Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Great Masquerade

The Word for today:
Revelation 17
(Over the next few days, we'll be going back to Babylon. Today's article will look at religious "Babylon" in chapter 17. We will encounter political/economic "Babylon" in chapter 18.)
mark this: Revelation 17:5
This title was written on her forehead:
Babylon is an all-purpose metaphor in the Bible. It represents--
the worldly system--the kingdom of Antichrist (1)-- which opposes the principals and program of God;
human/demonic pride which seeks to displace God;
false religion, idolatry, and the false god of materialism;
the confusion caused by godlessness.
Babylon first appears in scripture as Babel (2), where the people joined together to build a tower. The tower, so it seemed, was to be built so that the people could reach up to God. But what they really wanted to do was pull God down to their level.
If we can grasp that concept, then we can understand the essence of "mystery Babylon," the prostituted church in Revelation 17. She is going to seem religious, even pious. But--like the Tower of Babel--she will be just the opposite of what she seems.
How will the church turn into this harlot?
It will happen at the Rapture, when all the true believers are taken out of the churches. True believers from every denomination of Protestantism, true believers from every parish in Catholicism, true believers from here and there and everywhere--all gone.
What remains will look like a church, but faith in the real, biblical Jesus will have vacated the premises. What's left behind is the prostitute spoken of in Revelation 17--an unfaithful version of the true "bride of Christ."
Throughout much of Revelation we are in a counterfeit realm. Antichrist will present himself as Christ. The prostitute will play the faithful bride. Evil will pose as good. The wolf will wear sheep's clothing.
And many will be deceived by the Great Pretender. You remember him; he pretended to be a snake in the Garden of Eden.
The Great Tribulation is going to be a Great Masquerade. With the true church gone, what's left behind will be a world filled with spiritually gullible people who will be predisposed to the devil's deception.
They'll be buying whatever counterfeit goods he's selling.
They already are.
(1) see Matthew 4:7-9; Luke 4:5-8; (2) Genesis 11

Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Something's got to give," we say. "Things just can't go on this way."

The Word for today:
Revelation 16
mark this: Revelation 16:16
And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
'Armageddon' is a word that lives way at the back of your head.
We might not know how to spell it, or say it, or define it. But we all know what it means.
The psychologist Carl Jung called them 'archetypes.' They are symbols universally recognized, transcending time and language and culture.
Something embedded within us, somewhere deeper than our DNA, demands a decision, a judgment. The Old Testament already visited Armageddon, and called it the Valley of Decision:
Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD.
Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations.
Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.
Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. 
(Joel 3:11-14)
Armageddon is where elemental forces assemble in inevitable opposition. Good & evil, light & darkness, truth and falsehood gather there, and they are incapable of peaceful coexistence. The one must vanquish the other or be vanquished itself.
These forces are moving inexorably toward the plains of Megiddo (from which the word 'Armegeddon' is derived.) If the place looks eerily familiar, it's because you've seen it in the back of your head:
Within an individual, just as within the body politic, are elemental forces--flesh and Spirit, self and sacrifice, courage and cowardice--that are incapable of peaceful coexistence. "Something's got to give," we say. "Things just can't go on this way."
And we're right. A day of reckoning, individually and collectively, awaits. We can feel it in our bones.

Friday, January 20, 2017

echoes of Exodus: Jacob's lost children make their way home

The Word for today:
Revelation 15
mark these:
They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. (15:3)
After these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened. (15:5)
The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed. (15:8)
If Revelation starts to get away from you, if the images and symbols elude your understanding, the thing to do is to go back to the beginning!
Not back to the beginning of Revelation, but back to the beginning of the Bible.
The church made their mass exodus, the Rapture, at the beginning of chapter 4.
So from that point Revelation becomes an echo of Exodus (the 2nd book of the Bible) which is the story of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.
All we have to do is replace Pharaoh with Antichrist and Revelation will look almost familiar:
Great miracles will be performed--by God's people and by Antichrist's followers, just as in Exodus.
Great plagues will strike the sinful world, just as in Exodus.
God's people will be hemmed in on every side. But the hand of the LORD their Deliverer will save them.
And then they will sing a song they'd learned by the side of a Red sea.
Revelation is a reunion of characters whom we knew; it is the culmination of a plot that was set in motion from the beginning:
"Pharaoh" returns -- as Antichrist
"Egypt" returns -- as a federated world system bent on the destruction of God's people.
Babel returns as Babylon.
Moses returns--as Moses! (1)
Elijah returns--as Elijah! (1)
Even the church will return--as a Bride.
And when the Lamb of God returns, the people will sing the Song of their Passover Lamb, a new song learned long ago.
Revelation should begin to be faintly familiar, like a "new song learned long ago." Many years and tears and miles and far too many farewells have accumulated between the Exodus of Israel and the Rapture of the church. But those farewells weren't forever.
Even now something is stirring:
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? (2)
Moses is making his return from the backside of the desert; Elijah is about to step back into the vortex of a whirlwind; the priests are re-assembling the tabernacle; the prophets are finding their voices; Israel is returning from exile by the rivers of Babylon; the nations, once dispersed at Babel, are regathering at Armageddon, and a flood of judgment is about to be loosed.
And somewhere, in a far country, a wastrel son decides to arise, to return to his father's house, to retrace the steps he'd made.
(1) see Stand in the Rain of January 11, 2017: "Will the real "Two Witnesses" please stand up!"
(2) W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

every word

The Word for today:
Revelation 14:14-20
mark this: Revelation 14:18-20
"Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe."
So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse's bridle, for 1,600 stadia.
When was the last time you sang this song in your church?--
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Or when was the last time your pastor preached a sermon on the section of scripture that we have before us today--the scripture which inspired that song?
Must have been before you started attending church, because you've probably never heard that sermon.
The reason we Stand in the Rain, reading the whole of scripture, is because it forces us to consider verses like Revelation 14:14-20. It forces me to present the Bible as God wrote it, not as I chose it.
The evangelical church today tells the truth, for the most part, but it's often a limited truth. Limited truth can be a form of a lie. That's why our courts find it necessary to insist upon "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth"--because many a huckster and many a cult have hoodwinked the public without, technically, "lying."
Here's a principal to remember:
to the extent that your church teaches and preaches every verse in the Bible, your church is telling the truth.
Or, to put it another way:
to the extent that your church does not teach and preach every verse of the Bible, your church is not telling the truth.
Almost every cult has a Bible in the pew. Their lie isn't in their book, it's in their emphasis of what's in their book.
We have not been commissioned to edit God's words. Our commission is to spread the word--to sow the seed, all of it--over every path.
As a Bible teacher, I find the following warning--from the very last page of your Bible--to be even more worrisome than the images of judgment from our reading today:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.  (Revelation 22:18-19)
Because if you or I--as pastor, preacher, elder, or teacher--have under-emphasized (or altogether avoided) the teaching of some verses or scriptural concepts, then we have effectively detracted--taken away--from the Word of God.
When we were kids, my brother and I used to pick the the grapes out of the fruit cocktail and throw them away. Sad to say, that's how the Bible is often taught. But recall the proclamation of the great King himself:
"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (1)
We can't keep picking just the fruit of the Spirit (2), while leaving the grapes of wrath behind.
(1) Matthew 4:4; (2) Galatians 5:22

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Fell, fell is Babylon."

The Word for today:
Revelation 14:6-13
The first time we hear about Babylon in the book of Revelation is in 14:8--
And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great."
"Babylon" stands for many things in scripture, and we will have more to say about it as Revelation proceeds. But today we are going to look closely at the language which is used to pronounce the fall of Babylon.
1. The first thing we see is that the verb, fallen, precedes the subject, Babylon. This is not normal word order! We are told that something has "fallen" before we find out what that something is!
Babylon's fall is announced before its rise has even been hinted. Babylon meant such horrible things to his readers that John thought it best to assure them that Babylon would have only a temporary existence.
2. The English language actually lacks the verb tenses with which to accurately translate Revelation 14:8. The closest English can come to a literal rendering of this verse would be “Fell, fell is Babylon.”
The angel announces that which is yet to come as though it had already happened. In the original Greek, “fallen” is in the prophetic aorist tense. In other words, God’s prophetic word is so sure that He speaks as though the event had already taken place. It is just as sure as if it were history already. Our language is incapable of so emphatically pronouncing the angel's prophetic certainty.
3. Finally, we see "fallen" not once but twice. Does that mean the city will fall two times?
In order to understand the double "fallen," we need a complete understanding of what "Babylon" is going to represent as Revelation unfolds. So we must reveal, in essence, what the angel already knew:
"Fallen, fallen" does not mean that one Babylon will fall twice. "Fallen, fallen" means that two different Babylons will each fall once!
As we shall see, shall see.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

a perpetual revelation

The Word for today:
Revelation 14:1-5
mark this: Revelation 14:3
And they sang a new song before the throne...
'New' might be my favorite word. It never gets old.
Some people see the Bible as old. I see everything else but the Bible as old!
The Bible from cover to cover is new. Genesis opens with a new creation. Revelation closes with yet another new creation; even the end of the Bible is a new beginning!
God tells us to forget the old, because he is doing a new thing:
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
 (Isaiah 43:18-19; see also Isaiah 42:9; 48:6-7)
His mercies are new every morning! (Lamentations 3:23)
Jesus shows us a new and living way. (Hebrews 10:20)
Even I am new!--
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
With a new heart and a new spirit. (Ezekiel 36:26)
So new that the old rules don't even apply!--
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)
Someday I will even have a new name (Isaiah 62:2; Revelation 2:17).
In fact, God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).
And he always will. Heaven isn't going to stand still. History and eternity are a perpetual revelation of God's new and fuller appearance.

Monday, January 16, 2017

the nature of the beast (part 2)

The Word for today:
Revelation 13:11-18
mark this:
This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666. (Revelation 13:18)
and this:
And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. (Revelation 16:13)
Yesterday, Stand in the Rain looked back, locating preliminary appearances of the beast--the antichrist--throughout scripture. The reader who has not done so may want to begin there.
Warning: This article contains word-pictures of graphic evil. The reader will also encounter some extremely dark surmise. It is not recommended for children, or for the scripturally inexperienced, or for the spiritually immature.
First, the facts. Then we'll draw the face of exponential evil.
In Revelation 13, Satan appears (as a "dragon"--see 12:9 and 13:2) along with two "beasts"--one from the sea (13:1) and one from the land (13:11).
(The "sea" in scripture indicates the nations other than Israel. Thus a political Antichrist--the beast from the sea--can come from any nation other than Israel.
The "land" in scripture indicates Israel. Thus the false prophet, a religious Antichrist--the beast from the land--will come out of Israel.)
'6' is the number of man since Genesis, when man was formed on the 6th day. So 666, in the context of Revelation 13, is formed when the beast from the sea (a man, a '6') and the beast from the land (a man, a '6') assume their roles (along with Satan) in an unholy trinity (a '6-6-6') of Satan's devising. This is the ultimate culmination of Satan's pride and man's idolatry. Finally, Satan and man can worship themselves.
The formation of this counterfeit Trinity stems from Satan's longing to be like God, to enthrone himself in God's stead:
How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
"I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High." 
(Isaiah 14:12-14)
Unredeemed man, like his father the devil (John 8:44, below) seeks to take God's place. This can take many forms, but it often begins when individuals decide that they will be their own arbiters of right and wrong. From there, it's not too long before a society--a government--will vote themselves the ability to decide matters of life and death. God has not relinquished these matters to man.
These are dark days in the USA. A man goes on a killing spree in Tuscon. He has a satanic shrine in his backyard and when his math instructor wrote '6,' he insisted it was '18.'
Looking through his twisted arithmetic, I discern a demonic inside joke: the beast--a man, a '6'--is one with a trinity (a '6+6+6'). So, 6 is 18. It's merely the arithmetic of hell.
Identifying the face of evil in Revelation 13 isn't a parlor game, a riddle, or a puzzle for us to solve. Evil, in Tuscon, is the grotesque smirk behind a 9mm Glock. Jesus knew this face:
You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. (John 8:44)
Evil, in Revelation 13, is a self-worshipper who knows his time is short, and is determined to take everyone down with him--
Because maybe, just maybe, God won't have the heart to judge so many.
Then God would be a liar--shirking his promise and responsibility to judge sin--and thus no longer God. And so the crown and throne and scepter that Satan could not gain through usurpation, he would attain through God's abdication…
That's the spirit of 666. That's the nature of the beast.