This story is moving pretty quickly. Esther is an orphan who was raised by her cousin, Mordecai. She was probably orphaned by the great captivity of the Israelites when they were removed and taken into captivity. So when Esther is one of the selected to go before the king a few things come to my mind. The first is that this is a kind of high level stakes The Voice where the winner is chosen and becomes queen for life and the losers just go back to their normal routine.
The second is that Esther is about to become queen in a regime that killed her mother and father. Think of that. What if the current presidency ordered the murder of your mother and father, and then you are asked to serve on the administration. What would you do? Mordecai is more of a father figure than a cousin. We see this play out as the intrigue deepens as Mordecai hears of a plot to kill the king. He tells the newly crowned Queen Esther, and she tells her new hubby, the king. The plot is found out to be true and the king’s life is saved. Mordecai and Esther become heroes and …, wait, no, that doesn’t happen.
All we read is that this story was written in the annals of the king with the king being present at the time of their writing. This is crucial and it will come up later. We don’t read that either Esther nor Mordecai are recognized for having brought up this plot and foiled it. But for now the stage is being set in the story. It is a regime that has been brutal to the Israelites, taken them into captivity, and now they have an insider, the queen, who can sway the decision making of the king himself because she has won his good graces. Now the plot continues to thicken.
The background to the book of Esther is fascinating. I hate to send you to Wikipedia, but seeing in the comments that you are very familiar with it, I will send you there. Check out this webpage and it will give you some great background information:
We have to keep in mind that Esther is an absolutely vital book even today. Jewish families on the day of Purim celebrate the conquest of Esther and Mordecai over the evil Haman. One of my favorite Veggie Tales ever is the one about the story of Esther. Here is a link to that for your viewing pleasure.
The book of Esther also contains one of my favorite quotes which we will see coming up in chapter 4, so I don’t want to steal my own thunder. Let’s get on with chapter 1.
Chapter 1 sets up the story for why Esther had to be chosen in the first place. The king had ordered the queen to come before him and she refused. He was embarrassed and didn’t want others to think he wasn’t in control of his own family so he kicked her out. We need to remember that this was taking place in the 5th century BC. But having said that can you think of what is prevalent in our news today and has some bearing to this story?
So, I’m the father of 3 daughters. I grew up in a family of boys. We respected my mom because my dad obviously loved and respected his wife. We were taught by example how to treat women. On very many levels when I read of men who take advantage of their position as men and have some power that others don’t have and then use that to their advantage to curry sexual favors, I don’t have much respect for them. So, as a result I don’t have much sympathy for the king as he is about to choose Esther as her queen. That comes next chapter.
When we live as Christians and see men who treat women abhorrently or call them certain names or speak of their exploits as trophies to be brandished, that is a person who should be corrected from a Christian perspective. This comes through clearly here that women were not treated with the equal footing that they ought to be as we read in Paul’s writings.
This final chapter in Revelation, and so the final chapter in the Bible, can be summarized by a word which is alluded to in vs. 20: Maranatha! In reality it is a combination of two Aramaic words: maran atah which could be seen as a command stating: Come Lord! The only time that phrase is used in Scripture is seen in I Corinthians 16:22 where Paul uses it to describe the feeling of the early Christians who were somewhat losing their patience in waiting for Jesus to come back again. I wonder if this describes a bit of what we are feeling.
On this day, November 5, we will remember it as a day when we wished Jesus had come back sooner than 11:30 Texas time. For it was at that time that a shooter came into the church and took the life of 26 people. If Jesus had come back before that time, we would not have to talk about it. If Jesus had come back before then we would not have to address the issue of what would happen if someone came into our church. If Jesus had come back then we would not have to grieve for those who are now without a mother or a father, a son or a daughter. But Jesus has not come back so we want to use the command form and say out loud: Come, Jesus, Lord Jesus, come!
The ending of Revelation contains a beautiful image of a peaceful existence with our Savior. Especially in the first 7 verses we find laid before us a tree which is specifically for the healing of the nations. Wouldn’t that tree come in handy today as we see nations menacing each other with words and very little actions. But then the author, John, changes tone and begins to describe the meaning and the purpose behind the writing of Revelation. We are to worship God and only worship God (vs.9). That makes sense in the pantheistic culture in which the Roman Empire, and thus the early Christian church, found itself. Only worship God was a command directed at those who thought that if I bow to the emperor it can’t hurt anyone and it could save the life of me and my family.
We find the repeated promise from Jesus that he is going to come back again in vs.12-13. Again, these are words which are much needed by the early Christian community. He ends Revelation with the same ending that I would want to give to you at the end of a long and difficult road which we have traversed together: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.” Now, if you want to include yourself in the number of the saints that’s up to you. I’m including you.
While the last chapter we read about the lake of fire and those who will be thrown into it, in this chapter we have a very clear, and popular, rendition of what heaven will be like. Have you ever heard about the pearly gates or that heaven will have streets of gold? Well, this is from where people get that idea. You can see both of these concepts mentioned in vs. 21.
But instead of the physical attributes which describe heaven, I prefer to focus on what will it be like. We can also find that description in this chapter and it is a chapter that I often use for funerals. If you focus on vss. 1-8 you will hear the following promises which I am sure you have heard at some time or another: there will be a new heaven and a new earth, He will wipe away every tear from their eye, there will be no more crying and no more pain, Jesus is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.
We should be familiar with these promises, we have heard them before. They are comforting while at the same time they are embedded within a description of heaven that many have relied upon to paint a picture of sheer beauty. All of that is true, but the real beauty lies within the fact that once we die all things will be changed. We will receive a new body, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, God will be by our side and never, ever leave us. I choose to rely upon that as my assurance.
Throughout Scripture we read about a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. But it is here where we truly see the hell that we have envisioned which is a fiery pit matched with torment that lasts eternally. Dante, who wrote Inferno, had his own ideas of what it looked like and he added a place called limbo which wasn’t quite as bad, but did have it’s negative implications. We don’t believe in limbo but it has made an impact that finds itself in many belief systems. Here is Botticelli’s rendition of Dante’s Inferno which is fairly well known.
The mention of a 1000 year time when Satan will be cast down and then will be let out because, “After that he must be let out for a little while,” reminds me of a statement that we would make in regards to our pets who have to be let out after a little while. But we do see that once Satan is let out he pretty quickly meets his demise.
The overarching theme to all of this is that God is the one who control’s Satan and Satan has no real decision making processes on his own. Our fear of Satan is somewhat unjustified because God ultimately has control over all things including, and especially, Satan.
I have said all along that my understanding of eternal life is both inclusive and exclusive. We see the inclusivity in John 3:16 when we read that God so loved the world. There is no distinction on the earth, God loves the entire world. The exclusivity comes in vs.15 of this chapter, and is found in other places as well, where we read that those who do not call upon the name of the Lord will be thrown into the lake of fire. Sounds pretty harsh, well, because it is pretty harsh. God loves all of us, but we absolutely need to respond to God.
I can’t help but think of this movie from Hitchcock when I read vs.21.
There is horrifying imagery in these verses and they remind us that victory does come in Jesus but it has come at a cost. We often forget that the God that we worship died in a very brutal and bloody way. We often forget that the one to whom we give our life and devotion was beaten and tortured by people just like us.
This scene in Revelation reminds us that as we might choose to be a follower of Jesus Christ it is not a choice which makes our life easier. It can, in fact, make it more difficult because we are called to make decisions which should fly in the face of societal pressure. We are called to not follow the Beast even if it means that we take the side of people who are often portrayed as Beasts. We are called to stand on the side of our neighbor who is often misunderstood.
If you look at vs.10 you will see a marked similarity to what happens to Peter with Cornelius in Acts 10:25-26. How quickly we are to make those around us deities when we find ourselves in need.
Did you know that on feast days in Rome the fountains would pour forth wine for all the citizens to drink? Here is a picture of a fountain in Rome which could have very likely existed in that time period and poured forth wine on the feast days. Think of vs.3 when you see this picture.
When I read through this section I can’t help but think of the hegemonous (there’s another one for you Sally) position that the United States has in the world. We know that Rome was the center of the Roman Empire and that it had complete dominance over the world. Things are bit more shaded today. While the United States could arguably be considered the most powerful and wealthy nation in the world, I think China might have something to say about that. But beyond China and the US no other nation can lay claim to having the type of impact and influence which Rome had during the era of its empire.
So when we read about the traders bemoaning the fact that Rome is no longer around, I can’t help but think of the impact that the US has on trade. It is interesting that we read in vs.8 from one day to the next everything had changed. Many of us saw an immediate change in the way in which we interacted with the world and with each other after 9/11. But we maintain our hegemony. I am not wishing that we would lose it. I’m wishing we could use our power for good in the world.
Another way in which to view our power is that we would be able to match the teachings of Jesus when he emphasizes a servant heart with our position in the world. What would it look like if we were servants first and foremost. What would it look like if our leaders tweeted examples in which we reached out and helped our neighbors, our own country men and women? What would it look like if we did turn our back on profit and embraced the future by welcoming our neighbor. I know, doesn’t sound realistic, but it is the course that Jesus would have us take. I know, sounds like a recipe for national self-destruction. Or maybe it sounds like a recipe for entering the kingdom of God as a child. I’ll take the latter.
The heading for this section on BibleGateway is: “Babylon, the Prostitute on the Beast.” I have this huge TV set up as my screen for my computer since my computer screen is a bit on the fritz. With that heading in bold I was afraid that a member of the church just might walk into my office while I’m typing this. I promise, I’m studying Revelation. It is shocking and John the author states that he was shocked by what he saw. I’ll never forget when I was a junior in college and was studying in Rome I took a Spring Break trip through Europe and went to Amsterdam for a few days. I met up with a student from South African and another from New Zealand. I was shocked by what we were offered when we went into a cafe. I was equally shocked by what I saw when we walked into the red light district. I imagine John felt the same shock.
But in that semester in Rome this was my view from my window.
I was staying in a convent on the Aventine Hill. It was one of the seven hills of Rome. Did you hear what I just said and were you able to put it into the context of Revelation 17:9-11 and then again vs.18? You see Rome is known as the city of the seven hills, even though it is not mentioned by name in this Scripture. This chapter to me is definitive proof that John was speaking about the Roman Empire when he spoke about the Beast and the prostitute. We can absolutely be sure that John had a current event in mind when he spoke about Babylon and that event was the Roman Empire.
Oh, and by the way, that field is the Circus Maximus which is where they had chariot races in Rome. It was the scene of Ben Hur and the Coliseum is right over the hill on the right side of the picture. Rome is the most amazing city in the world, even if John does call it a prostitute.
This chapter is really a continuation from the previous one where we were introduced to the seven bowls of wrath that were going to be coming. Today in this chapter we read about the details of each of these bowls of wrath. Keep in mind that the people of John’s community were experiencing wrath at the hands of the Romans every single day. Each of these descriptions could relate to life events that were happening within their communities and to which they could relate.
You can’t help but make a correlation between these seven bowls of wrath and the ten plagues that the Egyptians experienced at the hands of God when Moses asked Pharaoh to let his people go. You can find those ten plagues in Exodus 7-11 which ends with the death of the first born son which really sent Pharaoh over the edge and caused him to release the Israelites from captivity.
I hope you do notice that each of these seven plagues is directed towards those who are worshiping and following the beast. There is an eerie similarity between these plagues and that which we see in Exodus. Notice also that those who are suffering under these plagues refused to repent. At least in the book of Judges when we read about the people doing what was evil in the sight of God at a certain point they repented.
We find mention of Armageddon in vs. 16. Just so that you are aware below you will find a picture of Armageddon. The picture was taken by John Faltin during our last Israel trip. You should be able to see that it is a place of crossroads. People travelling from east, west, north, and south would intersect with each other. Not only people, but armies would also intersect at this place. It is here where people think the final battle will take place because so many battles over history have taken place in this location. You can see it clearly from the place where it is thought that Elijah did prophetic battle with the priests of Baal. You remember that story, where God burned them all up in one fiery inferno when their god fell asleep.
So, this is a very central location and when it is mentioned here in Revelation it is more than just a location, it is the THE location. This is another example where for us Armageddon may mean the end of the world, for them it is a particular crossroads where they met people all the time.
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.