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 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. 

Application of Revelation Chapter Six, Part 1

Revelation 6:8; 10; 16

These three verses give us the main symbols in Chapter Six. Around them we make application. Note that this chapter is still as relevant to today’s church as it was to the church in the first century. There is no need to offer separate applications for 1st Century Churches and 21st Century Churches.

Application of Revelation Chapter Six

I. The Judgment of God is ongoing throughout all ages. Rev. 6:1-8. 

Key verse in Four Horsemen section

6:8 And [the four horsemen] were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

Some commentators try to make the four horsemen instruments of judgment against persecutors of the church and instruments for the purification of the church itself. I think this comes from relating this chapter too closely to Jesus’s Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24 & 25; Mark 13; and Luke 21).

Most commentators see the rider of the white horse to be an anti-Christ figure. I disagree. John will deal with that aspect of the Olivet discourse in Revelation Chapters 12-20. Anti-Christ’s teachings are dealt with under the symbol of the Beast from the Land or the False Prophet. (But, this must await future studies.)

Chapter six is an overview of God’s judgment on the persecutors of his church. Any spill-over of calamities to Christians is because we all live in the world though Christians are not of this world. (see Matthew 5:44-45). Jesus is clear that we are safe from ultimate harm within this world as it experiences judgment. However, we are not saved “out-from-under” the common experiences of suffering along with those who are not Christians.

Nor are we removed from the anger of men who will persecute Christ’s Church rather than admit there is a God judging them, to whom they are accountable. Europe decided it did not want God anymore in the public sector of its corporate life. The rest of the West followed that lead in its national life like lemmings falling over the precipice. The latest incarnation of godless, European public policy is to banish and restrict Christians from participating in the “public square.” As the four horsemen punish the West, the ungodly punish and persecute Christians.

Antique illustration of Four Horsemen o the Apocalypse

So Christians today as those in the 1st Century might wonder why Christians suffer. (I don’t like the expression “Why do bad things happen to good people?” because no one is good apart from Christ. See Romans 3:9-18.  Suffering is not because Christians have done wrong. Judgment comes upon the ungodly, but the fallout from the ungodly on Christians is not a sign of God’s displeasure with them. John 17 sums this up —

14 I have given them your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.
16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them [through] the truth; your Word is truth.
18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (To the ESV changes are mine and emphasis mine also.)

What God says to us today.

I recommend Open Doors USA  as an organization that reports accurately on the persecution of Christians worldwide. (Click on the link above and scroll down to see a summary of the top 50 countries where Christians are most in danger of persecution.)  This doesn’t mean that all the people of these 50 countries are necessarily doing this.

Remember also Colossians 1:24-25 —

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known… .

Verse 24 is an enigmatic verse. Paul is not saying Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient to save, and we must work to achieve salvation. The only possibility for needed sufferings by humans is that suffering which is incurred to deliver the Gospel to the lost. The lost are not eager to hear Christ’s Gospel and standing “a tiptoe” when they hear Christian evangelists are coming to them. They persecute the messengers since they cannot accost God for telling them they are in need of a Savior! 

We ought to pray for the persecuted Church around the world. Some are perhaps new Christians and have not the maturity to understand their situation. Hebrews 13:3 sums up our duty well — 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.

There is a place is a great hymn —

Notes

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. (1563). “The execution of Dr. Ridley and Master Latimer.” Accessed 25 February 2020 from https://www.exclassics.com/foxe/foxe323.htm

Hendriksen, Wm. (1930) More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Repide, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Maruta of Maiperqat. (ca. AD 325). Accessed 26 February 2020 from http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/marutha_nicaea_02_text.htm
Note on the website: This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2007. All material on this page is in the public domain – copy freely.

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

The Sixth Seal: Universal Terror Grips all Mankind

Revelation 6:15-17 

Image above in the public domain from WikiMedia Commons; Michaelangelo’s “Last Judgment” (1536-1541) in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome.

I. All strata of society at the end will be affected by judgment. vs. 15a 

vs. 15a Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free… .

The Second Coming of Christ (parousia) will eliminate all classes of society. No longer will there be the rich and the poor. There will just be lost men, all thrown together to face the wrath of God. 

Roman Strata of Society

Roman society was segmented more than our own. European society today is “frozen in place” as was Rome’s. No one can rise above his status which he had at birth.

1. The Kingsbasileus = King; Caesar and vassal kings under him.

2. The Great megistânes = magnate, noble, or courtier; “perhaps the leading men of [the Roman Empire], but more probably the victorious party of Caesar.” See Moulton and Milligan below).

3. Generalschiliarchos, commanders of a thousand soldiers, or military leaders.

4. Richplousioi — possessing abundance of wealth

5. Powerful  — dunatoi — possessing great strength

6. Slavedoulos — bond slave, the chattel of another

7. Freeeleutheros — former slave freed by his or her owner

Everyone is included in this list. There are no exceptions. No one can opt out or get a substitute other than Jesus Christ. Note below how men avoided service by hiring their own substitutes.

Something one could hire a substitute for

Many healthy men who were eligible to serve in the military during the Civil War never ended up enlisting. The Enrollment Act of 1863 provided that a draftee could pay a “substitute” enrollee the sum of $300 (about $5,000 in today’s [2013] terms) in order to enlist in his place.

Such famous Americans as Grover Cleveland and John D. Rockefeller took advantage of this provision, in effect buying their way out of service. Abraham Lincoln was too old for the draft, and, being president, would have been exempt regardless of age. But the Army was short of men, and the commander in chief wanted to encourage other “ineligibles” like himself to voluntarily hire a substitute. To that end, in 1864 he paid a “representative recruit” to fight for him. This document, held in the National Archives, records the enlistment of 19-year-old Pennsylvanian J. Summerfield Staples at Lincoln’s request. (see Onion below).

New York Ad for Substitute

Example above of advertisement for substitute for soldiers in the Northern Army.

Atlanta Ad for a substitute

Example above of advertisement for substitute soldiers in the Southern Army

II. No person regardless of wealth and status can avoid the Day of Judgment. vs. 15b

Rev. 6:15 [people] … hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

mcheyne1One of my favorite hymns is by Robert Murrary McCheyne (pictured to the left) “When This Passing World Is Done.”

1 When this passing world is done,
when has sunk yon glaring sun,
when we stand with Christ on high
looking o’er life’s history,
then, Lord, shall I fully know,
not till then, how much I owe.

2 When I hear the wicked call
on the rocks and hills to fall,
when I see them start and shrink
on the fiery deluge brink,
then, Lord, shall I fully know,
not till then, how much I owe. (see McCheyne below.)

Another Hymn I love is “None Other Name” by Christina G. Rossetti (1830-1894) —

1 None other Lamb, none other Name,
None other hope in heav’n or earth or sea,
None other hiding-place from guilt and shame,
None beside Thee. (see Rossetti below.)

Adam and Eve Hiding from God_Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860

Etching from an old Bible of Adam and Eve hiding from God.

Most commentators refer to Genesis in regard to the hiding of men from the wrath of the Lamb. Genesis 3 —

8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 

III. The Only way to avoid the judgment is to be found in a personal relationship with Christ as Lord and Savior now!

The only way to hide from the wrath of that great day is to be “hidden in the Savior’s side.” Look again at McCheyne’s great hymn, verse 5

Chosen not for good in me,
wakened up from wrath to flee,
hidden in the Savior’s side,
by the Spirit sanctified,
teach me, Lord, on earth to show,
by my love, how much I owe.

substitute_orig

A famous man asked another on the streets of London in the 18th Century, “What’s the news?” (He was seeking gossip.)

The other man replied, “Jesus Christ died for our sins, rose again, and is coming back!”

The famous man replied, “Ah, that is old news, new news, and good news all at the same time!” (Our Daily Bread)

IV. All attempts to hide from God’s presence is futile. 

coram-deo

Men would rather be crushed to oblivion  than witness the Second Coming of Christ (Parousia) unprepared. Only, being crushed will not obliterate us. Only Christ’s blood can wash away our sins!

It will not be a pleasant time at all for the unprepared. They fear the presence of the enthroned Father — literally, “the face” (prosopon). They also fear the wrath of the Lamb. The word is orgê. It is anger and indignation. In the case of God, it is righteous and holy anger and not a fit of passion.

It is better to flee and hide in Christ as our personal Lord and Savior now than leave that decision for a later time. We are not assured of tomorrow. 

We’ll sum up chapter 6 next time, and then we’ll move on to Chapter 7.

Notes

McCheyne, R. M. (1843). Accessed 22 February 2020 from https://hymnary.org/text/when_this_passing_world_is_done

Moulton and Milligan. (1930). The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament. Accessed 22 February 2020 from https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek/3175.html

Onion, R. (2013). “The Man Who Fought in Lincoln’s Name.” Accessed 22 February 2020 from https://slate.com/human-interest/2013/01/abraham-lincoln-the-president-paid-a-substitute-to-enlist-in-the-union-army.html

Rossetti, C. G. (1830-1894). Accessed 22 February 2020 from https://hymnary.org/text/none_other_lamb_none_other_name

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

 

The New Song, Part 2

Revelation 5:8b Each [Elder was] holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 

II. We must see the need to fill those angelic bowls with our intercessions. 

The “each one” refers to the Elders alone and not to the Living Creatures. The Creatures do not perform a priestly function in the Book. The harp is the OT instrument of
praise.

The golden bowls are the phialê — the flat, shallow cup or bowl for the drinking and pouring out libations. It was used prior to the time of Homer as a funerary urn — to keep the ashes of cremated dead bodies.

These are said to be full of incense (thymiamaton). This is a fragrant substance which was burned for fumigation or which was placed on the bodies of the dead for embalming. Psalm 141:2 is obviously in John’s mind as he records was he saw. “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” 

E. M. Bounds, pastor from Washington, GA, said this of prayer —

“Prayers are deathless. They outlive the lives of those who uttered them.” (see Bounds below). 

In the OT the incense symbolizes the praise of the people. Here it symbolizes the prayers of the saints on earth and the martyrs. (It bothers me that the NRSV translates any earthly saint as “holy one” instead of “saint.” This is wrong on a number of levels. This is why I’m glad to use the ESV in our Anglican service and leave behind the NRSV with the 1979 prayer book.) 

What kind of prayers? It seems logical to view them as the prayers for righteous vindication. In Revelation 6:9-11 we are introduced to the souls of the martyrs under the altar. They cry out for vindication. If anyone has been wronged, he should not retaliate but pray to God who will right all wrongs when He sits to judge the world. 

Spurgeon said this of Psalm 119:126 — “It is time for the Lord to act, for your law has been broken.” 

“And surely this is an age in which this prayer is very suitable. On all hands we see God’s law ridiculed, or denied, or travestied, or else hidden under tradition or under the [dogmas] of so-called scientific men, or in some way or other “made void.” Oh, that God’s right hand of grace might be stretched out to do some miracle of mercy in the land at this very time! The presence of evil is an incentive to pray for God to act.” (see Surgeon below).

God’s people have always been a praying people. We see evil the like of which Spurgeon did not see in his day, government funded murder of children for convenience, laws passed that approves unBiblical views of marriage, etc. So any difficult situation we face should be an incentive to fill the angelic bowls with “deathless prayers” that outlive our brief lives. Prayers are never forgotten! 

vs. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation. 

III. We need to see the new song as keeping the Great Redeemer’s sacrifice ever fresh and new. 

Luther said, “Preach as if Jesus was crucified yesterday, rose from the dead today, and is returning tomorrow” (see Luther below). 

I would add we ought to proclaim the Gospel and sing and live as if Christ’s sacrifice has a daily effect in our lives! 

Psalm 96 calls for such a “new song” — 

1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.

The New Song — “New” in Greek is kainos — “new in the sense of not being used up” — but not in the sense of “new in time.” We speak of a “new” car in the sense of its being new to us. The song of the Elders is not “brand new” in the sense that the words had never before been heard. It was new in that old words and concepts are placed in a new arrangement and given to the Lord in a new way.

We love the old hymns of the faith! But I see no need to use the melodies that sound alien to our younger folks. I think we ought to avoid entertaining anybody—old or young! But the words of the old hymns are significant even if the original music has gone out of favor. 

For those who wish to learn new tunes to older, theologically sound words, I suggest a visit to Reformed University Ministries music site (see Indelible Grace Music below). They have older hymns set to new music. They have lead sheets, guitar chords, etc. to help worship leaders and musicians. 

The Redemption of Humankind — Jesus’ act of redemption made him worthy to take the scroll and open it. John uses the word agorazô — to buy out of the marketplace (see agorazô, below.) 

Blood payment may seem strange to our 21st century ears, but to Jewish/Christian ears of the first century it refers to the price of the sacrificial victim — the redemption money paid for the firstborn so he would not die, but a substitute would die in his place. Our Lord paid the price of buying us out of the slave market of sin. He set us free to serve him. The price our redemption was the blood of Christ.

I remember choosing the hymn “Not All the Blood of Beasts,” for worship one Sunday morning. 

1 Not all the blood of beasts,
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away its stain.

2 But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name,
And richer blood than they. 

An older, proper lady approached me after the service and said I should not have chosen that hymn about the blood of beasts. I pointed out is was in our hymnal and it was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). 

We cannot be embarrassed by the blood! Christ alone saves us by his sacrifice. 

I Peter 1:18-19 — 

18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. [ESV] 

vs. 10 …you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they [are reigning] on the earth.

IV. We must see ourselves as God’s kingdom people called to be intercessors in the last days! 

The Old Testament background to 5:10 is Exodus 19:3-5 —

3 while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession [Hebrew = segullah = royal property] among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

The Saints Reign on the Earth now — physical Israel is no longer God’s nation apart from many other Leviathan States. God’s people are dispersed among the nations in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The reign upon the earth now is a great comfort to the disfranchised from countries who do not esteem them. Christ’s reign with His people was inaugurated at His Ascension.  It will be consummated in the new heavens and the new earth in eternity. 

One way we reign now is through of our intercessory prayers! I think, we would give our entire earthly possessions away if only our children would walk with God and would do so always. (I know I would!) Your, and my, prayers for erring prodigals are not lifeless. They are stored up in heaven to be answered in God’s time. (see Graham, Ruth below). 

Maybe the world is sliding into judgment. We may not be able to influence that outcome, but we can affect our family’s destiny with our prayers. 

More on chapter 5 next time!

Notes 

Agorazô. (2019). Accessed 20 November 2019 from https://biblehub.com/greek/59.htm

Bounds, E. M. from Goodreads. (2019). Accessed 20 November 2019 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1092295-prayers-are-deathless-they-outlive-the-lives-of-those-who

Graham, Ruth Bell. (2008). Prodigals and Those Who Love Them: Words of Encouragement for Those Who Wait. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 

Indelible Grace Music. (2019). Accessed 18 November 2019 from http://www.igracemusic.com/

Luther, M. from Goodreads (2019). Accessed 20 November 2019 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7139931-preach-and-live-as-if-jesus-was-crucified-yesterday-rose

Spurgeon, C. H. I cannot remember the book where I read this quotation, but I did write it in the margin of my Bible. 

Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). from Ultimate Commentary on Psalms: a Collective Wisdom On The Bible (Kindle Locations 129182-129185). Kindle Edition.

 

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Pergamum: A Church so Close to Hell, Part 1

The letter to the church at Pergamum

(Click on the link below if you wish to read the letter as whole first; I will quote them as I explain.)

Introductory comments about Christian Warfare

C. T. Studd was a respected Cricket Player in 19th Century England. In 1885,

C T Studd in Africa

C. T. Studd (1860-1931; pictured in Africa.

he journeyed to China as a missionary — one of “The Cambridge Seven.”

He authored a booklet entitled: “The Chocolate Soldier.”

“Heroism is the lost chord of Christianity! Every true soldier is a hero! A soldier without heroism is a chocolate soldier!  Dissolving in water and melting at the smell of fire.” [See Studd below].

There were no Chocolate soldiers at Pergamum! The Christians at Pergamum were heroic Christians. They lived as brave men and women who had the spirit of martyrs in them. C. T. Studd often said —

Some want to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.

Christians of Pergamum set up that proverbial “rescue shop” very close to hell. They could see “Satan’s Seat” high above them. Pagan temples were abundant in the city. 

Historical focus on the city of Pergamum—vs. 12a

12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write… .

Pergamum existed as a separate kingdom until Attalus III bequeathed it to Rome at his death. It boasted of a library of 200,000 volumes. It was built on a hill 1,000 feet above sea level. Its acropolis was on a high citadel with sacred buildings and temples.

 

The Heights where the Imperial Temple sat at Pergamum (left).
The Rod of Asclepius (right).

Pergamum was the center of four great cults of Rome — (1) Zeus; (2) Athene; (3) Dionysis; (4) Asklepios (symbol was the Rod of Asclepius, pictured above).
Pergamum was the center for the Emperor cult. It was the first city to be permitted by Rome to build a temple to a living emperor. If ever hell were manifest on earth, surely it was in pagan cities who worshiped false gods.

berlin_4

The Altar of Pergamum (now in Berlin) is thought to be Satan’s Seat.
It is the best preserved artifact from ancient Roman Empire. 

The Roman Proconsul in Pergamum had the right to execute at will (the power of the sword = the Gladius pictured right below at Roman soldier’s side). False worship was wedded to dictatorial powers of Rome in Pergamum.  This is a dangerous combination for the Church of Christ anywhere. Roman Soldiers 2

Christ pledges success to the church who faithfully preaches his word amid vilest of evil.

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.’

The Risen Christ reveals himself as the one who has a sharp double-edged sword — in Greek the word is rhomphia — the large broad sword used by the pagan hordes conquered by Rome (pictured left). It is an effective instrument of judgment in the mouth of Christ, not in the hands of the Proconsul.

barbarian swordThis figure of the sword coming out of the mouth of Christ is meant as a comfort for the church so close to hell. Christ’s word is effectual for His people against His enemies. Isaiah 55:11-12 are our watch words in time of attack and seeming failure.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. [see ESV below].

God’s Word is powerful for the faithful church that preaches it even if that church is at the gates of hell itself! Tim Keller explains how Christ meets people in the midst of other so-called competing “gods.”

“My mother [recently] had suffered a stroke, and my father needed someone to lean on. His pastor sat with him for hours in the hospital, ministering not with profound answers, but simply with his presence.

“In the same way, Christianity does not so much offer solutions to the problem of suffering, but rather provides the promise of a God who is completely present with us in suffering. Only Christians believe in a God who says, “Here I am alongside you. I have experienced the same suffering you have. I know what it is like.” No other religion even begins to offer that assurance.” (see Keller below.)

The Persecuted Church today in many parts of the world is like the church at Pergamum. 

See the graph below about the number of persecuted Christians during 2018.

Compare the number of Christians on the graph below in the top 50 nations worldwide. During the persecution from 2018-19, Christian numbers rose and did not fell. “The blood of the martyrs is ever the seed of the Church.” Not all martyrs die. They are willing to take their testimony as far as death if it is necessary. I have forgotten who said this — “The Apostle John lived the martyrdom of a very long life.”

The Church of Christ can be most effective amid persecution and false worship. Christians point others to Christ’s ability to comfort amid suffering. The brightness of Christ’s Gospel is best seen against the dark backdrop of that which is false.

Psalm 115 makes the point that the lack of ability of false gods to come to the aid of their followers!

3 Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.

4 Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
8 Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

9 O Israel, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.

In a pagan age such as ours, we can point people to the Savior who comes to the aid in all His people’s troubles! This is why Pergamum prospered in the midst of evil, and this is how we also can prosper amid evil today. We must remain faithful to the Word of God!

More on this letter next time.

Notes

ESV. English Standard Version. Accessed from https://www.biblegateway.com/

Keller, T. (2019). “Preaching Amid Pluralism.” Accessed June 22, 2019 from https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2002/winter/1.34.html

Studd, C. T. (2002). “The Chocolate Soldier / or, Heroism—The Lost Chord of Christianity.”  (Kindle).

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

We are not Alone in Our Suffering Part 1

Revelation 1:9-10a

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day… .

Companionship from fellow Believers is Precious to Exiles

I remember a Christian lady in my church years back who had a very hard life. She was a faithful Christian, and came to church with her children regularly. They were a beautiful family. She had emotional issues, and her time with fellow believers helped more than we realized (until it was too late).

One day people noticed she had been absent for a while. The local Newspaper reported her death soon afterwards. The circumstances were unclear. Someone later said she committed suicide. However, subsequent reports stated the gun found at her side didn’t even have a firing pin. I don’t how she died. I know she was in an imposed exile, due to her hostile circumstances and a broken down vehicle. She suffered in her isolation from a lack of fellowship with other Christians.

Rev. 1:9-10a presents a powerful message to those in suffering

Most commentators assign Rev. 1:9-11 to minor significance as a “second introduction to the letter.” I do not see it as minor, and certainly not just a repeated introduction to the letters to follow.

I see Rev. 1:9-11 as relating this important truth to John’s churches and to us — we as Christians are not alone in our sufferings for the Gospel’s sake.

Patmos today WikiMedia Commons.JPG

Patmos today (WikiMedia Commons); hardly what John experienced.

Companions in Suffering are Necessary vs. 9a

vs. 9a I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus… .

“Partner” in Greek means “participant with others in some experience or activity.” (see Thayer below). The circumstances here are three—”the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus.”

Christians suffer in this world, but they are not alone. John identifies himself with his churches in similar circumstances. He gives them a glimpse into his companion in exile — Jesus Christ Himself. John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. He met with his Lord in the cave he inhabited.

Christians can expect the same companionship, both from the Lord and fellow believers, when they suffer today. We need not be isolated and alone. 

We should not Expect Ecstasy vs. 10

John first explains the nature of the “visions” he is receiving. We experience them by reading the Revelation he wrote. We can be “in the Spirit” reading God’s Word and praying. (Click on the link to Praying in the Spirit if you desire more information).

george whitefieldGeorge Whitefield (pictured left) read through Matthew Henry’s 6 Volume Commentary on the Bible four times throughout his life.  The last two times he read it through on his knees.

Arnold Dallimore in his biography of Whitefield writes, “We can visualize him at five in the morning in his room over Harris’s bookstore. He is on his knees with his Bible, his Greek New Testament, and a volume of Matthew Henry spread before him. With books open before his willing heart, Whitefield gazes back and forth from the English Bible to the Greek to Matthew Henry’s commentary, seeking to discern and digest Scripture’s divine truths.” (See Lawson below).

We obtain understanding of Revelation as we do likewise. It does not yield its treasures to a cursory reading. It becomes more and more precious to those who like John are in exile here.

All faithful Christians are in Exile on this earth. vs. 9b

vs. 9b [I, John,] was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 

I have already stated in an earlier blog post that Christians are dual-citizens: (1) of the nation in which they live; and (2) of heaven to which they are headed.

Philippians 3 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ… (emphasis mine; See ESV below).

“Citizenship” in Greek is used of a “corporate body of citizens resident in a foreign city.” Talk about resident aliens! We are all resident aliens to this world and are looking forward to reaching our heavenly home. (see Thayer below).

We all Experience Exile Differently

crypt under the cave of the apocalypse

Recently discovered crypt under the Cave of the Apocalypse

I have been to Patmos. We came to the Island after touring Ephesus, 37 miles to the northwest. We disembarked from our lovely cruise ship at the dock. John did not have such a comfortable journey, arrival, or stay.

According to Pliny and Tacitus, the Romans often sent their prisoners to islands. Tacitus mentions three islands in the Sporades by name: Donusa, Gyarus, and Amorgus. That Patmos was not listed indicates that it was not a primary place for imprisonment at this time. (see Patmos below). Even if the Island was not used as a penal colony, it still must have been a lonely place in the first century. No cruise ship docked there then.

John was physically exiled.

Rome had many ways of “exiling trouble makers. Relegation (relegatio) was the mildest form of banishment by which an undesirable person was removed from Rome or from a Roman province by magisterial decree for a specified amount of time or for life [of the Emperor]. (see

The Roman Governor of Asia Minor simply removed John from the churches of Asia Minor by sending him to Patmos. John was probably told to be on the next boat for Patmos or else. The leaving was forced and unpleasant; the spiritual retreat there was a pleasure!

We can make a spiritual retreat out of our exile, like John did, by finding Jesus as our one true companion!

cave_of_the_apocalypse

Entrance to the Cave of the Apocalypse (WikiMedia Commons)

More next time on God’s Exiled children!

Notes

ESV. Accessed January 2019 from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+1&version=ESV

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Lawson, Steven. (2014). “The Preeminence of Scripture in George Whitefield’s Life.” Accessed January 17, 2019 from https://www.ligonier.org/blog/preeminence-scripture-george-whitefields-life/ 

Meyer, Jason. (2018). “How to Pray in the Holy Spirit.” Blog post. Accessed January 17, 2019 from https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-pray-in-the-holy-spirit

Ovid and the Censured Voice. (2019). “History of Roman Exile.” Accessed January 17, 2019 from http://web.colby.edu/ovid-censorship/exile/history-of-roman-exile/

Patmos. (n.d.) Accessed January 19, 2019 from https://www.bibleplaces.com/patmos/

Thayer. (2011). Thayer’s Expanded Greek Definition, Electronic Database. Biblesoft, Inc. Accessed January 18, 2019 from https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek.html

Witherington, Ben. (2003). New Cambridge Bible Commentary on Revelation. Cambridge University Press

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved