The Mystery

Revelation 10

Friday, November 25, 2022

After the sixth trumpet we have a break when John is prepared for what comes next, which mirrors the break after the sixth seal when the 144,000 were sealed. We are reminded that all through this vision John has been writing what he sees, as Jesus told him to do back in 1:19 (10:4). I wonder if he started the vision in front of a blank scroll and finished with a completed work. Or was the writing part of his vision, and he needed to rewrite it all afterward? And I wonder, again, how often what he wrote came to him as part of the vision and how often his words are his efforts to convey what he experienced. For example, did John make the distinction of a “strong angel” himself, based on experience in this vision looking at different angels?

It wasn’t pointed out at the time, but in chapter 5 it was a “strong angel” that proclaimed the question about whether anyone could open the seals of the book in God’s hand. And now a “strong angel” holds the small book John will eat. Perhaps this is setting up transitions in the vision for us, as the book John eats seems to establish his personal involvement in the next part of the vision. (There is one more “strong angel” reference, in 18:21, punctuating and concluding the section on Babylon.)

When our strong angel in chapter 10 cries out like a lion roars, seven peals of thunder respond – these may refer to the peals of thunder that come from God’s throne (4:5). But John is told by a voice from heaven not to write down what the thunders said. Among all the details in Revelation this lack of information can be one of the most interesting things for us. What secret is left out here? I have sometimes suggested it might have been a self-unfulfilling prophecy (my own phrase), something we can’t be allowed to know because knowing it in advance would make it awkward for it to still take place. Like “tomorrow [fill in the blank date] king [fill in the blank name] falls.” In the context it is hard to expect a minor statement – the strong angel is just about to swear an oath by God that the mystery of God is on the verge of being completed.

The same voice from heaven tells John to get the book and eat it, which he does, but first he is warned by the strong angel that it will be sweet in his mouth but bitter in his stomach. This is interesting, because in Ezekiel 2:8–3:3 we get a similar story of eating a scroll that tastes sweet but there is no mention of bitterness. This is more like comments in Jeremiah 15:16-17 about him eating God’s words and finding them a joy and delight, but then being filled with indignation. What John ate was easy to take in but would result in him needing to “prophesy again concerning many people and nations and tongues and kings.” The phrase “prophesy again” is sometimes taken to mean that the next part of the vision will revisit ground, duplicating some parts of the story to get at new aspects of it. And not all of that prophecy would be a joy and a delight. But God will be revealing what He recognizes needs to be shown.

It may be worth recalling that John is in exile when he sees this vision. He will emerge from it to send his letters, his warnings and encouragements and predictions, and continue in exile. We don’t really know how bringing more attention to himself this way during a time of persecution affected his situation. Maybe not positively. But John was God’s worker and working for God isn’t always pleasant for the one working, at the time. But I trust that John absolutely knew the job was worth it, and I hope that he found the experience of his vision encouraging.

Lord, forgive me the foolishness I sometimes experience of wanting to know what you aren’t interested in telling me, and showing too little interest in what you have made plain for me. You have shown me things that are good, help me to act on that awareness. You have shown me things that are not good, help me to act on that awareness as well. If at times I have found your words bitter in my stomach I have little right to claim I have been cheated, for they were sweet on my tongue. And I acknowledge you have given me far more than I ever can give you. Help me to serve you as I ought to, even if I feel I am in the valley of the shadow of death. Your light can never be overcome. I will trust in you. Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection Questions

  1. What are your thoughts and feelings when you read verse 7, “But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.”
  2. What words of God might be sweet in the mouth, but sour in the stomach?

The Right Days and Hours

Revelation 9

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Chapter 9 gives much more detail on the first and second woes than the first four trumpets, which received just six verses. That mirrors the brief coverage of the first four seals. It is true that seven is “a number of completion or perfection”, but I think more than that is involved with the several sets of seven in Revelation. John’s vision is very complicated, but how it was relayed to him helped him pass it along. It also helped others to memorize it (many believers have heard rather than read Revelation). One aspect is how certain descriptions parallel or contrast with each other. Another useful detail is the images it contains, particularly the throne. Most of John’s vision can be placed relative to that central image. We can’t automatically visualize how that gives the vision structure, but we can attempt to bring it to mind. Perhaps John didn’t always hear the 24 elders at the same volume in the background of a scene, they could have been ‘turned down’ in his perception to let him concentrate on a new event, but several times we read of scenes happening near the throne or of John looking farther away. We don’t always understand the significance of the details John provides, but some of that may be in what we are actually looking for. John provided this book for audiences with varying needs, encouraging in times of persecution, reminding of God’s promises, and offering warnings, among others. Perhaps the final generation of this age will make very special use of the vision, employing some of its peculiar design as an aid to its understanding, when taken in context with events.

The fifth trumpet involves a pit being unlocked to release creatures that are like winged locust-horses prepared for battle. They have human faces with lion’s teeth, long human hair and something like gold crowns. They also have scorpion tails that they will use for five months to deliver pain in a reign of terror. Their targets are only those who don’t have God’s seal on their foreheads (9:4, referring back to chapter 7). These attacks cause so much pain people wish to be dead, but they aren’t killed. You can choose whether to see them as monsters, or perhaps a really complex metaphor. In Jeremiah 51 we read of an army serving God in bringing judgment described as “a population like locusts” (v. 14) and “horses like bristly locusts” (v. 27), maybe picturing their armor. But this goes a fair way beyond that. And it doesn’t help that their leader is described as an angel king known as Destruction or Destroyer. We only hear of him this one time, but it seems like we will read about the pit again a few days from now – the key to the pit will be brought back by another angel so that the devil can be locked up there (20:1-3).

The sixth trumpet is blown, and a voice speaks from the four horns of the golden altar (in front of God’s throne). This takes us back to just before the start of the sequence of seven trumpets when a censer filled with fire from the golden altar was cast onto the world. Each of the first four trumpets related to flame, and the fifth trumpet involved a burning star falling from the sky and smoke rising up. Now with the sixth trumpet the reference to flame is very distinct. The voice calls for four angels which have been bound at the Euphrates River in the Middle East to be released. We are told they were kept in waiting for this exact day and hour, but it isn’t fully plain what their role in the situation is. Perhaps they act as generals directing the force which emerges, for there comes a massive army of what are in effect mobile flame throwers. They are described as 200 million horsemen mounted on creatures with lion’s heads and snake tails capable of producing fire, smoke, and sulfur from the mouths at both ends. Sulfur (which has also been known as brimstone) produces a dangerous gas when it burns, and its flames are difficult to put out. The text pictures the fire, smoke, and sulfur as three plagues on humanity.

We are not given a timeframe for how long the second woe devastates humanity, but the death toll is a third of the global population. We also learn that in the wake of these events the survivors do not change their ways. In 6:16 we heard that the people realized God’s wrath had come, but they wanted to hide from it rather than repent. This text reaffirms that remorseless attitude, as well as stating some of the evils they were guilty of. Between the two trumpets there is quite the display, first a group of people who hurt so badly they wish they were dead but who don’t improve their lives during the course of five months of this, and then the deaths of masses of people without providing a cautionary tale to anyone. If God is teaching lessons by these events perhaps it is less to the people of that time than to us, letting us see how far gone matters will be by then, making us aware that God picked the right time for the end of the age. Renewal needs to come, I long for renewal actually, but let it be at the right time. The Father knows all the right days and hours.

Lord, you are loving and patient and kind. But you will not let the wicked go unpunished. You are the one who provided the Lamb, you wanted the stain of sin to be removed from me before I even knew what it was. You want to avoid punishing. You want to save, to protect, to shelter. You once flooded your creation and said you would never do it again. But you reserved this world for fire because the flood didn’t solve everything. And I’m sorry all this came about. I grieve that it was necessary. Please show me how to be a blessing, to use your Spirit to make this world a better place and reduce some of the suffering that might have been in it when you will need to act. Thank you God, I love you. Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection and Application Questions

  1. Would you rather…live through the events of the 5th trumpet or be killed in the events of the 6th?
  2. Why do you think God prompted John to write down the vision of the book of Revelation? Why are we reading it today? What specific further actions should it lead us to?
  3. Can you give an example of God’s perfect timing, either from the Bible or a personal account?
  4. How would you describe God’s love AND His need to punish the wicked to someone who has never met God?

Silence in Heaven…Then the Trumpets Begin

Revelation 8

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

            At the start of chapter 8 the Lamb opens the final, seventh, seal of God’s book, and there is silence in heaven for about half an hour. John may have experienced this, felt it, but it is difficult as a reader to appreciate a dramatic pause. And it was not just a pause but a silence – praise has been the backdrop of John’s vision for some time, from beasts and elders and angels and creatures, and more recently they were joined by a vast throng. Suddenly all is silent. This was reverence. The book was fully open. We humans still aren’t told what that means precisely, but what it means is very big.

We then transition into a new series of seven with the blowing of trumpets. It isn’t quite clear whether this resulted from opening the seventh seal, or not. People question whether the trumpet blasts proceed chronologically after the seals or if the trumpets describe some of the same time as the seals, perhaps focusing in tighter and narrowing our attention. 

After the trumpets were distributed, and before they were to be blown, we are reminded that the tabernacle on earth was a shadow of the one in heaven. An angel works with the prayers of the saints that are on the golden altar before the throne, mixing them with incense in a censer and letting the mix go up to God on His throne. Maybe these are the prayers of believers on earth, or this may be yet another reference to the souls of the saints that are beneath the altar, calling God to render judgment soon. Then the angel puts fire from the altar into the censer and casts it down onto the earth – the sounds that accompany its fall suggest this may symbolize judgement commencing (or resuming).

            As the trumpets begin to blast (sounding after the quiet, like a new fall of Jericho) there are disasters that bring to mind the plagues against Egypt, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. As with the first four seals the first four trumpets seem to go together in a set, but the big number this time is one-third rather than one-fourth. We don’t know whether a single huge portion of the planet (land, sea, and rivers) is rendered uninhabitable or if scattered sections across it are devastated. Each of the first three trumpets involves things falling from the sky, and the fourth involves the sky growing darker as the lights start to go out. The impression is of creation being undone – but not fully undone, because God still has use for it. It is tempting to say that the falling objects are of increasing size and violence, but we struggle to understand John’s reporting of his vision. For one thing, sometimes we are unsure whether to treat John’s words more as descriptive of what he saw in the vision or as coming from the vision. For example, verse 8 says that something like a mountain fell into the sea, and verse 10 says a great star fell in the waters – from our perspective of what a star really is we may suppose that these two objects were not very different in size but that the “star” probably glowed as it fell. Both would be terrifying.

            One more pause comes with the final verse of the chapter, as an eagle warns that the remaining three trumpet blasts will mark terrible woes. It is unclear if anyone living on the earth can hear the warning. Of course the warning has long been available in the book of Revelation. It remains remarkable for God to offer a warning to people He is on the verge of bringing these punishments to for their sins. But God doesn’t stop caring about His creation even when faced with tearing it apart. We’re talking about the God who is aware of the death of every bird. Creation groans, but God lays out plans so that one day it will be freed from the curse.

             Lord, thank you for your openness to the prayers of your saints. And thank you for not always saying yes to prayers. I, for one, would not have been wise enough to choose all of your plans. You are kind enough to guide us into things we do not understand. Thank you for the opportunity to worship you and rejoice in your presence. Please also help me take opportunities to be silent before you. You are awesome and deserving of both my loudest praise and my silent reverence. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection and Application Questions

  1. What do you think the significance or purpose of the silence might be when the 7th seal is opened? Have you sat before God in silence? What might the benefit be?
  2. What are your thoughts on God’s justice and judgment? Have you ever prayed for it (for someone else more sinful than yourself of course)? How can we better appreciate God’s timing and wisdom in this matter?
  3. Have you thanked God for his creation today? Thank Him for His plans to free us from the curse.

God’s Gifts and Rewards

Revelation 7

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Chapter 7 is one of the passages in Revelation which can seem like it reverses or unworks what God had done before. God had called out a people for His own, setting Israel apart. Then God sent Jesus and brought up an upheaval in the relationship of God and humanity. The events of Pentecost launched the church, and while it took some time for Jews and Gentiles to be combined in one organization it can be a surprise for people to find Israel identified here again, and not just as a nation but with 12 tribes. But even in this context the tribes are set together with the peoples of the world, based on their common acceptance of God and the Lamb.

 At the start of the chapter a period of calm is established. Perhaps this does not follow chronologically from the events that were described just before, we may be stepping away from that part of the vision to get another angle on things. We are told about four angels who have been authorized to bring destruction with the four winds of the world – from the four main directions – but for now the angels are keeping the winds still at the instruction of another angel holding the seal of God. In this time of calm that angel seals 144,000 people, 12,000 each from 12 tribes of Israel. This is a vision so perhaps the sealing process passed quickly, as can happen in a dream.

The identities of the tribes who were sealed create a small puzzle. We are used to reading of Joseph’s blessing being passed to his sons Manasseh and Ephraim (for the ‘half-tribes’), forming a set of 12 tribes only when Levi is excluded from the normal count. Levi gets excluded because Levi’s descendants gained a special role with God in the time of Moses and that was treated as their inheritance instead of land. But here Ephraim is excluded, and we have the “Tribe of Joseph” and the Tribe of Manasseh joining the Tribe of Levi. We lose Dan, the northernmost tribe, instead. Why? It might be because Ephraim’s name is so associated with the line of kings who brought idolatry to Israel, and that Dan was the tribe first associated with idolatry in the time of the judges (Judges 18:30-31). But we also have in Ezekiel 48:2 the prophecy that Dan will be in the kingdom and receive land, so there is something symbolic happening here rather than something permanent.

The larger point is that God continues to have a portion of people who are sealed for Him – God never gave up on Israel, never gave up the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, etc. The results may not look like what people were expecting at different points along the way, but God does not forget to give gifts (just as God does not forget to give punishments, which the previous chapter was establishing). The significance of the seal itself in the Revelation vision doesn’t come up until chapter 9, but in marking those who are with God it provides protection (at least). I see this as being rather like the Passover in Egypt, but rather than being told to remain safe within certain buildings marked with blood the people themselves were marked for God and therefore able to travel with protection. And unlike those earlier Hebrew people they were not being told to separate themselves from everyone else, the context pairs them with a crowd “beyond count” from every nation and people.

The crowd in white robes sounds much like those who had been slain (6:11) who were “waiting” for their fellow servants who were to die. We are told that these many “came out of great tribulation” (7:14) but are not told how many (if any) survived it. This may be another reference to the souls from under the altar. Or others may have been added to the number. What is clear is that God rewards His servants. It says they shall hunger no more, thirst no more, and no longer will the sun beat down on them. It sounds like we are being told that the curse on the soil doesn’t apply to them anymore; they no longer must be concerned about working by the sweat of their brow to eat. Springs of living water are being offered, and God Himself will wipe the tears from their eyes. Pain and struggle is being reversed – permanently. You can see why I think this chapter may step out of the chronology of the vision to give an overview of promises that are being offered, refreshing our memory of joy.

Lord, you keep your promises, even the ones I don’t fully understand. Please help me to take seriously what you have said to me, and what I say to you. Thank you that you love so much better than I do. Let me be committed to learning from you, not simply facts or ideas, but growing as a person and growing in my relationships with others and with you. Help me to remember that you never want anything bad for me. Help me trust you to show me right paths. Thank you, Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Application & Reflection Questions

  1. Who will receive the punishments of Revelation 6? Who will receive the rewards of Revelation 7?
  2. What do we learn from Revelation 7 about worship, commitment and faithfulness?
  3. What are some gifts and rewards God has already given to you? What gifts and rewards are you still looking forward to? Give thanks to God for what He has done, is doing, and will do!

The 6 Seals of Revelation 6

Revelation 6

Monday, November 21, 2022

 With chapter six the Lamb begins to open the seven seals of God’s book. John has not been told what that book contains, but he understands it is important. It becomes clear that the breaking of each seal moves history forward toward the kingdom of God. Some people may think of the book of Revelation as a set of descriptions of disasters – it is not, really, but for those who think of it that way the start of their evidence is here. Great violence will precede the arrival of the reign of peace we all anticipate.

People have tried to understand what the seven seals of the book are like by questioning how they are set up. Must they all be broken before anything can be done with the book? Or does the breaking of each seal allow a new section of the book to be read out, until the next seal is reached? Might it be that the portion being read describes what John is seeing? Or are the contents of the book about matters beyond all of this? Either way, there is more to God’s plan than what is relayed to us at this time.

The first four seals (v. 2-8) tell us about the famous “four horsemen of the apocalypse” (“apocalypse” just comes from the Greek word for “revelation” or “uncovering” found in Revelation 1:1). We could describe them in different ways, but it looks like a pattern of conquest leading to war and crop failure and then widespread death (including from famine and wild animals). Here we get one of Revelation’s really big numbers – one fourth of the world is given over to the power of the fourth horseman. We don’t know if that means one fourth of the world’s population dies, or if that large a region of the world was affected by the warfare, but this implies massive displacement of people along with the deaths.

The fifth seal reminds us not to get too particular in our interpretation, however, as it shows us the souls of those who had died for the word of God complaining about the delay in judgment. Not the most literal image, certainly. Its presence here lets us understand the urgency and value God places on the restoration of those who have served Him, even though they are not literally suffering anxiety over the delay. It is similar to when God told Cain that Abel’s blood cried out to Him from the ground (Genesis 4:10). God is motivated to action even when the victim of evil is no longer alive to cry out. And even if by our standards God seems slow to act, God will act (2 Peter 3:9). The fifth seal reminds us why all of this destruction happens – God loves His children and will not leave guilt unanswered. The fifth seal also provides one reason why it is not happening faster – because there were still more to be killed who chose to serve God, and so of course there had been more to be saved in choosing God (v. 11).

The events described in verses 12 and 13 align this chapter with Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24 (where Jesus quotes Joel 2:31). Notably, Revelation has sometimes been described as having perhaps 500 references to the Old Testament, possibly without a single direct quotation used in it. This can make it a challenge to keep up with the allusions to other texts.

            The splitting of the sky like a scroll in verse 14 picks up an image from Isaiah 34:4; if we read from that chapter we will get more language of the day of God’s vengeance. All the mountains and islands of the world moving seems to be more than the great earthquake in Revelation 6:12 could accomplish, so we may need to suppose many related earthquakes and aftershocks. A fourth of the world had been disrupted, but now all of it is. The world’s kings and all who had served them try to hide in what is left of the caves and rocks of the mountains. “Fall on us and hide us,” they plead, because the day of wrath of God and the Lamb has come “and who is able to stand?”

It seems like this is a parallel with the souls under the altar. Instead of being told to wait, and comforted, these people are trying to hide and finding no comfort. Something has happened that lets them know why the world is disrupted, but they have not chosen to repent. The text has not taken any effort to describe what kind of people they are, but the language is being picked up from passages about the wicked who spurned God (Isaiah 2:19; Hosea 10:8). I still find it hard not to grieve for them, even just reading about them in advance of their struggles. But I recognize that if we are ever to do anything for them we need to try to do that in advance, to prevent them from reaching this moment in time, and such a point of corruption. I’m not sure if I am meant to feel sympathy for people in the day of God’s wrath or not, but I know this – no one is living in that day yet, so I can still serve.

 Lord, please help me to care deeply about the lives of the people around me. There are so many lost sheep in need of a shepherd, and even dogs who need the opportunity to eat crumbs from beneath the table. One day it will be the last day, and no one will be able to stand. But right now there are things that can be done to strengthen those with weak ankles, to lift up those with faltering hearts, to encourage and to love. Please let me be forgiving, bold, honest, compassionate, so that Christ can be seen in His body and your name can be exalted. Thank you, Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection Questions

  1. What feelings do you have as you read through Revelation 6? What images are most powerful to you? How does it make you view the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb who has the power to open the seals?
  2. How can you prepare today – and every day between now and then – for the coming wrath of the Lord and His Lamb?
  3. Continue to pray the prayer at the end of the devotion. Who is God revealing to you and what would God have you do for them? How? When? Why? With what attitude?

A Hero Shot

Revelation 5

Sunday, November 20, 2022

I think that Revelation 5 sets up a “hero shot” for us, as a film director might express it. A moment when we really get to be happy with who the main characters of the story are. I don’t expect us so much to explain all the details as to take it in as an image. We are allowed to see Jesus exalted, set apart for how great and powerful and significant he is.

Chapter four has already laid out the main setting, with God in heaven in the midst of thunders and voices, adored and honored by beasts and elders. The start of chapter five focuses in on the hand of the one in the throne (God, of course) – John sees in God’s hand a book covered in writing and sealed with seven seals. Maybe the book was always there and is only just now noticed. Or maybe the book has just emerged, as a gift or challenge or whatever role it takes. And the question is ‘who can open this book,’ and some time must pass because the answer comes back that no one can. No one anywhere is found capable of that act. And in his vision John understands the importance for this book which is being offered by God to be able to be opened, because he weeps.

But John is then told by one of the 24 elders not to weep, because the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David (two descriptions of Jesus as the Messiah) had prevailed, and would be able to open the book and its seals. (The seven seals themselves are finished being opened by chapter 8, and of course we could view that as setting off the further sequences of the seven trumpets and bowls, but notice that the book itself may be seen as a separate issue which involves a larger scope of God’s intentions.) But John is not shown a lion, but a lamb looking like it had been slain. The one who died for us, alive again and forevermore, victorious, ruling and serving.

He took the book, and the beasts and elders took up a new song proclaiming his worthiness. The lamb redeemed us to God, by his blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. He is worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessings.

The scene described in this chapter shows us human history in the balance. It shows God providing the right weight to allow things to swing to our redemption. There may be no literal moment in history that this scene matches to, but the scene John describes allows us to see what God has done for us, and to praise Him for it. And it allows us to honour Jesus for what he has done for us. And of course they both continue to work for us. On our own we would never have been able to change the world to what it needs to be. God loved us so much that He gave us what we needed to save our lives, and to reshape our world.

Lord, thank you for your awesomeness. Thank you for allowing us the blessing of seeing some portion of your glory, in your creation, in the scripture, in the blessing of your Spirit in my life, in the work of your Church. Please allow our trust in you to continue to grow. Let us raise our hearts and our words in praise to your name and the name of your Son. Thank you for so carefully preparing and guiding Jesus that he could do what he has done for our lives, and for this world. Amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection Questions

  1. What do we learn about God in Revelation 4 & 5? What do we learn about Jesus? What are their similarities and differences?
  2. What is your favorite part of Revelation 5? Why?
  3. What do you praise God for? Tell Him – and others. How will you honor Jesus for what he has done for you and the world?

A Glimpse of the Lord God’s Throne Room

Saturday, November 19th, 2022

Revelation 4

Revelation 4, although relatively short, is packed with symbological meaning and an introduction to new contexts in the Bible. Furthermore, this passage marks a transition from the opening in the first chapter of Revelation through the third chapter, where John was tasked with writing to the seven churches. Due to the shortness and density of this chapter, I think it is best to discuss on a verse-by-verse basis.

The first verse explains that John is no longer looking at things in an earthly perspective, rather, he is now in the spirit and is envisioning what is in heaven. This happens after a trumpet sounds, and John is told: “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” The first thing that John is immediately fixated upon is what we can think of as the centerpiece of the vision: a throne, and what is on it. The throne itself is not described, but what is described is a brief description of the “One” who sits upon it. From this short detailing already, we can see the immense amount of humanism that is emanating from this image already, as there is a throne of supreme importance that is out of the reach of our realm of existence, and only “One” sits upon it. He who was sitting upon the throne was God, and His appearance could only be described with colors by John. His appearance was “like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance…” Jasper is usually thought of to be an orange or green color, but this passage is usually interpreted with the emphasis on stone, which is more sensible when we know that to be a bright white color. This color signifies the purity that God embodies. Adding on sardius to the appearance also dictates that there is a red aura emanating from His presence, which is a sign of glory, and dominion over all things. The verse goes on to say: “… and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.” Before this portion, we have an image that shows that God is a pure and supreme being over all, which is true, but the context is especially enriched with the presence of the rainbow being around the throne. You see, a throne with One ruler may represent dominion, but the rainbow is a sign of covenants, promises, a connection with his creation, and most importantly for the purposes of the image so far: setting his own limitations for our sake. The rainbow being around the throne shows that God is dedicated to his creation, and is a kind and loving God who will make good on the promises that He makes. 

After the throne, John’s fixation shifts to what is around the throne: more thrones. Twenty-four of them to be exact. Seated on these twenty-four thrones were “elders” who were clothed in white garments and had gold crowns atop their heads. Now, the Bible does not make clear who these elders actually are, but we can use hints from before and after this chapter in Revelation to have a good guess. These twenty-four elders with white garments and gold crowns are a direct call-back to the two chapters beforehand, where we see that those who overcome and remain faithful will receive a gold crown and will be clothed in white garments. Automatically this makes me lean towards these elders on the thrones being human rather than any other sort of heavenly being. Furthermore, throughout the rest of the book they are seen worshiping and praising God, and even casting their crowns down. The motion of casting crowns signifies that these crowns were not from personal ownership, but rather they were inherited through God. These elders from my best guess then could represent the leaders of the Church. Other theories suggest that these twenty-four elders could represent a bridging between the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. However, I believe that from the first verse emphasizing “what must take place after these things” that this is strictly a scene depicting the future, and at this point in history there are still apostles alive, and I also believe John would have in some sense recognized if he saw himself or eleven of his other friends upon the thrones. Furthermore, this theory would imply that Judas made it into the Kingdom, which is open for interpretation whether that could happen or not, and what the implications of that even are. Therefore, I believe a safe interpretation is that the elders represent leaders of the church. 

Now, there has been dense symbolization so far, but for what comes next I don’t believe I’m actually studied enough or if anyone in the world is studied enough for that matter to even fully explain this next scene. Out from the throne comes flashes of lightning and sounds of thunder, which is paralleled with the presence that God had on Mount Sinai in Exodus chapters 19-20. Revelation 4:5 continues to read: “And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God…” These lamps are not to be confused with the seven lampstands from the previous chapters which represented the churches. The lamps, on the other hand, could be representative of a physical presence of the Holy Spirit. Before then, in Acts we see that the Holy Spirit manifested as burning tongues on the Day of Pentecost. 

Below I will write the next few verses and briefly attempt to convey the value of it:

6 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7 The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

These four creatures are cherubim, which are angels which are, for our purposes in this short devotion, high on the hierarchy of angels. The eyes that cover them are representative of their deep insight and intelligence, which enforces the holy phrase they repeat over being that of given nature of gratitude rather than that of a mindless nature. The four creatures: the lion, the calf, a man, and the flying eagle can have a multitude of explanations, but for the purpose of this devotion I think it is important to detail what the importance of the characteristics of these creatures actually are. The lion is a creature that exudes might, and is also a wild beast on earth. Furthermore, the Lion is the symbol of Judah, and Jesus in the next chapter (Revelation 5:5) is called the “Lion of Judah.” The calf on the other hand is a strong but domesticated creature, which shows strength and prudence. The eagle is representative of the domains of the birds and the freedom that they have. Furthermore, eagles can be seen as a sort of “otherworldly” creature. No, it’s not because they are literally not from this world, but their domain and experience as a creature is extremely far from that which is human. Furthemore, Isaiah 40:31 relates the elevated heavenly connection that man will have as they will have “wings like eagles.” The last creature, man, represents intelligence and the highest order of creatures on the Earth. If you would like to dwell more on the importance of the appearance of these creatures, I would like to differ the readers to also look back over Genesis 1.

Here below is the last portion of the chapter:

9 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.’”

No matter the hierarchy or attached symbolism or inherited power, all things owe at least one thing: praise to the loving God who made them. This portion right here should be especially shocking for the time, as there are those in today’s world who will live their lives with knowledge of God, but will believe that their priorities and status in life put themselves above worship. The truth of the matter is that the entire Bible, and the undeniable creationist quality of the universe shows that we must always truly humble ourselves and worship God.

-Colby Leggitt

Reflection Questions:

  1. WOW that was a dense devotion for such a short chapter. What specific part was the most interesting to you?
  2. A lot of this can truly be left to interpretation and further studying. Do you have a different interpretation of the four cherubim or the twenty-four elders? What other parts of the scripture influence you?
  3. The rainbow around God’s throne shows a critical connection to mankind. If there was anything else at all to be had to the scene, what would you imagine would be important symbology?

Lukewarm Warning!

Revelation 3

Friday, November 18, 2022

A few weeks ago, we got to experience an up-close view of a bit of a twist on the classic caterpillar to butterfly spiritual analogy. Maybe you’ve heard the classic version in youth group, Bible School, or a devotion book….the idea that we are all new creations if we are Christians. That we start as these creepy, crawly, fuzzy little beings and then as a gift of God, through faith in Christ….voila….we are made completely new into creations of beauty and wonder like a butterfly.

Thanks to our friend, Terri Tschaenn, and her milkweed stash….we have gotten to watch this truly amazing experience of God’s creation several times, and it hasn’t gotten old yet. We’ve gotten to feed those adorably cute little caterpillars as they grow at amazing rates each day. We’ve watched the miraculous chrysalis formation, and we’ve gotten to hold brand new monarch butterflies on our pinky fingers before they fly off. It is amazing. It is beautiful. And, it certainly is representative of the hope of new life and transformation God tells us about in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

But. . .does every caterpillar turn into a butterfly? Hmmm.

Terri told us the unfortunate story of one of her baby caterpillars that accidentally met a predator while she was trying to keep it safe in her school classroom….and….chomp. All gone. No butterfly.  And, recently, we watched our caterpillar which we had been watching grow for several weeks, for some unknown reason, never develop his chrysalis at all. Instead, he slowly wasted away and died. It was rather depressing to watch. He had eaten milkweed like all the rest, had gotten to full size, and had looked “just right” to us from the surface. But, inside….something was wrong. He never experienced the stage of transformation. And, instead of achieving beauty and new life, he died a caterpillar. It is common. It is sad. And, it is also certainly representative of what God tells us about in scripture whether or not it makes for as many Sunday School craft ideas on Pinterest.

The Bible warns us about the Christians who look like Christians, but who haven’t experienced a transformation through repentance and faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. These Christians are lukewarm. Just like the caterpillars who die, they lack something inside. But mind you, these aren’t atheist caterpillars or caterpillars who don’t go to church. These are Christian caterpillars. Ones who look just like us. Ones who go to church with us. Maybe us. They haven’t achieved the transformation of repentance and faith in Christ which leads to obedience. And their demise if they don’t repent? “I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16, NASV).

Truth can hurt, but it matters. It matters because God and Jesus love us. And true love includes speaking honestly and intentionally. It also matters because unless we repent, at the judgment day, we do not become “butterflies” to live eternally with God and his son Jesus in the kingdom of God. The alternative to that option is death. Today, we live in a world telling us that almost any belief imaginable is “Christian”, and it can get quite confusing as we seek to be on the narrow road and not in the lukewarm masses. It requires diligent searching of scripture and faithful prayer on our parts. We cannot rely alone on our teachers, our families, our churches, and traditions of men. We must not just believe “in” God and Jesus, but know what they say and apply those words to our lives. So, if we find ourselves lukewarm and amongst lukewarm believers. . .what does Jesus say to us?

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:19-21, NASV).

Let’s seek and pray to be more than lukewarm this week and to be victorious in Christ.

-Jennifer Hall

(posted originally for SeekGrowLove – then named Grow16 – on June 24, 2018)

Reflection Questions

  1. What good things were the churches of Revelation 3 doing? What needed to be changed in these churches?
  2. What do you think Jesus would want you – and your church – to repent of?

Repent, Persevere, LIVE!

Revelation 2

Thursday, November 17, 2022

In Revelation 2, John is tasked by the Son of Man to begin writing to the seven churches. This chapter specifically details what should be written to the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira. All of these churches share a commonality of starting strong and then waning in righteousness over time. To Ephesus, the Son of Man comments on how they started strong, with perseverance and a low tolerance for evil. However, they have strayed from their faith, and so Jesus warns them to repent, or they will have their lampstand removed. In Revelation 1 it was discussed that the lampstands represented the churches, therefore the church would cease to exist. Furthermore, in repenting they are promised to be able to eat from the tree of life in the Kingdom.

The second church, Smyrna, has a fate that is full of tribulation. They have persevered through poverty and blasphemy against them, and Jesus remarks that the Devil would test them by having them thrown into prison. However, if they remain faithful, then they would receive the “crown of life.” He further remarks that “he who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.” This situation seems fairly awful, but when you put thought into it, this situation is represented by the world that we currently live in anyways. Sin and suffering are rampant, yet, we are promised the crown of life by persevering and overcoming. This message is purely to enforce steadiness in faith.

The third church, Pergamum, shares commonality with the situation described in the first church. They remained steadfast at first, but now there is heavy straying from their original path. Teachings of false gods, eating idol sacrifices, and general acts of immorality have become practices among some members of the church. Jesus warns that those who walk this path will have “war waged against them” personally. From the being who has a double-edged sword protruding from his mouth, that’s definitely not a message that I would take lightly. However, this can be avoided if they repent, and they in return will receive mana, a white stone, and a new name that only they will know.

The fourth church, Thyatira, has had a congregation that has been led astray by a woman named Jezebel. Now, this woman is not the same Jezebel from the Old Testament, but she is enabling people to practice extremely immoral practices as a false prophetess. The Lord commented that He gave her a chance to repent, but she steadfastly refused to do so. However, those who follow her have been given a chance now to repent, or else they will suffer pestilence alongside the false prophetess. And like the other churches, if they hold fast and overcome, then they will receive the morning star and will be given authority to rule over nations.

All of these messages have two similar messages that can be generalized and applied. The first message is that all of these churches are going through tribulation and external influence, and have been led astray. However, they all have time to repent. This is familiar, though, as every day we will struggle with the external pressures of sin and can very easily be led astray. However, Jesus has made it clear that everyone has a chance at forgiveness upon repentance, even someone as corrupt as the false prophetess influencing the people of the church in Thyatira. The second similar case in these messages is the reward for persevering. This is the same message that Jesus and his apostles have spread since the gospel and throughout the New Testament: the good news for those who hold fast and persevere. Sin is very easy to fall into, but staying on the righteous path is much more favorable considering the reward that awaits.

And so, let us take these messages to the four churches discussed so far and apply them to our lives, let this be like a message to us. Whatever sins we have committed; they are already known as the Lord knows our hearts and minds. This is referenced in Revelation 2:23. Therefore, our time left gives us a window of opportunity to repent of them, and live as righteously as we possibly can. In the end, true victory is on the side of the righteous.

-Colby Leggitt

Reflection Questions:

1. Smyrna specifically is tasked with remaining faithful until death. How can we ensure for ourselves that we are likewise holding steadfast throughout our lives?

2. The Son of Man has offered repentance to everybody mentioned who is living in sin in this chapter. How can we hold these messages in our minds when interacting with those who are deeply entrenched in sin?

3. Does it make sense that these churches have such devastating issues yet Jesus still holds the star of their angel in his right hand? Why?

Revealing the Son of Man of Revelation

Revelation 1

Wednesday, November 16th, 2022

Today we will be delving into the most unorthodox and arguably most interesting book of the Bible: Revelation. Here, John is on the island called Patmos, and is tasked to write to the seven churches in Asia. What he must write is the prophecy that is about to be unveiled to him over the course of the book by the Son of Man himself. 

Here, the Son of Man is described in verses Revelations 1:13-16 in a new form. That which describes his hair being white as snow, his eyes like a “flame of fire,” his feet like burnished bronze, and his face shining like the sun. Furthermore, he has a sharp double-edged sword protruding from his mouth, his voice is like the “sound of many waters,” and seven stars are being held in his right hand. Aside from setting the premise of the book, the key points come from this portion, as well as describing both God and the Son of Man as the “Alpha and Omega.” The point of the devotion today then will be to further understand our Lord as he is described in this chapter.

The hair being described as being white as wool and snow can simply represent the purity that is reserved for the lamb that was and is Jesus Christ. Further reading, we read that “his eyes were like a flame of fire.” In the original Greek text, this phrase reads as: “οἱ ὀφθαλμοὶ αὐτοῦ ὡς φλὸξ πυρός, or “hoi opthalmoi autou hōs phlox pyros” (The eyes of Him [are] like a flame of fire). Breaking this down, the first four words are very common, essentially describing that the subject written about is His eyes. However, the fifth word is a bit interesting, as it is translated as “a flame,” and makes an appearance only twice in the Bible. Those two appearances are this verse (Revelation 1:14) and Revelation 19:12. Both times are used to describe the eyes of the Son of Man. The word is commonly used in Greek to describe swirling, flickering, or a whirling motion; often used when describing fire. However, we don’t necessarily need to have the notion that His eyes are literally ablaze with fire, rather, John may be commenting on the uniqueness of his eyes, as in they have an appearance of intensity and power.

In Revelation 1:15, the Son of Man is described as having feet like burnished bronze, and a voice like the “sound of many waters.”  The feet having the appearance of burnished bronze may be an analogy for His glory. And furthermore, the sound of his voice being like the “sound of many waters” gives two traits to his voice. First, the voice is loud and intense, as the word “many” invokes imagery of rushing and sudden waters flooding an area. Second, the voice being described as water also gives a sensation of smoothness that John may feel by hearing the voice. All of these traits match identically with the traits described by Daniel in Daniel 10 when he writes about the revealer. These parallels show that the revealer and the Son of Man are one in the same. This exact appearance being recorded may have been paralleled by Jesus in order to make no mistake as to who he was. If there is one thing we can take away from this appearance, it is that our Lord does not have any intention of being mysterious, and does not shy away from making himself known to us. 

The last portion to be analyzed is Revelation 1:16. Out of His mouth protrudes a sharp double-edged sword, his face shone like the sun, and in his right hand seven stars were held. The double edged sword makes another appearance in Revelation later on (Revelation 19:15), and has multiple meanings attached to it. First, it represents the unmatched power that is attributed to God and has been given to the Son to rule. Furthermore, Jesus is representative of his word, and it is fitting that he will conquer by his word. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword,” don’t even bother with the ink, as words truly have power, especially those that are uttered from the mouth of our Lord. His face shining like the sun represents the glory that is attributed to him, and parallels with Moses’ face similarly shining after having a personal encounter with God. The seven stars held in his hand are later revealed in this chapter (Revelation 1:20) to represent the seven angels that are associated with the seven churches being written to. “Angels” can be translated too as “messengers,” and essentially shows the connection between Him and the churches. The seven stars  being held in his hand also have significant meaning as this essentially makes the point that the churches are upheld by Him and are in His protection. Likewise, we should have the idea that we as a conglomerate group are sanctioned and protected by Him. That is something I hope that all of you can dwell on, as that is an incredible concept. 

Relationships are often not one way roads, and understanding must go both ways in order for us to have a significant connection with the Lord. He already understands and empathizes with our hearts, but studying and learning more about Him allows for us to truly understand His objectives and what He stands for. I hope that you have all learned something new, and if not, some interesting points about the Son of Man that you can dwell on. 

-Colby Leggitt

Reflection Questions:

  1. Did any of these qualities of Jesus stand out to you? If so, why?
  2. The seven stars were made clear to represent the seven churches that John was writing to. Would that mean that the churches in his name are also held there to this day? What are the implications of that?
  3. What feelings do you have about this representation of Christ versus the representation of Christ in the Gospel? 
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