revelation

1 Samuel 3, Jeremiah 41

Today’s OT18 readings are 1 Samuel 3 and Jeremiah 41.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 3.

In this chapter, Samuel receives some chilling news about Eli and his sons. Although this was news to Samuel, Eli had heard this prophecy before as we saw yesterday in 1 Samuel 2:27-36.

But the most interesting statement in this chapter is verse 7: “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” On one hand, it is difficult to accept that Samuel did not “know the Lord.” He must have heard his mother’s testimony about how God provided him to her as an answer to prayer. More importantly, he served daily in the Tabernacle, seeing the sacrifices offered and hearing God’s word read. There is no way that Samuel was ignorant of the Lord at this point in his life. So why would the text say that he “did not yet know the Lord”? The next phrase is only somewhat helpful: “The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” This may refer to the prophetic word of God which he was about to receive for the first time. But it must mean more than just, “Samuel was not yet a prophet.”

Although I wish the passage said more than it does, it indicates an important truth that is present throughout scripture: people can know God intellectually without knowing him personally. In other words, people can believe that God exists and even have a correct and detailed theology about God. But that is not the same as knowing the Lord personally. Knowing the Lord personally means a direct, personal faith in God. It is a way of life where God speaks to you personally and you speak to him personally. The way in which we speak personally to God is basically the same for all of us—prayer. But the ways in which God speaks to us are different. All those who know the Lord have had the experience of hearing his word with deep conviction. Others may hear the same message from God’s word, but our hearing of it is accompanied by a consciousness that God is speaking directly to us through his word. This happens when someone comes to faith in Christ. A person hears the gospel message that Christ died for our sins, but he doesn’t just believe that as a fact. Instead, he hears that as good news—that Christ died for me; for my sins! This is how someone comes to know the Lord in this age.

As I said, every believer in every age has the experience of hearing God’s word—spoken by a prophet or read from a page and knowing that the message was for him or her in that moment. Throughout the ages God has also spoken more directly, like he did to Samuel in this passage. The important thing is not how miraculously and personally the word of the Lord came to you; the important thing is that God reveals himself to you personally—not as an abstraction, an idea, or even as a personal God but as YOUR God, your Lord, your master, your father who loves you and that you are learning to love. It is unlikely that someone reading this devotional each day might not know the Lord, but it is possible. Samuel heard plenty about God and more than once from God’s word before he knew the Lord personally. Have you come to know and believe in the Lord? Have you trusted his son, Jesus Christ, the one and only way to the Father?

This passage seems to be the beginning of Samuel’s personal relationship with God, for verse 21 says, “The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.”

Judges 14, Jeremiah 27

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 14 and Jeremiah 27.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 27.

God commanded his prophets do some strange things at times. These strange things had a point to them which was to deliver truth in vivid, memorable ways. Here in Jeremiah 27, the prophet is commanded to take the yoke that oxen would wear and put it on his own neck. (v. 2). People used these yokes to get animals to submit to them and plow their fields. The yoke, then, is a symbol of submission. God told the prophet to use this visual aid to teach people that they should just go ahead and submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. It would be easier for everyone and cost many fewer human lives (v. 8) than trying to defeat Nebuchadnezzar outside the will of God (vv. 5-7).

This visual aid is unusual but so was the audience for Jeremiah’s prophecy. God told him to spread this message to “the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah” (v. 3). Most of the time God’s prophets were sent to his people, Israel and Judah. This time God sent his word from the prophet to several nations. That wasn’t unheard of but it was unusual.

The kings of these pagan lands had their own gods so I wonder if they would think it strange that the God of Israel would try to tell them what to do. God anticipated that objection and affirmed his Sovereign right because he is the Creator: “With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please” (v. 5).

Other nations have their gods but their gods are fake. Only Israel’s God--our God--is the true God and because he created everything, he has the right to rule everyone and require everyone’s obedience. Keep this in mind when unbelievers tell you that they have their own religion or that they don’t believe the Bible so it is not important what the Bible says. These are attempts to evade their accountability to God but because God is Creator, they are accountable to him. Indeed, everyone on earth will stand before God and answer to him whether they submitted to his word or not.

Every person who ever lived is responsible to obey God’s word. Unbelievers are not off the hook because of their unbelief; to the contrary, their unbelief is one of many ways in which they live in rebellion to the true God. Unbelievers are responsible to obey God but they are not capable of obeying him. Neither are we. This is why we needed Christ to come into the world. He obeyed God for us (we call this his “active obedience”) and to die for our sins (this is his “passive obedience”). Unbelievers don’t get out of accountability by denying God or his word; they avoid God’s judgment by receiving his grace.

Judges 13, Jeremiah 26

Today we’re reading Judges 13 and Jeremiah 26.

This devotional is about Judges 13.

Although they lived in evil times, Samson’s parents certainly feared the Lord. Their reverence for God is visible throughout this chapter. One quick lesson we can take from them is that even in the most evil days there is always someone who loves God and lives by his commands. This is called a remnant in other scripture passages; just as carpet is measured, cut, and used but some is left behind as a remnant, so God always leaves behind some who believe in him.

Anyway, Manoah’s wife received a revelation from someone who “looked like an angel of God, very awesome” (v. 6). After her husband prayed for this one to return (v. 8), God sent this heavenly messenger to both of them (vv. 9-14). Manoah, apparently, thought he was talking talking to a prophet or something because he offered the messenger food (vv. 15-16) and “did not realize that it was the angel of the Lord” (v. 16e). When he asked this messenger for his name he was told, “It is beyond understanding” (v. 18). This should have been a strong clue that the “man” they were talking to was the Lord God himself. It wasn’t, however, until “the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame” (vv. 19d-20b). At that point, Manoah and his wife knew what was going on. They fell down in worship (v. 20c) and said in verse 22, “‘We are doomed to die...! We have seen God!’” Notice that neither God nor the writer of Judges disputed Manoah’s interpretation. His wife knew that they wouldn’t die (v. 23) but nobody refuted the statement that they had “seen God.” Why not? Because this is one of a few places in the Old Testament where God appeared in human form.

Theologians call these kind of visitations by God “theophanies” “Theo-“ means “God” and the rest of the word comes from a Greek word that means “to show.” This certainly is a theophany; however, it is more correct to call it a “Christophany,” which when Christ, the 2nd person of God, shows up in human form. The fact that this is a theophany is easy to see in verse 22 in the phrase, “We have seen God!” But how do we know that this was Christ and not God the Father or the Holy Spirit?

The answer is that Christ is called “the Word” in John 1:1 which describes his divine role in the Trinity. Christ’s role is to reveal God, to be the mediator between God and creation. Anytime God reveals himself directly to humanity, then, Christ is the one making that revelation. Colossians 1:15-16 told us that “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” These passages teach the communication role that Christ plays in the Three Persons of God.

I wrote, regarding Joshua 5, that the “‘commander of the Lord’s army’ was Jesus himself but I didn’t explain why I believe it was Jesus and not the Father or the Spirit. Today’s devotional allowed me to return to this subject and explain a bit more about how God revealed himself in Christ in the Old Testament. Note that Jesus was not yet fully human; that didn’t happen until the virgin conception. But he appeared in human form as part of his role as the Word, the Logos, the communication of God to us.

Joshua 11, Jeremiah 5

Today’s readings are Joshua 11 and Jeremiah 5.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 5:24: “They do not say to themselves, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’”

When God opened Noah’s ark, he made a covenant with humanity called the “Noahic Covenant.” The sign of that covenant was the rainbow and the content of it was the promise never to destroy the earth again with a flood. Part of that promise, though, was that there would be a predictability to the world: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen 8:22).

God has been faithful to this promise and here in Jeremiah 5:24 he raised it as evidence against the unbelief of his people. Instead of realizing that this was an expression of God’s love, people take it for granted. Other passages of scripture (Ps 19:1, Rom 1:20, Acts 14:17) tell us that this operation of nature is a powerful witness to God’s existence, power, goodness, and love. Yet humanity--whether Jewish or Gentile--is so hardhearted that people deny God’s existence or his knowability. If you’ve ever wondered why people who have never heard of Jesus are condemned, this is a big reason why. The first reason, of course is sin; we all sin and sin demands eternal death. But part of the wickedness of sin is that people see God’s goodness and love each day, depend on it for survival and existence, but don’t cry out for God to save us or reveal himself to us.

In the next verse, Jeremiah 5:25, God said he has taken these things away from his people because of their sins. Although God’s creation witnesses to all humanity about him, only those who know him will worship him for his creation. It is a beautiful summer day as I write this; maybe it will be when you read it. Take time to thank God for his love and faithfulness to all humanity. Then ask God to help us as a church family reach others with the gospel they need to worship the Creator God for who he really is.

Genesis 6, Ezra 6, Psalm 6

Today the schedule calls for us to read Genesis 6, Ezra 6, and Psalm 6.

This devotional is about Genesis 6.

I don’t think that a greater contrast could exist between Noah and the rest of the world around him. Noah “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (v. 9b) while the world around him was “...corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (v. 11). Regarding the rest of the world, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth” (v. 6) but “ Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” There is no subtle contrast here. God approved of Noah and was “deeply troubled” (v. 6b) about everyone else.

Although Noah was “righteous” “blameless among the people” and “walked with God” (v. 9b), he was not perfect. He “found favor” with God because of God’s grace, not because of his own righteous merits. As a man, Noah had a sinful nature like everyone else on earth. Apart from God’s favor, he would have been as wicked as everyone else and just as worthy of divine punishment. So God’s divine election of Noah is what is meant by the phrase “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Practically speaking, God’s favor came through divine revelation. God explained to Noah his plan to destroy everyone and everything (v. 13), commanded Noah to build a means of escape (v. 14), instructed Noah about how to do it (vv. 15-16), then made a promise--“my covenant”--to protect Noah and his family (vv. 17-21). Because Noah was a man who knew God and walked with him, Noah received God’s word by faith, believed God’s promise, and obeyed accordingly (v. 22).

The details of our lives are different, but the pattern is the same with every person who knows God. God chooses us, God reveals what he wills to us, God commands us to obey, promises to protect us if we do, then calls us by faith to act. We can apply this to our own lives. Every truth taught in Scripture is God’s gracious gift to us, revealing what he wills to do, commanding us to believe and obey it, and promising blessing to us after we do what he said.

Are you struggling with obedience to the Lord in some area of your life? I don’t mean building an ark, I mean receiving the truth from his Word in some area and obeying it? Understand from this passage that God’s commands are not burdens for us to bear through obedience; they are his means for blessing us. If we will trust the Lord and do what His word commands, we will receive the promises he makes. It’s guaranteed because it is backed by God’s grace.

Revelation 22

Today’s reading is Revelation 22.

Well, we made it! If this is the first time you’ve ever read through the New Testament in a year, way to go!

And, what a way to end the Bible, with the promise of living with God for all eternity. As verses 3 and 4 put it, “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

It is interesting, isn’t it, that this chapter describes “the tree of life” on “each side of the river” (v. 2)? This fact recalls the garden of Eden, as the NIV’s section heading suggests. Although God is hidden from us now because of the curse, he has revealed himself in nature, in our conscience, in his word, and in Christ. But his intention has always been to live with humanity. God’s will and his ultimate purpose is to live on earth with humanity. When this chapter is fulfilled, human life will finally exist as God intended.

Until then, we who know God by faith should be waiting for Christ’s coming (vv. 12, 20). While we wait, we have the Word and the Spirit of God with us and, by faith, we should live before the face of God. The way we think, the way we live our lives, the choices we make, and the way we use our time should all be done as consciously as possible that God is with us and is watching us.

If you’ve developed a Bible reading habit this year, keep it going! Knowing and thinking about God’s word is an important part of living consciously in the presence of God. I trust these devotionals have helped you grow in your faith and obedience to our Lord. May he help us in 2018 to grow even stronger in faith and in obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Revelation 21

Today’s reading is Revelation 21.

If you’re reading this, and it is December 28th, and you’ve read every other chapter in the New Testament, congratulations! You’re almost there!

Now that justice has been done and all unrepentant sinners have received their just penalty, God starts over here in Revelation 21. This fresh start is different than the one involving Noah and his family. Recall that God judged the world back in Genesis and started over with Noah, his family, and representatives of everything in the animal kingdom. It wasn’t long, however, before sin re-entered the world because Noah and his offspring were sinners. So, God’s efforts to start over with a flood were unsuccessful.

Here in Revelation 21, God made a new heaven and new earth AFTER he redeemed people to live in it (v.7). God unveiled his new created world and city only after creating a new society of people through the redemption of Christ to live in it. Then--and only then--will :God himself will be with them and be their God” (v. 3).

And what a God he proves to be! Instead of enslaving his people and demanding our worship--which he has every right to do--God moves to “wipe every tear from their eyes” (v. 4) to make us his “children” (v. 7b) and to cause the victorious to “inherit all this” (v. 7). Although God’s kingdom is for him--he’s the king, after all, he generously shares it with us and serves us in it even though he is the exalted king. When we arrive there, we will worship God but God will honor us, enlightening us with his glory (v. 23) and comforting all of troubled hearts.

Are you looking forward to that day? Or are you consumed with the things of this world, trying to build yourself a mini-kingdom instead of seeking first God’s kingdom? The eternity God has prepared for those he loves is beyond the ability of even an inspired writer like John to describe. Live for this; it is the only home that lasts forever.

Revelation 20

Today we’re reading Revelation 20.

This chapter is where we get the doctrine of the Millennium. The word “millennium” is Latin for “one thousand years,” the exact period of time that verse 2b says Satan will be bound. During this one thousand year period, those who were martyred during the Great Tribulation were resurrected (v. 4) and “reigned with Christ a thousand years” (vv. 4, 6).

No Christian likes the idea of being persecuted for Christ; being “beheaded” for him is a gruesome and terrifying concept. Yet, verse 6 says, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection” (which is the one described in verses 4-5). The reason they are blessed is that “the second death has no power over them.” Their faith in Christ stood the test of persecution and even martyrdom which demonstrated that it was genuine. Therefore, they are safe forever from the “second death” and, in fact, “will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

In contrast to this resurrection, verses 11-15 describe the general resurrection of the rest of mankind (v. 13). These people did not reign with Christ; they were judged by him for how they lived during their time on this earth. (v. 13: “each person was judged according to what they had done”). But notice that the result of this judgment was not based on what they had done; rather, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15). God will judge every sinner at the judgment of the dead and he will describe the reasons why they deserve to be in the lake of fire based on their works. But those who escape that judgment do not escape it because they had good works. Instead, those who escape the lake of fire did so because they were found in the book of life.

This is the gospel; this is the central truth of our faith. An impartial judgment of our works by a just God would ensure that every one of us would be a goner. But God, in his grace, chose some of us--not because of our works but simply because he is gracious. He wrote our names in his book of life so that we would escape this judgment. But, so that he would not be unjust for forgiving us, he sent Christ to pay the penalty for our sins.

If you’ve been reading these devotionals over the last year, it seems very likely to me that you’ve trusted Christ and are following him. But it is possible that you haven’t done that or that you found this page on our website through some other means. Do you understand that, on your own, you have no basis on which God should allow you into his presence after this life is over? You may be a very good person relative to many other people but compared to God, all of us are wicked, fallen, and completely deserving of eternity in a lake that burns with fire.

Do you understand that Christ came into the world to save sinners from this lake of fire? Have you come to God at some time in your life and put your faith fully and only in Jesus Christ? If not, please cry out to God for mercy and ask him to save you because of Jesus’ death on the cross for you.

If you have trusted Christ, remember that God has an incredible, eternal future waiting for you. Whatever problem you face in life today, whatever price you pay for following him will be forgotten when you serve him and reign with him forever. Take hope in that!

Revelation 19

Today’s reading is Revelation 19.

In Revelation 18 God defeated Babylon. At the end of chapter 19 (vv. 11-21) Christ returned to personally defeat the Beast.

In between these two victories, we read verses 1-10. Have you ever been to a sporting event--a football game or basketball game--where the cheering was so loud and so intense that it muffled every other sound? Verse 1 describes the worship of our Lord in similar language when it says, “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.’” It was “the roar of a great multitude in heaven.” Verse 6 echoes this when it says, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.’”

It is difficult for us to imagine what eternal life will be like, so language like this helps us get a picture to look forward to. The most exciting game you’ve ever witnessed and cheered for will not compare to the excitement and joy and loud shouts of rejoicing that we will make for our Lord. The most enthralling musical concert you’ve ever witnessed will sound like an out-of-tune middle school band recital compared to how we’ll sing and shout the praises of God.

Eternal life will not be boring; it will be infinitely better every moment than the greatest highlights of your life. This hope of eternal life can carry us, it can help us “hold to the testimony of Jesus” while we wait for him to return. When your life is disappointing or worse, remember what God has promised to us in Christ. Then, sing a song for worship and thanks to him as an expression of hope and faith for that coming day.

Revelation 17

Today’s reading is Revelation 17.

Some people crave political power. They desire to get it either personally by becoming a ruler or collectively by associating with a party in power. Humanity has a long history of using political power to oppress people, particularly people in a disfavored group. In this chapter, the rulers of the world (“kings of the earth”) formed an alliance first with “the great prostitute” (vv. 1-2) then with “the beast” (vv. 12-14). Both of these alliances were oppressive and destructive to God’s people (vv. 6, 14). “The beast” is defined for us as “an eighth king” (v. 11) while “the great prostitute” is identified as “the great city.” God ultimately pits the beast and the prostitute against one another as enemies (vv. 16-17) and, despite the beast’s best efforts, Jesus triumphs over all of these powerful forces (v. 14b) “because is the Lord of lords and King of kings.”

This is something to remember when you don’t like the powers that control our government. Ultimately all of these powers will fight against Christ and his kingdom but they will not win. So we should never get too attached to any ruler or any political group, whether in power or seeking power. Our allegiance is to Jesus. He is our hope and his kingdom is the one we are waiting for.

I don’t know what bad news we may read about today but I can predict there will be something in the news that you don’t like. Don’t get discouraged; ask God to establish his kingdom. Set your mind and your hope there. Lay up treasure for yourself there and, if we are persecuted, rest in justice of God which will be done when Jesus reigns.

Revelation 16

Today we’re reading Revelation 16.

Have you ever wondered why people who are dying don’t just pray the “sinners prayer?” After all, if God will save everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, then someone could live a completely selfish, sinful life and be saved just before they reach eternity. So, why don’t more people do that?

One answer is that becoming a Christian is not just about praying some words, like a magic incantation. Receiving the gospel starts with changing your mind which is the act we know theologically as “repentance.” That change of mind requires a work of God in someoane’s heart which causes them to want God instead of sin. If you genuinely want God, you’ll turn to him as soon as you realize that you want him, not wait until the very end of your life. Although there are exceptions, the longer people live, the more hardened they usually become in their sin and rejection of Christ. To receive Christ is to renounce your pride, to admit that you’ve been living wrongly your whole life, and to fall on his grace alone because you’re unable to fix yourself or your situation. Apart from the grace of God, human pride keeps us from such repentance.

This is why the people described in today’s chapter “refused to repent and glorify him” (v. 9, and similar wording in verse 11). Instead of calling for God’s mercy, then, people cursed him for his justice (vv. 9, 11, 21). This is the natural response of humanity to the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God.

This is why we must pray for God to open hearts and change minds so that people will turn to God for grace instead of cursing him for his justice.

Revelation 15

Today’s reading is Revelation 15.

Verse 1 of today’s chapter celebrates the end of God’s wrath but, before it is completed, there are seven bowls of wrath that will be poured out on earth in the form of plagues. The end is in sight but many horrors would come before the end did.

In verses 3-4, however, the believers who “had been been victorious over the beast” (v. 2b) sang stanzas from Old Testament songs. Why? To remind us and all the world that these expressions of God’s judgment are not acts of cruelty inflicted on innocent people. Instead, “just and true are your ways, King of the nations” (v. 3b). The painful, destructive acts of God are the just payment for disobedience against him.

We need to be reminded of this again and again. When we recoil from the destruction described in these chapters, it is because we are too familiar with sin and too used to excusing it in ourselves and others. While compassion for sinners is always a godly characteristic, so also is a firm commitment to the holiness and justice of God. God’s judgment, then, is something to rejoice over---not because of the pain it brings people but because it points to God’s glory and calls everyone to worship him.

Revelation 14

Today’s reading is Revelation 14.

The Tribulation time described in these chapters was horrible, obviously. God’s wrath on the earth and its inhabitants and the persecutions of God’s people through Satan through his agents made life on earth troublesome and painful for everyone. Although false worship became widespread, there are still threads of grace throughout this bleak time. One example is the 144,000 who were honored here in verses 1-5; they were “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3b), an expression of God’s saving grace to them.

But in verses 6-7 of today’s reading we were told that an angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” And proclaim it he did in verse 7, calling on everyone to repent and worship God. As angry as God was with humanity, he was still the gracious, saving Lord to anyone who believed his good news.

Though these events are still future to us, they demonstrate again the love and saving nature of God. This is important for us to remember as well. Behind every warning of judgment (v. 7b: “the hour of his judgment has come”) is a call to repent and “worship him” (v. 7c). As we witness for Christ in the world, our condemnation of the wickedness of the world should always hold forth the offer of grace to those who will receive it. We should never have so much condemnation and indignation (whether righteous or self-righteous) that we refuse to urge our fellow men and women to turn, receive, and worship Christ. This is why we’re here.

Revelation 13

Today’s reading is Revelation 13.

In this chapter, an enemy of God described as “the beast” emerged and began to blaspheme God (vv. 1b, 5-6) and receive the worship of unbelievers on earth (vv. 4, 8). This beast went to war successfully against believers in God (v. 7). God allowed this persecution of his children (vv. 9-10) and John commented, “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people (v. 10c)”

Although we do not--thankfully--receive the kind of testing and persecution that is described in this chapter, the Bible promised us that we would be tested and even persecuted if we believe in Christ and live obediently to them in this life. The comment of John that this kind persecution “calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people” is true of any believer under trial and persecution. Persecution is an attempt by Satan to separate us and our faith. He wants us to turn our backs on following Jesus and follow him along with the rest of the world.

But the time of testing is limited. Here in Revelation 13, it was limited to forty-two months (v. 5). This is why “patient endurance” is part of our response. If we continue to follow Christ despite the opposition, the opposition eventually will end. And part of endurance is “faithfulness” (v. 10)--remaining committed to follow Christ regardless of the pain or personal cost that comes with it.

Do you feel like your Christian life is under attack? Do you face critics and scoffers who try to shame you for your faith and your desire to live a holy life? Do you struggle with internal questions and doubts that cause you to question whether our faith is true?

Endure and be faithful. God is with you and will empower you when you lean on him for help. He will also limit the test to what you can bear if you are patient and endure it.

Revelation 12

Today’s reading is 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

Today’s reading is 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

Today, 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

Today we’re reading 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.

Revelation 8

Today’s reading is 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 death 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 our studies of the Lord’s Prayer are helping you to pray. I also hope that 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 6

Today’s reading is 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?