Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Monday, 31 July 2017

An unusual beatitude (Rev. 16:15)

Jesus announces this beatitude in the middle of his description of Armageddon. So it is connected to his second coming, which will come suddenly (the picture of a thief breaking into a building is used frequently in the New Testament connection to the second coming of Jesus). The beatitude is a warning to his disciples and he uses the picture of clothes to make his point.

A thief is successful because the owner of the house falls asleep. When the owner wakens, he discovers his clothes placed elsewhere have been taken and he has nothing to wear. If he had not gone to sleep, his loss would not have occurred. The lesson is that Christians should not succumb to spiritual sleep. Instead they should always have on their spiritual attire.

The church in Laodicea, which had fallen asleep in a spiritual sense even although it imagined that it was wide awake, was exhorted by Jesus to buy from him ‘white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen’ (Rev. 3:18). I doubt if this is a reference to the garments of justification because possession of them does not fluctuate. Instead it refers to sanctification or to Christlikeness, which does have degrees, and which can at times be less than at other times. Times of difficulty can be difficult times for making progress in sanctification. When they come along, we should remember this beatitude and put on our best clothes.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

The plagues (Rev. 16)

The origin of the plagues is shown to be connected to the worship of God in heaven. A heavenly order of process is observed, designed to impress the dignity and the solemnity of the event on those who hear about it. We are reminded here that the source of divine judgement is the holy place where God dwells.

Of course, no real set of bowls can hold the infinite wrath of the eternal God. The number ‘seven’ points to perfection. It may that John wants us to think of the bowls mentioned in 5:8, which are said to be the prayers of the saints. Several times in this book he has connected divine judgement and the prayers of God’s people. The psalms are full of prayers by believers who longed for divine vindication. And Jesus taught his church to pray, ‘Deliver us from evil.’

To add to the seriousness of what is signified by the bowls, entrance into this sanctuary is not permitted until the plagues have passed, which is probably a way of saying that access to the fullness of glory in the presence of God takes place after the Day of Judgement.

The plagues are not all sequential because in verse 11 the boils of the first plague are still affecting those who suffer the fifth plague. So we can assume that some of them are parallel in the experience of those who are receiving the punishment.

Most of the seven plagues bear a similarity to the ten plagues of the Exodus. The obvious difference is that while the ones at the Exodus were literal, the ones in the vision are symbolic. At the Exodus, each plague happened once within the land of Egypt whereas the seven plagues are global. The seven are also similar to some of the judgements connected to the seals in Revelation 6. In the plagues, we see pestilences, death, changes in nature, fierce heat, darkness and demonic attack.

John is also told why the plagues were sent. Two reasons are mentioned. One is that they are forms of punishment connected to the cruel way those persons and societies persecuted God’s people. The other reason is that the plagues are a reminder that people should repent of their sins, yet they did not. Punishment by itself will not bring sinners to repentance.

The final seal describes the judgement of God on Babylon. Its destruction is a global affair and causes the collapse of everything else. It is a moment of great significance because the next two chapters are explanations of what happened. The city of man comes to its end and it will disappear. It began with Cain and has been expanding ever since. Its residents, who are everybody apart from those who follow Jesus, don’t want to repent even while the city is disappearing before their eyes.

What is Armageddon? Some people think it is a literal battle in Palestine. Others think it describes an end-time conflict. John says it is a battlefield. On one side are those who followed the beasts, and they have been brought to this location through demonic temptation. On the other side is God, whose Day it is. It looks to me that Armageddon is another name for the Day of Judgement, the great day of the Lord God Almighty. We might say the biggest numerically, but also the shortest timewise, battle in the history of earth.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

The song beside the sea (Rev. 15)

Because they are in heaven – the place of peace, purity and prospect, they engage in praise. What do they say in their song?

The first detail to observe is that the same battle is fought during the Old and New Testaments. The battle is between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. Israel had the truth, Egypt was built on a system of lies. In heaven, believers from both campaigns share the victory song.

The song celebrates the sovereignty of God. His sovereignty extends to the nations and to all his actions in those nations – he is ‘King of the nations’ who exhibits almighty power. His actions are wonders because they reveal his wisdom and power and consistent adherence to truth as well as his constant ability to defeat whatever the hostile nations bring against him.

Moreover, the song stresses the singularity of God. There is none like him and it is impossible for anyone to opt out of glorifying him in the end. For many, their glorification will not be saving, because they will acknowledge his uniqueness reluctantly. The biblical way of saying that God is unique is to refer to his holiness. Holiness is a comprehensive word because it combines everything that makes up perfection. Adam was holy when he was first created. Because the holiness here is divine perfection, it is inevitably elevated above everything else, as we see in the vision described in Isaiah 6. This is a reason why we should not sin because every sin is the opposite of the holiness of God.

The fourth feature of the song is that it rejoices in success. Worshippers of God will come from all the nations after they hear about his righteous acts. Although not specified here, the righteous acts are the ones we include in the gospel. So John, and us, are prepared for looking at the seven plagues by being reminded of the redeemed in heaven. They will have been gathered in during the days of the plagues.