Posts by rickbarbareblog

I am a retired Clergyman and College instructor. I live in Trenton, SC in Edgefield County.

The Angels Prepare to Sound their Trumpets: a Brief Orientation

Revelation 8:6

6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.


Before beginning explanation of the Trumpet-Judgments, we should perhaps look at the big-picture.

…The strange and startling events of the world’s history [are] the alarm notes blown by God’s angels across the world, to remind us of the war in which every citadel of evil must inevitably fall. (see Ellicott, below.)

I. God’s trumpet-judgments speak differently to us as  Christians than they do to the non-believers. 

To the wicked persecutors of Christ’s Church, trumpet-judgments say — repent of of your wicked ways or you will perish with the godless system you so value. “World (cosmos in Greek) most often refers to the humanistic system that is at odds with God (Matthew 18:7; John 15:19; 1 John 4:5).” (See Got Questions below.)

Golden Lampstand Church in China; Left: original building; Right: blown up by CCP.
Images from AP.

To God’s people, trumpet-judgments are a summons to the spiritual battle through prayer.

Ephesians 6 enlightens us about the war we involved in —

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

God’s people are facing evil, fallen angels at work in the world system opposing Christ and His Church. We must bear this in mind because physical weapons are ineffective against the forces of evil working behind human beings who believe their lies.  Only fervent prayers can break down the evil infra-structure built up in the spirit world behind evil humans being’s actions. II Corinthians 10 denies to us the use of physical weapons —

4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

When Paul describes the armor, he gives us the defensive/offensive armor with which to engage in prayer! 

18 pray…at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Some might view what I have said about defensive/offensive weapons to be strange. They see everything but the Sword of the Spirit as defensive. Think about it for a moment. When soldiers go the war, they do not throw weapons from the armory at the enemy. They confront the enemy as active soldiers who are outfitted with weapons from God’s armory. God equips us in Christ for the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged. We are His praying soldiers! 

When we see various catastrophes occurring around us,  we ought not despair or worry. God is at work, and we should pray and ask that His will be accomplished through what is occurring. We may not understand why things happen, but we can rest assured God has ordered those circumstances.


battle_of_jericho

by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld (1794–1872) WikiCommons

II. Trumpets signal to believers that God is present to bring this evil age to an end.

Not only are the trumpet-visions connected with the Exodus plagues, but they are also connected to the Battle of Jericho. See Joshua 6 for the account of the fall of Jericho’s walls (the link will open in a separate window).  

HotelSanSalvadorHebrews 12:26-27 reveals that we are meant to feel unsure about our earthly surroundings. If they totter and we find no place where we feel secure, we ought to set our hearts on that place that cannot be shaken. We ought to trust in God who is our refuge and fortress.

26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. (ESV).

The trumpet visions portray limited disasters and distresses in the midst of history, events that are bitter foretastes of the final, unrestrained strained destruction of all opposition to God’s reign at the end of the present world order (see D. E. Johnson below).

So, God is intent on destroying this evil world and its system and giving the renew earth to his people. The trumpet-visions show us how God does this partially throughout the last days that extend from Christ’s resurrection to His second coming at the end of the age. 

We should not look to the symbols in Revelation as if they are newspaper accounts and then transfer them to 21st Century life. Fire = missiles, etc. I suggest that we ought to pay close attention to

(1) the sphere of judgment: land, sea, rivers, and sky
(2)
the extent of judgment: 1/3
(3)
the effects of the judgment: world system interrupted, God’s people shielded, and  wicked punished.

These areas will yield the best interpretation and application to our everyday lives as we will see as we progress through the trumpet-judgments in future posts. 


III. Trumpets hail a New Exodus of believers from this world to the kingdom of God.

These plagues are now shown to be typological or prophetic foreshadowings of God’s judgments against unbelievers throughout the church age and culminating in the last judgment, which initiates the final exodus of God’s people from this world of captivity into eternal freedom (see Beale, below). 

Trumpet Judgments Chart

Trumpets in ancient Israel in the wilderness signaled preparation to march toward the promised land. Revelation allows us to see in disasters around us that we Christians are on the march toward the eternal kingdom of God. We are not yet at our final destination. We will leave this place of suffering and godless living to take our place there. All unrest around Christ’s people ought to cause us to see Christ is leading his people in a New Exodus toward their eternal home. Remember, these trumpet angels come from the very presence of God. He is in control!

Trumpet specifics next time. 

Notes

Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.

Ellicott, C. J. (1878). Ellicott’s Bible Commentary For English Readers, Volume 3 Reprint (Harrington, DE: DelmarvA Publications. Kindle Edition.

Got Questions. (2020). “What does it mean that we are not to love the world?” Blog post; accessed 29 May 2020 from https://www.gotquestions.org/do-not-love-the-world.html

Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Luther, Martin. (1853 printing). Bible in German. (Leipzig, Germany: Baumgärtners Buchhandlung, 1853) p. 291. Image above the post.

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

The Altar in Heaven — Revelation 8:3-5

3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings,[a] flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

We see from this passage —

God receives the prayers of His persecuted church as they pray and answers them according to His plan!

I. When God acts in judgment, we know the time to the answer our prayers has arrived. vs. 3

We view God’s work in space and time retrospectively. We cannot foresee how God will work. By looking up to God in our need, we anticipate His action, however. After He acts, we recognize what He has done and this encourages us to trust Him for more. Waiting for answers to our prayers is an exercise in perseverance. Isaiah 40 has meaningful words to persecuted Christians! 

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. [ESV]


II. Angels have unseen ministries that assist us as believers. vs. 4

We ought not to get caught up in the ministry of Angels in the Revelation. It is enough for us to know they are sent by God, we cannot see them, but they serve us. 

Hebrews 1:13-14 gives us a hint only into Angels existence and ministries —

13 …to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?
14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

The angel in Revelation 8:3 is identified as another angel (Greek allos — another of the same rank as the seven, but different from the particular group of seven angels previously mentioned). It is not the Lord Jesus under the symbolism of an angel. It is an Incense altarangel who has the task of presenting the prayers to the Lord for their fulfillment at the proper time in John’s vision.

The altar in heaven is the heavenly model of the incense altar, which was in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and Temples in Jerusalem. There is no altar of sacrifice in heaven. It was at Calvary. Only the incense altar is there. It is the place where the prayers of God’s people were symbolically offered in the Tabernacle.


III. The effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous is heard in heaven!

Andrew_MurraySome prayers are not answered during a believer’s lifetime on earth. This passage would have encouraged first century believers in Asia Minor to pray without ceasing! 

Andrew Murray (1828-1917), Dutch Reformed South African pastor, said that his family had lived under the showers of answered prayers of their forebears for generations. Family reunions had met year after year and prayed for the next generation to walk in God’s ways. They ended each reunion with the singing of their family hymn — “O God of Bethel.” 

1 O God of Bethel, by whose hand
thy people still are fed,
who through this weary pilgrimage
hast all our fathers led;

2 Our vows, our prayers, we now present
before thy throne of grace;
God of our fathers, be the God
of their succeeding race. (see Doddridge, 1736; below.)

The Murray family testifies —

We are very highly privileged in being heirs to the prayers of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, but we should in turn pray for our children. They may change their names by marriage or go to the ends of the earth, but they cannot escape the mark placed upon them, for in their veins flows the blood of generations of praying ancestors. (see Choy below.)


IV. Prayer does change things, but it is prayer according to the will of God! vs. 5

The golden censor is a bowl that was used in the OT temple worship. (See it pictured at the right on the Incense Altar.) Burning coals would be placed on it and incense would be burned and before the Lord. Fire PanIncense symbolizes the prayers of the saints in the Scriptures (cf. Rev. 5:8). All of the prayers for vengeance and vindication which have been prayed by the suffering church on earth are now about to be answered. The angel takes the place of the priest in the temple and offers up the prayers of God’s people in John’s vision.

Note that the incense was added to the prayers of saints, and that it was given to the angel. Here again we have passive voice with implied Divine agency. William Hendriksen connects the incense to the intercession of Christ —

Are we stretching the meaning of the symbol when we draw the conclusion that this incense that is given to the angel represents our Savior’s intercession in heaven for His persecuted Church on earth? (see Hendriksen, p. 117, below.)


R. C. Sproul, used an effective illustration of what Rev. 8:3 teaches, though he did not use it in connection with this passage. He said the story originated from Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.

One morning a little girl appeared before the servant that managed the household. She said she had picked “flowers” for her father. The servant saw some flowers from the garden, but mostly weeds were there mixed in with a few beautiful flowers. The servant offered to present the daughter’s flowers to her father. She readily agreed, not wishing to disturb her father at work.

The servant then took the little girl’s “flowers” to the table in the hall before the master of the house’s office. On that table was a vase with fresh flowers picked by the servants from the garden. He laid the little girl’s flowers out on that table and carefully removed the weeds. Then, he took some flowers from the vase and mixed them into hers. He presented the flowers to her father in her name.

This is a good example of how Christ’s intercession works together with saints’ prayers!


All of the judgments to follow in the book of Revelation are as a result of the prayers of the saints. God’s sovereignty and the prayers of the saints work together in the plan of God. Eugene Peterson puts it poetically —

The prayers which had ascended, unremarked by the journalists of the day, returned with immense force in George Herbert’s phrase, as “reversed thunder.” Prayer reenters history with incalculable effects. Our earth is shaken daily by it.

My wife and sat in our den one evening, and all of sudden, there was a grinding noise in the distance. She asked if that were a train coming. (We live about 200 feet from the main line between Columbia and Augusta.) I said, “No wait for it.” We sat as the shaking of our house from one in to the other arrived in small ripples just a few seconds later. “It’s an earthquake.” Sure enough, I pulled up an app on my phone and a 4.2 scale earthquake had occurred in the western part of Edgefield County, SC.

I don’t know about you, but I want to see the earthshaking presence of God visit our world in answer to prayer!

We must not stop praying! The delay of an answer is not a denial. If we stop praying, we might not recognize the answer when it comes, but the answer will come!

The Trumpets next time.


Notes

Choy, Lena. (2000). Andrew Murray: The Authorized Biography. Ft. Washington, PA: CLC Publications. Kindle Edition.

Doddridge, P. (1736). Hymn “O God of Bethel.” From Hymns Ancient and Modern. Accessed 21 May 2020 from https://hymnary.org/text/o_god_of_bethel_by_whose_hand

Hendriksen, W. (1939). More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Piper, J. (1994). “The Prayers of the Saints and the End of the World” Blog post. Accessed 21 May 2020 from https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-prayers-of-the-saints-and-the-end-of-the-world

Ramsey, J. B. (1873). The spiritual kingdom : an exposition of the first eleven chapters of the book of Revelation. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication. Available from archive.org since it is in the public domain.

Sartelle, J. (2020). “Do Your Prayers Shake the Earth?” Blogpost in Tabeltalk magazine. Accessed 17 May 2020 from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/do-your-prayers-shake-earth/

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

 

The Trumpet-Angels: Revelation 8:2

[Picture above is a woodcut engraving of Isaiah 6 after a drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (German painter, 1794 – 1872), published in 1877.]

Revelation 8:2

2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. [ESV]

I. Angels still serve God’s people according to God’s providential plan though we may not see that ministry with our physical eyes. vs. 2

seven_angels_with_trumpets

Woodcut by Albrecht Durer

Verse 2 reveals that there are seven Angels in the very Presence of God. (see Johnson A. F., below.)

These mighty beings worship God and then go forth to do His bidding. Standing in the presence of an ancient King meant to focus attention on him and to be ready to go and do what he commands. There is no higher privilege for a creature than to be one who stands before the presence of God. The Greek word for “before” is enôpion = “before the face of.” One commentator said this means to live as if you were in God’s presence. I think he errs. We do not live as if we did, but rather we really are before the face of God.


This is a particular group of angels. The definite article is used to identify them specifically. These angels are referred to in the Jewish Apocryphal writing of Tobit 12:15. (see Extended Note on the Apocrypha below if you are interested in reading more).

“For I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, who offer up the prayers of God’s people and go into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.”

“In the Pseudepigraphal writing of Enoch 20:7, they are named as — Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel, and Remiel.” (see Pseudepigrapha below below if you are interested in reading more). [see extended note on the Apocrypha’s use in the Church.]

This idea of presence angels is also found in Is. 63:9 “the angel of his presence.” These angels dwell in the presence of God and their actions reflect His attitudes. They are not doing their own will, but they are executing the Divine plan.

I remember my last tour of the Capitol in DC. Over the interior doors to the Chambers of the House of Representatives is the Latin phrase Vox populi, vox Dei (“the voice of the people is the voice of God”). Whoever put that there was wrong. The voice of God in our world is heard in His Word! We go from worship that is directed towards God, and then we go forth to do His will in our lives.

I like the motto on the inside of the House — “In God we Trust.” This is closer to the mark than the one on the door to the outside of the well of the House of Representatives. 

House of Representatives

Above the Speaker’s Rostrum is the Motto of the United States “In God we Trust”

II. God’s trumpet-angels announce warning judgments on those who persecute God’s people.

AngelsWith7TrumpetsAnd1WithCenser

Rev. 8:2 illustrated in the Bamberg Bible 11th Century AD

This instrument is the like the two silver trumpets that were kept in the tabernacle. The use of trumpets in the Revelation must be interpreted in the light of their O.T. significance. They were used to signal a day of remembrance (Lev. 23:24, a triumph (Josh. 6:4), a coronation (I Kings 1:34), or to issue a warning (Jer. 4:5 f.) .

The Passive Voice of “were given” is often used in the NT to indicate an implied divine agency in an action. It is obvious that God has decreed the judgments which are to follow.

III. God’s trumpet-angels summon God’s people to Spiritual Warfare for the gospel.

Magellan_Tankfire__High_Resolution

LEC Picture

It is clear from the passage in Revelation that God is summoning His people to engage in spiritual warfare. Dennis Johnson describes the aim of God in the trumpet, and later the bowl, judgments — “God’s righteous wrath summons every aspect of our environment to indict human rebellion, both through the flow of history (trumpets) and at its climax (bowls).” (see Johnson, D. E., below).

We will see how our prayers play a part in Spiritual Warfare in the next post about the 8:3-5.


Notes

Apocryphal. (2020). Retrieved 13 May 2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocrypha

Charles, R. H. (1920). A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Revelation of St. John. ICC series, Vol. 1. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 

Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 

Johnson, D E. (2011). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Luther, M. (2020). Retrieved 13 May 2020 from https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Apocrypha-Books/

Pseudepigrapha. (2020). Retrieved 13 May 2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudepigrapha

West, Logan. Westminster Standards: Confession, Catechisms, Psalms of David in Metre . TeXSet Press. Kindle Edition.


Extended Note on the Apocrypha

The allusions to these extra-Canonical books does not imply these books are inspired by the Holy Spirit. Apocryphal books are printed, if at all in Protestant Bibles, in between Malachi and Matthew. Martin Luther said, “Apocrypha — that is, books which are not regarded as equal to the holy Scriptures, and are yet profitable and good to read.” See Luther below.) The Westminster Confession adds —

“The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”

All the canonical books of the Old and New Testament (but none of those which are commonly called Apocrypha) shall be publicly read in the known tongue, out of the best allowed translation, distinctly, that all may hear and understand. (see West, in Notes).

We read secular books for historical purposes, entertainment value, etc. We read the Word of God as Scripture given by God for our instruction and correction!

 

 

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Silence in Heaven: Revelation 8 Introduction

[Image from https://kdmanestreet.com/tag/how-did-the-priest-approach-the-altar-of-incense/%5D

8:1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

I. Silence is always appropriate when prayers are offered to God.

I can remember as a younger boy a song that was sung at my Great Uncle and Aunt’s Church regularly in their Sunday Morning Liturgy—”The Lord is in His holy Temple.” I looked it up this week on YouTube to help me remember better times in the past. I share it in case you have never heard it sung in worship.

The hymn is based on several Old Testament passages. One obvious one is Habakkuk 2:20 “But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” (KJV)

Habakkuk’s context lets us know that silent worship is not its primary aim.

“The silence of this worship is not just the silence of reverence. It is the silence of acceptance of the judgment of God against the nation for its sins.” (see Bruckner, p. 248; below.) p_court

As much as I like the old hymn, its main thrust is not silent and reverent worship. There is a place for louder praise and adoration. The passage in Habakkuk is one of the Judge of the Nations about to render His verdict and execute judgment on guilty nations. The silence is everyone being told to shut their mouths because the time for defense of actions is over. 

So, I do not believe the primary reference to this is from the Old Testament. This reference is from the Jewish practice of the priest offering of incense after the sacrifice. Luke 1:8-9 records this—

8 And it came to pass, that while he [Zecharias] executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, 9 according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. [ESV; emphasis mine]

While the priest went into the inner sanctuary, all the people prayed outside silently. The incense symbolized the prayers of the people. Psalm 141:2 says—

“Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” (ESV; emphasis mine)

John’s reason for the silence in Revelation 8:1 is based on the practice of the priest entering into the inner sanctuary and offering incense as a symbol of the praying people. This is the entire content of the Seventh Seal! The saints had prayed in Revelation 6:10—

“How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” 

The breaking of the Seventh Seal lets us know that the time for answering those prayers has come! (see Plummer, below.)

II. God is intensely interested in hearing His people’s prayers. 

God will hear a desperate praying person. Cry out to God in your need, and it will reach his ear! All else in heaven is halted for a persecuted people’s prayers to be presented before Christ’s mercy seat in heaven. E. M. Bounds states — 

Bounds E M 1864

E. M. Bounds 1835-1913

God shapes the world by prayer. Prayers are deathless. The lips that uttered them may be closed in death, the heart that felt them may have ceased to beat, but the prayers live before God, and God’s heart is set on them and prayers outlive the lives of those who uttered them; outlive a generation, outlive an age, outlive a world. (see Bounds, p. 2 below).

The answer to our prayer comes in God’s time. When that time arrives, God allows nothing is to interfere.

Before chapter eight, heaven is a loud place. See Revelation 6 —

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” ESV

III. All else is silenced in heaven for persecuted believers’ prayers to be heard and answered by the Trumpet visions.

Now after a preview of the course of the Age from Christ’s ascension to the Second Coming, in Chapter 6, we expect action and noise to continue. Yet, we have silence. It is not for a minute or two but for half an hour. 

After the aside in chapter 7, which reveals the security of the God’s people in the midst of
tribulation, the opening of the seals resumes. We probably expect to see all fury break loose. Instead, there is silence for half an hour (hêmiêron — the accusative of time, which stresses duration). All of heaven is hushed for God’s people’s prayers to be heard and fulfilled. 

silence (2)An ancient Jewish teacher states — “In … heaven are companies of angels of service who sing praises by night, but are silent by day because of the glory of Israel, i.e, that the praises of Israel may be heard in heaven.” (see Charles; Vol. 1, p. 223; below.)

I hope this helps with your understanding of the Seventh Seal in Revelation 8:1. On to the altar and censer next time!

Notes

Bounds, E. M. (1920). Purpose in Prayer. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. pdf version. 

Bruckner, James. Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (The NIV Application Commentary). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.

Charles, R. H. (1920). A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, Part 1. New York, NY: Scribner’s and Sons Publishers.

Hymn “The Lord is in His Holy Temple.” (2016). accessed 10 May 2020 from https://youtu.be/Is50_ySfTNY

Plummer, A. (1909) Revelation in The Pulpit Commentary. New York, NY: Funk and Wagnalls Company.

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

“The Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” — Application of Revelation 7

[Image above “Dega’s Dancer” 1880 — feeling perplexed but looking upward!]

The late Rev. Eugene Peterson describes discipleship as “the long obedience in the same direction.” This quotation is not original with him, but I like the way he uses it better than the one who originally wrote it! 

We live in an instant-society with no deferred rewards or fulfillment of desires. One man confesses his anger at not getting what he wanted when he wanted it—

“Sometimes, I yell at my phone when the screen freezes. Just last week, I felt my heartbeat rapidly increasing and my legs shaking when the customer service representative from [an online merchant] put me on hold for a few minutes because my package didn’t arrive in two days. It turned out that my package got lost somewhere between [the delivery agent] and my apartment, so I had to wait a whole extra two days to receive my order. Waiting four days for a delivery seems like an eternity in today’s society, as more consumers have become accustomed to the instant gratification afforded by technology.” (See Study Break blog, below; emphasis mine).

Quotefancy-4961651-3840x2160

People today are always living as if they are running out of time. I still remember good advice from a Christian mentor in my youth—”God is never in  a hurry, but he’s never late!” God doesn’t work on our timetable, but on His own plan and timing. Trial etches this on our minds! Spurgeon said—”Suffering not only burns out the impurities, but it also burns in the promises!

When will I be rid of this illness? When will people stop persecuting me for doing God’s will? What did I do to deserve this? Where did that come from? These questions are legitimate! The definitive answer—in God’s timing according to His plan! What do I do in the meantime? Revelation Seven answers that question for the Christians in Asia Minor and for us today.

Note with me the principles that help us to endure severe trials.

I. We are only able to stand in trial and live through it by God’s direct help.

Much perplexes us when we are under trial. Let me cite two questions from Chapter Six that pertain to the application of Chapter Seven, in my opinion.

9 …How long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

Psalm 13-2 How Long O Lord sage (2)

17 …the great day of [God’s and the Lamb’s] wrath has come, and who can stand?”

isaiah-41-10-2

I believe that Chapter 7 answers both of these two questions! Christians want to know, after the course of the entire age is so graphically presented in chapter six, when are the wrongs to be set right and how can anyone possibly stand through the pouring out of God’s wrath?


II. God gives His perspective on the trials we face.

Slide 1(1) The perspective that God is in control of all things in creation helps us to stand firm. 

God is restraining evil men and His judgment, even as he pours out his wrath on a sinful world that persecutes His church. Note in the Chart to the right (or above on a phone), believers are sealed by God and are received into heaven at the end of their lives.

(2) We are sealed by God so we can stand firm in our circumstances.

God has sealed us so that nothing can ultimately harm us. We will not suffer God’s wrath, nor will we apostatize, and leave “the faith once delivered to the saints.” We are not under God’s wrath as are those who persecute us. We are apart of that redeemed multitude that will be gathered in heaven.

(3) We have a  hope in heaven, either after our death or at Christ’s return, that no one or no thing can take away from us.

When all is past, we will be forever with the Lord.

You might think these are only pious platitudes for Church. I would say no! These perspectives are the only thing that can hold us in the turbulent times in which we live in this world. 


Let me cite an incident from the life of General Charles Gordon. The British army was defeated at Khartoum. Reportedly, a sword-bearing enemy soldier finally cornered him and said to him, “I can take your life!” Gordon replied, “You can’t touch my life; it is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3.) With one slash of his sword, off came Gordon’s head and he was set free to see His Savior face-to-face. 

No one can stand against horrific odds without having the hope Christ gives. We long for the encouragement of the scene in heaven of myriads declaring in song the praise of our Redeemer! We desire to see His face and fall at His feet in worship. Until then, let us remain faithful to God where we are!


III. John’s scene in Chapter Seven is an inspiration and a comfort to the believers in all ages suffering persecution! 

Slide 2Note vs. 14 and the Innumerable Multitude — John uses the present tense to indicate that what he was witnessing was presently ongoing. The crowd was becoming larger and larger as he watched. People were walking into heaven after their deaths. The great crowd was swelling. The important fact about them is that they are a redeemed host. They have been “plunged into the fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins.”

We may not see Christ’s Second Coming in our lifetime, but we will make it into Christ’s presence at the time of our departure from earth. Nothing can prevent this from happening.

Isaac Watts has memorialized this passage of Scripture in a hymn—”How Bright These Glorious Spirits Shine”—

How bright these glorious spirits shine!
Whence all their white array?
How came they to the blissful seats
Of everlasting day?

Lo! these are they from sufferings great
Who came to realms of light;
And in the blood of Christ have washed
Those robes which shine so bright.

Now with triumphal palms they stand
Before the throne on high,
And serve the God they love amidst
The glories of the sky.

Our lives may indeed seem to be one long trial stretching into the future, but all will be well once we are in His presence.

Next time we move into Chapter Eight.

Notes

Study Breaks blog. (2020). Accessed 3 May 3 2020 from https://studybreaks.com/culture/instant-gratification/

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

The Multitude No One Could Number

Revelation 7:9-17

vs. 9a After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… .

I. God gathers the sealed believers of each generation together in heaven after they die. 

None is lost of those who were sealed. “The two visions depict the same body, under widely different conditions.

“In vss. 4-8 the  true Israelites (John 1:17, Rom. 2:29, Gal. 6:16) of a single generation are marshaled under the banners of their several tribes for the campaign which is yet before them.

“In vss. 9-17 all the generations of the faithful appear in their countless numbers, no longer needing the safeguard of the Divine Seal, but triumphant at rest” (See Swete, below).

Census for War

Image of census in Numbers from The Torah.com

The Two Groups Compared — In the previous section, the 144,000 were carefully numbered to show that God knows his own and accounts for each one in every generation. Here, however, the emphasis is upon the vastness of the group from all generations. John heard the other group enumerated. This group could not be so easily counted. It stresses the fact that the redeemed will be a vast throng.

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude … standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

II. When the saints arrive before the throne, all is well. vs. 9b-10

The saints standing before the throne speaks of sharing in the blessings of the Lamb. To stand before the throne and the Lamb means to have fellowship with, to render service to, and to share in the honor of the Lamb. The countless multitude is clothed with white, flowing robes. The flowing robes indicate festivity, blessedness; their whiteness symbolizes righteousness, holiness (cf. 7:14) (see Hendriksen, p. 112 below). 

John uses the perfect tense of the participles in this verse. They had stood in the past and were still there in the present. They had been clothed in white robes in the past and were still clothed in the present scene. What encouragement this ought to bring to us! Have you been in the background and perhaps overlooked in the past here on earth? Not so in heaven!

dirt-grave-man-used-shovel-to-throw-empty-39475814

Funeral customs have been changed over the years to reduce anguish of relatives. (1) Once the entire congregation witnessed the lowering of the body into the grave; (2) Later the coffin was kept above the grave, but dirt was thrown onto the coffin. 

Personal Experience

In my first church many years ago now, I conducted a difficult funeral. I won’t go into details since they are not pertinent. We had the service at the funeral home, and then proceeded to the cemetery for the interment.

I read Scripture appropriate to the resurrection of believers in the future. Then came the words of committal — “In as much as it has pleased Almighty God to take out of this world, the soul of  _______, we commit ____ body to the ground… .” I didn’t get to finish the sentence immediately. A relative shrieked out in anguish. I went on — “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection … unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

From that moment on, I have never used that wording at a committal. I was a Presbyterian then and I could get away with altering Prayer Book words. Instead I fused two Westminster Shorter Catechism answers with the above committal to read — 

In as much as it has pleased Almighty God to take out of this world, the soul of _______, we commit ____ body to the the Lord knowing that … the souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection. At that great resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity. (see Book of Common Prayer (1928); Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 37 & 38, below).

Let me add, I have never had a shriek again at a graveside! There is the hope of resurrection for all the sealed of God!

Palms and white robes

III. What the multitude carries and what they wear show victory has been achieved.

The multitude held Palm Branches. Palm branches were used in the feasts as a sign of joy and victory. Swete’s comment on the vision of vs. 9ff. is worth noting —

“The scene of vii. 9 ff. anticipates the final condition of redeemed humanity. Like the Transfiguration before the Passion, it prepares the Seer to face the evil which is to come” (See, Johnson, p. 100).

This view of the Church Triumphant gathered before the throne of God encourages us to endure and triumph over evil in our time.

The multitude wears White Robes. The white robes are given to the saint as he or she arrives in heaven after death. White speaks of righteousness — the righteousness of Christ. 

In the next post we will apply the teaching of this chapter to the comfort and encouragement of God’s people in trial and persecution.

Notes

Book of Common Prayer. (1928). “The Order for The Burial of the Dead.” Accessed 6 April 2020 from https://www.bcponline.org/ 

Hendriksen, Wm. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Johnson, A. F. (1996). Revelation (Expositor’s Bible Commentary series). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing Co.

Swete, H. B. (1906). The Apocalypse of St John. London, UK: Macmillan and Co.

Westminster Shorter Catechism. (1648). Questions 38 & 39. General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Accessed 6 April 2020 from https://www.apuritansmind.com/westminster-standards/shorter-catechism/

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

The Israel of God: Explanation of the odd listing of the Twelve Tribes in Revelation Seven

Picture above shows Paul, along with Priscilla and Aquila, sewing leather together, perhaps for tents in which to live during travel, but leather is also for cases in which to carry books and shoes for feet. Manual labor was looked down upon in the Greco-Roman world. Possibly, if one wanted to study with the Apostle, he or she would have to take a needle and thread and work as Paul spoke. After all, he was a tent maker, wasn’t he?

Galatians 6 states —

14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

Ellicott’s Commentary defines the last phrase “Israel of God” as ‘spiritual Israel;’ not converts from Judaism alone, but all who prove their real affinity to Abraham by a faith like Abraham’s.” (see Ellicott below.)

Imigration Photo

Immigrants take the oath and become American citizens.

The Church transcends all national and ethnic boundaries. Where Jesus is Lord, the people are a family. 

Some tribes are omitted from John’s list. 

“The disparity of selection between this list and the Old Testament lists of Jacob’s sons and Israel’s tribes show that the twelve tribes in Revelation are symbolic with respect to the quantity and the ethnicity of the Lamb’s army” See Johnson below).

A chart from Dennis Johnson’s Triumph of the Lamb is helpful here.

Tribes_of_Israel_Compared

Johnson points out the Tribes are listed in a different order in Revelation.

Reuben was the firstborn, but he forfeited his rights by sleeping with Jacob’s concubine Bihlah (Gen. 35:22; Gen. 49:3-4).

3 “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. 4 Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!”

So, Judah is given Reuben’s place.

The tribes of the concubines are exalted above the rest of tribes from the wives of Jacob–Leah and Rachael.

“The elevation of these descendants of women who were outsiders to the covenant family signifies the inclusion of the Gentiles among ‘the bond-servants of our God’ [Rev. 7:3] (see Johnson below).

The Tribes of Dan and Ephraim are omitted because of their propensity to idolatry.  

To summarize the argument Johnson states —

The order of the tribes in Revelation 7 symbolizes —
1. The reign of Jesus, from the tribe of Judah.
2. The incorporation of outcasts. i.e. Gentiles now included.
3. The exclusion of idolaters from the covenant community that God shields from his terrible wrath. 

Levi is added to the list of Tribes. 

Jewish high priest and Levite in ancient IsraelUsually, Levi is omitted from lists because this tribe was chosen to be priests of Israel. The priestly theme of Revelation is emphasized by Levi’s inclusion in it.

Application of the List of Tribes

God’s great family is expanded in this listing to include people who once were excluded — Gentiles. We as Christians must resist the temptation of excluding those who are not “our kind of people.” (What ever that phrase means.) All people are saveable and are urged to repent and believe the Gospel. Lost people are our kind of people because they are God’s. Why spend this time on the aberration of the list of tribes in Revelation Seven? 

Most often Christians come from the lower strata of society. The upper strata are self-satisfied and are not looking for salvation. The middle strata are too busy trying to rise above their present condition and status. 

Do you feel left out? Seek out a group of believers in Christ. You belong to Christ and will be accepted there. If you are not accepted, that group is not a true expression of Christ’s Church.

Eventually, we all may be meeting in small groups in houses. This is the pattern for many churches in developing nations! They do not go to a church; they are the Church! 

Next time we will proceed to the innumerable multitude in the last part of  Chapter Seven.

Notes

Ellicott, Charles J. (2015). Galatians: Ellicott’s Bible Commentary For English Readers Volume 3. http://www.DelmarvaPublications.com. Kindle Edition.

Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Kindle edition.