THE PICTURES OF REVELATION.
1st picture. The risen Jesus in all His glory. Chapter 1.
2nd picture. The Church throughout history. Chapters 2 and 3.
3rd picture. The operations room in Heaven. The Scroll. Chapters 4 and 5.
4th picture. The seven seals. Consequences of sin on Earth. Chapters 6, 7 and 8 v 1-6.
5th picture. The seven trumpets. God warns mankind. Chapters 8 v7, 9 and 11 v 15.
6th picture. The little scroll. The Church’s role in history. Chapters 10 and 11 v 1-14.
7th picture. Seven signs. Spiritual warfare. Chapters 13 and 14 v 1-5.
8th picture. Judgement for all – believers and unbelievers. Chapter 14 v 6- 20.
9th picture. God’s wrath poured forth. Chapters 15 and 16.
10th picture. The World. “Do you belong to it?” Chapter 17.
11th picture. The collapse of the World system. Chapter 18.
12th picture. The culmination of the battle of good and evil. Chapters 19 and 20.
13th picture. Paradise restored. . Chapters 21 and 22.
To benefit from this book it is necessary to come to terms with certain facts. It may mean abandoning strongly held opinions.
1. It is not too difficult and was not written for the intellectual or highly intelligent believers – quite the reverse. God did not set out to bewilder man but to bless man. Ch 1 v 3. There is a blessing promised to those who read it and those who hear it read. So a man should expect a simple explanation.
2. It is a spiritual book to be received in the spirit of man. Packer said: “Everything which happens in the physical, seen World is a manifestation of what is happening in the spiritual, unseen World.” God gives believers a glimpse into the unseen, spiritual World in order to help His people to understand what is happening in the physical, seen World around them.
3. It is not a chronology or series of events in time but a series of pictures of what is happening in the spiritual, unseen World in order to give meaning for those living in the physical, seen World. It is designed to encourage believers and sustain them.
4. There is a need to understand the symbols. Hebrew language is a colourful and picture language. God always gives man a physical picture to convey and to teach spiritual truth.
5. In order to understand all the books and letters, a man needs to know 4 things: (a) who wrote the book (b) to whom was it written (c) what was the situation, which the writer was addressing and (d) what did the writer seek to achieve by the book.
(a) John at the age of 90 had perhaps a deeper understanding of the theology of Jesus. He was a thinker and at the end of his life he was the man best able to handle the revelation. (b) It was written for the early Church, for all Churches in time and for the Church in the last days.
(c) The revelation came during a time of persecution. Evil men prospered. Idolaters continued in their idol worship. It was written at a time when the Church was struggling. The following questions were being asked by believers: “Was it all true? Why did evil seem to be winning? What was life really all about? Was Jesus really going to come back to Earth? Since the Roman Empire continued on its way, unaffected by Christianity, was it worthwhile being a believer and taking a stand? Does it really matter what a man does? How can believers change things? Was it all a delusion?” It is the same situation today and the same questions are asked today.
(d) The theme of the book is that despite everything, God is on His throne and is in control of the affairs of the World. By giving an explanation of the unseen spiritual battle, John hoped to bolster the believers and encourage them to stand firm. A man should never lose sight of that fact. It is a theme like the theme in a symphony. It recurs from time to time. God is bringing everything to a day of judgement at the end of time.
6. Genesis and Revelation were the two most attacked books in the twentieth century. Genesis reveals Satan’s intrusion into the life of mankind and Revelation reveals his ignominious end. Satan hates this.
7. Without an understanding of the role of Israel in the purposes of God and an understanding of spiritual warfare, a man simply cannot make any real sense of the Bible, other than as a moral book, teaching him how to behave in the moral realm. It is essential to remember that God has chosen to speak to the whole nations and peoples of the World through the Jewish culture and therefore it is essential to study that culture in order to understand what God is saying.
FIRST picture. The vision of Jesus. This is the obvious place to start. It is pure revelation and nothing to do with human understanding. A man either accepts the revelation as true or closes the book. “Fear not.” Jesus spoke these words 124 times against the spirit of fear. Death is life’s certainty. One out of one die. The most brilliant scientists cannot find a cure for death. People are afraid of death. Jesus came to destroy the power of death over people. “I died and I am alive.” That is what He said to John. What a blessing! John saw the glorious risen ruler of the Universe in all his wisdom, dignity and power. John had witnessed Jesus death on the cross and his resurrection and ascension. He is till alive.
SECOND picture. The Church. It is not impressive. It is so poor that in at least in one Church, Jesus cannot get in. He stands outside the Church door knocking to get in. There were fine services and good singing but Jesus had no part in the life of that Church. The picture of the seven Churches is held up as a guide to every Church for all time to see how it measures up to the picture. There is a clear pattern in the messages to the Churches. In each message there is the promise of a special blessing for the one who conquers or overcomes. Overcomes what – sin, temptation, the Devil and the World? The first step is for a man to conquer sin in his own life and then to move out to take on the forces of darkness. The picture is building up. This is serious business. No longer can the children of God play at Churches. The picture is to be held up so that believers can take a regular look at their Church to see how it is progressing.
THIRD picture. The operations room or throne room of Heaven. Who is there? What is going on? Mankind could never know what was happening in Heaven, unless God chose to reveal it to mankind. What is happening in the operations room? 1. Praise and worship. 2. Prayers and petitions. What happens when a man prays? This picture shows that angels are being dispatched to tackle demons. Prayers uttered in faith enter the throne room and are mixed with the intercession of Jesus. Then the angels cast them down to Earth, where they have effect. 3. Action. Believers are seated with Christ in the Heavenly places. The picture is so wonderful that it should stir in God’s children a passionate desire to be there. If a man does not enjoy praise here on Earth, then Heaven will be Hell for him. 4. God the creator and Jesus the redeemer. It is in sharp contrast to what is happening on Earth where all is doom and gloom, environmental disasters, earthquakes and disease. God is at the centre of attention – in contrast to man here on Earth. God does everything for His glory and the Honour of His name.
In sharp contrast to the disappointing picture of the Churches on Earth is the picture, which John paints of the worship in Heaven. Certain realities are made plain. The promise is to show John things, which will be hereafter. So much for the present. Now for the future. There are certain things, which must happen. Sin has its inevitable consequences. God has a plan, which will not be defeated. These two truths have to be held together. The throne of God is contrasted with the throne of Caesar. God’s throne is above every other throne. God reveals Himself to those who know Him. Words are really inadequate but give an impression. In John’s day clear glass was thought of as splendidly magnificent. All through this section John is emphasising the majesty and holiness of God.
The beings with eyes all round speak of universal watchfulness, with eyes towards God and creation. They praise God constantly. In Heaven God is worshipped unceasingly. Again John is stating that God has not abandoned the World but His purpose is ongoing. There are mysteries in life. Men feel caught up in the evil of the World, unable to break free, and helpless. No one can be free of the guilt of sin and its consequences. Only Jesus can reveal the mystery and break the seals. When a Jewish man made a will, he rolled it up like a scroll and put on 7 seals. This scroll represents the inheritance, which Jesus received from His Father. The book contains the destiny of the World and is opened bit by bit. The secrets of the World are kept by God and no man can pry into them. Who knows the future – unexpected things keep happening. When Earth-bound powers want a symbol they chose a mighty beast. Russia – the bear. Britain – the lion. France – the tiger. U.S.A. – the eagle. God’s symbol is the lamb. The lamb has 7 horns for strength. 7 is the perfect number. It speaks of the perfect might of the lamb. There is a new song since Christ has done a new thing in Heaven. All recognise the superior worth of the lamb. The mysteries of the World are opened out by Jesus and revealed to man, so that he need no longer be ignorant of the way the World operates. John deals with different aspects, sometimes covering the same ground from a new perspective. Each time new details appear.
FOURTH picture. Events on Earth. History is His story. God has a purpose in history and everything is totally under His control. This picture ties the events on Earth with the events in Heaven – conquest, war, famine and disease. The concern of the Church then as it is for believers now is that there appears to be no one in control of events. How does a man cope with wars and famines, disease and tyranny? Millions are caught up in the situation and are living a desperate life.
There are seals, trumpets and bowls of wrath. It is not a chronology. These do not happen one after the other or at the end of time but from time to time as His story unfolds. There is a definite impression that the consequences increase near the end of the World as man’s sin increases. Seals are the natural consequence of man’s sin. Greed and bad stewardship lead to war and famine. Carelessness and corrupt leadership lead to disease and conquest.
Trumpets are brought about by God as a warning to man to repent and change his ways. The trumpet is always used in the Bible as a warning to the people of impending trouble.
The bowls of wrath are the punishments of God on a lawless people. Even so there is a holding back and a limitation in order that people may repent. God always looks for restored relationship with man. God hates sin and in order to be true to His own character He must punish sin. Satan is not equal with God. It is not a battle between good and evil. God is in total control and uses Satan as His instrument of punishment. So when God lets Satan loose at the end of time it is as a result of man’s increasing sin and God uses Satan to be His means of punishing mankind. If people dabble in the occult there are likely to find that Satan takes advantage to destroy them. His natural inclination is to kill, rob and destroy. God allows Satan certain scope to do that in order to punish mankind.
The scroll is the will of God. It is what He plans to happen in His World. It is Jesus who is handed the scroll. He is in charge of what happens here on Earth. This is the theme of the book again. Eph ch 1 v 9. Jesus unrolls the seven seals confirming His control of the events of the World. History is God acting in time to prepare His people to live with Him in eternity. The events in this World and in the personal lives of all men are controlled either by chance – fate – or providence. This picture confirms that they are controlled by providence. Jesus is in control. For the early Church the problem was just the same as it is today. Is anyone in control of the events of this World, which seems to be lurching out of control? Yes! The unseen Jesus is actually in control. Ch 1 v 2 promises a blessing. It is a great blessing and there is peace of mind to know that God and not Satan is in control of the events of this World. The opposite of a blessing is a curse and the first curse is confusion. Deut ch 28. This picture ties together the events in Heaven with the events on Earth.
The first seal. Invasion or war generally. Conquests of tyrants.
The second seal. War. Civil wars between groups in nations.
The third seal. Famine caused by war and greed, often caused by a scorched earth policy.
The fourth seal. Death.
The first four refer to the situation on Earth and must be taken together and indicate destruction, horror and terror. Then the scene shifts to Heaven.
The fifth seal. Persecution of saints. The destiny of those who have been martyred and are longing for consummation and justice. They are waiting for the finale in Heaven. There is more to come and God will avenge their deaths.
The sixth seal. Judgement. A great day of wrath is to come. It will be horrendous. It will be awful. There are many other references in Scripture to this day. The World will be astonished.
There is a tension. Does God send the judgements or do they come as a result of sin? God allows the consequences of sin to go so far. If He withdrew His grace, men would be corrupt and become beasts. But for the grace of God each man would be a beast. God may allow sin to go on in order to bring man to an awareness of his need of God.
The seventh seal. The final judgement
FIFTH picture. Warnings to mankind who do not accept Jesus. God takes the initiative to bring punishment on mankind – both on the physical World of earth, sea, water and air – and in the spiritual dimension. God’s wrath is unleashed. It is not chronological but happens at the same time as the events in the seals. The trumpets are warnings to mankind. The first 4 are about natural disasters on Earth. 5 and 6 are demonic. The warnings are not to those who are believers but to those who reject God. Human wickedness does not go unnoticed in Heaven. God moves and initiates action against sin in His own way and at His own time. The Amalekites were evicted from the land of Canaan after 400 years, when the fullness of their iniquity had been reached. God is long-suffering. So the trumpet sounds to warn men of impending judgement. While the seals speak of the consequences of sin for mankind – conquest, war, famine and disease – the trumpets emphasise God’s activity. While the seals are to explain matters for believers, the trumpets are to warn unbelievers of the consequences of sin and to state that God is angry about their sin. God is entitled to be angry when mankind has abused the moral and spiritual laws and ignored all God’s blessings. It is not that God withholds grace. He actually sends the penalties for sin. These events are not the final judgement. One third speaks of a considerable number but not a majority. God sends His plagues on evil men all through the ages. These are not events, which take place after the seven seals are opened. Rather it is another picture of what will take place throughout the history of the World.
THE FIRST TRUMPET. Hail and fire speak of widespread destruction. This affects the land. Mixed with blood may simply mean that there is a loss of life. Hailstones mixed with blood is one way of John, writing in the first century, explaining the effect of bombs dropped from planes onto Earth. The Holy Spirit takes words in use at the time and applies them to events at a later date, when John could not have understood anything about planes. Torching has been a tool of warfare for a long time – a scorched earth policy destroys everything and leaves no hope for a return to normal life – Serbia – East Timor. It is a picture and not facts. There is enough destruction to give a serious warning. Remember that John is painting a picture and it is not to be taken literally. What matters is that God sends His plagues on wicked men. This may mean famine.
THE SECOND TRUMPET. This deals with the sea. An eruption like Vesuvius destroys the town and the harbour as well as fishing. Many people down through the centuries have depended on fish for food. God takes away their security. A volcano is a symbol of power. Jer ch 51 v 25. Babylon was seen as a powerful force causing destruction. On the other hand a burnt out volcano is of no power. This could be earthquakes and natural disasters, including at sea. It could also be pollution of the sea. Blood in the sea in Egypt killed off life in the sea. Pollution of the sea is killing off life in the sea today. The sea is part of the Lord’s creation, which is to be protected by man and not abused. Psalm 46 v 2. It could involve typhoons, which destroy ships and tsunamis. Earthquakes pouring forth lava would come into this category. The number of earthquakes has increased hugely in recent years.
THE THIRD TRUMPET. Pollution of the water – lakes – rivers – wells – watercourses – acid rain – pollution by farmers so that it is not fit to drink. Bitterness of the water – Moses threw a piece of wood in to sweeten the water. Chernobyl polluted the rivers of Russia. Wormwood means Chernobyl = bitter. Jer 9 v 12-16. All over the World industrial effluent pollutes rivers and watercourses. Flooding of latrines in one country pollutes a lake serving another country. Careless use of sewage leads to pollution. Water borne disease is common in the Developing World. Countries in the Developing World are paid to dump industrial waste, which then seeps into the watercourses. Man needs water to sustain life and ought to preserve his own water supply and thank God for it. To take it for granted or to abuse it brings God’s wrath upon mankind. John may have considered the worship of river deities.
THE FOURTH TRUMPET. Pollution of the air. The Eagle. An eagle is often a sign of disaster. Perhaps it denotes what is about to happen above the Earth i.e. in Heaven or in the atmosphere just before the end and is like what Jesus said in Mat ch 24 v 29. Man has been warned but will not be told. Babylon. Isaiah ch 13 v 9-13. Destruction of the ozone layer is having effects on mankind. Smog darkens the sun as does discharge from volcanoes. The solemn words of the eagle show that the plagues to come are worse than those, which have taken place already. There is a deepening of intensity. As with the last three seals with the last three trumpets the situation moves into the realm of the spirit. Ezekiel ch 32 v 7-8. Joel ch 2 v 10. The Gulf War and Chernobyl polluted the air.
THE FIFTH TRUMPET. When people fail to respond to God’s gracious invitation and set themselves in opposition to His purposes then they become the prey of horrifying demonic forces. They live with the consequences of their choice, e.g. drink and drugs. As a man moves away from the grace of God opportunities arise for the demons to move in. Dirty houses allow germs to lodge. Dirty minds allow demons to lodge. The last condition is worse than the first. Man is capable of becoming a beast. Even through demonic influences God works out His purposes. Mass murderers and rapists may be at work but God is sovereign. He allows demons to work out His plan for Him. The Abyss is a place inhabited by beings hostile to God and subject to His control, but it is not a place of punishment. The abyss is seen as a great pit with a narrow opening at the top, but broadening out further down. Locusts are not real insects but are symbolic of destruction and torment by the spirit World. People are troubled and tormented by the spiritual things like depression and addiction.
There is torment for a time e.g. depression, M.E. pains (spiritual) migraines, etc. man is helpless to do anything about it. When the Gospel is preached either men are ashamed and converted or the bottomless pit is opened. As with Pharaoh the heart is hardened and the latent evil in men is pushed to the surface in unbelievable wickedness and bloodshed. Whenever men go beyond their own humanity in committing crimes, whenever they become so debased that they let themselves be possessed by a force of evil greater than human nature itself could conjure up, then human sin becomes inhuman, men are the offspring of beasts and judgement lashes the soul with its most unspeakable terrors and torture.
Locusts speak of the helplessness of man in the face of the advancing locusts. They are symbolic of demons controlled by Satan and allowed by God for His purposes. Abaddon means destruction and Apollyon means destroyer. These insects have the power to torment but not to kill. Demons can only exercise such power as is allowed by God. The principal characteristic of the locusts is their ferociousness. Five months is the usual life span of the locust. Senility, hallucinations, delusions etc are all mental disorder causing distress. The word “given” reminds man of the limitations on the power of evil. The demons can exercise only the power, which is given to them by God. The Devil is chained and can only go as far as the length of the chain. The Greek god Apollo was no more than a demon.
THE SIXTH TRUMPET. A third indicates a large number but not a majority. The purpose of God’s judgements is to make plain the seriousness and the ill desert of sin, but they are to lead people to repent, to turn to God and be saved. War is a punishment for those who did not accept God. Instead of torment there is death. The four angels are evil spirits – fallen angels. This section deals with angels. All through the section of Trumpets God’s aim is not to hurt but to call man to repentance and to show him the seriousness of sin. John writes to the Church and not to pagans. The believers must realise that they are in a World full of sin and occupied by people who are resisting God.
These consequences must follow and, though not directed at them, they are caught up in the effects of sin. The Euphrates is a great river. It was the boundary of the Promised Land and also of the Roman Empire. They had been held back but were now to be let loose. They were prepared for the appropriate time. There is a divine plan and God is working it out. The forces outside the Church are let loose to kill a large number. 200,000,000 is generally meant to be a very large number beyond counting. China today has that number of men under arms. It could mean both – one foreshadowing the other. How many wars are started by demonic powers – Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin etc? John sees demons behind the armed forces. Despite all the warnings, men do not repent and turn to God. They prefer their sins – sex – drugs – theft – love of money. John does not want man to forget that prayer is a mighty force. He underlines the folly of those who refuse the call to repentance. Their preference is for impotent deities. They loved their sins too much. The plagues are not a natural phenomenon but a demonic visitation. Modern plagues are aids, drugs, sorcery, fornication, adultery, sexual abuse, murder – physically and spiritually – and abuse of children. The soul of man atrophies.
THE SEVENTH TRUMPET. Praise in Heaven. Despite the struggle on Earth between the witnesses and the anti-Christ, God’s kingdom has come and He is on the throne. God’s wrath has been poured out on the nations who curse His name. The punishment fitted the crime. There is nothing arbitrary about the judgements of God. In Jesus, God has revealed everything a man needs to know and the door to Heaven is always open. There is great power in Heaven as God is enthroned on the praises of His people. The most severe disasters have their limits set by God. God usually warns of the disasters about to befall, so that there is no excuse. Drought does not happen overnight. Today scientists are warning of global warming, aids and floods and there is ample evidence of natural disasters. Hurricanes and typhoons are reported days in advance of their making landfall. These events are now made into entertainment as films and television documentaries. The demonic hoards of locusts give mental turmoil and not physical pain. Countless demons will be unleashed to attack the World with every deceit. Havoc will be created. In His grace, God gives both time and warning about the disasters about to befall mankind.
SIXTH picture. The role of mankind. Sin unleashes disasters on the face of the Earth – and the wrath of God also initiates action against fallen mankind who reject a saviour. Whereas Jesus is in total control of the affairs of the World as He unravels the large scroll, what role does a man have in relation to the events taking place in the World? Believers must eat the small scroll – digest the Word of God and then move in obedience to the prompting of God. God works through people. He preaches and prophesies and judges. Ezekiel ch 1. “Eat the Scroll.” Ezekiel was told to do this. A believer must take the Word of God himself. He cannot rely on the experience of another but must know for himself. It means to make its contents completely personal and to take it into a man’s innermost being. It is a delight yet it also means that the preacher has to impart the bad news of judgement to the people. It can be a bitter experience to tell forth the woes. The scroll tells that Jesus is in control of the events of this World. The little scroll implies that each man has a small part to play as he responds in obedience to the call of God on his life. Believers are seated with Christ in the Heavenly places. They reign with Christ. God has reached the World by means of followers, who have done what Jesus did. The Acts of the Apostles are the acts of the risen Christ through the body of believers. Jesus is the player manager on the field of play rather than the manager sitting in the stand. The other players are in the team and must play their part in the game.
An Interlude. This is not so much a chronological gap in time but a parenthesis to explain the task of the Church before the end comes with its final judgement. From the very beginning God has planned to bring people to salvation, and thus His whole purpose is coming to its culmination. Evil will be judged. The mighty World forces are about to be overthrown decisively. The seventh trumpet is especially important and man is kept waiting. It is an opportunity for repentance. The Word of God is to be preached everywhere during the centuries before the end. God’s Word is supremely significant. It towers above all the affairs of men. The land and the sea suggest a universal message for the whole World. Sealing was common in the ancient World. It is a means of identification or of certifying and authenticating. It also means keeping hidden. It appears that God has kept some things back from man. Man only sees dimly. There is much, much more to God’s plan of salvation than can ever be imagined. There is an answer. The Prophets have spoken about the times.
SEVENTH picture. SEVEN SIGNIFICANT SIGNS. More things have yet to be revealed. God builds up a picture of the spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil. The major players in the battle are Jesus, Israel, Satan, the fallen angels or demons, the angels and Satan’s twin strategies – the state and organised religion – and the Lamb on Mount Zion. 1 John ch 3 v 7. Everything, which happens in the seen, physical World is a manifestation of what is happening in the unseen, spiritual World. Paul explains this in Ephesians ch 6 v 12. Man’s struggles are not to be shrugged off as insignificant. They are part of the great conflict between good and evil.
1. THE WOMAN. The woman is Israel. Isaiah ch 66 v 7-9. Israel gave birth to a Son – Jesus. Israel is often seen as a travailing woman. Isaiah ch 26 v 18. Israel was with child but failed to deliver salvation to the Earth. Jesus came to fulfil the destiny of Israel. God said that He would have to come Himself. Ezekiel ch 34 v 11. Israel is described as God’s first born. The true mother of the incarnate Son of God is Israel. The 12 stars represent the twelve patriarchs and twelve tribes. Gen 37 v 9.
2. THE DRAGON. The dragon is Satan, who tried to kill the baby. Satan is described as having strength – horns. The horns and heads speak of the mighty power of evil. Nazism and Communism are powerful forces of evil leading to the deaths of millions of people. Satan is given a degree of authority. Crowns signify sovereignty. About one third of the angels followed Satan and were cast out of Heaven. Satan confronted Israel and then Jesus. He attempted to kill Jesus. Herod was his instrument. Mat ch 2 v 13-18. Opposition by Satan to the Church has been relentless down through the centuries.
3. THE MALE CHILD. The male child was Jesus. He is the one to rule the nations. The true Son of God is Jesus. This group of visions is connected with the troubles of the Church. Every section is designed to help harassed believers. God has defeated Satan. Satan was opposed to Jesus from the beginning and tried to destroy Him – but failed. Satan is active because he knows that his days are numbered.
The events take place on Earth. 7 heads are hard to kill. They come in many divergent ways. Satan is immensely powerful and exercises sovereignty. One third denotes a large number but not a majority. God protects His Son. God always achieves His purpose. The woman then becomes the Church i.e. true believers. God provides a place for her. He protects her also, for the appropriate time, as He protects His people during the time of their witness. Ex ch 19 v 4. The eagle’s wings are a way of saying that God carried the children of God to a place of safety. This is not a true wilderness or desert but a haven from the World. The Church should be such a haven, where people can feel at home and safe to speak of spiritual things. The World may be critical and uncaring but the Church should not be. The reference to 42 months may be to Numbers ch 5 v 33f – the forty two stages of the wilderness wanderings. Forty two is the number in Scripture for the Devil
Satan is cast out. The battle is not just against demons but angels are involved. This is part of the struggle between good and evil. Satan translates as “adversary.” Satan is the accuser and slanderer. The home of believers is in Heaven and they are part of the battle too. In the name of Jesus they have the victory. Time is short. There is war between Satan and the Church. There will be persistent hostility for believers. People were throwing stones at Jesus in His day. Now they are throwing stones at His followers. Satan hits out at those who are associated with Jesus. The wilderness is the place set aside for the people of God. Egypt was the place of hostility towards God. There will be a flood of evil towards believers. Satan cannot upset the plan of God. He does all he can against God’s people.
4. THE ANGEL MICHAEL. Michael is the leader of the Heavenly host of angels. He is an archangel. There is a hierarchy in the spiritual World. Dan ch 11 v 1 and ch 12 v 1. Satan and his demons were cast out of Heaven and roam the face of the Earth. Satan is a slanderer and accuser. In the first century there were people called delators – paid informants. They made their living by accusing people before the authorities. Satan is also the deceiver. He leads people astray. As far as believers are concerned his chief objective is false teaching. v 10. At times it seems that evil is gaining the upper hand. However, believers ought to rejoice that Jesus has won the victory and has overcome the Devil. The battle lines are drawn and the fight is to the death. It is real and dangerous. Believers are involved. How can man win the victory, if he is not involved in the battle? It is the blood of Jesus, which is the winning ingredient in the fight. The other ingredient is the word of the testimony of believers. Believers are called to lose their lives for the sake of Jesus. Luke ch 14 v 26. Satan is determined to do the maximum harm while there is still time before Jesus returns.
v 15. Satan poured water like a river out of his mouth. This could be a torrent of false teaching, lies and accusations designed to overwhelm the believer and cause doubt and despair. There are many isms. The Amorite spirit is at work. Help for the believers is from the Lord but often God’s grace reaches a believer from an unsaved person, who can give good advice or even financial help.
5. THE BEAST FROM THE SEA.
A beast is simply a strong and powerful thing. This is not reserved for the last days. The Beast has been present all the time of the Church, but there will be an intensifying in the last days. The ancient World often associated evil with the sea. Who could tell what existed out there in the depths of the sea? 10 horns and 7 heads speak of mighty power. There have been a succession of mighty powers, Babylon, Assyria, Greece, Rome, Ottoman Empire, Mongolian Empire, British Empire, Russia, There is little about the dragon. He remains in the background and does his work through men. Crowns speak of dominion. The beasts of Daniel tell of World empires. John speaks of a final empire or World power. The power comes from the dragon. i. e. Satan. It represents the anti-God state. The state may lose its power from time to time i.e. be wounded. One dictator may die, but another will rise up to take his place. Evil from the dragon is found in the hearts of men and in the communities of men. It cannot be slain, but will rise again until the end. Sin dies down but wells up again within man.
Men give in and worship the beast and the dragon. The World is man organised in community without reference to God. There is contempt for the things of God. Men give their allegiance to the State – Communism and Capitalism. Remember that God allows this power to Satan. 42 months is the time, which God permits. The duration of man’s suffering has been set by God. The blasphemy is directed against God and those in whom He dwells. To obey Caesar was the supreme blasphemy. Jesus told Pilate: ” You have no power over me unless it is given you from above.” John ch 19 v 11. God gave Satan authority to make war on the saints. Ultimately the State will become one World power. No longer can a man be self- sufficient but all depends on the State. Now each state depends upon the super powers. And they depend on the United Nations and the World monetary system. In the last days there will be a special outbreak of the powers of evil. In that time full divine honours will be paid to the beast.
The commodity markets are World markets. A nation can face ruin, if the price of its main crop falls too low. The World may be “saved” from collapse by the activities of one man. A group of the 10 richest men in the World now exert tremendous control over the affairs of the World. All will worship the Beast except believers. What really matters is God and not the power of evil. In v 10 there are 2 principles.
(a) The Providence of God. If God permits captivity, so be it.
(b) Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword – a consequence of the actions of men e. g. dictators seize power by force and often die by force. This is not fatalism, but providence. The saints trust a God who works on these principles.
The Satanic trinity is destroying mankind. He cannot get at God, so he wages war on the people of God. The Beast is for all time the Government of the land. Man will bow to God or the rulers of men. Acts ch 4 v 19. Peter and John before the Sanhedrin. 42 months is symbolic for the period between the advents. i. e. half the perfect number 7 for the years of human history. C. S. Lewis said that it was a question as to whether the individual or the State was the more important. Communism placed the State as more important then any individual and therefore tolerated individuals being sacrificed in the interests of the State. It is blasphemy to regard the State as supreme. That place belongs to God. God allows the Beast to operate up to God’s limits. The duration of the suffering of the saints has been determined by God. The days of a man are numbered.
THE BEAST FROM THE LAND.
The false prophet is a caricature of religion. The Church or State controlled religion is represented by the Beast from the Earth. No faith exists there. He is less mysterious and less frightening, since he comes from the familiar Earth. He appears as a dreadful parody of the truth. The evil one is behind the Beast e. g Islam, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism. Men worship him. “St John’s is my Church.” The loyalty is to the Church and not the Lord. The Beast only deceives believers. The mark may be meant as a travesty of the Jewish custom of wearing phylacteries on the left arm and on the head. It may mean Church membership i.e. I am a Catholic. 666 may simply be the mark of man rather than a man. Unregenerate man is persistently evil and bears the mark of the Beast in all he does. The Church or organised religion seems to be on the side of God. It seems friendly and familiar but as John knew, it was always the Church – (the religious Jews) – which was opposed to the believers. So it is today. The first opposition will come from the Church people.
The established Church and the State work hand in hand. Decent funerals for all, regardless of how they have lived. The Church presents a universal Gospel – all will be in Heaven, regardless of how they have behaved on Earth. The crowning of monarchs. Blessings for secular events. Those who dwell on earth speak of unregenerate mankind. The Church seldom opposes the State. It calls on its followers to respect the State. Remember that it was religious men and the State who crucified the Lord. Those who worship the Beast are devoted followers of the Beast. 666 is man persistently falling short of the standards of God. It is the number of man rather than of a particular man. Without the power of the Holy Spirit man is constantly under the dominion of the evil one.
7. THE LAMB ON MOUNT ZION. The Lamb and the 144,000. From the forces of evil John turns to the forces of good. He sees in a vision the triumph of the followers of the Lamb. God’s people are triumphant. There is a note of fulfilment. The number 144,000 stands for completeness. There is no elite in God’s eyes. This is the objective of the battle or struggle in life – to overcome and end up blameless in Heaven with Jesus. That is the goal, which Scripture places before man. God gives a picture in words to help man focus on the purpose of life. “Not defiled by woman” does not speak of relations of a sexual nature. It is symbolic. The bride of Christ. In the Old Testament heathen worship is often likened to improper sexual relations. It means that the 144,000 were not unfaithful, but were blameless. Free from intercourse with the pagan World. They have followed the Lamb wherever He goes or leads.
EIGHTH picture. Rev ch 14 v 6 – 20. This is a picture of judgement. It is a picture, which every believer needs to have hanging in his gallery and to which he needs to look at regularly. History is moving towards two great harvests. The wheat harvest is the gathering of the people of God. The grape harvest is judgement of the ungodly, when the wrath of God is revealed. God protects His people. The 7 bowls. Pharaoh’s refusal to obey God’s call brought down terrible plagues on his people. So the persistent sinfulness of man can only bring judgement from God. Babylon is used as a symbol for the World where people worship money, power and luxury and sell their souls to sin. God always comes with a word of judgement and mercy. Since sin entered the World, grief, death, crying and pain have dominated human experience. Finally the split will be healed and God will make His home with mankind.
(a) The Gospel has to go out to the whole World. Mark ch 13 v 19.
(b) Destruction of Babylon. The World is represented by Babylon. Jer ch 51 v 8. The Bible is a tale of two cities. Babylon and Jerusalem. Babylon seduces believers with her delights to enjoy the ways of the World, e. g. personal success and praise. Ch 16 v 17-21 and ch 17 v 4-5.
(c) There is a free choice for man. There is an invitation to serve God. Do not give up. Those who endure to the end will be saved. Rev ch 12 v 10 and ch 13 v 10. If God says anything twice pay attention. Here He says it seven times – once to each of the seven Churches.
There will be a time of judgement for believers and unbelievers alike. Man may like to think that no one is bothered about his sins, but this picture informs man that everything done and spoken will be brought to a time of judgement. Harvesting is a physical picture well known to the people of His day and today. It teaches the spiritual reality. There will be two harvests. Joel ch 3 v 13. Acts ch 17 v 31. A day has been appointed for Jesus to judge the World. Eccles ch 3. There is a time for everything under Heaven.
NINTH picture. The wrath of God. God is slow to anger but His wrath against sin has to be poured forth in the fullness of time. God takes the initiative and He punishes mankind. However it is always with the hope that man will repent and turn to God.
THE SEVEN PLAGUES.
These are plagues in the last days and are different from the earlier plagues. They speak of final judgement and are the final outpouring of the wrath of God. The initiative is taken by God. It is not a case of the natural consequences of sin. God sends punishment on man on a massive scale. By His death Jesus averted the wrath of God for believers but there is still the question of the wrath of God, which rests on unbelievers. Even so believers will be caught up in the consequences as society is affected. Hence the reference to fire, which speaks of judgement. God’s sentences will be clear to all. The plagues come out of the sanctuary with the full divine sanction. The linen stresses the purity from which the wrath is poured out on the World. There is a concern for what is right. Nobody could enter the temple until the 7 plagues were fulfilled. God had warned man 3,800 years ago through Moses. Deut ch 28 v 58-59. No excuses will prevail. God passes the angels flasks of poison to pour out on mankind.
THE FIRST PLAGUE. Whereas the trumpet affected only 1/3rd, the plagues affect the whole Earth, pointing to God’s overthrow of all that is evil. There is no call to repentance. It is too late for that. God Himself releases these plagues. Incurable diseases. Physical pain. Ulcers – aids?
THE SECOND PLAGUE. All the sea is affected. Every living creature in the sea died. Seals – over-fishing – pollution. Pollution. Jacques Cousteau says that one third of the fish of the sea have died in recent times within 10 years. Exodus ch 7 v 17-21.
THE THIRD PLAGUE. Pollution of the waters. Chernobyl. The waters of the World are being polluted at an alarming rate. This is a solemn act of judgement and not an arbitrary decision. The people get what they deserve. Those who shed the blood of the saints are receiving what they deserve. Whilst only some have carried out the death penalty on saints, many others have stood by quietly satisfied while protesting their innocence. They are caught up in fighting one another e.g. the Iran – Iraq war. The forces of evil are not united but are fighting each other. Thieves fall out. Obadiah – those who show no mercy receive none. In the atom bomb God has allowed man to discover one of the greatest secrets and man is capable of celebrating the event in blood.
THE FOURTH PLAGUE. Drought, as a result of the heat of the sun. Ozone layer? There is no praise to God for the rain – just complaints. There is no independent power in the sun – God gives the sun its power. Isaiah ch 24 speaks of the Earth lying polluted under its inhabitants. There is no word about repentance or even questioning if God might be displeased with them.
THE FIFTH PLAGUE. Mental distress. Insanity and senility. Anxiety fills the land but still there is no repentance. Pain is God’s warning bell. Anguish is the consequence of stress in society.
THE SIXTH PLAGUE. The Euphrates is the natural boundary of the Promised Land. In another chapter there is reference to spirits being held back at the boundary. God protects His people by holding back problems. Now He releases the three demonic spirits. 2 Thes ch 2 v 7. The Holy Spirit who has been restraining them is removed. This is symbolic of God removing His grace towards mankind. A specific and final battle is mentioned. Will it be at Armageddon? Is it the same battle as mentioned in Ezekiel chs 38 and 39? In the Old Testament the mighty action of God is often associated with the drying up of rivers e.g. Jordan and the Red Sea. All the enemies of God’s people will gang up against them. This happened when Israel moved into the Land of Canaan. The Nations of the World will be against Israel. The United Nations fulfils this function. Frogs have evil associations. The whole World is enticed into battle by these evil spirits. Yet God is still supreme. Believers, who are caught unprepared, will be put to shame at the critical time in the history of the World. Is this literal or symbolic? As the nations of the World attacked Iraq by Resolution of the United Nations, so they will attack Israel. Who is standing by Israel and prepared to speak up for her as the people of God?
THE SEVENTH PLAGUE. This is a disaster of unspeakable proportions. Zechariah ch 12. The great city is man organised in community apart from God and is the pride of human achievement. It is a complete break up of society. The collapse of the stock market? In the earlier plagues evil has brought disasters but now there is total disaster for all the nations.
TENTH picture. God presents a picture of the World – man organised in community without reference to God. The challenge is this – “Do you belong to the World?”
ELEVENTH picture. The collapse of the World system. The World system will collapse with awful consequences.
The Woman on the Beast. The woman is identified with the great Babylon, which is a symbol for the World – man organised in community without reference to God. Mankind wants to be independent of God. The woman is a being of great Earthly splendour, but she is evil and opposed to God and His people. There is an impression of building up to a finale. The woman is outwardly an attractive creature. The World is attractive. She conceals her basic hostility to God, but is always ready to seduce men from their allegiance to God.
The ways of the Word are attractive, especially to young people. It embraces materialism, intellectualism, professionalism, humanism, artistic achievement, political prowess and status. In a word it appeals to pride in the heart of man. The figure of sexual looseness and adultery is a common way of describing mankind drawn away from God and includes all manner of unfaithfulness. God is faithful and abhors all unfaithfulness.
A whore means a secular power of low moral standards. Sin loves a companion and seduces men to share in the rebellion against God. John saw Babylon as an Empire, exercising domain over many subject nations. The Kings of the Earth went along with the ways of the Empire and the people follow suit. The kings were elevated when they gave the people prosperity as a result of their treaties and trade deals. Mankind is happy to be seduced by the prostitute and are encouraged when the leaders pass laws, which encourage their fallen natures. Today in democracies the kings are replaced by presidents and ministers. The Government makes the people to sin when they pass laws, which are in opposition to the law of God. While Babylon sat astride many waters, the symbolism is that the World exercises dominion over many peoples. Purple and velvet are colours of splendour and magnificence. John paints a picture of regal stature with moral corruption. It is essential for the believer to spend time in the wilderness, as Jesus did, to stand back and see the World from a distance as seducing and in rebellion against God.
The woman is the World and its worldly ways. It is given its power and attractiveness by the Beast. The Beast is more important than the woman. The two belong together and to know one is to know the other. The Beast is the principal henchman of Satan and carries out this aspect of the work of Satan. When a man goes after success and materialism, moral standards tend to decline. In Rome the harlots wore on their brows labels inscribed with their names. John had Rome as a picture of Babylon in his days. John’s picture of immorality in Rome is restrained in comparison with some of the pictures, which the Romans themselves drew of their own civilisation. Many believers had been killed by the Romans and in doing so the Romans thought that they were performing a necessary duty to rid society of those who denied the moral laxity, which the people sought. Today’s politicians will wish to allow the people the moral laxity, which they desire. They see believers as people seeking to restrict people today in the same way. These are voters, who put the politicians in power.
There is an element of mystery. The ways of the World are attractive to the non-believer. God reveals that it is a mystery, when He shows man the mystery. The ways of the World become less attractive to believers. The picture fitted Rome. The woman persecuted the Church and rejected in it, as a drunkard rejoices in the wine. The Beast was and is not. Evil appears for a while – then goes – and then re-appears e.g. Hitler. The World is fascinated by evil e.g. horror movies and crime. Seven hills. While Babylon stood for civilised man opposed to God, John saw Rome as the power in his lifetime. Rome was built on 7 hills and was a striking embodiment of what John saw as man opposed to God. But the great city is every city in all time – it is man organised in society without reference to God.
The 7 kings may be 7 Emperors or 7 kingdoms. John’s interest is in their ultimate destruction. The 7 kings give power to the Beast. The source of evil finds a kind of incarnation in each of the seven kings or emperors. They are happy to go along with corruption as long as they are allowed to wield power. They have one purpose – to give power and authority to the Beast. They are willing to collaborate. Kings come and go but organised man continues until the end. Yet God uses the Government and Kings to keep stability and to organise life. It is not all bad news. John is now firmly in the end times. All the glory of the city conceals a basic hostility to God, combined with a readiness to seduce men from their rightful allegiance to Him. The wilderness is the place for God’s people over against the great city. 10 is the total number. “10 kings” means all the kings. Perhaps the “10 kings” refers to the 10 puppet kings of Rome of whom Herod was one. The kings go along with the thinking of the woman.
There is no cohesion in evil. It is always self-destructive. Wicked men are not one happy band opposed to God. They are also opposed to each other. Being wicked, they give way to jealousy and hatred. Mutual hatreds will result in mutual destruction. Chaos will result when resources run out. Nations will go to war for water and minerals. John is speaking of the collapse of civilisation. Before its collapse, it has become the habitation of devils. Drugs and organised crime are in most of the cities of the World. Interpol has no resources to fight organised crime, which touches every country and every place where money is to be made. The civilisation of the Incas collapsed. Britain is the 23rd Empire to fall into decline. Demons fight against one anther for supremacy.
The kings of the Earth had joined in the ways of the World and had become rich as a result. Tobacco is a case in point. The politicians know that it causes death and should take steps to ban it but they derive taxes from the tobacco industry to finance their grandiose schemes, which gain them praise, security and status. Organised gambling is another “industry” from which politicians gain taxes for their policies. They enjoyed wanton luxury. There is always pressure to conform to the ways of the World. But the people of God are to come out and have nothing to do with the ways of the World. Compromise with worldliness is fatal. John was writing to believers who did not grasp the urgency of the situation. They were ready to compromise e.g. the Nicolaitans – see the realities of the situation and act on it. Be not yoked with unbelievers. The great challenge to believers is to be in the World but not part of it. The judgement will come in one hour. Is this literal or symbolic for a short time? The stock market could collapse in one hour. The greedy will have reaped what they have sown. Some are trampled in the pursuit of wealth. v 11 suggests the collapse of trade and business. There will be a free for all. Rome demonstrated how the whole World depends on trade with one great centre. Rome engaged in unparalleled ostentation and extravagance. With economic concerns there is a lack of respect for people. The loss of wealth is the main concern of the merchants. The World leaders know that resources cannot last very much longer at the present rate of consumption but lack the moral commitment to do anything about it. In various ways the great empires have had their traffic in the souls of men. Slavery brought prosperity to some but misery to many.
Final judgement means the overthrow of all, which opposes God. At the end the city has been taken over by demons. It is a home for demons. It is the haunt of every evil spirit. It is the haunt for unclean birds, which frequent deserted places. The command is to rejoice. God will vindicate those who lay their treasures up in Heaven and are more concerned for people than things, which will not last. There need be no despair as the end comes. God is still in control. None is depicted as loving the city – only what they could get out of it. Rome formed a great pattern for John’s Babylon. Distress was prompted by financial loss rather than loss of esteem for the city. The city had brought profit to many but affection to none. The believers are called to rejoice. They had thrown in their lot with Almighty God. Therefore rejoice at His vindication over the city. Wrongs had been done to the saints and now these were being redressed. The arts would come to an end – as would normal daily life. As in a Developing country during civil war, all normal activity ceases. There will be no money for pensions, education, prisons, hospitals, roads and all the infrastructure of society. This is evident in many countries, which have experienced civil war. The livelihood of everyone will be affected. Unemployment will be on a vast scale. Rioting and looting will result. The rich may plunder the banks and escape abroad as happened with the Nazi leaders and many dictators. Chaos will ensue and criticism of leaders will be vocal.
TWELFTH picture. Ahead of the events on Earth, the forces of good and evil are lining up for the final battle, which will take place on Earth. CHAPTER 20 v 7-9.
THIRTEENTH picture. Heaven. CHAPTER 21.
There is a good deal of vivid description to show that the ultimate state of affairs will be very precious. John is concerned with the spiritual states and not the physical states. Those who are thirsty for spiritual things will be satisfied. There are 7 evils, which John speaks of as being no more. Sea. Death. Pain. Weeping. Mourning. Curse. Night. The Hebrews thought of the sea as a place of storms and danger – an unnatural place. Heaven is God’s dwelling place. From now on it will be with men. He stresses God’s glory and His presence amongst men. Life as is known it is replaced with a new order.
The former things have gone. John is out to reassure the little Church, which is at a low ebb. God is always in the business of making things new. v 6. “It is done” echoes the words of Jesus on the cross. The plan is finished. From the beginning of time God has been engaged in a building programme. Now it has been completed. In the end things work out just as He planned and willed. Paradise has been restored. Those who have overcome and persevered to the end shall take their place in Heaven. The opposite situation prevails for the ungodly – torment. These include cowards, who have turned back from following Jesus, the corrupt and murderers, those who have decided to throw their lot in with Satan and his demons, those who live a life of deception and untruth, those who worship idols and the fornicators – those who deliberately choose to reject marriage and live in sexual relationship outside of marriage. There is always room for a sinner who repents but no room for those who knowingly and deliberately choose to reject the standards of God.
The Holy City. John uses the best words available to him to describe the indescribable. The splendours of Babylon – regarded at the time as the most splendid place on Earth – pale into insignificance beside the New Jerusalem. There are truths about the life to come. It is secure, since all the enemies of man, including sin, have gone. 12 tribes and 12 apostles is a way of saying that Israel of old and the Church are united in God’s scheme of things. Twelve is the number for government. The symbolism of the book continues. The city is a cube. Perfection. The holy of holies was a cube – it is the place where God dwells. 2000 stadia are a vast distance. The number 12,000 is the number for Israel – 12 multiplied by the cube of 10 – the number of completeness. It stands for the complete number of God’s people. The whole idea of a city in ancient times spoke of security. The valuable stones are a way of saying that it was built of costly materials. The only materials are gold, pearl and onyx or precious stone. No darkness – a place of light. The river and the tree of life. At last man may return and legitimately enjoy the blessing, which he was banished from enjoying because of his illegitimate desire. Moses was denied the right to see the face of God. Now all His servants have that privilege. There is no need for a temple or place in which to worship God, since He is present in the midst of the people. Only those, whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, may be found there. There is a danger of missing the spirit of the book.
The new life will be the most joyful time imaginable, with nothing to spoil it. There will be no sin. There will be peace, freedom and security. There will be no enemy power at work and no temptation. It will all be worthwhile. Hold on! There is a reference to the previous picture in verse 11. As the end is near those opposed to God will be working harder than ever to oppose Him. The very nearness of the end will force a division between those who are for Jesus and those who are opposed to Him.
There is a severe warning to anyone to add to or subtract from these final words of Jesus. To add to them implies that the person knows something, which Jesus does not and to detract from them is to suggest that what God has said is unnecessary.
The New Testament does not think of a passage of time until the Second Coming. Rather by faith it is immediate. Christ’s presence is available to everyone by faith. He comes to those who come to Him. At Christ’s return there will be judgement. This is a recurring theme in this book and throughout the Bible. God says over and over again those things, which are vitally important. John’s hope of a better World for mankind does not lie in human effort but in an active living God, whose love and wrath are revealed in human history. By faith a man knows that this is true. Jesus warns about tampering with it. The book has to be taken seriously. Christ is coming to judge everyone and the books will be opened.
Jude was a brother of Jesus but he declares himself a servant of his brother. He was not an apostle but just an ordinary disciple. He was concerned about false teaching in the early Church and wrote about it. Today false teachers are given new modern names – such as liberal theologians.
The theme of the book is the duty of man to keep faith and trust in order to be kept from stumbling. Apostasy leads a man to fall away. The Girgashite spirit of apostasy is at work. It was written about A.D. 69, after Jude’s brother James had died as a martyr. It was a general letter and not to a particular Church but it warned about apostasy. The early Church was in dire straits due to traitors within it. There is always a danger of believers falling away for various reasons, especially if they have severed their roots in the Jewishness of the Bible. Many who prosper at the hands of the Lord settle into their comfort zones. In Mat ch 24 v 12 Jesus warned that in the last days the love of many would grow cold. They simply would not care. These people had rejected the faith but stayed within the membership of the Church. He writes to warn true believers. He touches on those who had rebelled – Cain, the Sodomites, rebellious Israel, greedy Balaam and Korah. The consequences of not exercising faith is that life degenerates into loose morals, corrupt thoughts, impatience, mocking, boasting, hypocrisy, and grumbling. Rom ch 1 v 28 narrates the consequences of those who did not see fit to retain the knowledge of God, which had been given to them. The list in Rom ch 1 v 29 resembles the list in Jude v 16. There are always those who claim that grace is in such supply that a man can do as he likes and grace will cover him. The false teachers denied that the sins of the flesh could affect the welfare of the soul.
v 8. It appears that the false teachers did undignified things with their own bodies, mocked those in a position of leadership and dismissed the idea that demonic spirits could affect them. They act by instinct – “if it feels good, do it” – and show no sign of searching for and submitting to the truth. They talk much but do little and are people to be avoided. What a man believes determines how he behaves. What a man does in private sooner or later affects his position in public. False teaching has always been the principal weapon of Satan against believers. He loves to cause division in the Church. Paul, Peter and John also speak against the danger of false teaching. In his first letter to Timothy ch 4 v 1 Paul talks about doctrines of demons. Replacement theology is today a doctrine of demons. It teaches that the Church is the new Israel and that God has finished with the Jewish people. God made a covenant with the Jewish people. If God were ever to break His covenant with the Jewish people, where does that leave the covenant made by Jesus when He said that He would never forsake those who come to Him as Saviour and Lord?
v 11 Jude gives three categories of people who represent falsehood.
CAIN. Abel knew that a blood sacrifice was the only sacrifice acceptable to God. Cain brought a vegetarian sacrifice. This was rejected by God. Cain became jealous of Abel. His jealousy was so deep that it led to Cain killing Abel. Jealousy can do that. God came to reason with Cain and warned him that sin was crouching at the door of his life, ready to consume him but Cain paid no attention. How many people are warned by a word from God to pay attention but dismiss the warning? A jealous person may not kill physically but by spreading lies, he can kill the reputation of another person. Jealousy burns a person up inside. Satan has a hand in it. He is rightly called the accuser of the believers. Jealousy leads to taking revenge. That is God’s business and when He takes revenge it is awesome. God allowed the Amalekites 400 years in Canaan until the full wickedness of the Amalekites was reached. Jealousy leads a man to compete with others. A man is meant to complete others, by working alongside others to assist them and not to be in competition with them. The idea of competition was introduced by the Greeks under Hellenism. Today this is called humanism. Most advertisements and sport are based on competition. Schools and hospitals are entered in a league table as if competing with one another for pupils and patients.
BALAAM. Numbers ch 22-24. Balak was not a godly man but knew that the Word of God was powerful and that His prophet could call down a blessing or a curse. Balaam was invited to bring down a curse on God’s people. He refused until a sum of money was mentioned. He was bribed by money. He set off on his donkey to do the work. He did not see the angel trying to prevent him from going to finish the work. Pride is the only disease, which makes everyone sick, except the one who has it. Pride does not allow a believer to see that God is stopping him. The same pride does not allow a person to understand spiritual things and recognise the role of angels. Num ch 22 v 28. God spoke through the donkey. That must have been a surprise to Balaam. God goes to extraordinary lengths to address mankind. God warns man but man has free will. God will not force mankind. The love of money is one of the roots of evil. Most people act in response for economic reasons. The Pharisees were lovers of money. Luke ch 16 v 14. Jesus called them blind guides. They could not see the truth of Jesus’ teaching. They were spiritually blind. Many believers today are blind to understanding the role of angels. Heb ch 1 v 14. They are equally blind to the wiles of the Devil. How easy it is for Satan to rob and destroy believers who are not aware of his schemes and wiles.
Poverty in one country is often the result of exploitation by another for economic reasons – profit. Slavery is an example. The established Church often sells itself short by bowing to a wealthy person as an economic benefactor. The donor gives money for the praise of man and a controlling power takes over. This introduces a spirit of control into the life of the Church. There may be a special seat for the donor and a position of honour. James the brother of Jesus warns about treating a rich man more favourably than a poor man. James ch 2 v 1-5. The rich generally part with their money only if there is benefit to them. If non-believers are paying the salaries of the leaders in a Church these leaders have no freedom to speak and act for fear of the loss of their income. Fear of men rather than fear of God controls many a Church leader.
Many people have a fear of poverty and have no freedom to use their wealth as they know it should be used. Mat ch 19 v 24. It is easier to unload a camel to go through the needle gate than it is to unload the baggage of life and for a rich man to humble himself and give away his money. Deut ch 8 v 18. God gives wealth to extend His Kingdom. He needs money to extend His Kingdom and pay for teachers, evangelists, wells, schools and hospitals. God is not against wealth – after all He owns it all. But what matters is how a man gets wealth and what he does with it
3. KORAH. He was a leader along with Moses and Aaron. He rebelled against Moses and against God and arranged for 250 others to join in the rebellion. He was rebelling against the authority of God, who had chosen to speak through Moses. God’s punishment can be severe. There are 6 kinds of authority
(a) God Himself. Psalm 138 v 2. God exalts His name and His Word above everything else.
(b) The Word of God. There is rebellion on the part of those who claim that the Koran is right and the Bible is wrong. Jesus warned against adding or subtracting from the Bible in Rev ch 22 v 18-19.
(c) The Church, which is given delegated authority. When a nation rejects the teaching of the Church, for example on marriage or gambling, it is in rebellion against God. There must be no rebellion under any circumstances, even if a man does not agree with a particular point. If it is against the Word of God, then quietly point it out to the leaders. Many take part in gossip, but do not use the opportunity to raise a rebellion against the leaders. Gossip destroys the character of people created by God for His pleasure. Those living in an unmarried state are in rebellion against God’s ordinance of marriage. They question the relevance of a bit of paper. It is the covenant relationship sworn before God, which binds the marriage in the sight of God.
(d) Conscience. God gives a man a conscience to tell him what is right and what is wrong. When a man disobeys his conscience he is in rebellion.
(e) The Civil authority – the Government. It is important to pay taxes levied by the Government, whether a man agrees with the Government or not. Breaking the parking laws set down by a Government is rebellion. Romans ch 13 v 1-2.
(f) Tradition. The traditional way of doing things is part of the culture of the country and it is offensive to rebel against it. If the matter is contrary to the Word of God, then obedience must be given to the higher authority – e.g. abortion is sanctioned by the Government but is against the Word of God. Nike in Greek means: “Just do it.” This is the motto of the advertisement for Nike. For the believer the word is also applicable. Obedience to the Word of God means: “Just do it.”
v 13. They are people who leave a bad taste behind – not the sort of people a man feels better for having met. They are described as like dirty foam along the edge of the beach.
Jude cites Enoch who foresaw that judgment would overtake such people in the fullness of time. They are people who talk big but are really only interested in their own reputation and not truly concerned for the well-being of others. They do not put others before themselves but use others to promote themselves.
v 19. They like a good discussion but are not seeking the truth of the situation – like a debating society. They are self-opinionated and like to be well regarded as men who have an interesting point of view. The Holy Spirit does not live within them. They would be the kind of men Jesus exposed, who prayed in public using eloquent words to impress others.
v 21. Jude describes the life of Jesus by contrast. As the second youngest brother of Jesus he must have watched Jesus at close quarters. His real name was Judas but it was shortened to Jude to distinguish him from Judas, who betrayed Jesus. Jude declares himself a sinner. It is the central message of being in the World and involved with real people in real situations but not being conform to their Worldly thinking. Love the sinner but hate the sin. If believers do that, then they are entitled to call upon God to keep them from falling into sin. Jude ends by asking the Lord to keep faithful, those who truly belong to Him. God loathes idolatry, which hurts Him, and immorality, which hurts those whom He has created.
Legalism says that a man is not free to sin and the religious leaders are going to see that he does not sin. Licence says that a man is free to sin since he is a believer. He is saved and can do what he likes.
True Christianity says that a believer is free not to sin. Sin does matter in the life of a believer, but Jesus has freed him from its power.
The book was written in the late first century against a background of attack from Gnostic heresy on four grounds:
(a) Dualism – matter is evil while spirit is good.
(b) Salvation – leave matter and enter spirit.
(c) A good God is separate from matter, which is evil.
(d) God could not have taken human flesh and become evil.
Salvation. v 1-3 agape love and truth go together. Believers and not Gnostics have the truth. Truth dwells in believers through the Holy Spirit. Love is a commandment to all believers and it does not rely on feelings. There must be agreement on fundamental matters of teaching. Beware of smoothing over disagreements and allowing heresies to take hold. Do not take a tolerant view of blasphemy.
This letter is more personal than the previous one, which is concerned with principles and doctrines. This is about people. Hospitality was and still is more traditional in the East. There is a need for a balanced Christian life. Believers should depend on believers and not the World. But it is not an adamant rule since Jesus asked for water from the Samaritan woman. Diotrephes was a good teacher but his attitude was wrong. He liked to push himself forward. Self-opinionated people do a lot of harm, even though what they say is true. John to put some people out of the Church because of their spiritual arrogance. Diotrephes is a negative type. He would not submit to the authority of another person. Satan is very negative while God is always positive. Imitate Gaius and not Diotrephes. John presents a clear contrast between the two men in their approach to the Church.
The message is the life of fellowship with God – its joyfulness, victory, safety and certainty. Written about A. D. 90 in Ephesus. It is addressed to all believers to renew confidence, which had been shaken by false teaching. Pagans joining the Church brought their false ideas with them. John was probably the last Apostle alive. John had the heresy of Gnosticism in mind. The Gnostics had replaced faith with knowledge and made knowledge a prerequisite to belief in God, rather than faith. They denied the humanity of Jesus and presented Him as a supernatural being. They regarded matter as inherently evil. John also addressed Docetism, which suggested that the divine Christ only seemed to live in the body of Jesus, coming upon Him at baptism and leaving on the cross. They could not accept that the Son of God should suffer and die. They taught that salvation had nothing to do with morality or love of one’s fellow man. This teaching cut the heart out of Christianity. John stressed the fundamentals of the Christian faith to counter these heresies.
v 1-4. John emphasises that he and others were eye-witnesses and speak from a personal experience of meeting Christ. Personal testimony is still most valuable. It prevents the Bible from becoming academic.
v 5-10. Light and darkness are clear illustrations of right and wrong – good and evil. Truth, purity and moral perfection are all ideas covered by “light”. Sin brings darkness. It casts a shadow over a relationship. It forms a barrier. Forgiveness alone breaks the barrier and brings light to the darkness. There are many ways of expressing the separation from God. Dryness results from alienation from God. Confessing sins to God and to one another is essential – but difficult. It is more difficult to do so to others than to God. He understands – they do not. He will forgive – they may not.
The Christian life should be:
A. Joyful. Fellowship is conditional with:
1. Walking in the light – a right life.
2. Confession of sin – to God and to others.
3. Forgiveness of sin – by others who have been offended.
4. Cleansing from sin
B. Victorious. No need to go on sinning or be in bondage to sin. Fellowship with God depends on obedience to His Word and not loving the World but fellow believers.
C. Guarded. Take care in case false teachers come in.
D. Knowledge. Faith feeds on facts. This is the “we know” book.
The ways of the World, including the thought patterns of the World, entice a man away from the thoughts of God as revealed in Scripture. The World is man organised in community without reference to God. The men of the World rely on their own understanding and human wisdom. Obedience to the teachings of Jesus determines if a man is born again. The spirit of Antichrist is always present challenging that Jesus is not the Son of God.
v 8. One of the purposes of Jesus coming to Earth was to destroy the works of the Devil. The true test of love for God is whether or not a man loves his brother in Christ. It is not always easy to agree with a brother on doctrine or to like him but it is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit to love that brother. A clear conscience is the test of whether or not there is love for the brother. David did not raise his hand against Saul – the Lord’s anointed, even though Saul was trying to kill David. 1 Sam chapter 24 v v 6. So a believer should not raise his voice against the Lord’s anointed or another believer. That is God’s business. That is why God hates gossip. Proverbs chapter 6 v 16-19.
If there is a message from God the people who belong to the World will not accept it. Other messages get their attention. Perfect love casts out fear. v 20. If anyone says that he loves God but hates his brother, he is a liar.
All believers sin from time to time. However a child of God should not make a practice of sinning in a particular area of his life. John ends with a final warning to keep away from anything, which might take God’s place in the heart of a believer. The Kingdom of God is the rule of God in the heart of a believer. Satan wants to dethrone God from His rightful place and establish anything there, which will take first place before God.