Revelation 12

Read Revelation 12.

Here in Revelation 12, John appears to be summarizing the history of redemption. A woman who stands for Israel (note the “twelve stars on her head,” v. 1) gives birth to a baby–Jesus–who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (v. 5a). He is “snatched up to God and to his throne” (v. 5b) and Satan is hurled down the earth after an angelic battle (vv. 7-9). The end of the chapter said that Satan “went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (v. 17b). But, even while he was going off to wage this war, heaven is rejoicing in verses 10-12: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah…. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!” So there is rejoicing in heaven that Jesus is victorious even though his victory has not yet been realized on earth.

When you’re watching a sporting event where the score is close and the game can turn on one play, there is incredible tension. It is hard to stay seated or sit still. People celebrate when their team makes a big play but, until the game is over, you can’t really gloat. But there is gloating here, even though the war was not done. Why? Because Christ won the victory in reality even though it had not played out in real time yet. Heaven could rejoice because there was no possibility of losing.

This should comfort us when things are dark and depressing on earth in the spiritual realm. When there are doctrinal defections, persecutions, rejection of the gospel, and complacent Christians, we should not lose heart or worry about the outcome. Christ has already won the war; his kingdom will prevail. There may be time left on the clock and Satan may gain some yardage, but he will not win. This is something to remember, to hold on to dearly, and to be encouraged by during dark days spiritually. Jesus has won; there is no need to worry.

Revelation 11

Read Revelation 11.

In this portion of John’s vision, God appointed and empowered two witnesses who prophesied. We are not told what they said but verse 10 tells us that they “had tormented those who live on the earth” so it was probably a whole lot of warning about God’s punishment. Their message was not received and they were killed then raised from the dead and received into heaven. Following this, seven thousand people died in an earthquake in Jerusalem. Those who survived the earthquake “were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” That’s what happened on earth in this chapter.

In heaven, however, voices in cheered the coming of Christ’s kingdom (v. 15) and thanked God for beginning his rule (v. 17). What were they so thankful for? The judgment of God: “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

The idea that God judges sinners and rewards the righteous has never been popular. In our culture however, it is construed as a black mark on God’s name, something that Christians try to explain apologetically. I understand that as a fellow-human; nobody wants to see people suffer.

But those who are judged and suffer for it do so because of their own moral choices, not because God is looking for excuses to torture his creation. If we condemn God for not being merciful to someone, we are actually condemning ourselves for not loving his holiness and longing for his justice. Of course we want God to be merciful to other sinners like we are but, if he chooses not to show mercy, the people who die outside of Christ are receiving the just penalty for their sins.

Do you love the justice of God? It was God’s justice that caused Christ to die as our substitute in order to rescue us from God’s judgment. By punishing Christ for our sins, God was able to be both just in the way he dealt with our sins as well as merciful and loving in forgiving us. We should give thanks and praise God for his justice–not because we want to see anyone perish but because we love God and want his glory to be fully shown. Take some time today and give thanks for God’s justice; then ask him to show mercy to other sinners that you know.

Revelation 10

Read Revelation 10.

Before that seventh trumpet sounded, John saw the vision described in this chapter. While the language in this chapter describes a visually stunning scene, very little of what John saw here is interpreted for us directly.

The “mighty angel” is another revelation of Christ. This interpretation is based on the description of his appearance in 10:1, the stance he took of one foot on land and the other on the sea, and the description of his voice in verse 3 as “a loud shout like the roar of a lion.”

After seeing and hearing him, John was commanded to take the scroll he came with and eat it (v. 9). This is a strange thing to do with a scroll but God was making a point with visuals here. As John ate the scroll, it tasted great (vv. 9-10) but was nauseating when digested (v. 10). The scroll, then, was God’s word but particularly God’s word of judgment. Once John digested its message, he learned that he “…must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (v. 11). The taste of sweetness when John ate it visualized that it was God’s word; the sourness John felt as he digested it described how painful the message would be. Nevertheless, as a servant of the Lord, he must be obedient to what God commanded him to do.

None of us has the same level of responsibility for God’s truth as John did; each of us, however, is aware of the painful rebukes and promises of judgment God’s word has for unbelief and sin. Are you prepared to be faithful to what God’s word teaches, even if thinking about the consequences of disobedience make you sick?

Revelation 9

Read Revelation 9.

In chapter 8, Jesus opened the seventh seal. Then John told us, “I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them” (v. 2) and “the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them” (v. 6). Four of those angels sounded their trumpets in Revelation 8; today we read about what happened when angels five and six sounded their trumpets.

What happened was painful torture to those not protected by God’s seal (vv. 4-12) and death for 33% of the world’s population (vv. 13-19).

One would expect that this kind of devastation would cause people to cry out to God for mercy. Instead, those who lived through these horrific events “still did not repent” of their false worship and disobedience to God. Their stubbornness demonstrates that sin nature is deeply planted in us all as are the sinful habits that we cultivate. Neither God’s judgment on others nor the threat of it can cause a person’s mind and heart to change. It is only God’s gracious working within any of us that changes our minds and causes us to turn to God in faith.

Thank God, though, that he does this gracious work in the hearts of many, including in our hearts when we came to believe in Jesus.

And this is one reason why we are here to give the gospel to others. Through the gospel message God works in hearts to open them to his gracious gift of salvation. Through that salvation, God delivers them from the coming days of his wrath like those described here in Revelation.

So keep looking for opportunities to share Christ with others. It is the only means of hope for humanity.

Revelation 8

Read Revelation 8.

The seventh and final seal was broken by Christ at the beginning of our chapter today. Recall that the seven seals were holding the scroll of God’s wrath closed. Jesus was the only person capable of opening them and, as he opened each one, devastation happened on earth.

The horrible things that happened on earth during the opening of seals one through six were the result of man-made aggression or natural disasters. When Christ opened the seventh seal here in Revelation 8:1, the angels got involved making the outpouring of God’s wrath an overtly supernatural thing. The results were even more severe than during the first six seals (vv. 7-12).

Within this description of destruction, however, we read in verse three that “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” Twice in these verses “the prayers of all God’s people” are described in terms of aromatic incense offered in worship to God.

This is how God experiences our talk to him. While we may be suffering, crying out for help or for justice and pouring out our fears and anxieties, God receives our prayers as beautiful acts of worship. This is because our prayers are expressions of pure dependence on him. They honor him as the only one who can do the impossible and provide for us when we have no where else to go.

Prayer is an extraordinary gift to us but it is also a beautiful act of worship to God. I hope this passage helps you understand how much God enjoys hearing us pray.

Take some time today and offer this act of worship to him; the fact that you look to him honors him, regardless of what you talk to him about.

Revelation 7

Read Revelation 7.

As we read yesterday in Revelation 6, the chaos of the Great Tribulation was happening on earth. God, however had not forgotten his children on earth and, in this chapter between the opening of the 6th and 7th seal (8:1), we are given a glimpse of what is happening in heaven.

The chapter opens with God sealing 144,000 of his children, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes. They were sealed in the sense that they were marked as belonging to God so that they would be protected from the supernatural outpouring of God’s wrath which will come in Revelation 8 when the 7th seal is opened.

Meanwhile, John saw an innumerable multitude of people who died during the Great Tribulation but were in Christ when they died (v. 14). Despite whatever horrors they experienced on earth, they are filled with praise for God (vv. 8-12). Because they were saved during their time on earth, eternity holds for them the joy of worshiping and serving God (v. 15) and his care for them forevermore (vv. 16-17).

There is plenty to be discouraged about and fearful of in this life but God has been good to us and we have not experienced the kind of persecution and pain that many of our brothers and sisters throughout history have experienced. Even if we do experience painful persecution and even martyrdom, the things God has promised us in Christ for eternity far outweigh the problems and pains of this life.

So, be encouraged. Cling to Christ and to God’s promises when life is hard and hope in the eternity we have been promised in Jesus. It will be more than worth it when we reach eternity.

Revelation 6

Read Revelation 6.

Yesterday we read in Revelation 5 that God was holding a scroll that was closed by seven seals. Jesus was the only one qualified to open the seals on the scroll and, in today’s reading, he began doing that. In this chapter he opened six of the seven seals on the scroll. Each time he opened a seal, something bad happened on earth. At the end of the this chapter, we learned that the bad things that happened were not random, natural events. Instead they were “…the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (vv. 16b-17).

There are a number of questions which have to be answered to interpret this chapter and figure out its meaning. Getting into all the interpretive questions and viewpoints is not appropriate for a devotional like this one. The major lesson is that God’s anger at the sins of humanity will eventually be expressed on earth and it will be destructive (vv. 2, 8), deadly (v. 4), and terrifying to every type of person on earth (v. 15).

It is interesting that, despite all the devastation described in this chapter, the martyrs who spoke out when the fifth seal was opened did not view the tribulations described in this chapter as expressions of God’s justice. In fact, they cried out to the Lord for justice, wondering aloud when God would “judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (v. 10). This indicates that the expressions of wrath we read about in this chapter are not so much about God’s justice but about subjecting the earth to his authority. That’s why the white horse, revealed when the first seal was opened “rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest” (v. 2). This tribulation period, then, is a period of war. It is the almighty God, king of the universe, squashing the rebellion of humanity against his rule and bringing the rogue province of earth back under his full control.

The people on earth interpreted the cataclysms described in this passage as acts of God’s wrath (vv. 16-17). They were correct about that; however, they believed that death could cause them to escape God’s judgment (v. 16a) while the martyrs of verse 10 were wondering when God’s judgment would begin. The martyrs understood (and the ones hiding did not, apparently) that God’s judgment would be handed down later when each person who ever lived would stand in his courtroom. As bad as the tribulations in this chapter were–and they were horrible–they were not the final judgments of God but acts of war by which God would subject everything to himself and establish his kingdom permanently.

When I have witnessed about Christ to others during my life, I have occasionally met someone who said, “I believe we’re in hell right now.” They don’t have a clue what they’re saying. This life can certainly be painful and destructive and, when the events of this chapter happen, things will get far worse. But the very worst devastation and suffering that anyone experiences on this earth is minor compared to the death sentence that God will hand down in the future when the day of his judgment actually comes. In addition to inviting people to receive the forgiveness of sins in Christ, we need to warn them that there is a day of judgment coming. It is unavoidable and the sentence that God passes down on that day will eclipse even the worst suffering that has ever happened in this life.

Have you turned to Jesus for refuge from that day of judgment? Are you warning the people around you about the fact that they will answer to God for the way they have lived on this earth? Are you inviting them to the only hope of avoiding God’s judgment which is the atonement of Christ that we read about yesterday in Revelation 5:9-10?

Revelation 5

Today’s reading is Revelation 5.

Yesterday, in Revelation 4, John described to us his vision of God, in heaven, on his throne, being worshipped. Here in Revelation 5, John saw that God is holding a scroll (v. 1). However, the scroll was sealed with no one worthy to open it (vv. 2-4). No one, that is, except Jesus who appeared in verse 5.

It is interesting to contrast the description of Christ in verse 5 and John’s description of his appearance in verse 6. In verse 5, one of the 24 elders we read about in Revelation 4:4 described Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” This description, plus the statement that he “has triumphed” leads us to expect someone whose appearance is fierce, majestic, and powerful. Instead when John looked at him in verse 6 he saw, “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.” As if lambs aren’t weak and defenseless enough, this one looks like a dead lamb–one that died violently–hardly someone you would expect to be worthy to open the scroll of God’s revelation.

And yet, that’s what he began to do when he took the scroll from God the Father’s hand in verse 7. Why was he able to do this? The elders and living creatures told us in their “new song” in verses 9-10: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain.” The appearance of Jesus as a slaughtered lamb did not disqualify him from opening the scroll; it qualified him TO open the scroll. Why? Verse 9b: “…with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The triumph (v. 5b) that qualified Jesus was not that he defeated all enemies in battle but that he gave himself to rescue us from God’s wrath for our sins.

The result of his sacrifice was stated in verse 10: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” This is why Jesus came. To create a new kingdom, composed of people everywhere that Christ redeemed, to enjoy ruling with him in his kingdom on this earth.

Are you thankful for your salvation? Do you understand that forgiveness of sins is just the first of many blessings that Christ secured for you by his death on the cross? Are you waiting expectantly for his kingdom to come and preparing for it by storing up treasure there?

Revelation 4

Read Revelation 4.

After addressing the churches on earth in Revelation 2 and 3, John’s vision of the Lord causes him to be transported to heaven to see what is happening there (v. 1). The purpose of this vision was to convey to John and to us the greatness and holiness of God. Despite all the problems his churches on earth were dealing with, God was not worried. He was sitting on a magnificent throne (v. 3) surrounded by worship (vv. 4-8). And what was the content of that worship? It was to proclaim the holiness of God (vv. 8) and his worthiness for worship (v. 11).

cThe word “holy” means “set apart.” It is used elsewhere in the Bible of God’s moral purity, his freedom from sin, in the sense that he is set apart from ungodliness. But the word “holiness” is also used just to describe how different God is from us and everything else that exists. The creatures worshipped God for his holiness, for his uniqueness in all things (v. 8). And why was God so different, so distinct? Because he “created all things” (v. 11). God is the only one who understands reality as the Creator–the one who planned and caused it. Even if we could understand everything God knows (we can’t, but go with me here), we still wouldn’t know AS God’s knows because he knows all things as the Creator. We only ever know anything as created beings. This means that:

  • God is infinite; we are finite.
  • God is independent; we are dependent on him.
  • God knows everything because he planned and made everything; we know anything only because he gave us the ability to observe and learn as well as create tools and instruments to help us.

God’s greatness–his holiness–is an inexhaustible truth. This is why living creatures (v. 8) glorify him and why spiritual leaders fall down before him in worship (vv. 9-11).

Before Jesus revealed anything to John about the last days, he reveled to John the power and majesty of himself. This is so that he and we would develop an awe for him that causes us to worship him as the twenty-four elders did.

Did this passage strike you, giving you a new vision of God’s power, greatness and holiness? The spend some time worshiping the Lord for his holiness just as the elders did here in 4:9-11.

Revelation 3

Read Revelation 3.

Years ago, when I was in seminary, I was in the driveway of my house, scraping the old grass off the bottom of my mower. A couple that lived a few doors down the street walked by on the sidewalk. They asked me if I was a minister; I said I was in seminary preparing to become a pastor. The wife said, “You need to come to our church and become our pastor!” I was startled by that and said, “What church do you go to?” “St. Matt’s” she said, referring to a church in our neighborhood, just around the corner from my house on the next block. They were walking home from a church members meeting at the time.

“Don’t you have a pastor?” I asked. “Yes, but all he does is tell stories about going to the grocery store and doing this and that. We need someone who will come and preach the gospel!” I was surprised by this conversation because the church she mentioned was part of a denomination that left orthodox Christianity a long time ago. I knew the church she was referring to had dwindled to only a few members and attenders, just like most of the churches in the denomination had. So, my surprise wasn’t that the preaching was unbiblical and weak; it was that there were members still there who knew the Lord!

That’s kind of what was going on at the church in Sardis that we read about in verses 1-6. The church was “dead” (v. 1b) and what little life remained was “about to die” (v. 2b). Yet verse 4 described a “few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.” Christ commanded the entire church to repent and hold fast to his doctrine (v. 3) but the promise in verses 4-6 was that those who truly did trust Christ would be saved, even if the church died around them. Verse 5 promises, “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.”

In New Testament times, there was one church at the most in every town. So, if your church was dying, you couldn’t leave it for a living, growing one. That’s what most Christians would do today but there is something to be said for those who don’t give up the faith or the fight for a faithful church.

This passage also underscores the importance of walking with God personally even if others around you are not. At the last judgment, you will stand alone before God and so will I. We will be accountable to him for what we believe and how we lived, regardless of whether anyone else led us properly or walked with us in a way that pleases God. It must be strange to be one of the few (or only) true believers in a church, but that is no excuse to stop seeking the Lord yourself. I hope none of us is ever in that position, but regardless this passage should encourage us and challenge us to be diligent about our discipleship. If there are people who keep seeking the Lord in a dead and dying church, how much more should we be faithful to walk with him when we have so many others to encourage us, lead us and teach us to follow God!