The Book of Revelation Revisited 4 – Seven Seals

The apostle John has just been spiritually transported to God’s heavenly throne room, where He is able to look upon our Creator. This is a major shifting point in the relationship between God and man, because heretofore, no one was allowed to look upon His face except His Son. (Ex. 33:20; Jn. 6:46.)

However, the glory of God’s countenance is so overwhelmingly magnificent that John cannot describe it other than as a stunning rainbow, emitting from incomparable jewels, with accompanying flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. (Rv. 4:3 & 5.) Surrounding God’s throne was 24 other thrones, occupied by 24 ‘church elders’ – consisting of the 12 apostles of Jesus and representatives for the 12 tribes of Israel. The elders were prostrate before Christ in worship, bringing forth the prayers of the saints. for His consideration. (Rv. 4:10, 11.)

John also sees the ‘seven Spirits of God, representing the Holy Spirit in His complete fullness.

Then, the apostle shifts his gaze to God’s right hand:

And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and loose its seals?” Rv. 5:1, 2. NKJV

The scroll contains God’s final plan for redemption – the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It is written on both sides and sealed, denoting its completeness. There will be no further additions.

To John’s amazement and relief, the ‘one who is worthy’ turns out to be the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David – Jesus Christ who takes the scroll in the presence of the elders and of angels who worship Him:

“You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God, and we shall reign on the earth.” Rv. 5:9, 10. NKJV

We see then that only the Son of God is worthy to carry out His Father’s plan for salvation. Christ is presented here as a ‘lion’ (especially to those who rejected Him), and as a ‘lamb’ (to those who have invited Him in their hearts. John further describes Jesus as having the appearance of a lamb who has been slain (to represent His death and resurrection); and having 7 horns and 7 eyes – symbolizing His divine power and complete amalgamation with the Holy Spirit.

Next, Jesus calls John to witness an overview of the nature of events which will unfold during the seven-year tribulation period. Jesus begins by opening the first four seals, which reveal the symbolic ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse. The first rider is interpreted by some to be the Antichrist (counterfeit christ), who is loosed upon the earth at the beginning of the tribulation.

The apostle Paul had also prophesied about this event:

…that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God… 2 Thess. 2:3, 4. NKJV

The ‘Day’ is the day of God’s wrath.

The second rider represents war – interpreted by some as a personification of a great ‘army from the north,’ said to be a coalition from countries that comprised the old Soviet Union and those populated by Islamic radicals.

The third rider signifies famine, and the fourth symbolic of death and disease.

When Jesus opens the fifth seal, John sees a vision of all who have been martyred for Christ, pleading for justice; but they are told to be patient a bit longer, so that our merciful God can use a little more time to gather in anyone who may yet choose Him.

The opening of the sixth seal reveals a preview of severe cosmological disturbances that will manifest when Christ returns to the earth.

Before the seventh seal is opened, we are privy to the first of three ‘interludes’ in heaven, where we can see the disposition of the saints during the various phases of John’s visions:

Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice…”Do not harm the earth, the sea or the trees till we have sealed the servants of God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed. 7:2 – 4. NKJV

What follows in a list of the 12 Jewish tribes of 12,000 each – all of which have been sealed by the angels. The ‘seal’ is the name of the Lamb and of God – the seal of salvation. (Rv. 14:1) Some interpreters see the 144,000 as a symbolic number of Jews who come to the realization the Christ is the Messiah, after they witness the rapture of the church of Christ, and watch God defeat the enemies of Israel in the final battle. Thus, like the church of Christ, the Jews are sealed as well. (Rm. 11:26)

John’s vision of the ‘interlude’ continues as he sees the appearance of an innumerable multitude of people from all over the world, dressed in white robes and worshiping the Lamb of God. (Rv. 7:9, 10.) One of the ‘elders’ explains who they are:

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore or thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Rv. 7:14 – 17. NKJV

Some interpret the multitude to be Gentiles from around the world that witness the rapture of the church, the defeat of Israel’s enemies by God, and the salvation of the Jews. In the face of all this, they too decide to embrace Christ. (Zech. 8:23)

This interpretation then, calls for an additional rapture, which occurs at mid-tribulation. It is another loving example of God’s mercy – giving His children a final chance to come to Him.

John’s vision shifts earthward to see how the inhabitants are faring at this time, and then it returns to Jehovah’ s throne room as Jesus opens the last of the seven seals:

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of the saints on the golden alter which was before the throne. Rv. 8:1 – 3. NASB

Then the angel took the censor, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. Rv. 8:5, 6. NKJV

The seventh seal reveals the ‘judgments of the trumpets,’ which herald the coming of the cataclysmic events of the tribulations. From this scripture, we can take comfort in knowing that the prayers of the saints are ever-present before God’s throne.

The censer that the angel threw to the earth contains the prayers of the saints calling for justice to be served upon their persecutors. God is answering them through His imminent judgments on the ungodly.

Next time…

Goodnight and God bless.

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Jesus and the Religiose

One of the meanings of ‘religion’ is, ‘a particular system of faith and worship.’ Religion is a man-made construct, to attempt to explain God and have a relationship with Him.’ ’Religiose’ is defined as being ‘excessively religious.’

When Jesus began His ministry in Judea, the temple in Jerusalem was a place of worship for Jehovah God, the God of the Old Testament Bible. The New Testament had yet to be written. (Still the same God.)

The religious focus in that temple was centered around the behaviors that one would live by, to satisfy God. These were primarily found in the Torah, i.e. the first five books of the Bible, which were written by a Holy Spirit-inspired Moses, referred to as the Mosaic Law.

Those doing the teaching of the Law were called Pharisees, widely believed to be the first ‘rabbis,’ or at least their forerunners. The problem, in Jesus’ time, was that many of the Pharisees added their own personal ‘interpretations’ to the Laws. Put bluntly, they twisted the scriptures to suit their own purposes, and became fervent taskmasters over their laity – punishing them if they did not live up to them. The Pharisees became religiose.

This did not set well with Jesus, because what they did ran against God’s word with regards to keeping His word pure:

“You shall not add to the word which I command you, not take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God…” Dt. 4:2 NKJV

The first time Jesus voiced His displeasure with the Pharisees was when He was dining with His latest convert, the apostle Matthew. He did so by speaking a parable to Pharisees that were present (they’d been following Him around, worrying that their control over the people was being usurped by Jesus’ teachings and miracles):

“No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old one is good.’ “ Lk. 5:36 – 39. ESV

Jesus was describing a process that was well known and understood by the people living at that time – saying that using a new piece of cloth to patch an older one will tear away from the old if it has not been previously ‘preshrunk’ with a combination of pressure, heat and moisture. He’s trying to get the Pharisees to see that the old forms of Judaism could not contain the New Covenant message He was bringing, because His message was not a patch for the old one.

Similarly, Jesus spoke of the fact that new fermenting wine must be put into new goatskins, because the outgassing of fermentation would cause the old skins to swell to the bursting point. It is metaphorical reference to the fact that the Pharisees can’t mix His message with theirs and that they are not spiritually able to receive His.

Finally, the last sentence in the parable alludes to the Pharisees’ stubborn preference for their old ways, which will ultimately deny them the kingdom.

Jesus has another confrontation with the Pharisees in the temple – they, being angry with Him for previously healing a cripple at the pool called Bethesda. He responds by pointing out their scriptural ignorance regarding the coming of the Messiah:

“…the very works that I do – bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me…You have neither heard His voice at any time, or seen His form. But you do not have His world abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” Jn. 5:36 – 40. NKJV

Even though Jesus is chiding them for their disbelief, you can see that He is offering them eternal life at the same time. They refused…

Jesus took issue with the Pharisees again, during His Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For I truly say to you until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Mt. 5:17, 18. ESV

Jesus is refuting the Pharisees’ claim that He was trying to invalidate the Mosaic Law. Christ was sent from God to open the eyes of the ‘spiritually blind,’ in order to give them the full understanding of all Scriptures so they could walk their best with His Father.

He blasts the Pharisees again:

“Therefore whoever relaxes on of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt. 5:19, 20. ESV

He is telling the crowd listening to His sermon that the Pharisees have so distorted the laws of God that if they follow them, it will jeopardize their chance for salvation. Furthermore, He offers an example of a law that the Pharisees had twisted:

“You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Mt. 5:43 NKJV

The first part of that sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor is a quote from Moses (Lv. 19:18). The ‘hate your enemy’ part was added by the Pharisees, and thus, not scriptural.

Jesus continued to have run-ins with the Pharisees throughout His ministry. He finally reveals their evil nature:

“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.’ “ Mk. 7:6, 7. NKJV

“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the traditions of men. You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of of God in order to establish your tradition!” Mk. 7:8, 9. ESV

Ouch! That must of stung. Jesus is alluding to the worthlessness of their traditions – those ascribed by them to have the same authority as the Mosaic Law, even though the Pharisees made them up.

Jesus gathers a crowd around Him to crystalize the nature of the Pharisees and their meaningless rituals:

“…there is nothing outside a man [such as food] which by going into him can defile him [morally or spiritually]; but the things which come out of [the heart] of man are what defile and dishonor him.” Mk. 7:15 AMP

Later, Jesus tells them of their ultimate fate for their hardened hearts and their fake religiosity:

“You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” Jn. 8:19 NKJV

“I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot go”…”You are from beneath; I am from above, You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die for your sins.” Jn. 8:21, 23, 24. NKJV

There are still religiose people today – pharisaical, re-writing scripture, judging portions to of it be false, seeking approval and status for their piety and denying the Christ-road to salvation. As you can see, without repentance, things will not go well for them.

That’s why it is so important to bring the message of salvation to as many as we can. What they do with it is up to them…

If we stick to God’s word and live by it, our salvation is assured.

Goodnight and God bless.

The Second Coming of Christ: 1 and 2 Thessalonians

In our last post, Paul Takes Another Trip, we followed the apostle Paul on his second missionary journey. At the end of his trip, Paul stayed eighteen months in the church of Corinth. It was at that time, (~ 50 A.D.) that Paul wrote the letters [with a little help from Silas (also called Silvanus) a prophet and elder of the church in Jerusalem) and Timothy – a Christian acolyte whom Paul was mentoring] that would become the Bible books 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Paul writes the first letter in response to a report from Timothy; Timothy said that there was confusion in the church of Thessalonica. The congregants were afraid that if they died before Jesus’ return, they would lose their salvation. The church was also concerned about secular persecution that they were experiencing in their region.

Paul begins by commending the church for their exemplary walk in Christ: For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you; in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 1 Thess. 2:19 NASB

He also reminisces fondly of his prior ministry there, and speaks to his own method of preaching – one that sets a good example for all of us:

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. 1 Thess. 2:4 NKJV

Paul is telling us that it is only God’s approval of our behavior that ultimately counts; and that approval only comes when we speak the truth (God’s word) and live by it.

He continues by telling the church that he had sent Timothy to them previously, to strengthen them in their faith, so that they may face their trials and tribulations with courage. Then he reminds them of their calling: For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 1 Thess. 3:3 ESV

(Jesus told us that we would be hated for following Him. We are the ‘peculiar people’ in the world who have chosen to walk the narrow path – the only path that leads to an eternity of complete love. It’s the path where we walk in love):

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all…so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. 1 Thess. 3:12, 13. NKJV

Paul then reminds them of when he had previously taught them how to walk on that path:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality, that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these things…For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.

Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man, but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thess. 4:3 – 8. ESV

Now, Paul gives them a few more pointers from God for staying on the love path:

Be at peace among yourselves…admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thess. 5:13 – 22. ESV

Paul then addresses the main event – bringing clarity to their confusion over the return of Jesus Christ:

Now also we would not have you ignorant, brethren, about those who fall asleep [in death], that you may not grieve [for them] as the rest who have no hope [beyond the grave].

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him through Jesus those who have fallen asleep [in death]. For this we declare to you by the Lord’s [own] word, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall in no way precede [into His presence] or have any advantage over those who have previously fallen asleep [in Him in death]. 1 Thess. 4:13 – 15. AMP

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thess. 4:16, 17. NKJV

How cool is that? God is letting us know that we don’t need to worry about the followers of Christ who die before He returns – because they will be the first ones that Jesus will rally to Him. Those who are still living when He returns, get to become airborne to join the eternal throng.

Jesus’ ‘second coming,’ the ‘day of the Lord’ will be wondrous for the followers of Christ, but it will be decidedly disastrous for those who have chosen not to:

…the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and Safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains…and they will not escape.

But you brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.

For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith, and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 1 Thess. 5:2 – 8. NASB

For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should be together with Him. 1 Thess. 5:9, 10. NKJV

He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. 1 Thess. 5:24 NKJV

Paul, again with some help from Silas and Timothy, sends off the second letter to the church, shortly after the first, because there was a false teacher in their midst who was circulating a counterfeit letter, supposedly from Paul, that said the day of the Lord had already come and gone.

He begins by encouraging them to endure in the face of persecution. Then he tells them that when Jesus returns, it will be a day that cannot be mistaken for any other:

God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 2 Thess. 1:6 – 10. ESV

Paul is taking about the ‘great sifting.’ That’s the time to be on the side of Jesus.

He then instructs the church not to put any faith into this counterfeit letter in circulation, stressing that indeed the day of the Lord has not come:

Let no one deceive or beguile you in any way, for that day will not come except the apostasy comes first [unless the predicted great falling away of those who have professed to be Christians has come], and the man of lawlessness (sin) is revealed, who is the son of doom (of perdition), who opposes and exalts himself so proudly and insolently against and over all that is called God or that is worshiped, [even to his actually] taking his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming that he himself is God. 2 Thess. 2:3, 4. AMP

What Paul is saying is that there will be unmistakably distinct events that presage the second coming of Christ. One of those will be the revelation of the identity of the lawless one (the Antichrist) – who will be worshiped by most of humanity as he proclaims himself to be God. (This will be revealed in great detail when we visit the last Bible book: The Revelation of Jesus Christ.) However, Paul gives us a few teasers now:

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work… 2 Thess. 2:7 NKJV (i.e. there is already a force of evil at work in the world.)

And then the lawless one (the antichrist) will be revealed and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of His mouth and bring him to an end by His appearing at His coming. 2 Thess. 2:8 AMP

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they have refused to love the truth and so be saved.

Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thess. 2:9 – 12. ESV

Thus, the Antichrist will be empowered by Satan himself – to be able to work false miracles, bringing him the adulation and worship of a rebellious world. It is then that God will begin the extraction process of those who pandered to themselves – separating them from the children of God. We also see that when Jesus returns, the curtain is coming down for the Antichrist.

Paul then changes focus in his narrative to encourage the church (that would be us) to be steadfast in our faith:

…God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught… 2 Thess. 2:13 – 15. NKJV

(God chose you before you took your first breath.)

Finally, the apostle writes his parting remarks:

Yet the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen [you] and set you on a firm foundation and guard you from the evil [one]. 2 Thess. 3:3 AMP

…do not weary of doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. 2 Thess. 3:13 – 15 NKJV

God is always on your side. When you stick with Him, the devil hasn’t got a chance against you.

We see too that God is always about practicing love. Even if a brother or sister in Christ backslides, you are to distance yourself from them – not to punish them, but in a loving way that encourages their return to the arms of God through Jesus Christ. It’s always about the love.

If we remain at the side of God, ‘the day of the Lord’ is something that we can look forward to with rapt expectation…

Goodnight and God bless.