is today, by those who choose to follow Him.
John continues in verse 2 … “And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.”  The woman seen by John is pregnant and in labor.  The Messiah was to be born of this woman.  The long awaited Desire of Ages was to come through this church, this group of followers who trace their choice to follow through the generations all the way back to Israel, and to Abraham.  But there were others in this lineage of the chosen who did not share Abraham’s bloodline.  Ruth was a Moabitess and grandmother of David.  The prostitute in the wall of Jericho who was spared with her family for helping the spies of Joshua escape unharmed joined in this lineage as well.   Even Uriah the Hittite’s wife Bathsheba was forgiven of her part in adultery and the murder of her innocent husband and became the mother of Solomon.  Whether from Egypt (Joseph’s wife and lineage), or Moab through Ruth, or Canaan through the woman in the wall of Jericho, or a Hittite like Uriah, many others were part of the Woman revealed to John who now stood ready to give birth.  Not all were of the bloodline of Christ, but all of them made the same choice to follow the one True God.  And all looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, the Son of Man, to see the restoration of the world occur.  The church of God has always been open to any who would choose it.
John continues in verse 3 … “And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.”  The second set of imagery begins with a dragon.  A dragon has long been considered the top of the food chain in the animal kingdom.  Even man takes his risk when confronting the mythical dragon; unarmed, man is no contest for him.  A dragon is not a subservient creature.  He does not bow to anyone.  He is filled with pride, and one could consider it is rightfully so.  What other creature has skin of armor, teeth like spears, an ability to fly, and breathes consuming fire upon anything in its path?  A dragon kills and conquers by nature.  Its enemies only find rest while it sleeps.  And in this case, sleep is not on the agenda.  This dragon has seven heads with seven crowns, as well as ten horns.  The imagery could be applied to kingdoms united in one purpose.  Given the evil imagery, the purpose would likely not be a good one, but an evil one, to follow the nature of the dragon.
John continues in verse 4 … “And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.”  In case it was not clear already, the casting of one third of the stars of heaven down to earth had only one historical interpretation.  It identifies this creature as Lucifer, now Satan.  Satan’s war with God did not end with his first negative encounter with the power of God.  He now waited to kill the Messiah and insure that the mission of our redemption never sees the light of day.  He waits to kill the baby before it can become a man.  So king Herod gives orders to slay every child under the age of two in Bethlehem in order to see the Messiah die at birth.  Many die, but not the Christ.  At every turn in His earthly ministry the work of the dragon is to see Him fail at our redemption.  The nature of every temptation has a similar theme … “it does not have to be this hard, there is an easier way to see man redeemed”.  All He need do is use His power selfishly, or simply make a gesture of humility to Satan’s ownership of the world.  Or perhaps He might just not let Himself be killed, wounded might be enough.  No reason to go all the way to death by choice, instead find an easier alternative.  Satan’s temptations always look like the easier way.  Since Satan missed killing Him at birth, he must find another way to defeat the Christ.
John continues in verse 5 … “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.”  The man child who was to rule all nations with rod of iron was the Messiah, the Christ.  His destiny was to be our only true King.  Only recently was John shown the vision of the seventh trumpet sounding where the declaration of Christ taking up the power He has to rule all nations is time to begin.  The Messiah came.  He was not killed at birth.  He performed the mission of our redemption.  He lived a life of pure unselfish love to serve others and never Himself.  He showed us the model of the character of God, and the government of heaven.  And He lived this way unto death, even the torture and death of the cross.  Love knows no limitations.  Love will go all the way to the grave to see us redeemed.  Love will pay any price for us.  And Love did pay our price.  The price paid, the Messiah ascends to the Throne of God, to His Father’s side.  Our judgment never in question, our verdict was always guilty, but now our punishment has been taken upon Himself, and we will not have to endure it.  He already has.  The dragon is frustrated again, his attempts at killing Christ or thwarting His mission has failed.
John continues in verse 6 … “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.”  1260 days, 42 months, 3.5 years, a time – times – and a half, the same prophetic time period used already in this book is again enumerated specifically.  These time periods all add up to 1260 days using the Jewish Calendar, and using the day for a year principle equal 1260 years.  There is not a series of different time periods of this duration, so it is reasonable to assume the time period in question is the same one referenced in different ways throughout this book.  In this context, the woman is forced to flee into the wilderness.  A woman does not flee for no reason.  The dragon remains none too happy with her and it is for this reason she is forced to flee.  But she is NOT left unattended.  She is led to a place in the wilderness where she will be preserved by God throughout the length of the dark ages.  While the horseman of death rides, while the fourth seal is opened, while queen Jezebel attempts at restraining the word of God from the people, while the official Church is nearly dead, while the woes of the conflict between Islam and Catholicism bring blood to the world in the name of God – the woman or church or true followers of God are preserved.  Small groups like the Waldensians who preserve the word of God for the coming of the printing press remain hidden and preserved.  And the seeds of the reformation are sown.
John continues in verse 7 … “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, [verse 8] And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.”  There is no interruption present in the thinking of John, or in the sequence of events he is revealing to us.  The woman is forced into the wilderness.  And THEN, there was a war in heaven.  There is no indication here that this is flashback in time to before our world began.  There is nothing to indicate this is a momentary pause in the story.  In point of fact, Michael and his angels are said to be fighting “the dragon” and his angels.  Lucifer is in dragon form and likeness.  He has only recently sought to kill the man child as soon as it was born.  He failed.  The woman flees.  And NOW there is seen a war in heaven. 
Our great disappointment was in misperceiving the earth to be the sanctuary that would be cleansed at the end of this period of time.  But perhaps what was truly cleansed was never our world, but the actual true sanctuary in heaven.  It was cleansed from the presence and war of the dragon and his angels against Michael and his angels.  This scripture says that “neither was their place found any more in heaven” from the end of this war forward.  That may well represent a single final cleansing of the Sanctuary the scriptures foretold.  Further evidence this was not a flashback is related in the story of Job, when a meeting (presumably in heaven) occurs where God asks … “Have you considered my servant Job”?  If this war refers to the original war in heaven, why would Lucifer be permitted to be there to hear the question from God regarding the character and life of Job?  But if this war occurs at the end of the 1260 years, it might make more sense that this final assault on heaven itself results in there being no more a place for the dragon or his angels in heaven ever again.  Perhaps the simplicity of one final desperate attempt by the dragon to take over God’s city and temple that is thwarted by Michael and His angels, does in fact represent the cleansing of the Sanctuary foretold in scripture.
John continues in verse 9 … “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”  Again John reiterates, that Satan lost.  He was not just defeated, but he was cast out.  His entire army was cast out.  Their destination was the only home left to them where sin was still present in the universe, our world, our earth.  But the even greater message is told in verse 10 as John continues … “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.”  The accuser of our brethren is cast down.  This is the result of the war.  Up until now, he has accused us in front of God as this scripture relays both “day and night”.  Satan has relentlessly accused us before God up until now, until this war is fought and lost.  But now, he has been cast out.  Again, if this war were prior to our creation, there would have been no opportunity to accuse us both day and night before God.  But in this sequence of events, the dragon attempts an insurrection and is cast out of heaven.  No more will he be able to accuse us.
The best news in all of this book so far (and that bar is constantly being raised) is the initial part of this declaration … “Now is come salvation”.  Salvation and strength, and His kingdom are come.  The power of His Christ is come.  It is happening now.  Our judgment, our trial, our court case, our prosecutor have all been put away.  It is over, and what follows, is our Salvation.  We are to be saved through His strength.  We are to be members of His kingdom.  By His power it is so.  And there will be rest in heaven from the relentless accusations of Satan against the people of God.  He has been defeated and cast out.  All that remains now is our Salvation, by the power of His love.  Judgment is done.
John continues to describe how this has occurred in verse 11 … “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”  We overcame NOT of our own strength, or actions, or will, or even motives.  We overcame by the blood of the Lamb.  It is Jesus Christ who transforms us and gives us a testimony of real change, of real life, and of real love for others and not ourselves.  It is Jesus Christ and the blood of the Lamb that has seen us become new creations.  It is the transformation of Jesus Christ in our lives, that leads us to hate who we were and look forward only to what we are to become.  We want our old lives to die, and our new ones to begin.  In a spiritual sense, we wish to take up our cross, and follow Him.  We wish our carnal nature to be put to death, and our loving nature to be created and reborn in us.  This transformation is so complete in the life of one saved by Jesus Christ, that they are even willing to die physically to preserve it.  The testimony of those saved by Jesus Christ, whether Martyrs of the dark ages, or converts of the present age rings true and the same for all time – Jesus Saves.  Our new lives are the only ones worth living.  The brevity of time we spend in this sin sick world is of little consequence, its only value is to share in the mission of pointing others to the same source of saving, redeeming, transforming love, that of Jesus Christ alone.  The Blood of the Lamb truly does save us from ourselves and our slavery to serve self.  And the declaration John hears begins with the beautiful word … “Now”!!
John continues in verse 12 … “Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”  The devil being cast out of heaven now takes on an urgency he would not have felt 6000 years earlier.  He knows our judgment is at an end.  He knows our Salvation has arrived.  He sees the power of Christ alive in those who choose to follow Him, in the woman who represents His church.  Satan has been defeated in heaven and cast out.  His time is nearly done. And his anger has reached a pinnacle.  The “woe” we are warned about, is not to underestimate his hatred of God, and any who would be redeemed of God, and transformed by God.  The only recourse Satan has to inflict pain upon God is through the torture of those who God loves, namely us.  So in cruelest irony, Satan inspires man to kill man in the name of our loving God.  He inspires fundamentalism and extremism in the same easy prey, and teaches them to kill those infidels who do not share their conviction and beliefs.  Satan replaces love with hate in the heart of even those who call themselves Christians.  Under the guise of “purity”, Satan would purge the church of Christ with the sword.  Instead of healing those wounded by sin, Satan would inspire Christians to kill the wounded, cast them out, and show them only hate instead of unconditional love.  Love would draw them to transformation, but hate will keep them away from it.  So Satan unleashes his woes, not so much on the world of unbelievers, but on those who are in the process of choosing to be saved from themselves.
John continues in verse 13 … “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. [verse 14] And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.”  Satan the dragon continues to pursue the true followers of Christ.  He has not accepted defeat, but instead only escalated his attacks.  But the woman is preserved for a time (one year, or 360 days), times (two years or 720 days) and a half a time (or 6months equal to 180 days) … adding up to 1260 days.  Those who remained faithful to Christ, who comprised the woman Church who alone was led and preserved and protected by Christ, were at war with the dragon.  He would have won without the preservation of God.  This is point we modern Christians hate to acknowledge.  In a contest of man against Satan, man loses.  We do NOT win.  We lose, every single time.  It is for this truth, that we need not fight.  It is for this truth, that our Christ never loses.  When we let God fight the dragon, the dragon loses every single time.  We are saved from ourselves by Christ, not the man in the mirror.
John continues in verse 15 … “And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. [verse 16] And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.”  The best way to thwart the truth of Christ is to dilute it with other ideas.  So the dragon sends a flood of people, ideas, and doctrines to carry away the woman from the source of the pure truth of Jesus Christ.  We do not have one church now.  We have “n” number of denominations all claiming to be the One church of Jesus Christ.  If he could not constrain Christianity with the iron fist of Catholicism united with the power of the state, then he would dilute Christianity with an innumerable number of doctrines subtly yet distinctly different from one another, so as to lead one group of believers to despise another for their lack of clarity on a given point of scripture.  The evidence that we are truly His followers, in that we “love one another” fades against our desire to preserve our pure doctrines against the false teachings of our contemporaries.
The earth opens her mouth and swallows up the flood, in that the people could not completely overwhelm the truth.  Europe expanded its population and ideas to the Americas.  Those seeking religious freedom found a new place to travel to where it would be harder to be oppressed.  But the diluting effects of the flood remain in place for us today.  In every faith, in every denomination who claims to follow Christianity, the same struggle remains.  Do we look to find salvation by the works of our hands, or do we trust our invisible God to fulfill His promise to change us from the inside out should we let Him?  Do we look to find truth in the person of Jesus Christ, or like our Pharisee forefathers, do we trust our own interpretations of the Word to be the only ones of merit?  Do we show unconditional love to others, or do we abhor their presence in our midst for the knowledge of what sins they still cling to?  The flood has not abated.  The dragon has not resigned.  The dilution of the pure truth of Jesus Christ can find its solace in well-meaning studies of the word.  Those who use scripture as a weapon of condemnation will find themselves wholly on the side of the dragon.  Those who love others to the throne of grace, by the transforming power of Jesus Christ alive in their lives, share the mission of the Lamb in the redemption of the world.  Only when led by Christ, by love, by the goal of redemption, can scripture ever be rightly understood.  Christ is more important than our interpretations of the word.  Love is more important.  For God is Love.
John continues in verse 17 … “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”  Note that the dragon remains angry with the church who follow God.  His flood has not fully succeeded.  Despite his best efforts, there are those who remain loyal to the idea that Jesus Christ can truly save us from ourselves. There remain those who recognize the goal of our salvation is to be remade in harmony with the law of God, not to disregard it.  To keep the commandments of God in spirit and in truth, we must be transformed by the power of Jesus Christ to be made in harmony with the law.  This is something we simply cannot do for ourselves.  The vanity of our attempts at keeping the law absent our transformation is a tool the dragon uses to discourage and dishearten us as he points out our failures again and again.  Those who attempt to keep the law without Christ know they fail repeatedly.  It is our condition.  It is our nature.  It is what we must be reborn to see change.
But those who have been transformed by the power and love of Jesus Christ, those who have allowed Him to remake them, to kill their carnal nature and give rebirth to a spiritual one – these have a testimony that WILL NOT remain silent.  These keep the law because they cannot imagine life any other way.  These understand the law to be a basis of learning how to love others and to love God from which the love of others originates.  These do more than give lip service to a list of do’s and don’ts scribbled in the book of Exodus, instead they embrace the law of love for others in how they live, how they speak, and what they do.  They appear like magnets, drawing others to the foot of the cross, because the love within them is irresistible.  It is these remnant, these few, these transformed souls in EVERY church, in EVERY walk of life, in EVERY nation, kindred, tongue and people who the dragon seeks to find and destroy.  If allowed to live unmolested, just these remnant few would change the entire world in a very short order.
The power of a life transformed by Christ, carries such a heavy influence on every soul it touches.  People are drawn to this kind of love.  They cannot imagine it.  They cannot understand it.  They only know, they must have more of it.  They WANT to find its source.  They develop within themselves a reason and motive to change into people like they bear witness of.  They too want what we have.  They too want to live in a way that brings this kind of joy, this kind of love, this kind of unique method of living.  In this transformational power of Jesus Christ is rooted the true and ONLY draw of Christianity.  It is this simple truth the dragon sought to dilute with his flood.  If he can keep us away from the transformation Christ offers us, he can win.  But when we turn our hearts and minds over to Christ, when we are remade from the inside out, we become imbued with power of the Holy Spirit, and God will NOT be stopped.  It is not our power, but His that shines to the world.  It is not our love, but His that draws the hearts of mankind.  It is not our miracles, but His power working through our broken tools that brings life to those in need.  The outpouring of the latter rain becomes a phenomenon the world has yet to witness.  It is this Salvation, John hears declared in the halls of heaven.  And despite his war against it, the dragon is cast out.  It is NOW when His strength is to see us remade by the Blood of the Lamb, and our Salvation from ourselves seen completed.
But two more beasts were yet to be named and more revelations were to come …

Friday, April 11, 2014

Seven Trumpets [part five] ...

John brings us a vision of seven trumpets that are to sound.  They are divided into groups, the first four which follow a similar theme, followed by the last three which describe particular “woes” that are to come.  The sixth trumpet sounding contains a description of events like the others, but within its time frame, 2 other interludes appear.  Each of them add even more context to the events that occur before the end of all things.  A small scroll, or an interpretation of prophecy that will bring great joy at first through misinterpretation, followed by the reality of great disappointment.  Then two witnesses who wear sackcloth to show their mourning for those who are spiritually dead; Gentiles who refuse to enter the temple and prefer to stand in the courtyard trampling the blessings they have been given underfoot for the entire duration of the dark ages.  Both of these interludes occur to add context to events surrounding the sounding of the sixth trumpet.  The witness of scripture that points to Jesus Christ as our salvation; and the need we have to be led by Christ in our study, as when we interpret on our own, we sometimes get it wrong and cause ourselves great disappointment.  All of these events designed to focus our attention away from ourselves and on to our Savior Jesus Christ.  All of these events designed to bring us to redemption, and offer us the freedom of perfection, a perfect love of others that only He can create within us. 
But man is often stubborn, hard-headed, poor, blind, and naked.  We perceive ourselves to be rich and in need of nothing, when the truth of our condition should cause us to don sackcloth and look for the freedom from self we so desperately need.  A freedom He longs to give us.  A work He longs to perform within us, that we are unable to do for ourselves.  The revelations of Jesus Christ penned by John so many years ago remain with purpose to see us repent, see us redeemed, and see us transformed by the power of the Love of Jesus Christ.  All of the warnings offered in the sounding of the six trumpets have led up to this.  All of the messages to the churches, and seals being opened, point us away from looking to self for salvation, and towards Jesus Christ the sole method of it.  The prophecies of John contradict the popular notion, that there are “many” paths to God.  There is but one, Jesus Christ.  Not one denomination, not one set of doctrines or beliefs, but One Savior, One Christ, One Son of God.  It is He who is truth, not our own understandings.  It is He who is life, not our ideas and this meager mortal existence.  It is He who is the Way, not Buddha, or Krishna, or the will and determination of the idol standing in front of the mirror.  This is the simple truth revealed to John, repeated in symbolism and prophetic foretelling again and again.  The same goal, to see us redeemed and reconciled back to God.  And now events unfold to see the reconciliation reach its fulfillment.
John writes in his book of revelations in chapter 11 starting in verse 15 saying … “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”  The sounding of the seventh trumpet begins with a declaration announced in heaven first.  It is time.  The kingdoms of this world, the power structures, the governments, the clans, the casts, the clicks, are to be no more.  The power they thought they had, the illusion of control they believed they were able to exert, is to be no more.  Power is a myth perpetuated by those who yield it.  Control is an illusion.  But Jesus Christ is real, and the time has come to reign over all those who thought themselves rulers, and all those who gladly await their true King. 
John continues in verse 16 … “And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, [verse 17] Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.”  The announcement begins in heaven.  Those 24 elders, the first fruits of the salvation of our God, those men and women who John has recognized as being before the throne of God, are the first to respond to this news.  How long we have waited to see an end to evil.  How great to see the redemption of those who have made the choice to submit.  And how terrible to see the choice to reject salvation made a final one.  But at some point there must come an end to the evil of self service.  The story of the flood should have taught us that.  It did teach Satan that lesson.  He learned while bound to the earth during the flood that there is a limit to the time of evil, one day there would come an end.  That day has arrived.  It is the humans who serve as elders, and perform a mission assigned by God, those who are nearest His throne, who hear this news, and react first.  They are NOT dismayed.  They are instead elated.
Notice that the response to such overwhelming love is absolute humility.  We who have been redeemed at so high a price, so great a sacrifice that our God would give up His only Son for us, our Savior would willingly lay down His own life in torture for us; our response is but to prostrate ourselves upon the ground.  We put our faces in the dirt, or in this case in the floor likely made of glass or translucent gold, and offer our extreme worship to God.  We have no words of thanks that will ever be enough.  We have no song of joy that will ever quite express it enough.  We have not the intellect, or emotional maturity to demonstrate what this means to us.  Instead we put ourselves down to the lowest estate we can find, and in pure recognition of how Great He is, and how little we are, we offer ALL we have to Him.  It is this love, this choice of ours to love, that He was willing to pay so high a price to attain.  He longs only to love us, and to share with us, the joy of loving others instead of the pain that comes from loving ourselves.  In heaven as the announcement is given, the 24 elders give thanks.  They call out the characteristics that define the infinite nature of our God of Life, the author of life. 
He was.  He has existed before linear time, before space, before any notions of beginning.  We have a beginning, He does not.   He is.  He is ever present.  He is reality.  He is existence itself.  The entire universe spins in rotation from the greatest galaxies to the smallest atoms within a single cell, by the power of His will, by the laws of science He remains author of.  Science does not define our God, God defines what science is.  He will be.  Beyond the farthest measures of distance, time, or measures our mind can comprehend, God will be there as well.  He is not bound by limitations, either those we can imagine or perceive to be real for us.  There is no limit to what God can do, no boundary He is incapable of crossing save our rejection of His love.  Trillions of years from now, God will be.  Trillions of years ago, God was there.  The human mind is so conditioned to perceive reality in measured linear time, we can scarcely understand what infinite truly is, what it truly means, and how a God of infinity could take such a personal interest in us.  But the 24 elders recognize truth, and in their praise, acknowledge what they have learned.  God is. 
At last, He has taken up the power He always had.  At last, the toleration of evil, to give time to those who might still choose to be redeemed has been long enough.  At last, the pain is destined to end.  At last, a final act of mercy is no longer delayed.  Those who have accepted His gift are now destined to receive it in full and final form.  Those who have chosen to remain in the torture of self-service are to be freed of it for a little while during a brief sleep of death.  The greatest event in the history of mankind, the time of our history of pain, is at an end.  From now on, our true King, will be our only King.  Our Lord will be our master, and no other.  Not those who have sought to hold power over us, nor the source of evil in the mirror who has bound us to himself.  We are to be free to love others forever.  We are to be in His Kingdom forever.  We are to be finally and fully liberated from ourselves forevermore.  That day has arrived.  And 24 elders nearest the throne of Grace, fall upon their faces to give glory to God, that this day has finally arrived.
John continues the testimony of the 24 elders in verse 18 … “And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.”  In taking up His rightful power, the enemy of Love can never be pleased.  The reaction of those in this world is not one of joy or worship but one of anger.  For those who wish evil to continue forever cannot be pleased to finally see it come to an end.  They hate the notion that they will no longer be allowed to wreak havoc upon the earth, to serve self at the expense of others.  Those who have died before this event, those who have slept in the earth unaware of the passage of time since they breathed their last, their time has come as well.  For the servants of God, the prophets called out by designation, the saints or those who have submitted and found themselves transformed and re-created, and those who fear and love the name of God no matter their station in life – these are to receive the reward of salvation.  The reward is not gold, not perfect health, not a city of beauty too great to be fully understood.  The reward is not even eternal life, for Satan has only known life to this point.  The reward is our full and final freedom from the slavery of self-service.  It is this freedom to love others that makes everything else worth having.  It is the slavery of Satan to serve only himself that makes His life one of endless self-chosen-torture from which death will be his only relief.
At its core we must understand what we are being saved from.  It is not the final fires that will consume evil and bring eternal non-existence from which we are being saved.  It is a life both then and now, that is bound in slavery to self from which we are being saved.  We are being offered the perfect freedom of loving others that makes existence itself a thing of joy instead of pain.   This is the gift He offers.  This is the event the 24 elders realize is now something the world is about to share in and experience.  Those who have chosen to find their salvation in Jesus Christ are about to experience this first hand and forever.  Those who have not made this choice, remain bound to the slavery of self.  In that slavery they have destroyed everything of value in their wake.  They have trampled underfoot the gifts of God.  They have destroyed this planet.  They value greed more than even the environment that keeps them alive.  They poison the water, the air, the soil, and the food.  This poison of self-service infects the entire world like a virus, or flesh eating bacteria that will not be stopped.  The wages of sin is death.  The natural results of serving self is to kill everything that stands in our way, until we alone remain.  The spiral of death is not constrained to only us.  It is a by-product of self-service that FIRST attempts to kill everything else, until we alone remain to be killed.  It is this cycle that has met its end.  It is this phenomenon, the mystery of iniquity that will exist no longer.  Our time to kill is over.  Our time to live has begun.
John concludes in verse 19 … “And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.”  Again the scene is in heaven.  Again what is revealed of Jesus Christ?  In answer, the ark of His testament, the container in which His law was preserved, the symbol of His covenant promise with us.  Our redemption does not negate His law; it puts us in harmony with His law.  Our nature dies.  We become creations remade in His image.  We learn to love others like He loves others; and we find we could not even consider lying to them.  Those we love deserve the truth of our love.  We do not want what they have, but instead want to offer them gifts from our hearts that might in some way bring them joy.  We would not desire to take from them, but highly prefer the privilege of giving to them.  Our intimacy is something we prize with only one special person; akin to how we value our intimacy with our Creator.  We wish to honor our parents and return the love to them that saw our existence begin.  And our God?  To Him we cannot imagine serving anyone or anything else.  We need no works of art, or physical representations of Him to admire, we have the real thing.  He is in our hearts, minds, and souls.  He is in front of us.  He is found in giving selfless love to another.  Time with Him is at a premium.  We wish only that there were six days of Sabbaths and only one where we had to work, instead of the other way around.  We do not use His name casually, but with reverence, and respect, and honor.  We become in harmony with His precepts ONLY when we are remade by submission to Jesus Christ.  We understand His law, only when we see it through the prism of loving others first.
Our redemption transforms how we think, what we want, and therefore what we do.  It happens in this sequence, not as a result of works made of our own hands.  Our vain attempts to keep His law before we are transformed by submission are of no effect.  Our denial of the relevance and eternal nature of His law, are our own attempts at dealing with the guilt of our continual imperfection and inability to keep it.  His law is not our problem.  We are.  We are our own enemy.  Self is our problem.  It enslaves us.  It is the ultimate addiction.  It is the bottomless pit from which there is no escape.  But Jesus Christ offers us a life where those chains are forever broken.  Jesus Christ offers to alter how we think, and what we desire, and restore us to a place of harmony with love for others as reflected in that law.  It is important that at the end of all things, what is revealed to John is the eternal nature of the Law of God.  It has NOT been done away with.  It was NOT nailed to a cross.  Our sin was nailed there.  Our pain was nailed there.  What remains is our gift of perfect freedom to be in harmony with His law now and forever.  It is no accident, that the final element witnessed in the sounding of the seven trumpets is the revelation that the eternal love of God as outlined in His law … remains.
What follows then are only the same elements that occur at His second coming.  Lightning, thunder, voices, an earthquake to move islands from their places and cast mountains into the sea, and finally torrential hail that falls as the last plague described later in this book.  The declaration that the time for evil is at an end is made in heaven.  The time for His eternal Kingdom has arrived.  The gratitude and worship of the elders overwhelms them, and they cast themselves on to the ground in response.  The world reacts in anger as evil will always do when it is cut short of its goal.  The reward of perfect freedom to love others is seen fulfilled in all those who have chosen to accept the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The law is revealed one final time.  But as we see it now, we find it so obvious, so natural, so inherently part of who we are.  No longer does it stand in judgment of us, it is now only a building block, a beginning, a foundation of what it means to love God and love others upon which we will build and grow and expand.  The destruction that occurs at His second coming is of no consequence to us.  The end of this polluted, sin stained world is of no consequence to us.  Real wealth is standing beside us.  Real value is found in the love of those who join us in an eternal family that will know no end.  Our priorities have finally been adjusted.  The things of this world are now only trash to us, a by-gone memory that retains no value.  The people are all that matters.  The people were always the treasure.  The people.
Will you mark that day with regret for not finding His freedom sooner?  Will you stand saved before Christ, but sad that you have spent an entire life valuing the “stuff” instead of the people who actually mattered?  These revelations are here to alter that course.  These revelations are given so that our priorities can be adjusted ahead of this day, our transformations experienced now, before that final day.  These revelations of trumpets are given to sound the warning call to bring us to what matters, right now.  We still have the time to do something of meaning with it, when what we do and how we love might still yield a result.  Our salvation is not in question.  What we do with it is.  Our eternal life is coming, but with “who” will we spend it?  Can we afford to be casual with how we love others?  Can we afford to live as though time is eternal and we have no rush, no immediacy, no urgency when it comes to the only things that truly matter?  When that day comes, you will inevitably begin to look … for someone you loved.  Is there not anything you would do today, to demonstrate love to that person, that might result in finding them there, instead of realizing they will not be joining you?  Revelations are offered to alter that course.  Revelations of Jesus Christ are made to affirm a different future for you, and for what truly will matter to you in the light of eternity.
And more Revelations were still to be made …

Friday, April 4, 2014

Two Witnesses ...

John picks up right where he left off continuing the vision description from chapter ten of his book of revelations of Jesus Christ in chapter eleven.  We remain in the interlude, between the sounding of the sixth trumpet and that of the seventh.  We remain in the midst of the second woe.  In what has just transpired we learned that a small opened book would be eaten or studied with great intent.  The results would be immediately as joyful to us as is possible, but would soon be followed by a great disappointment.  Despite being warned of this outcome, history demonstrates we follow its path with its predictable results.  But these are, and continue to be, revelations … of Jesus Christ.  It must be Christ who is revealed to us in the interpretations of these scenes and symbolisms.  It must be His redemptive mission that is the highest priority for us to understand in what we read, what we study, and what we discern from the passages penned by John.  To that end, he continues to relay what he sees.
John continues with verse 1 … “And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. [verse 2] But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.”  First, John is given a measuring rod, a yardstick for practical purposes, and told to measure the temple of God.  For what purpose we might ask.  Is John supposed to measure the dimensions of the building in heaven itself?  But then, he is also asked to measure the altar, and them that worship therein.  The altar would be comparatively smaller than the building it resides within.  The dimensions of the people would hardly seem relevant.  However, a census of the worshippers might provide value.  Or perhaps what is measured or to be evaluated by John are the results of the work of the Holy Spirit in this inner sanctum.  The worshippers here are those closest to God, closest to Christ.  Perhaps they have discovered through the study of the word, and of the prophecies, the redemption Christ is offering to us all.  Perhaps it is these who the mystery of God is finding fulfillment within as they are being transformed into the creations He intended us to be.  There is a distinction between those who are here, and those who are without.
The second verse makes this distinction apparent.  John is told “not” to measure it.  While those who are in the courtyard of the Temple are in fact nearby, they have not attained the same level of results as those who have entered the Temple itself.  They have a measure of understanding, but not one that has been transformational to them.  They are not referred to as saints, or believers, or true followers, but instead as Gentiles – those not born (or born again) into a true understanding of salvation.  Instead, they trample underfoot the Holy City to which they have been invited for a period of 42 months.  John is told not to measure or evaluate them, because they have refused to be transformed and there is nothing of value to evaluate.  They are near the temple, in fact just outside of it, but their proximity has done nothing to inspire them to accept real transformation.  Instead they will take the blessings they have been given, the knowledge they have been given, and the places they have been blessed to be in, and trample them underfoot.  They will ignore, disregard, and belittle the things of great value.  They will deface, mar, and defame, what should have been precious to them.  They will do this and act this way for 42 months, or 3.5 years, or 1260 days.
But redemption has always been His goal.  Our Lord does not wish us to lose that which we have been given.  He will NOT leave us to the state we have chosen, nor to the fate we deserve.  So John introduces hope, a remedy for the condition he has just seen as he continues in verse 3 … “And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. [verse 4] These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.”  First the time period for which power will be given to these 2 witnesses will be exactly as long as the Gentiles are trampling blessings underfoot.  During this time, the witnesses are to have a mission, to try to alter the behavior of those in the courtyard, near to the temple, but refusing to enter into it.  The two witnesses bear testimony of our God, and prophecy on His behalf, but they do it in sackcloth for the entire duration of their mission.  While hope emerges in the messages that point us back to our God, and our redemption.  It comes clothed in sadness.  Sackcloth was the clothing worn to mourn the dead.  When grief was at its pinnacle, when man could feel no lower, when he felt most abandoned and alone, we would don the garb of sackcloth as raiment and put ashes on his own head.  The witnesses have a great mission, but they are not conducting it in open celebration, but rather in mourning.  For our spiritual condition has become like death.
The fourth horseman of the fourth seal when it was opened was pale and death rode upon him.  The condition of the church was nearly dead during this time.  Access to the word of God was restricted as Jezebel of Old Testament times had done to Israel before in her day.  The two witnesses have their mission, they have been given power so as not to be completely extinguished.  But they wear the clothing of those in mourning for the dead.  They bear the great hallmarks of profound sadness, as the Gentiles continue to trample their blessings underfoot. 
The two olive trees, the two candlesticks that stand before the God of the earth, who could they be? The Psalmist tells us that … Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and light unto my path.”  The word of God is described with two characteristics, both as lamp and as light.  What has changed since the first coming of the Messiah has been an evolution or revolution in the word of God to us.  Instead of only a collection of His word through the mouths of His prophets of the Old Testament, now comes a collection of His words through the mouths of His new prophets in the form of the New Testament.  The angel has only recently told John in chapter ten that he must prophecy again.  John is identified personally as a prophet of God, and his revelations are to be studied once again.  While the word of God was greatly distressed throughout the dark ages, with relentless attacks from the Catholic church to keep it secret, constrained, and not available to the masses, it yet somehow survived.  The efforts of the Waldensians who copied precious texts with meticulous care and distributed them as far as they were able, kept the word of God alive, both Old and New testaments in the darkest period of church history there ever was.
While the sixth trumpet is sounding to wake us from spiritual slumber, to point out to us our need of a savior, two witnesses for God attempt to prophecy and call us to redemption.  It happens while the poison doctrines of the scorpion locust army infect the world, causing men to prefer death over life.  They share a commonality between Atheism, Islam, and apostate Christianity; that man can save himself without need of a savior, by the power of his own will and decisions.  While many die in wars fought in the name of our God, while the witnesses clothed in sackcloth continue their work.  In the darkest part of our spiritual history, when the church instead of being a beacon of light and love to the world, has elected to become a corrupt self-seeking center of power and greed; the two witnesses will remain ever on the scene attempting to bring the Gentiles out of the courtyard and in to the temple.  As the word of God was relayed through the mouth of His prophets, so the 2 witnesses stand alone against the decay that has infected the purported followers of Christ.  They call us back to dependence alone upon our Savior.  We cannot buy our redemption.  We cannot will our perfection.  We must put our faith in Christ to see us redeemed and remade.
John continues to describe what the two witnesses are capable of as he continues in verse 5 … “And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. [verse 6] These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.”  Despite the best efforts of Satan to see the voice of the word of God silenced, it will not be so.  The fire of the Holy Spirit convicts the souls of those who seek redemption at the feet of Jesus Christ.  The fire of destruction awaits those who will not find an escape from the slavery to self that Christ alone can free us from, if and when we let Him.  We must be devoured, whether our carnal nature in order to be remade, or our physical entities to find the bliss of non-existence as our relief from slavery to self.  One way or the other, we will be devoured; how much better to be consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit and remade into the creations we were intended to be.
If we “hurt” the word of God, whether by polluting it with our own selfish motives, or by attempting to use it to gain control over others; we will find ourselves victims of our designs.  We will die, having never been transformed, having never tasted the freedom He offers.  We cannot hurt the word of God, turn away from our Savior, and still find redemption.  Jesus Christ, of whom these revelations testify, is our only hope of salvation, our only method of redemption.  The witnesses attest to this.  If we attempt to use them but deny the divinity of who they point to, we cut ourselves off from the source of salvation, and leave ourselves no way to be redeemed.  Such was the choice of Mohammed, who elected to see Christ as only another prophet, not the way in which to be saved.  Such is the choice of modern Christians who abandon dependence on God, and believe in the American idealism that tells them they can will and work their way to perfection.  Such is the belief of Seventh-Day Adventists who prize the strict adherence to a list of rules of what to do and not do on every Saturday, but deny Christ access to their heart to teach them what it truly means to love others.  Such is the doctrine of Atheism that teaches us there is no greater god than ourselves and our own potential.  When we “hurt” the word of God, we “must” in like manner find ourselves victims of our own designs.
The word has power to shut heaven that it rain not in the days of their prophecy.  Here is a direct reference to the days of Elijah when it did not rain for 3.5 years.  During this time King Ahab and more specifically Queen Jezebel hunted for the life of God’s prophet.  She sought to keep the word of God from reaching the people of God, and the consequence was the withholding of rain.  In our case, this is the withholding of spiritual rain, or spiritual blessing, of the spiritual water of life that never runs dry.  When we turn from our savior Jesus Christ, and look to ourselves we lose the water of life we so desperately need.  When we harden our hearts as the Pharoah did, believing himself to be the only god that matters, we find the waters turned to blood.  We kill each other in the name of God, and blood runs like water in the streets.  The crusades and wars fought during the times of the Ottoman empire, the period of the sixth trumpet were based in this kind of false religious fervor.  To convert the infidel at the point of the sword, or perform an inquisition to purge the Islamist of his apostasy does nothing but turn the waters of life into blood.  The slain become too many to be counted.  And the world is no better off.  And through it all remain the two witnesses clothed in sackcloth mourning the dead who did not need to die.
John continues to describe what he sees in verse 7 … “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. [verse 8] And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.”  When the word of God is rejected, when it is no longer heard, when it is no longer something we embrace – its testimony is finished.  The doctrines of the Father God and general adherence to the traditions of Abraham, but devoid of the Savior, denial of the divinity of His Son, lead to a false system of worship.  Islam during the course of the 1260 days or years if applied the prophetic principle, takes control over Jerusalem more than once.  Even today the city is divided between the Jewish faith, Islam, and Christianity.  It is the city “were also our Lord was crucified”.  And now is also known as Sodom, and Egypt.  It is here where the “dead bodies” of the witnesses, both Old and New testaments of Jesus Christ are disregarded.  The Jewish faith denies the Messiah has come.  The Islamic faith denies that Christ was anything more than prophet.  The Christian faith of the day, puts its faith in the infallibility of the Pope, and introduces mechanisms such as paying for salvation, and the reverence of works of art that become nothing more than idols to replace that which is unseen.  ALL reject the pure testimony of the two witnesses who call us to Christ to alone find our redemption and singular path to God.
John continues in verse 9 … “And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. [verse 10] And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.”  Whereas the two witness performed their work clothed in sackcloth, because they mourned the unneeded death they contended against; the behavior of those who reject this message of salvation is anything but sad.  They do not bother to bury the dead, but intend to make “sport” of them.  They intend to desecrate the bodies of these witnesses, to continue to poke fun at them; to continue to scoff.  The people who have rejected the salvation they were offered through Jesus Christ make merry, sending gifts to each other, throwing parties, and conducting commerce.  Those who reject salvation, see the sacrifice of self as torment.  Those who are slave to serving self, see only the next thing they might acquire that could possibly please self.  To deny self in any way is seen as torture and torment.  This is the nature of addiction.  This is the nature of slavery from which there is no escape but Christ or death.  Having rejected Christ, what is left to them now, is only to celebrate that no-one continues to ask them to give up their pain, and find life.  They would rather wallow in their pain, and call it fun.
John continues in verse 11 … “And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.”  The time of the partying of those who rejected the message of salvation of Jesus is limited to only 3.5 days, or 3.5 years if we apply the prophetic principle.  It is comparatively shorter than the 1260 days, 42 months, or 3.5 years in which the two witnesses clothed in sackcloth gave their original message and testimony and prophecies of Jesus Christ.  What was once denied, the power of Christ, is now reaffirmed.  The Holy Spirit breathes new life into the two witnesses and they stand upon their feet.  The invention of the printing press has the unwitting effect of taking the heretofore restricted word of God, and making it commonplace throughout the world.  What was rejected in Jerusalem, in Sodom, and in Egypt now springs to life once again.  And the enemy of souls trembles at what he fears the most.
John continues in verse 12 … “And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. [verse 13] And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven. [verse 14] The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly.”  The two witnesses now point the way of ascension up to heaven.  The method of our departure is foretold, we are to ascend in a cloud with our enemies watching in full view.  The testimony of the word of God results in our submission to Jesus Christ.  While our enemies watch, we are transformed by His love and His power into the creations He intended us to be.  We are made perfect while the world watches and it causes them great fear.  There is a great earthquake, a tenth of the city falls, 7000 men are slain, those who remain are afraid and give glory to the God of heaven.  This sequence of events we do not fully understand.  Perhaps it is still on our horizon; for it does occur immediately before the seventh trumpet sounds.
As the second woe finally ends, what has been revealed to us about Jesus Christ?  Do we see that modern man is not exempt from misunderstanding scriptural interpretation as found in the story of the little scroll?  Do we see that all scripture points to Jesus Christ as our method of salvation, and without Jesus there can be no way of finding God as evidenced in the story of the two witnesses?  Do we find the mystery of God fulfilled in us as given through the mouth of the prophets to be our transformation once and for all into the creations He intended us to be?  Throughout all the stories and possible interpretations of the trumpets, the sixth falling during these last days, is the ever-present call of Jesus Christ to find His peace, His love, and our transformation through His power alone.  We are NOT called to the folly of war in His name.  We are NOT called to find our salvation in our mirrors.  We are called to awaken from our spiritual slumber and embrace Him alone as our source of redemption and ultimate perfection.  It is to happen in our day.  It is to happen BEFORE he returns.  We are in the period of the sixth trumpet, not of the seventh, that is still to come.  Our transformation is not something that happens only as we emerge from our physical graves to go home with Christ.  It is to happen right now, as we emerge from our spiritual graves of self-reliance, having finally accepted that Jesus Christ alone is our only salvation.  This transformation will be witnessed by His enemies, and it will cause even them to give glory to God.
And now we are ready to resume the study and conclusion of the trumpet series …