Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Signs in Heaven

Reflections on Revelation 6:12-17

The opening of the sixth seal corresponds to the signs of the coming of the Son of Man in Matthew 24:29 and following verses. When the sixth seal is opened, the sun turns black as sackcloth, the moon turns red as blood, and the skies are rolled back like a scroll to reveal the coming of the Son of Man. Kings, generals, the rich and powerful, slaves and free men are all alarmed. They call for the mountains and rocks to cover them and hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. The judgment of the nations will soon be completed; the blood of the saints will soon be avenged.


Reflections on Revelation 6:9-11

The opening of the fifth seal corresponds to the time of tribulation mentioned in Matthew 24:9 and the following verses. Details of that tribulation will come later. For now, the judgment of the nations has met resistance. The souls of those who have been slain for the word of God and their testimony about Jesus are under the altar.

The altar on which animals were sacrificed stood outside in front of the temple in Jerusalem. John, however, is not looking at the earthly temple made with hands, but on the spiritual temple built by God. On this altar in the spiritual, heavenly temple, the saints offer up their own lives as thank offerings to their God. Their lives are devoted wholly to God, even unto death. Still, in their sufferings and deaths, these cry out to God and ask, "How long before you judge and avenge our blood on the the inhabitants of the earth?" They are given white robes, signifying their reservations at the banquet of the righteous when the judgment of the nations is finished (Revelation 19:6-9). However, they are told to wait a little longer until the number of those to be killed is complete.

The purpose of the fifth seal is to assure those who are suffering for Christ that they have not been forgotten even though the battle continues to rage for a short time. Those who have died have a place reserved in the marriage banquet at the end of the age.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Written for Hollywood

Covenant of War, by Cliff Graham, is the second book in the Lion of War series. It appears to me to be written more with an eye to winning Hollywood contracts than faithfully portraying the lives of David and his mighty men who turned the hearts of a nation to heartfelt devotion to God for generations to come.

Graham warns readers that his novel is filled with violence and justifies it for two reasons. First, he says his novel is no more violent than Scripture itself. While Scripture does refer to many violent events, it is not filled with near as much graphic detail as Graham's novel. I personally find the graphic detail repulsive. Second, he suggests that the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that soldiers experience after battle may explain David's destructive decisions later in life. Scripture, however, explains his later actions as moral failure, not reaction to war trauma.

Graham also warns his readers that his novel includes scenes of sexual temptation. It was troubling to me that Graham leads the reader to believe that one of the heroes, Eleazar, visited a prostitute early in the book (p. 71) and then waits until Eleazar was dying at the end of the book (p. 330) to reveal that he had fled the prostitute's tent at the last moment. Throughout the book, Eleazar appears to be a hypocrite.

Graham writes primarily about David's mighty men, about whom we know very little. We know a great deal more about David, and he is a different person than the David in Graham's story. According to Scripture, David was 37 at the time he became king over all Israel (2 Samuel 5:4-5), not 30 as Graham says (p. 98). Scripture shows David to be a deeply spiritual person with strong moral character. He maintained his integrity in Saul's court despite being surrounded by intrigue. He refused to avenge himself on Saul even when he had opportunity. He did not allow his men to steal from those among whom they lived. He was moral because he was spiritual having a deep faith and trust in God. Graham portrays David as a man whose spirituality failed to give him moral strength.

Scripture shows David to be a compassionate leader. He was a shepherd of God's people. He defended the weak, bound up the wounds of the injured, and gave refreshment to the weary. He gave refuge to those who were discouraged, discontented, and in debt (1 Samuel 22:2). He protected a priest who escaped Saul's massacre of the priests at Nob (1 Samuel 22:20 ff.). Graham gives the impression that David's men were ruffians and outlaws. They may have been outcasts, but they were not outlaws.

Furthermore, David's men were not unruly and undisciplined as Graham suggests. Scripture portrays David as a strong, organized leader. Those who joined him at Adullam were not trained soldiers. They were men who were discouraged and in debt. They were afraid to take up arms against Philistine marauders, but David transformed them into an effective military force, probably with the help of some brave, and God-fearing soldiers from Gad and Benjamin whom he made officers (1 Chronicles 12:8-18). Before long, they saved Keilah from Philistine marauders and were protecting Judah's southern border from desert tribes. David did not permit his men to be divisive and insisted that all from the greatest to the least be appreciated (1 Samuel 30:22-25). Benaiah, captain of David's bodyguard and an army officer, was a priest (1 Chronicles 27:5-6). His closest advisers were the prophet Gad and the priest Abiathar (1 Samuel 22:5; 23:9). Prophets and priests continued to fill key positions throughout his reign to ensure adherence to the law (e.g. 1 Chronicles 26:29-32).

Finally, Scripture says that the northern tribes had been wanting to make David their king before Abner suggested it (2 Samuel 3:17-18; 5:1-2). While there may be some indication of tribal rivalries in Scripture, there is no suggestion of the deep suspicions and mistrust of David which Graham pictures.

Graham's book is a work of fiction. It may make a script for a Hollywood movie, but it is neither historical nor Biblical.  I rate the book as a one out of five.

Friday, June 22, 2012

War and Famine

Reflections on Revelation 6:1-8

The first four seals which the Lamb opens correspond to Matthew 24:6-8. Wars and rumors of wars, nations and kingdoms rising against each other, and famines and earthquakes are, Jesus says, the beginnings of travail.

When the first seal is opened, a rider on a white horse goes out to conquer. The horse is white because the pretext for war is almost always a just or righteous cause which masks the greed or pride of the one making war. The second horse is red. He takes peace from the earth and fills it with blood. War always leads to bloodshed. Next, John sees a black horse, and on it a man carrying pair of scales signifying that shortages and famine follow war. When the fourth seal is opened, a pale horse appears, and its rider is Death. Hades follows claiming all the dead whether they have died by the sword, famine, disease, or wild animals.

War and famine are under the control of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He uses the greed and ambition of the nations to bring the miseries of war upon them and to soften the nations for his conquest and judgment.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Lion and the Lamb

Reflections on Revelation 5:1-14

In the right hand of the one on the throne is a scroll which is sealed with seven seals. Then John hears an angel asking, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" At first, no one is found worthy to open the scroll, so John begins to weep. At that point, one of the elders informs John that the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed and so could open the sealed scroll. The Lion of the tribe of Judah alludes to Genesis 49:8-12 where it refers to one of Judah's descendants whom all peoples would obey. The Root of David alludes to Isaiah 11:1-10 where it says that one of David's descendants would arise to judge the poor with righteousness, give equity to the meek of the earth, and slay the wicked until all the nations inquire of him. Therefore, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, is a son of man who would bring all nations and people into obedience to him.

In Daniel 7:10, the books were opened when the court sat in judgment before the Ancient of Days. At that time, one like a son of man ascended with the clouds of heaven to receive a kingdom. Here Jesus, the Son of Man has ascended into heaven and will initiate the judgment of the nations by opening the first of several books to be opened (Revelation 20:12).

John turns to see the Lion, and sees instead a Lamb that had been slain. The allusion here is primarily to Isaiah 53. The perfect, sinless Lamb of God was wounded for the transgression of others; he was crushed for their iniquities. He who judges is also the one who has earned the right to make intercession. Even in judgment, there is hope.

The four living creatures and elders praise the Lamb as the one who has purchased people from every tribe and nation and made them to be a kingdom and priests who reign on the earth. Then a multitude of angels declare that the Lamb is a king worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing. Finally, all creation joins in praising the Lord on the throne and the Lamb before it.

The contents of the sealed scroll will be based primarily on the discourse Jesus gave his disciples while on the Mount of Olives. It outlined his conquest and judgment of the nations and his gathering of the elect. The discourse is found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Notice the general order of the discourse:
  1. Wars and famines (Matthew 24:6-8; Seals 1-4)
  2. Persecution (Matthew 24:9 ff.; Seal 5)
  3. Signs in heaven and mourning on earth (Matthew 24:29-30; Seal 6)
  4. Gathering of the elect (Matthew 24:31; between Seals 6 and 7)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Heaven Opened

Reflections on Revelation 4:1-11

The Son of Man addressed current conditions in Asia Minor when he dictated the seven letters to the churches in chapters two and three. Chapter four begins with John seeing a door standing open into heaven and hearing a voice saying he would see things that must take place after this. While in the Spirit, John sees a throne and someone sitting on it. John sees what the Psalmist declared long ago: "The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord on his heavenly throne " (Psalm 11:4 NIV), and that "his kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19 NIV).

Over the throne, John sees a rainbow (v. 3), which is a sign of the God who keeps the covenant he has made with the saints just as the rainbow in the clouds was a sign that God would never again to destroy the whole earth with a flood. Flashes of lightning and peals of thunder (v. 5) remind us of God's mighty majesty when he revealed himself to Israel on Mt. Sinai. In front of the throne, John sees a sea of glass like a crystal (v. 6). It stands as a reminder that all who come into God's presence first must be cleansed and made holy. God has said, "I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy." (Leviticus 11:45 NIV).

Around the throne are twenty-four other thrones. Seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders who represent all of God's saints, both OT and NT saints, who participate in God's kingdom. The number twenty-four is the sum of the twelve patriarchs and the twelve apostles. Although they also sit on thrones, they are subject to the one God who sits on the great throne in heaven. They show their submission by descending from their thrones, laying their crowns before the Almighty, and prostrating themselves before him who is king over all. They give him all glory, honor, and power as the creator of all things.

Four living creatures also stand around the throne. They apparently represent all created creatures including wild animals (lion), domesticated animals (ox), mankind, and birds (eagle). All creation joins together in praising God:
You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Structure of Revelation

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
-- Revelation 1:3 NIV
John wrote Revelation to be read aloud. For that reason, he blesses the reader (singular) and the hearers (plural) in verse 3. A listener cannot see chapter headings or paragraph formatting to identify changes in topic, so he must listen for cues in the oral reading of the text. Some of those cues are lists (seven letters, seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls) and repetitions (I saw, earthquake, and hail). These clues provide a structure for Revelation.

1. Seven Letters (the saints in distress)
     2. Seven Seals (things that must take place after this)
          3. Seven Trumpets (the Lord assists his servants)
               4. God's Enemies
          5. Seven Bowls (the Lord afflicts his enemies)
     6. Eternal Judgment (the end of the age)
7. The New Jerusalem (the saints in glory)

Sections 2 - 6 are not sequential. Instead, they all summarize this present age from the time of John to the coming of Jesus in judgment. Hence, the sections recapitulate earlier sections and are more or less parallel to each other (see Hendriksen, 1967, pp. 22-31; Beale, 1999, pp. 121-144). Furthermore, each section expands on some aspect of a previous section and elaborates more on the end of the age. The sixth section deals almost exclusively with the end of this age with Christ's final victory over his enemies. This progressive parallelism is based on the structure of Daniel where, for example, the four beasts in Daniel 7 are parallel to and expand on the four parts of Nebuchadnezzar's image in Daniel 2.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Family Bible Reading

Reflections on 2 Timothy 3:14-15
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:14-15
Timothy learned the Scriptures from his mother and grandmother at home. They began teaching him when he was quite young. We don't know how they taught him the Scripture, but I would like to share a little about the way we read Scripture to our children.
  1. Sharon read to our small children every weekday from Bible story books to teach them to sit quietly and listen. Most stories took just a couple of minutes. Sometimes they begged for more stories.
  2. We began reading directly from the Bible about the time our children entered kindergarten. We chose a simple version and read the same stories from it that we read in the Bible story book. The stories were more detailed and longer, but we kept the reading time to about five minutes.
  3. After a couple of years, we began reading the entire Bible story, but we tried to read no more than 10 minutes per day. Daily reading was hard enough without making it wearisome. By reading 10 minutes on weekdays, we could read the entire Bible story in a year. Here is the entire Bible story: Genesis, first half of Exodus, Numbers, Joshua through 2 Kings, Ezra through Esther, first half of Daniel, one of the Gospels, and Acts.
  4. We added a bit of variety from time to time. Occasionally we read a psalm or a proverb. We had the children take turns reading aloud.
  5. As our children grew older, we added other portions of Scripture to the Bible story. We never added much comment to our reading though sometimes we asked a few questions. Each time of reading ended with a short prayer.
What is gratifying to us as parents is that our children are reading Scripture daily to our grandchildren.