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.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

New earth, no sea and a city (Revelation 21:1-8)


Many people are frightened by what they imagine is over the horizon. The future is unknown, and they prefer the confusion of an uncertain present to thinking about the world that is to come. Yet God in his love and mercy sent to John a message about the future that was conveyed to him by his Saviour, Jesus. It is beneficial to imagine how joyful Jesus would have been as he revealed to his servant some of the things that would shortly come to pass.

John now sees a new universe. The sea has passed away, along with the first earth. Clearly, the absence of the sea is significant, because its absence is highlighted by John. The sea was regarded at that time as a place of danger and of separation, and as far as John and his fellow exiles were concerned it ensured their confinement in exile. Moreover, the horrid beast who had instigated the persecution of the church had arisen from the sea. All those reasons would have caused John to rejoice that the sea would be no more.

Maybe there is an allusion here to Genesis 1, where when God started his work of creation, it was all sea, yet with the progression of days the space allotted to the waters was reduced. The sea at the beginning was not a suitable place for humans to dwell, so land had to be formed. But now there is a new world about to begin and the sea has gone, with all its negative influences.

Yet at this stage the new earth has nothing on it. The first event that John sees with regard to the new earth is that the people of God come to inhabit it. They are described as the holy city and we are told that they are dressed for a wedding, which is a reminder how she was attired for the marriage supper of the Lamb that is described in chapter 19. This wedding occasion is going to be endless. The heaven that she comes from is not the sky, but rather the heaven where God dwells.

There may be another contrast here with what happened at the beginning. In Genesis 1, the man and the woman were created last and they did not see God’s previous works of creation. However, in this passage, before anything is formed, the King and his bride are brought together, meaning that they will observe whatever is made subsequently by God.

The picture of a city reminds us that the people of God are a community that is organised. Calling it a city has been common throughout the Bible. Abraham looked ahead to it, a psalmist sang about it Psalm 87, and Ezekiel prophesied about its coming and reminded his listeners that its significant reality would be that the Lord is there. Of course, the first city was erected by Cain to celebrate the triumph of man, but at the end it will have no celebrations. The final city, however, will celebrate the grace and abilities of God.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Revelation 20 – four thoughts

It looks to me that here John uses the word resurrection to describe heaven and the word ‘death’ to describe the places where sin will abound (whether on earth today or in the lake of fire). He does not say that the first resurrection is spiritual regeneration, which is how we often use it. Instead he uses it to describe what happens to the martyrs when their souls get to heaven and are crowned. Other believers also experience the first resurrection when their souls enter heaven.

The thousand years does not refer to a literal millennium – instead it covers the length of time between when Jesus bound the devil until shortly before he returns as judge. Nor does the thousand years refer to what happens in a restored holy land – instead it covers everything that happens anywhere between the binding and the final rebellion. Today we are living somewhere in the thousand years. It is not a literal number, but a symbolic one.

As far as the binding of Satan is concerned, Jesus gave foretastes of it during his years of public ministry. He showed he could the devil during the temptations in the wilderness and every time he delivered someone from demon possession. When his disciples were used to deliver someone from demon possession, it was evidence of the Saviour’s ability to bind the devil. Paul says in Colossians 2:15 that when Jesus was on the cross he made a public display of the devil’s defeat.

I would suggest that the aim of this chapter is twofold. One is to show the completeness of the victory of God illustrated by the binding of the devil, the defeat of the rebellious army, and the verdicts from the great white throne. The other is the glory enjoyed in heaven by departed saints, whether or not they were martyrs. They are blessed beyond words. They are perfect in holiness and they function as priests and kings in the presence of Jesus.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

The victory of God (Revelation 20:7-15)

Earlier John had been told that the devil would be released for a little while after the period represented by the thousand years was over. Within that brief period, the devil deceives the nations and leads them in an attack on the kingdom of Jesus. The imagery is taken from the book of Ezekiel where Gog and Magog attacked the holy land and were destroyed there by God. A similar outcome occurs here, with the devil’s army destroyed, and he is given special punishment, similar to how the beast and false prophet were dealt with. This is obviously not a literal battlefield. The people of God are not located in a literal camp and city.

Yet we can learn some important truths from this description. First, God is going to have complete victory. Second, large numbers of people will be willing to join an attempt to dethrone God. Third, however bad things are today from a spiritual point of view, they can get a lot worse.

Then John is given an awesome description of the final judgement day. It will be a day of cosmic upheaval. The description is of an ancient trial in which a king judges his enemies. Unlike our trials, there is not a jury. Everyone who is at it is described as dead – they have experienced the first death because they are about to experience the second death. They have undergone a physical resurrection, and all will be there no matter how their lives ended. Evidence will be presented about their lives – this is the point of the books – and each is judged for his or her own actions.

Some matters to observe are these. First, there is the awesomeness of the Judge – his presence causes disturbances. This is probably a description of Jesus, although it could be a reference to the Father. Second, there is the accuracy of the book of life – only those whose names are in it will not be punished by the Judge. Third, there is the size of the assembly – all those who have defied God are there.

Fourth, there is the complete triumph of God – as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, the last enemy that will be destroyed is death and here it and the temporary place of the dead are overthrown (tossed into the lake of fire). There will be found the beast (the political opponents), the false prophet (the religious opponents), the devil (the leader of the opponents), death (the consequence of the opponents’ practices) and the place of the dead (Hades) – all of them will experience the second death forever. Jesus will have defeated them all. 

Friday, 25 August 2017

Reigning with Jesus (Revelation 20:4-6)

John sees thrones but we are not told where they are located. Given that the description is similar to previous descriptions of the heavenly throne room, it is likely that John was shown what was taking place in heaven at that time.

He saw rulers, which may be a reference to angels, but more likely refers to believers who have died. Then he mentions those who had been martyred for the sake of Jesus (including John’s own brother James). They reign with Jesus during the thousand years.

Their coming to life is said to be the first resurrection, yet what is surprising about them is that John does not see their bodies. Instead he sees their souls. This also would suggest that the location of the thrones is heaven.

Here we have information about what the righteous dead are engaged in during this period of a thousand years. In heaven, they function as priests and kings. As priests, they participate in the worship of God and of Christ, and as kings they reign with Jesus.



We don’t know what or how those contributions take place. Yet we can deduce several details from the description. First, they are conscious, involved in the life of heaven. Second, they are consecrated to divine service. Third, they will experience the work of the Spirit – this is implied in their roles as kings and priests because such were anointed for their tasks. Fourth, they have communion with God and with Jesus.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The binding of the devil (Revelation 20:1-3)

The meaning of the thousand years is very much discussed today. How should we interpret the passage? It helps us to see what is happening when we realise that four different events are described in the chapter and we will focus on each of them briefly. They are (1) the binding of the devil, (2) the reign of the martyrs, (3) the defeat of God’s enemies and (4) the day of judgement. We will consider the first today and the others tomorrow.

What is meant by the curtailing of the devil? In the account, he is chained and thrown into a bottomless pit and a secure lid is placed over it. The imagery of this pit suggests that devil finds it impossible to get out of this curtailment. He is always falling down the pit, and even if he managed to reverse this he cannot get past the lid. The reason why he is placed within this pit is to prevent him from deceiving the nations for the period of the thousand years.

We should ask a couple of questions at this stage. First, when was the period when the devil deceived the nations? One answer would be that he did so during the centuries before Jesus came. Since Jesus ascended to heaven and began to build his worldwide church, it cannot be said that all the nations are deceived. So we can deduce that during that period the devil is prevented from hindering the complete spread of the gospel.

A second question concerns the nature of the binding. If the period of the church is the same as the thousand years, we can see lots of places where the devil seems to hold millions in spiritual blindness. The binding does not mean that he is inactive. Instead it means that he cannot do what he used to do. God limits the range of the devil’s influence.

Here, the devil is said to be the ancient serpent mentioned in Genesis 3 as the creature who tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God in the Garden of Eden. On that occasion, the Lord announced that a Champion would come and defeat the serpent. That prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus defeated the devil at the cross.

There are several comforts that we can take from this reality. First, the binding is evidence that God is in control. Second, the activity of Jesus on the cross included defeating the devil and the removal of his power over the nations. Jesus did defeat the powers of darkness when he was on the cross, as Paul states in Colossians 2:15. Third, during this long period represented by the thousand years, the gospel will triumph among the nations as the kingdom of Jesus progresses.  

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Final Battle (Rev. 19:11-21)

John hears a second invitation to a supper, this time a very different supper from the marriage supper of the Lamb, and this time a call to birds of carrion to have a very large meal. It is pictured by use of a description of an ancient battlefield.

We are told the outcome in terms of that kind of situation, not the processes of the battle. John mentions the gathering together of the enemy forces, and then describes their destruction. He may want to stress how weak they were against Jesus even when gathered together. The leaders of the enemy are captured alive and then given a special punishment and the troops that followed them are all slain. We have a description of what will be the state of things regarding his opponents once Jesus has finished his campaign for righteousness.

We should remember that the beast and the false prophet don’t refer to specific individuals but to the political and religious systems that opposed the reign of the King. Their being thrown into the lake of fire tells us that their influence will come to an end and will never reappear. Those who followed them will all be destroyed by the word of the King, which is a graphic way of him pronouncing judgement and experiencing total victory. We are not to deduce that the statement of them being slain suggest annihilation in the sense of avoiding conscious eternal punishment – that would be to take a detail of the illustration and make it contradict clear statements elsewhere in the Bible.

We can take a message of hope from this passage because Jesus is going to win. He will fulfil all the promises made about the conquering Messiah. Sometimes he conquers sinners graciously. The rest will be defeated by him. At the end of the day, or should we say the night, he will emerge totally triumphant.

We should always remember too that all attempts to defeat Jesus will fail. It does not matter how strong they seem. This is one way we can look at history. Consider how powerful the enemies of Jesus seemed in the past at different times. Then consider how powerful his contemporary enemies appear to be. This passage shows how impotent they are against Jesus even when they are all gathered together.

Moreover, Jesus is going to win by himself. The description presents a group of powerful people ranged against the Saviour. Yet it does not matter how many of them there are. They may be mighty, but he is always almighty. He has defeated many and will defeat the rest through his divine authority.

Yet Jesus is going to associate his people with him in his victory. They are described in this passage as marching behind him. Yet they don’t contribute much to the victory and nothing apart from the King. Any involvement they have requires his power to implement it. This is how we are to understand this holy war.

Friday, 18 August 2017

What the King does (Rev. 19:11-21)

John is given another vision of the war that is taking place between Jesus and his opponents. It is not a literal war – after all Jesus does not ride into battle sitting on a horse. Instead what we have here is a description of Jesus and his eventual victory over all his enemies.

Several interpreters regard this passage as focussing entirely on the second coming of Jesus, with the Saviour being presented as marching out to the Battle of Armageddon or to the Day of Judgement. It is obvious that the passage ends with a description of a final conflict, but it seems to me that the previous part of the passage is concerned with the age-long spiritual war that Jesus had been engaged in since his ascension and enthronement.

Yesterday we thought about what this passage says about four names of Jesus mentioned in it. Today, we can think about some other details in the passage. First, John observes that Jesus is seated on a white horse and this posture is a threatening one. Military commanders often rode on white horses into battle. Jesus is not described as about to take part in a ceremonial parade. Rather he is on the march in a war. When did this war begin? It commenced with his ascension and will last until all his enemies are defeated.

What would a commander need in ancient warfare? He would need good eyesight to observe everything that his opponents were planning and to see what would be the best positions to fight from. Moreover, he would need to have authority from his king or emperor to engage in whatever strategy he chose to implement. When it comes to the leader of God’s army, Jesus has unusual vision because not only does see all things visible he can also see all things invisible. Therefore, his enemies can hide nothing from him. Indeed, he knows all possible responses by them as well as all actual activities in which they engage.

How much authority does Jesus have? In the vision, he has many crowns on his head. Of course, in real life, a king can only wear one crown at a time. Yet it is possible to be the ruler of more than one kingdom, and some monarchs have a list of countries over which they rule. Jesus having many crowns in the vision is a way of saying that he has full authority, and he has received this authority from his Father. The Saviour is not like the beast who wore temporary crowns, with temporary describing a very brief period in contrast to the permanence of the reign of Jesus.

What is he wearing? John sees that the royal robe of Jesus is bloodstained and is connected to the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 63 where the prophet predicts that he would defeat the enemies of his kingdom. This would suggest that the war had started, and what John sees is a king already engaged in battle, with the blood of his opponents already on his garments. From an external viewpoint, the persecution that was affecting John and other believers at that time did not seem as if Jesus was doing much to prevent what was happening. But that assessment would only be made by those who could not see the full situation. In contrast, the king was at war already defeating some of his opponents.

What about his army? We are told that his soldiers are holy and pure, riding on white horses. It is difficult to work out if these soldiers are angels or saints. Elsewhere in the book, angels are depicted as riding on horses. Recorded in the Bible are numerous occasions when angels dealt with the enemies of God’s people. Yet the description of the army is similar to how believers are described in the preceding section about those called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. So I would say that here we have a picture of the justified people of God engaged in righteous activities, because that is how they engage the enemy. They do so by following their King and imitating his love of righteousness.

What is his weapon? His weapon is unusual because it is said to be a sword that comes from his mouth, in other words, his powerful pronouncements. Through the use of this weapon, Jesus will bring judgements to his opponents because of their behaviour. He does this to implement God’s just anger against the behaviour of those who oppose him.

No one can defeat him.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Who is Jesus (Rev. 19:11-21)?


The description of Jesus mentions, among other important details, four names that he has. In this post we will consider those names. The first one is ‘Faithful and True’ and this name reveals his character. He is also called Faithful and True in the description of him in Revelation 3:14, in the message to the church in Laodicea, a church that he had threatened with judgement for their lukewarmness. Since he is called Faithful and True, we need to ask to what or whom he is faithful and true. The answer is that he is faithful and true to his Father and his will, which means that he is also faithful to his people, because their deliverance is his cause. The war in which he engages follows the Father’s plan for their salvation, which involves the defeat of his enemies. His character is revealed in his righteous actions. We should note the order of his actions – first, he judges and, second, he deals with the enemies. Therefore, those whom he punishes deserve it.

What is his second name? Connected to his authority is a special name that he possesses. His name is a secret of some kind. John cannot mean that the Father and the Holy Spirit don’t know what the name means. Instead he must mean that no creature knows about it. Moreover, what is meant by knowing here? Does it mean lack of information about the name or does it mean a lack of understanding of the name? Maybe it is the name ‘Son of God’, and no creature knows the full meaning of that divine name. Perhaps the name is Lord, and who apart from God can fully grasp what that name means for Jesus? If it is the name Lord, then we are reminded also of the place Jesus was given at his ascension when he was enthroned at the Father’s right hand. Whatever this second name is, it reminds us of the supremacy of Jesus because there are aspects to his person that are beyond human discovery.

What is his third name? John is also told that Jesus is The Word of God. This could be a reminder of who Jesus is as the eternal God. In John 1:1-14, Jesus is called by this name. As the Word, Jesus spoke the universe into existence and as the Word he maintains everything in existence. And he did not cease to be the Word when he became a man. He is the almighty God. This is a reminder of the incredible power that he possesses, and later on in this passage we will see that he can defeat his opponents by the power of what he says. All he will have to do to ensure judgement will be to announce it.

What is his fourth name? Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. Here we are reminded of a truth about Jesus that was once prominent in our outlook, which is that he is King of the nations as well as the King of his church. So from this position or power he executes judgments on those who disobey his will.

It is important that we have this reality before our minds when we see all the injustices taking place on the earth, whether in the past or in the present. We are not to imagine that the only activity that Jesus supervises as King is the spread of the gospel. In addition, he functions as a Judge, and sometimes before the final day of judgement he brings strong judgements to bear on governments and others that oppose him. This would have been a powerful message for the persecuted Christians of the first century as they faced the might of the Roman Empire. It would have been hard for them to believe that one day the powerful empire would be gone. But it did, and so will all forms of opposition to the King. He does it at his own timing and when he does nothing can stop him because he rules with a rod of iron.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Called to the marriage of the ages (Revelation 19:6-10)

The angel who has been speaking to John about the wonderful topic of the wedding of the Lamb states a benediction. He says that those who are invited to the marriage supper are blessed. This is not a reference to the general call of the gospel in which everyone is invited to believe in Jesus. Instead the invitations to the marriage feast are sent to those who, in line with the illustration of a Jewish marriage, have already signed the agreement and are now in the meantime waiting for the feast to begin. In a mixing of metaphors, the members of the Bride are now the guests.

Those who would have read this statement from this book for the first time would have been going through difficult circumstances connected to persecution and other problems connected to their profession of faith in Jesus. We could say that their making of the wedding garments was bringing them great trouble. They needed to hear divine consolation and comfort. And they are reminded that, despite their circumstances, they are truly blessed.

Most believers have had their embarrassing moments. Sometimes they have them when they have been listening to amazing news. John here has one when he attempts to worship the angel. Maybe he was so caught up in the glorious description that he forgot the messenger was not the subject of his message. Yet even the rebuke he received was a statement of assurance because John was told that he was still a servant of God and a member of his family, and because he was such he had an invitation to the wedding. We can learn from the method of the angel how we are to correct one another.


Good angels and converted humans share one purpose, which is to testify to Jesus. His glory is their common theme, and instead of bowing to an angel John should have joined him in bowing before God. This is our testimony too as we speak in a prophetic manner to the world as we wait for the wedding to take place.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The attire of the bride (Revelation 19:6-10)

It is helpful when thinking about the details of the marriage supper to realise that the process in view here is how betrothals occurred at that time. An agreement was made regarding the couple; this was followed by a period between then and the actual wedding in which the couple were regarded as husband and wife; and then there was the actual wedding. One of the activities of a Jewish bride during the period between the agreement and the actual wedding was for her to make her wedding dress.

It is not difficult to see the parallels between that and what John says here. Jesus and his people become one at conversion – that is like the agreement. As his people wait for the wedding day, they make their wedding garments – this activity has nothing to do with merit, but is an expression of devotion. Then when Jesus returns, there will be the actual wedding.

Instead, it looks as if at the wedding feast the members of the Bride will be allowed to wear as a garment the actions that expressed their love for Jesus when they were in this world. In a sense, this should not surprise us. Even although none of his actions were sinless, the apostle Paul expected to receive a crown of glory as a reward for his years of service of the Lord. And he said that the same blessing would be given to all who loved the appearing of Jesus.

Of course, if we will wear then what expressed our love for him in this life, there is a real challenge for us to meet. Regarding earthly marriages, a lot of care is taken with the bride’s dress. How much more care should be taken with the attire for the heavenly wedding!


It is amazing to think about the nature of the attire. Linen was the type of garment associated with kings and priests, and the mention of it is a reminder of who God’s people are. They were a royal priesthood even when they were on earth and frequently in the Bible they are addressed by those names. Moreover, the actions are now described as bright and pure. Often on earth those actions of obedience were a struggle and always they were marked by sin to some extent. Others were forgotten about long ago, yet here they are contributing to the beauty of the Bride. Although she is now glorified (bright), the glorification is connected to what they did for Jesus out of love. And although she is pure, she is so because they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and can wear them on this notable day.