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.
So if you find yourself in a situation where you are beaten down on a daily basis you need to hear some encouragement and you need to hear that you will one day win. Revelation is a letter written to a fledgling Christian community that one day they will win. That victory may not take place during their life or on this earth, but one day they will win.
A scroll and its seal normally means that there is a message from the ruler and only certain people are able to read that message because the seal with which it is sealed can only be opened by the person to whom it was addressed. God is the ruler in Revelation 5 and the message that God has written is one that speaks of His victory. The only person who is worthy to open the scroll and to tell about the victory is God himself. The only person who is worthy to recount how we have won the battle is the one who won the battle for us. That would be Jesus.
John was sad because no one on earth was worthy to open the scroll. Isn’t that always the case? We are no worthy, only God is worthy and only God can give us insight into what he has planned next. So while the scroll is not opened in this chapter, this chapter does present to us the fact that only one is worthy to open the scroll. Only one is able to relay to us the victory that is to take place. That is Jesus.
The living creatures that we read about in vss.6-7 have been used by art history to depict the four evangelists and they are seen within cathedrals in their domes as well. Here are some depictions of them.
You can see the four Gospel writers in the four corners in the circles and they are each depicted with one of the metaphorical attributes that we find listed here in Revelation. This is above the Baldacchino in St. Peters in the cupola of the cathedral. I love how cathedrals such as these have the Gospels depicted so prominently within their structure to remind us that the Word of God needs to be that upon which we focus when we find ourselves within the church.
If you can wade through the metaphors and the creatures you will find a depiction of the final judgment where God is on the throne and the 12 tribes and the 12 disciples are represented to depict both the Old and the New covenant that was established by God with his people. We also see the rainbow which was a sign of a covenant that God made with his people as well. Don’t be intimidated by the various other-wordly references, just focus on the presence of the Lord who is worthy to be praised.
While this chapter contains one of the most used and most well known verses in all of Revelation, the letters to the churches remain very consistent. Go ahead and turn to verses 15-16 where we read John say: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold not hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” These verses have always been taken to apply to us so that we would increase our fervor in respect to our faith. We can’t just cruise along and coast and hope and think that all things are copacetic.
What would a letter to the church in Strasburg sound like?
And to the angel of the church in Strasburg write: I know your works and I hold you close to my heart. For many years you have followed the desires of the Lord even in the midst of struggles and challenges. You have been faithful in many things, yet I have this against you. There have been times of dissension and separation, but those times are behind you now. Put those experiences to rest and focus on the good that the Lord is doing in you midst. There is much that the Lord is doing, rejoice and be glad in it.
To those who would want to focus on anger directed to a false loyalty to a piece of cloth, or to those who would want to be divided by political factions and issues that God’s Word does not address, I say that they will pursue these issues and not find any joy in life. Find joy and purpose on those things that Jesus spoke about and taught. Find joy and purpose in feeding the hungry, caring for the widow and the orphan. Find joy in uplifting the downtrodden and comforting those who mourn. The more we try to find joy in those areas where Jesus taught us to focus on, the more we will find the kingdom of God. Listen to what the spirit is saying to the church in Strasburg.