The companions of God

The Little Book of the Revelation - Fifth in a series

After the Lord breaks the sixth seal, we expect final blows to fall. Instead, in Chapter 7, the actions slows; no seal is opened. Two groups of people are revealed, one on earth, one in heaven.

The winds of God’s judgment are temporarily restrained (Rev 7:1-3) while the first group, 144,000 of God’s servants, are sealed in their foreheads. Later, in Chapter 14, we learn that this seal is the “Father’s name written in their foreheads.” (Rev 14:1)

This sealing reminds of Ezekiel’s mark upon those who sighed and cried because of all the abominations in Jerusalem. (Eze 9:4-6) These servants are the Israel of God (Gal 6:16; Mat 22:32).

Their number is comprised of 12,000 men from certain tribes of Israel (Rev 7:5-8), excluding Dan and Ephraim— representing the worst of the idolators? (Hos 4:17; Amos 8:14)

In Ephraim’s place is Joseph who, with his oldest son Manasseh, retains the double portion among the tribes even as Ephraim is removed. In Dan’s place is Levi.

Levi was not historically numbered among the children of Israel (Num 1:49) because the Lord was his portion as his tribe performed the sacred duties. His inclusion in this accounting shows we have entered into a new time. Yet the tribes are presented in four groups of three (Rev. 7:4-8), which is reminiscent of the configuration commanded in Numbers (Num 2).

John travels in an instant from earth to heaven to see another group:

  • After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb. (Rev 7:9-10)

We are back at God’s throne with his beasts, elders and angels, now joined by the saints “which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14)

Differences between the groups

Some commentators say the 144,000 represent Jews living in the end-times who have not yet discovered that Christ is their Messiah, but are soon to arrive at that realization.

This is supported by Paul’s insight:

  • For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits, that a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in; (Rom 11:25)

Would the “fulness of the Gentiles” be the “great multitude which no man could number”? (Rev 7:9) Perhaps these are the fellow-helpers of the martyrs of the fifth seal, who would be killed like their brothers before arriving in the throne room. (Rev 6:11)

Commentators who subscribe to the ‘dispensational’ construct in theological understanding (ref) view the arrival of this multitude in heaven as marking the end of the ‘church age.’ (ref) After this, God’s attention turns to the Jews.

Some theologians who study the Bible to explain its message in a ‘covenantal’ framework* (ref), interpret Revelation 7 as two views of the same group, that is, the 144,000 are the ‘called, chosen and faithful’ (Rev 17:14) on earth who are assured of a heavenly welcome, in God’s timing, and they are assured of persecution. (2 Tim 3:12)

Other ‘covenantal’ expositors understand Paul’s words in Romans 11 as predictive of salvation for a remnant of Jews, and do not think the Church will be removed before the Resurrection.

Reading various commentaries one sees numerous perspectives. The Revelation is a book that all would agree defies complete understanding.

If Chapter 7 is read as a sequence of events, then we would view the Jews remaining on earth though the church is ‘removed’, but it is not possible to read the Revelation as relying on an orderly framework.

As we have noted previously, the chronology of the Revelation is always puzzling. Which events are sequential and which ones are concurrent? Which chapters or portions give further explanation or details of previously reported events?

Clues in Scripture

We cannot understand the Revelation without seeing its prophecies by the light of related Bible passages. “Let Scripture explain Scripture” is a foundational rule for the Christian who honors the whole Word of God.

Paul’s words in Romans 11 are the key to understanding some scenarios in John’s Revelation. Of the Jews and the mysteries of the two groups’ influence upon each other, Paul wrote:

  • As touching the gospel, they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake.
  • For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.
  • For as ye in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience,
  • even so have these also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they also may now obtain mercy.
  • For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.
  • O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out!
  • For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
  • or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
  • For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen. (Rom 11:28-36)

Will the Jews be alone among the heathen as the end-time terrors pick up speed? Will the Church be removed, leaving the Jews without a witness in the world?

* See Westminster Confession, Chapter 7

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Objections to Christmas Answered

Thanksgivings on Special Occasions - Third in a series

Christmas originated as a way of lifting up God's Son as the Light of the world, to counter pagan celebrations. In 320 AD Pope Julius set December 25 as the official date of Jesus' birth; then the Emperor Constantine proclaimed it as an ‘immovable feast’ in 325 AD —so it does not change in date from year to year as Easter does. Constantine also decreed that Sunday would be the Roman day of rest.

Not all Christians today nor across the centuries have seen Constantine’s proclamations as binding, yet even after 17 centuries some still are honored. The U.S. established Dec. 25th as a federal holiday in 1887 after 14 states had made it a legal holiday. All non-essential government offices, schools, banks and many businesses close, giving families an opportunity to travel and have reunions. A good thing!

Nevertheless, in Daniel, we read: And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand… (Dan 7:25) This prophecy seems to say that the Antichrist will have the power to change or to erase ‘immovable’ dates.

U.S. law notwithstanding, some still object to celebrating Christmas. They object to the mention of the “mass” in the word Christmas. Mass is the Roman Catholic term for communion. Yet we all understand that Christmas celebrates Christ's birth. We use common terms such as ‘baptism’ with other denominations despite each having specific connotations. We also accept and use the word Sunday which has reference to the sun god's day, associated originally with pagan worship, as Monday was the ‘moon's day’ and Tuesday was named for the god of war, and so on.

Many festivals were celebrated at the time of the 16th century Reformation such as the feasts of the apostles, of Mary and others, and practices had been added to church life that encouraged superstitions and heresy. It was time for purification and revival; the Catholics agree here.

The church has re-formed and evolved over time in its understanding and practices. For example, the Trinity was defined in the third century, definitions of heresies were added at various junctures, the "full humanity and full divinity" of Jesus was established in the 5th century, and some things that were not part of the New Testament church have become usual, such as church buildings, creeds and confessions, tiny cups and miniature crackers for communion, baptistries, Sanctity of Life Sunday, handbells, and thanksgivings on special occasions.

Many of us object to the debauchery—the “extravagant merriment… bacchanalian lasciviousness” in the season of Christmas. Merchandising and retail mayhem, puddings and candies, liquors, parties, jingle bells, ho-ho-ho, Secret Santas, gaudy decorations and blending the secular with the holy. Yet, there is also the divine joy of Christmas hymns, caroling, special decor, worship and family gatherings.

Objections are sounded against “adding to the Bible”– which Scripture forbids – (Deut 4:2; Prov 30:5-6; Rev 22:18) and degrading the worship of God:

  • “All modes of worship must be expressly sanctioned by God's word, if they are to be considered legitimate. Since Christmas observances, and other ecclesiastical festivals, are not commanded in the scriptures, they fail to meet divine approval, even if there were no additional objections to them." (Presbyterian Heritage Publications)
  • “The sons of Aaron are … condemned for bringing strange, or ordinary fire to God's worship; as doing that which God had not commanded, and yet had not otherwise forbidden... And this is the very plea which we make against ceremonies of human institution, in God's worship." (William Ames (1576-1633), prominent English Puritan)
    • “The strange fire of Nadab and Abihu was fire that did not come from the brazen altar; therefore, it is a type of failing to worship God on the ground of the shed blood of Christ." (ref)

Celebrating the birth and incarnation of the Lord at a special time of year as a tradition does not add “strange fire” that is, a different definition of what it means to be saved. Rather, it focuses us even more on Jesus Christ as Lord, born of a virgin, the Word made flesh.

Despite the commercialization, Christmas offers opportunities for evangelism that don't exist otherwise, and helps to teach church history and important facts about Jesus. Any special church service such as on Christmas Eve or Day can become a time for outreach.

Not all Christians celebrate Christmas, and no one should be forced to. Each year I look forward to Christmas, and celebrating it does help me to worship.

This blog series will continue some time in the New Year, DV, Deo Volente, God willing. Merry Christmas!

Remembering God's Words

Remembrance and its opposite - Eleventh in a series

In the Bible we are told to REMEMBER God's words (Deut 6:8; Deut 11:18). Memorization or frequent reading are two ways to do that.

We are warned against adding to or subtracting from them (Deut 4:2; Deut 12:32; Rev 22:18, 19). Anyone who faithfully reads God's words and obeys them will have a good life no matter what his or her circumstances.

If someone is reading this post, murmuring, I have tried to read the Bible, but it makes no sense to me; I just can't understand it! —then get on your knees and cry out to God for help to read and to understand the Bible! You need the Bible to live; otherwise you will starve to death. (Mat 4:4)

Looking back, I have changed churches from time to time. If the church I was in did not lift up God's Word, after a time, I moved on. I recall a church where the preaching was inspired and I learned so much about the Bible. I felt amazed and encouraged after each sermon. But that pastor retired, others were hired, and over time, the Word was no longer the focus of the worship service. I could look around on Sundays and see that the sheep were hungry and tired. As we sat in the service, we felt cold and forlorn in our ruined pasture.

What is this power of God's Word to satisfy? How are we filled and made whole by it? Why is it described as "alive" by the author of Hebrews? (Heb 4:12) Or, do you not consider it to be upbuilding and dynamic? But if it is not, why do communist nations forbid its presence? Why are those who smuggle it in or share it in those nations killed or jailed? What sort of threat does it pose to those in control?

It is God's Word! It trumps every other power on earth or in the heavens. It gives truth, instruction, revival, reason, help, comfort, inspiration, guidance, courage and hope. It tells what has been and what will be; it is unbreakable, authoritative, strengthening, eternal, enlivening, and it has power to free us from enslaving habits, thoughts, emotions, moods and memories.

In my 20s I came across five reasons why we need the Bible (though I cannot tell you where I found this list):

Nature's revelation is not enough… A supernatural revelation is needed to show:

  1. The character of God.
    We can glean some insights about God's power and moral essence from his creation, but it takes the fulness of actual communication to reveal his holiness, justice, mercy and love.
  2. The origin of man.
    The confusion of ancient and modern theories proves the need for man to know his lofty origin.
  3. The origin of evil and death.
    Man needs to understand why he is sinful and why evil and death abound.
  4. Man's purpose.
    Man needs to understand why he was created and the provisions for his redemption.
  5. Man's destiny.
    Man needs to know what lies beyond death.

If we will not remember God's words, we should fear because neither good intentions nor claims of ignorance will excuse us. (Lev 5:15, 17) Likewise in society, have you run a stop sign? You did not see it, or perhaps were not aware it required you to stop? If apprehended, you will nevertheless be fined.

Have you trespassed God's word? You have been apprehended. Run to Christ for mercy.