It’s been more than 2 years since the Jews made their accusations against Paul. He’s under house arrest. Time after time the Romans find him innocent under the law. But they lack the political will to go against the Jews. How frustrating this must have been. The Jewish leaders just won’t give up. They are determined to push their agenda.
Society today is in a similar state. Factions try to wear us down with their agendas. 2 Timothy 3:2-4 tells us “ 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
In spite of his unfair treatment, Paul deliberately chooses to act in a Godly manner. He patiently continued to spread the good news. He wrote encouraging letters to fellow believers. We need to follow his example. He exhorts in 2 Corinthians 10:3 “though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does”. Be firm, not belligerent. Be loving, not proud Be kind, not conceited. Teach truth in love. We are called to remain holy in spite of what is going on around us. Above all, we need to deliberately choose to focus on things above. In Philippians 4:8-9 Paul tells us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. And then to put it into practice.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How would you describe Festus from this chapter? How would you describe the Jewish leaders? How would you describe Paul?
Have you are ever been faced with injustice against you? How did you respond?
The early church leaders were starting to experience the same persecution that Jesus faced. In Acts 5, we find the “religious” Pharisees objecting to the preaching that was going on, again. Evil men will always try to stop the truth.
The Pharisees wanted to stop the preaching of the truth by killing Christ’s followers. One of the pharisaical leaders had more wisdom than the others in spiritual matters. That Pharisee was Gamaliel, a doctor of the law (Acts 5: 34). Gamaliel stood up and advised the mob of blood-thirsty Pharisees, “… Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39).
What a good point to keep in mind for a Christian. If something is of man, it probably will not last. Often, we have ideas about what we can do for God or even ourselves. We try. We plan. We spend, but the idea does not flourish. The effort is wasted, and the goal never materializes. Often it does not succeed because the effort was not of God, and it flopped. Ministries, relationships, business enterprises, and other endeavors have not succeeded because God was not in them.
However, when God is in the matter, nothing on this Earth can stop it from succeeding. Businesses had thrived when all odds were against them because the founders sought God about the matter and were convinced, He was in it. Ministries, with all the critics prophesying doom and gloom, were baffled when it turned out to be a flourishing outreach because God was in it. Men and women have looked back on long marriages because before dating had even gotten started, they sought God’s will and way for their lives. Even when we look at how the Bible is still around despite men trying to destroy and remove it from existence. Yet here it is in every city and available to everyone. You probably have a couple in your home alone. Amazing!
How few failures and disappointments we would have if we did the wise thing first. Seek God’s direction in all of life’s endeavors. If God is for it, who could possibly stop it?
What would it look like if you preached like the apostles did? Do you believe that God can use your faithfulness? Your willingness to speak the truth even if it meant that you might be ridiculed, mocked. If God is for you who can be against you? Maybe give it a shot this week and see what speaking the truth in love to others might do.
Questions for Reflection & Discussion
Can you recall an effort you were involved in that flopped because God was not in it? What did you learn from this experience? How will you (or did you) proceed differently next time?
What have the apostles endured so far in Acts? Why? What is their attitude now? (5:41)
What do you do day after day? What are you known for talking about? How does that compare with the apostles in Acts 5:42? Any changes you would like to make (or God would like you to make)?
Sheep are notorious for two things. Being stupid and being easily spooked. It is no wonder the scriptures use the comparison of sheep to the followers of Christ. As a group, we have faith and access to God, yet it is often our last resort instead of our first instinct. Additionally, when things start getting tough and someone flexes in our direction, we often are reduced to a cower. We may make the excuse that we are acting in a spirit of gentleness or turning the other cheek, but the truth is most of the time we are wonted weenies. How many people stood against Goliath? How many men stood in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace? How many apostles were at the crucifixion of Jesus? If you’re keeping count, all the answers fit on to a single hand. We may have faith that triumphs over personal hardships, we may be able to pray for tough changes, or we may be able to move towards a difficult calling, but when a real, visible enemy comes, we often let out a bleat, tuck tail, and run with the flock.
Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the Lord Almighty. Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land,” declares the Lord, two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people, and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” Zech 13:7-9
Zecheriah, Matthew, and John all allude that the tribulation will be a tough time to be on this planet, but even more so for those who call themselves a follower of Christ. There will not only be an uptick in geological and astronomical superevents, but Christian all over the world will be truly persecuted – no, not the butt of some late night TV joke – meaning it will be challenging to keep both your faith and your life at the same time. It is too easy to say that we will not fall away or forsake our beliefs in this ever-coming-closer moment in history. Peter said he never-ever would fall away; Jesus tells him he won’t even make it 24 hours from speaking these words (Matt 26:33-34). Fortunately, for Peter and for us, there is an opportunity to amend our mistakes, our denials, and our flight. According to church tradition, and alluded to in the prophecy of Jesus (John 21:18-19), Peter is crucified for sharing the Good News.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” – Matt 24:9
Like Peter, and so many others, we may have had weak moments and scattered the flock. We may have diminished our faith in front of others, so we could be more accepted or avoid a consequence. We are weak. We need to pump some iron with the Word of God. Let his Holy Spirit spot you (or really do the heavy lifting). We need to train harder because standing up for our faith WILL NOT get easier. We want to be like David, Esther, Stephen, Joseph, Mary, and so many more whose faith were purified with persecution. Our time to be refined in the fire is coming, whether or not we live long enough to see the Great Tribulation. How do we make sure we are prepared for this moment? Here is a small list of verses that can speak to us, to help us plant our feet and hold firm, today or any other, so when the fire comes and the dross is removed, there remains the precious things that we cling to with our faith: Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.
No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,”declares the Lord. – Isaiah 54:17
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrew 11:7-10
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. – 2 Timothy 1:6-8
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? – Psalms 56:3-4
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:25-26
Today’s reading contains some disturbing imagery, so readers be warned.
In Revelation 13, we find details of the person we call the antichrist. In Revelation 13:7, we’re told “He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them…” In Revelation 13:9-10 we read, “He who has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.
In a nutshell, we know that at some point in the future (I believe in the relatively near future), a person we call the antichrist will arise. He will deceive the nations and will control the economy such that only those who receive the “mark of the beast” will be able to buy or sell. (We will find out in Revelation 14:10 that those who do receive the mark of the beast will be tormented in the lake of fire.) And he will successfully conquer Christians.
As a Christian, this doesn’t sound very appealing. If all we’re focusing on is this life, it won’t seem worth maintaining our faithfulness to God. When that time comes, we’ll need to remember what God has promised for the wicked, as recorded in Zephaniah – also part of today’s reading.
In Zephaniah 1:2-3, we read, “I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth, declares the Lord. I will sweep away both men and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. The wicked will only have heaps of rubble when I cut off man from the face of the earth, declares the Lord.”
In Zephaniah 1:18, we read, “…In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth.”
Zephaniah 3:8 tells us, “…I have decided to assemble the nations to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them – all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger.
But then we find hope in Zephaniah 3:12-13, where we read, “But I will leave within you the meek and the humble, who trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will speak no lies, nor will deceit be found in their mouths. They will eat and lie down, and no one will make them afraid.”
In short, terrible times are coming for Christians, when the antichrist will try to annihilate us from the earth. It will be critical to remain faithful to God during those difficult times, even if we lose our lives. Because ultimately, God will judge the world, and completely destroy the wicked. Even if we die, we will be resurrected to live in peace forever. While the wicked will be completely destroyed forever.
I’m reminded of Deuteronomy 30:19 where we read, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Choose to remain faithful to God. Choose life. Even if you have to succumb to death.
When John begins to explain the revelation that he has received, he writes 7 letters to churches in Asia minor (modern day Turkey). As we read 4 of the 7 letters, we can notice that each letter contains the same important exhortation: “Anyone who has an ear had better listen to what the Spirit says to the congregations!” (vv. 7, 11, 17, 29). This is John’s way of saying “Pay attention!” While each one of his letters is not lengthy or full of details, they are nonetheless very specific about what they address.
In 3 of the 4 letters, John brings a harsh criticism against the congregation to whom he is writing. These criticisms are prefaced with a phrase such as “But I have this against you” (vv. 4, 14, 20). Only Smyrna is spared this criticism. It seems that there is something about the church in Smyrna that didn’t deserve the type of correction that the other churches received.
The message that John gives to the church in Smyrna is one of encouragement to endure through the persecution and suffering they were experiencing. One of the reasons that they were suffering was because other people were speaking evil of them. And apparently, it was going to get worse, so much so that some of them were going to be thrown in prison. But they were promised that if they would endure and be “faithful to death,” that they would receive the “crown of life” (v. 10).
What we can apply to our own lives from John’s encouragement to the church in Smyrna is the importance of remaining faithful to the Lord. While we may never face persecution and death in the way that they did, we each have been or will be at some point in our lives the object of another person’s evil words concerning our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though the ways in which we will suffer for our faith will differ, the reward that we all will receive is the same—the crown of life!
No trial is too small and no task too trivial to consider it worthy to endure for the sake of our Lord. We must always desire to honor him through every day and season of life no matter what may come, knowing that it is before him that we will stand one day judged for everything we have said and done.
Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Amos 3-4 and Revelation 2
I have never had a baby. Shocker, I know! As a male member of the human race the act of childbirth has and will forever elude my lived experience. However, as a father of eleven Fletchers, I have spent many years of my adult life in the company of pregnant women, or more precisely, a pregnant woman. I was there for all eleven births and I caught most of them (the last one came so quickly that I caught him solo). All this is to offer to you my credentials that, although never directly experiencing labor, I have been present for enough births to recognize the various stages that women go through in childbirth. Fun fact, for women who have more than one baby the Braxton Hicks contractions (otherwise known as false labor) can come several weeks or even months before the baby is actually born. Braxton Hicks contractions are one way that the body prepares itself for labor. It’s like an athlete doing warm up exercises before the actual event. Muscles tighten and relax as they practice for the real thing when it comes.
Today’s devotion isn’t really about childbirth, it’s about being prepared for the return of Jesus Christ, the end of this present age and the preparation for the age to come, the Kingdom of God. Matthew 24 is known as the “little apocalypse”. Apocalypse is another term for Revelation. In the Bible the book of Revelation is 22 chapters long and goes into a lot of detail about the end of this age and the coming of Jesus. Matthew 24 is a condensed version, kind of a mini-sermon Jesus preached to his followers shortly before he went to the cross. (You will run across parallel or “synoptic” passages when we get to Mark 13 and Luke 21 in just a few days/weeks).
Jesus’ purpose here is to prepare his followers to be ready for times of great tribulation or distress that would come immediately prior to his return. If you’ve ever read or heard a sermon about the apocalypse or the end of the world or Armageddon you probably are aware that Jesus warned that before things get amazingly better- ie. The New Heavens and the New Earth, Christ returning to rule over all the world bringing a final end to all sin and death and setting free the whole earth from the “curse” of death… before things get amazingly better, there will be a time when they become incredibly hard.
A brief study of the history of the Church for the last 2000 years will show that Christians have gone through hard times a lot. In the first 2 centuries the problem was the Roman Empire. Followers of Jesus were often told that they had to renounce their loyalty to Jesus and declare their loyalty to Caesar alone. When they refused, some of them were thrown to the lions or burned at the stake.
Since Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire it has faced challenges in many parts of the world at different times. In the 17th century Christian missionaries in Japan were killed for their faith. In the 1930’s Christians in Germany who failed to support Hitler faced severe persecution and some, most notably Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were executed for resisting Nazism. Christians in Communist China and the Soviet Union experienced incredible persecution during most of the 20th century. There are places in the Islamic world today where Christians who attempt to proselytize Muslims face the threat of execution.
Every generation of Christians since the first century could look at what was happening in the world and see the potential for the end of the world. Jesus’ own disciples asked him right after his resurrection, before he ascended to God, “Is it NOW, Lord?” (Acts 1:6).
2020 was a really challenging year with Covid, racial division, murder hornets, wildfires and hurricanes. I had a lot of people asking me if I thought the end of the world was coming. Perhaps you’ve wondered that yourselves.
Matthew 24 is a great place to go when you start wondering if this is the end. Like a woman who is going to have a baby, she may have “birth pangs” for a long time before the baby is actually ready to be born. The same is true with the coming Kingdom of God. I think every generation of Christians experience some amount of persecution or “natural” disasters or other tragedies that leave them wondering if the end could be near. Just as Braxton Hicks contractions are God’s way of preparing a woman to give birth by having her muscles practice for the big event, God permits every generation to experience a certain amount of trials and tribulations to help prepare God’s people for the final “great push” that will occur right before Jesus returns.
Jesus himself said that no one knows exactly when he will return. He said that even he doesn’t know. That is something that only God knows. What Jesus does say to his disciples then and to us today is that we need to stay ready, we shouldn’t fall asleep in our faith. He warns that as troubles and persecution increase and as the world becomes a less loving and more violent place that many of his followers would fall away:
“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:10-12).
Jesus might come very soon. I can’t predict when. All I can do is make sure that I’m ready whenever he does come. I must make sure that I stay faithful and don’t turn away even if the persecution gets really bad. I think Christians living in the United States are getting ready to face some real persecution in the near future. In fact, I think we already are. There is a lot of pressure to conform to the changing norms of society. Cancel culture will not have any respect for Christianity. Some of the things that the Bible teaches about how we are supposed to live, particularly in areas of morality, sexuality and gender norms are considered anathema by the current progressive climate. As people place more value on becoming “woke” more followers of Jesus, young and old will be persecuted if they fail to change their values. Remember, Caesar doesn’t like to be rejected as God, neither does the devil, and neither do the progressive elites. In the wake of the coming persecution Jesus our Lord tells us to “stand firm.”
The Hebrews watched as the plagues of Israel consumed the whole of Egypt. They watch God lead them in a cloud by day and a fire by night. They watched the Red Sea part and swallow the advancing armies hoping to kill or reenslave them. Yet, fresh off the heels of all of these things, they lost their nerve when Moses, their leader and messenger from God, had been gone for a few moments longer than expected. In the place of God Almighty, they erected a golden calf to worship saying these were the true gods that brought them out of Egypt. An enraged Moses came down from the mountain to see utter chaos. Aaron fumbles through his excuses and the people of Israel are punished. Moses declares that each person must pick a side – You are either for the Lord or against him. (Ex 32:26)
So much destruction occurs in these few chapters of our reading today as angel ominous trumpeting announces another terrifying event on earth. Cities are destroyed from earthquakes, fire, sulphur, and smoke destroy a large percentage of the population, and a plague occurs that tortures to the point of death, but never comes. It isn’t a pretty site – unleashed by ultimate permission giver. It will be an understatement that many will have their faith tested during these times, and begin seeking any answer to the misery they see unfolding before them. When there is no great parting of the Red Sea proclaiming the Lord is in this moment, so many will begin to look to new creatures, whether literal, people, or nations, to follow for immediate comfort or distraction. In fact, war will be raged against anyone who tries to serve the Lord during this time or who shares the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17). The only way to survive it seems, is to worship a beast and take its mark so you may buy or sell.
“The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk.” – Revelation 9:20
“The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom.” – Revelation 13:15-18a
There is much to study in these scriptures about what the unfolding of these events may look like in our coming world, but the implications of these passages are as simple as the charge from Moses. When I struggle, whose side am I on? If there isn’t immediate relief from the pain, whose side am I on? If it keeps me from my dreams, whose side am I on? When it costs me my reputation or position, whose side am I on? If it costs me my friends, my family, my children, or my life, whose side am I on? Even if you don’t live long enough to set your eyes on the terrifyingly terrific events laid out by the trumpets, you must make a decision before you cross the path of the lesser trials in your own life. A claim must be laid for the Lord in your heart, and you must begin setting yourself apart. Otherwise, your faith will be crushed at the first crosswind of complication. Indecision will place you in the queue of those ready to receive their mark on the path of least resistance. You may receive a momentary benefit from your idol, but it ultimately places you opposite of God. Much like the fate of the Israelites who stood against Moses, destruction comes for those who stand against the Lord Almighty. Draw a line. Pick a side. Ready yourself for the fight of your life.
“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matt 5:29,30
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Revelation 9-13.
As we learn more and more about Jesus and find that we are completely astonished by this man, the Son of God – we are left with more questions – what will be my response to him? What must I do to follow him? How do I sign up to be his disciple? What will my job description be as a follower of Christ?
Matthew 9 and 10 give some great guidance for those seeking to follow Jesus. We have the example of Matthew the tax collector who was working hard at his tax collector booth when Jesus came by and said, “Follow me.” That was all it took. No endless paperwork to fill out. No aptitude test – Jesus already knew Matthew’s strengths and weaknesses, as he knows mine and yours – and still he calls – follow me. In order to accept the job, there will be something we must leave behind. It might not be our occupation, as it was for Matthew. It might be our favorite hobby or mindless pastime or those enticing overtime hours. There is simply not enough hours in the day or room in the heart to do everything the world says you deserve to do and effectively follow Christ. A follower will sacrifice, change, give up, adjust schedules.
I am reminded of my dad who never retired from the ministry, but after his kids all grew up, he fulfilled a life-long dream and bought himself a little fishing boat. He loved that little fishing boat, but he loved more his Savior and the people that he worked tirelessly to bring to Jesus – so the boat didn’t get out much.
Which brings us to the second lesson learned from Matthew. As soon as he left behind his tax collector job, he invited Jesus to his house to be his guest – along with all his friends of questionable beliefs, backgrounds, and motives – yes, the “sinners”. You might know a few yourself. Matthew knew his friends and coworkers needed Jesus as much as he did and he took it upon himself to introduce them to one another. When we take on the job of follower of Christ we invite Jesus into our lives, our homes, our family, our circle of friends, neighbors and associates. As Warren Wiersbe says, “God has no secret service” (NT Wiersbe Bible Commentary, p.32). A follower doesn’t cover-up who his boss is. How can you invite your neighbors and coworkers and family to meet Jesus? Take some time to seriously create a list of people you know who would benefit from some time with Jesus (before Jesus returns to judge the earth) and then prayerfully consider how God would have you make the introductions.
When we start really looking at the needs around us – the eternal needs – it is easy to get overwhelmed. Jesus,too, has seen the crowds – like sheep without a shepherd. He instructed his disciples to pray for more workers in the harvest field. We would do well to pray this prayer as well.
A follower isn’t a one man show – rather they have the responsibility (and often joy) of working with others to share the good news. Just as Jesus sent out his disciples to work together (Mark records they went out in pairs), we will find our effectiveness greater when we take the team approach to following Christ. Who are you already working with and who would be a great addition to your current team of Christ followers?
Jesus warns his followers that it won’t be easy – not what you always want to hear at a job interview. But, who wants an easy job? He warns of the opposition his followers will face – from the religious leaders, from the government and even from family. Likewise, we must be prepared to not be swayed or stopped from the task by opposition we face from many fronts. Just as Jesus was persecuted, so will his followers. Expect it and keep working. Jesus says it best, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22 NIV). There may be times you will be tempted to take the easy road, give in, hide Jesus. Don’t do it. Remember Jesus’ promise and warning: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33).
Finally, a follower will love Jesus first and most.
How will you pick up your cross today and be his follower?
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 9 & 10.
Tomorrow we will read Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9:1-17 as we continue learning about Jesus and how to be a follower.
Today is a bit longer. Please bear with me to the end.
Before we start this devotion, please go read Isaiah 7:14.
Is that verse about Jesus?
According to Matthew 1:23, the answer is a clear and resounding yes. Now, go back and read Isaiah 7:14, 16-17, 8:3-4, 10. It would seem that Immanuel is also a reference to Isaiah’s son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, who is the child of a/the young woman, and his title (Immanuel) shows the people that God is with them (Immanuell literally means “with us is God”).
I know that may be some new information for you, but this is what I want you to see : When Isaiah gave the Immanuel prophecy, he wasn’t JUST talking about something that would happen hundreds (700+) of years in the future. He was talking about something that was going to happen SOON, that would impact King Ahaz’s life in just a few years time. Did he speak about the future as well? Matthew says yes, but that’s not all he speaks about.
This bit of insight is helpful to have in mind as we read Revelation 17 (or if you have already read it, as you go now and re-read it). Many who read the text of Revelation focus on the future aspects of the book. When will it happen? (Some people say : “Always just around the corner!”) Who are Gog and Magog? (“Always enemies of our country, like Germany, China or Russia!”) Am I prepared? (“Buy your food kit now!”) But, just as the prophecies of Isaiah meant something for the people of his day, we MUST recognize that the prophecy and revelation of John meant something to readers of John’s day.
And John’s readers knew what he meant. There are things that are hard to understand about the scene he saw, but he made it clear enough that they would have understood at least SOME of it. The picture is of a prostitute/harlot/whore sitting upon a beast. She commits sexual immorality with kings, she rides upon a beast, gets drunk on the blood of the saints. She has many names.
Woman who rides upon the beast, through hints we see in this text, is Rome (and by extension, the Roman Empire). Rome is a city sat upon seven hills (v.9). Rome is the great city that has an empire over the kings of the earth (v.18). Rome, like Babylon the Great before her, destroyed the Jewish Temple, and therefore Rome was acting in the “spirit of Babylon”. (v.5) The sexual immorality committed by the kings of the Earth is their worship of the Emperor as “the son of the gods” and “god-in-flesh”, which was discussed in an earlier devotion on Revelation, when the author spoke about the imperial cult. (v.2) Most importantly for the first readers, this woman was drinking the blood of the saints; that is a poetic description of what they were experiencing under the persecution of Rome.(v.6)
When John uses all these images, we are given a powerful picture of the spirit of any empire that moves against Christ. And that is true in every age and in every place where there are empires drinking deeply the blood of saints and worshipping that which is not God. What we must always realize is that both in the day of John and our own, the truth is that Christ will conquer them all. Verse 14 says “These will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”
Could there be another city that will sit upon 7 hills, with kings, and be Babylon the great? Maybe. All of Revelation 17 could happen again in the future, with other systems, empires, and rulers. But verse 14 will be always and forever clear : whoever makes war against the Lamb will be defeated. The Lamb will conquer them by his power.
Brothers and sisters, we stand with him. We are called. We are chosen. No matter the persecution of the Dragon, the Beast or the Harlot, let us remain faithful. (v 14)
666! This number has been special in the minds of believers and nonbelievers alike for thousands of years. What exactly is this number meant to represent? What is the “mark of the beast”? Is the government going to try and put a microchip in my hand? What should I do?
There is much speculation about what the number 666 means, and it all comes from this chapter in Revelation; chapter thirteen. However, before we go wandering off to try and apply this number to our situation in 21st century America, it is important to try and understand what John is trying to communicate to his audience in 1st century Asia Minor. This is an important practice for reading any passage of the Bible, and I encourage you to do your research before applying it to yourself.
John sees a vision of a terrifying beast that has ten horns and seven heads, and was like a leopard, with feet like a bear, and a mouth of a lion. It is likely that John is drawing these images from the Old Testament prophet Daniel, specifically Daniel chapter 7, where the prophet describes four great empires with beast-like imagery. Since Daniel described empires/nations with this imagery, it is likely that John also has a specific empire in mind with his description of this beast. Since we’ve already been told that this beast is responsible for killing the two Witnesses (11:7), John likely has in mind the nation of Rome, who was ruling at the time of his writing and was notorious for killing Christians during the empire’s reign.
John then sees a second beast, which is responsible for making the people worship the first beast. In the first century Roman world that John is writing in, there was a religious movement called “the imperial cult”, that was the fastest growing religion of the time. This religious movement encouraged, and sometimes forced, people to worship the Roman emperors as “gods”. If you do a little historical study on the imperial cult, you may be surprised at how much the whole New Testament addresses this issue.
This second beast forces the people to put a “mark” on their hand or forehead, demanding their allegiance to the first beast. If you don’t have this “mark”, you will be unable to do many things. This number is the number of “a man”, which is 666. This is in stark contrast to the “mark” (or seal) that God had already placed on his own people in 7:3. In other words, you are either with God or against Him.
While I don’t believe we have to worry about microchips in our world today, since that wasn’t the point John was making, we do have a responsibility of giving our allegiance to God in every decision we make. Think about each decision you make today. Is this decision honoring to God, or is it bringing glory to something else? Have you “marked” yourself with God’s grace, or are you seeking something else?