Admittedly a short and somewhat nebulous chapter of Revelation, but we do find points of contact with other Scripture. When you look at vss.3-4 you can hear accents from Psalm 111:2-3, Deuteronomy 32:4, Jeremiah 10:7, Psalm 86:9, and Psalm 98:2. It always amazes me that you can never take one Scripture and think that it is written in a vacuum. It has an impact on Scripture around it and it is impacted by Scripture around it.
I know this is unrelated but my stream of consciousness, especially when it speaks of the smoke that filled the temple, makes me think of this below.
So, if you are wondering where the image of the grim reaper came into being, you have just discovered it. Pretty grim, isn’t it? I find it interesting that the people of God, those who follow the Lamb, who is Jesus, are also given marks on their forehead to distinguish themselves as well. So if you ever do speak with people who believe that a literal 144,000 shall be saved keep in mind that those who are saved according to that thinking and according to this verse will only be men and, according to vs.4, will only be virgins. I think that would leave out just about all of us. I’m sure that those who take these verses literally probably skip this area.
But we find these angels with sickles who come and reap. If you look at Matthew 9:35-38 you hear Jesus refer directly to a harvest that is to take place, but he is bemoaning the fact that the harvest is plentiful but those who would do the reaping are far and few between. He is speaking about the potential that there is for people of God to reach out and let others know about the love of God. It is something to receive the love of God, but it seems to be much harder to pass it on to other people.
Don’t allow the grim reaper imagery to scare you off, but rather, as we heard this past Sunday, once you are certain of your salvation you can live your life without fear. The image of being thrown into a wine vat and trampled so that blood rises 180 miles is pretty sobering. Just take comfort in the fact that we have assurances in Scripture that Jesus will be our ally in life and in our resurrection. Praise be to God!
These are the verses where we get the idea that 666 is the number of the beast. This is where it originates and it speaks about all of humanity having to put a number on their forehead because the beast makes them. The number of the Beast is established here as 666. Now people avoid 666 similar to how people avoid the number 13. But throughout history people have given the identity of the beast to various people. Nero was seen as the potential beast in this Scripture. But then as time marched others saw the Beast as other political figures. Hitler was seen as the Beast. Gorbachev was seen as the beast since he had that birthmark on his forehead. So people said that he must have been the beast since he was hiding the number that must have been on his forehead. Others saw even here at home our president as the beast. Some saw Ronald Wilson Reagan as the Beast since his name is a combination of 6 letters in each name.
The beast is not any of the above. The beast is God’s enemy and we simply do not know when or how the beast is coming. But isn’t it interesting how over history we tend to attribute the most negative of superlatives to those whom we may or may not want to think as being on the same page as we are.
Surprisingly this is not a difficult chapter to decipher. Think about Jesus, and Mary, and the church, and the historical accounts that took place in Scripture. We have a woman who is about to give birth and a dragon that is waiting for her to give birth so that he can devour her child. The child is born and is swept away from the dragon and taken to God and his throne and the woman flees, away from the dragon.
In Luke’s account we have a virgin Mary who gives birth. You can imagine the birth pangs that were involved for her. You have Herod who is waiting anxiously for the wise men to report back to tell him where this newborn Jesus is so that he can swoop in and take him out. Jesus is born, a male child who holds the keys to heaven and hell, and he and his family immediately set off for Egypt as refugees to run away from a dangerous regime. Herod misses his opportunity and orders the slaughter of the innocents out of desperation. Find a painting below which depicts that slaughter. Reubens is amazing, but almost too realistic.
The people of John’s community are certainly feeling like those who were being led to the slaughter. They needed to hear that while the dragon may be angry and he may be making war on the rest of humanity, he will not win. We probably need to hear the same thing as well. We will win simply because God is on our side.
Do you measure up? Some of you may remember a yard stick that was given out to the church many, many years ago. It was definitely BB (Before Bob), but they were long and red and had that double meaning of planting a seed within your mind, while at the same time recognizing that there is a sense in all of us that we want to measure up to what God would us to be. But we simply cannot measure up!
This Scripture begins with a measuring rod for those within the temple. Isn’t that interesting. The Scripture says don’t worry about those outside of the temple, that is where the nations gather and they aren’t really those who are held responsible for the following of the kingdom of God. I absolutely agree with that. Those of us who are in the church should without a doubt be held to a higher standard. Now, we will never live up to that standard, but we need to be held to that standard. If we are uncomfortable with being measured differently from those who may not be in the church, we simply need to get over that and ask the question, why are we not wanting to be held accountable?
The measuring stick that is used in Revelation is one that measures our faith, it measures our devotion, it measures our commitment to the kingdom of God. It is hard to measure up, but we need to be held accountable. There will come a day when these words will be used against me, and against all of us. But we need to recognize that even with the recognition that we ought to be measured and held to a higher standard and that we will never fulfill that standard, we still need to strive for that.
The sweetness and bitterness of God’s Word is depicted in this chapter. It is similar to saying that God’s Word is like a two edged sword. We find that imagery in Hebrews 4:12 where we see that God’s Word is like a two edged sword that cuts to the marrow. But here we read about the sweetness and bitterness of God’s Word. When we read the Bible we can’t help but think of the sweetness of God’s grace and mercy. We read about his steadfast love which endures forever it makes us recognize that we serve a loving and forgiving God. So the sweetness of God’s Word comes from the fact that, well…, it is God’s word.
The bitterness comes from the fact that His Word also contains judgment. We don’t like to talk about that. Okay, I don’t like to talk about that. But it is a reality that we cannot ignore or pretend that it doesn’t exist. There will be a judgment day and it will not all be roses. In fact, we are called to become aware that judgment day will be a day that can cause terror. But the terror should not come because we wonder if we are saved or not. Yes, we are back to that again. You are saved in the name of Jesus. Listen and believe! But the bitterness does comes from a judgment that is a part of God’s plan.
As you read this devotion mark those places in the Bible that you consider sweet. But don’t stop there, mark also those places that you consider bitter and not very tasty at all. I think at the end of the day you will find that the sweetness far outweighs the bitterness. Praise be to God!
I can’t really say much about this chapter except I don’t like locusts. We see locusts as one of the most dreaded enemies of the Israelites throughout Scripture. We find them in Exodus 10, Judges 6 and 7, Jeremiah 46, and Joel 2. Interestingly we find them also mentioned in the New Testament, but as a delicacy that John the Baptism loved to eat. They were considered “clean” and able to be eaten by the Israelites even when they were in the wilderness.
But here in Revelation we find the locusts as beasts like horses who just plain hurt and torture. The Romans were known for their chariot troops, as were the Egyptians, and they were truly feared. Maybe this is what the locusts were about in Revelation.
Just so that we don’t completely turn the page on this book of the Bible and think it is too frightening let me point out a couple things that might be of interest. If you go to vs. 8 you will hear about a great mountain burning with fire which is thrown into the sea. This is Mt. Vesuvius and we know that it tragically erupted and covered Pompeii in 79AD. John would have been alive then and would have known about this event. So this is certainly an event which historically had taken place and John was referring to it so the people who were reading his writing could say with certainty: “Yes, I know of that happening.” It was an opportunity for them to relate to the writing in a way that we can understand as well. So much of the imagery that John uses we can’t understand and we don’t know the symbolism. It is reassuring to hear about a mountain on fire being thrown into the sea and point to a historical happening to which it refers.
But what does that mean in regards to what we understand as far as prophecy. Isn’t John telling us things in Revelation that will take place when judgment day comes? Is everything that John says descriptive of events that were current events or is he sharing anything predictive that will happen when Jesus comes back? I’m on the side of descriptive versus predictive. I believe that John is writing to a community which desperately needs a word of comfort and assurance and so he uses words and imagery that this small community would understand, and potentially no one else would.
We know that the early Christian community used symbols and words to mean something that others would not necessarily understand. For example, the word ICTHUS is one that they used as a code name for their community.
This symbol was a code for Jesus. The word ichtus, which is written in the fish, means, literally, fish in Greek. But ichtus was also an acronym for Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior. We would never know that, those living in the 1st century who were not Christians would never know that. Just like when John speaks about seals and censors we don’t really know what he was talking about, but I’m sure the first century community did.
This chapter and chapter 14 contain the number 144,000. You need to know that the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that this number literally represents those who are “anointed” and will make it into heaven. It is a tragically small number and one that is drawn from inferences and conclusions that simply are not Scriptural. In short, I do not hesitate to say that we do not know who is saved and who is not, and we know that God’s character would reach out and bring to His side all of humanity and not just 144,000 thousand.
So what does this number represent? It represents a completeness that is significant. The twelve tribes listed are the tribes of Israel and so the entire nation of Israel and its descendants are represented. But because it is not just a branch or a shoot but rather a significant number I’m going to take that to mean that it represents even those who are not in the tribe of Israel. So much of the New Testament is devoted to opening the door to salvation to those who are not in the tribe of Israel. Even if Revelation is written primarily to those from that nation who are suffering because of their new found belief in the Messiah who had come, Jesus himself.
So it is chapters like these in Revelation that make people afraid to read Revelation. Do me a favor and read Joel 2 and you will see a marked similarity. So we are all looking forward to heaven, right? Absolutely right. We are all looking forward to hearing our Savior embrace us while saying in our ear: “Well done good and faithful servant.” So in essence we are saying that we are all looking forward to judgment day because we assume that we know on what side we will be. We need to be absolutely convinced of this, and we should be. We need to know that we are saved and so will be counted in that number. It is not unusual to hear a member of the church say: I just am not sure if I am saved or not. You are saved if you have a personal relationship with Jesus.
But these Scripture depict a judgment day that is not pearly gates and angels on clouds playing harps. It speaks about a green horse named death. Joel does the same and he points out the fact that some of us are looking forward to judgment day but really the picture of that day is incredibly tragic. We also see that judgment day is not going to be what we expected. There will be a separation of sheep and goats and how a goat is chosen is very different from what we might expect. So where does that leave us? Revelation 6 portrays a picture of judgment day that parallels Joel 2 and gives us a picture of a judgment day that does not focus on our journey to heaven, but rather the tragedy of those who do not know the Lord.