July 23, 2012 I started writing about a chapter of the Bible every day. I was about to enter my senior year at the University of Vermont. On October 24, 2015, the mission was complete. 1189 days in a row certainly didn’t make me into a perfect Christian, but there are a few things that stood out to me on the macro level that I want to share with you now from this journey.
- God is at the center of it all.
I think that there is a certain temptation that we often fall into where the chief purpose of the Bible is to be a self-help book. I need a proverb to give me advice. I’m not sure that is quite true. The Bible is a very helpful book, but it doesn’t seem like that is the chief purpose. Rather, it seems to me that the purpose of the Bible is to tell us the story of God. From the beginning of creation to the end of time, we hear about what God has done, is doing and will do. We hear this in the form of narrative, wisdom, poetry, prophecy, biography or parable.
This stood out to me as I looked at the various tags I have applied to each one of my posts every day. The top two are “God” and “Following God.” The Bible was primarily written to tell us about God.
- We need to respond to that knowledge.
If the Bible was written to tell us the story of God from beginning to end, we need to figure out what that means. God has made Himself known to us, but that could ultimately not make a difference in our lives. After all, the Bible could be nothing more than a piece of fiction. If it is that, maybe it has some entertainment value or some interesting thoughts to consider, but it ultimately will not change our worldview.
However, the Bible itself does not really give us that option. It requires that we make a decision. Whether we are looking at Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac or Jesus claiming to be the Way, we are not called to complacency. Rather, we need to decide whether we are going to follow God or not.
God is at the center of it all, but it is not enough to simply recognize that He is the protagonist. Rather, the knowledge that we learned about God necessitates a decision about whether or not He is worth following or not. The Bible was written to tell us about God, but some of the things we learn force our hands. Romans 3:23 brings out the problem and John 3:16 emphasizes the solution. We need to act.
- We need to be willing to work.
One of the top tags as I was writing through the Bible turned out to be “Controversy.” I did not break down how many times I used it as a descriptor of in-house debates between Christians or external debates with other religions, but there is plenty of controversy to go around when talking about the story of God.
I mention that in my highlights here because if the Bible is as controversial as I seem to think it is, then we’re going to run into plenty of people who disagree with us. That should not be surprising. However, what that means then is that we need to be prepared to have these discussions. We need to learn why we believe what we believe. 1 Peter 3:15 speaks about having a reason for the hope that we have as Christians.
If there is controversy, then it also means that there are not always easy answers. We all agree on what color the sky is because the answer is easy. The Bible is a little bit more difficult. However, if the Bible also is the story of God and demands that we make a decision about whether or not God is one worth following, then we need to be willing to do this hard work.
I hope that this blog has helped you out as much as it has helped me out. I know that I have learned more about God by doing this, and I hope it has given you something to think about as well. I really appreciate everyone who has read, commented and shared over the years. You are all such an encouragement, and I appreciate the support.
I’m going to be taking a brief hiatus from the blogging world. As some of you know if you read my bio page, I am currently an online student at Houston Baptist University, and this spring I will be working on my Master’s thesis before I graduate in May with my MA in Apologetics. Given the amount of time that I will need to dedicate to reading and writing for that endeavor, while I will probably still write and post on other outlets occasionally, I don’t know that I will have the time to write on the regular basis that running my own website would require. Down the road though, I am sure I will have a new project, but I am still in the idea stage for anything like that.
If you remember nothing else I have ever written, please remember this:
God is the center of the Bible, and God is the center of history. Jesus Christ is the most important man who ever lived, and He is the one and only Savior. By believing in Him, anyone can have eternal life. It takes a decision, and it is easily the most important decision you will ever make. We all have to answer that same question that Pontius Pilate asked, “What shall I do then with Jesus who is called Christ?” What will you do?
Revelation 22 provides more evidence about the joy that is waiting for us when we to heaven. We hear about the river of life, and beautiful fruit trees that are going to heal the nations. There will be no more curse, and we are going to be serving God for all eternity. God will reign for ever and ever, and we will enjoy His presence forever.
Doesn’t that evoke something within you? Doesn’t that make you excited? It makes me feel like John as he closes out this book asking Jesus to return.
Rev 22:20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Rev 22:21 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
CS Lewis wrote about this powerfully. He wrote about how remarkable it was that we have appetites and things that will satisfy those appetites. We’re hungry, and there is food. We’re thirsty, and there is liquid.
As you read about heaven here at the end of Revelation, I would hope that you felt the same kind of hunger I had for wanting to be in the presence of God. There is that appetite, and there is something that will satisfy. In fact, there’s only one thing that will satisfy.
You might think that heaven is just a fantasy. It is just a daydream of people who want to escape from the misery of reality. They want to hope that there is some ultimate justice, so they create a place of perfection where all of the good will make up for all the evil present in our world today.
In closing, let me then suggest this thought in response to this kind of hypothetical explanation. As we have learned, Christianity rises or falls on whether or not Jesus Christ was who He said He was. If Jesus was indeed the Son of God, we then have His word that He is preparing a place for us. There are many dwelling places in the house of God. If He is who He says He is, then heaven is real. That’s the bottom line.
If heaven is real, we’re going to find that satisfaction. As followers of Christ, that appetite for the presence of God is going to be satisfied. Someone once said that if you would be happy in heaven without God there, then you probably will not be in heaven in the first place. As Christians, that is where our desire is at. Sure, beautiful places and golden cities are excellent things, but being with God is what it is all about. We fellowship with God here on the earth, and we’re going to do it in person eternally.
Does it really get any better than that?
For many people around the world, it is not easy to be a Christian. It is a considerable sacrifice and risk. Some pay the ultimate price. It certainly makes you wonder then whether or not the entire thing is worth it. What could possibly justify not going along with the wide path of the world? Revelation 21 begins to give us a picture of that beauty.
Rev 21:2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Rev 21:3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
Rev 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
As Christians, we believe that God is good. We believe that God is beautiful. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas speaks about God as the ultimate in goodness in his famous five ways. God is the superlative of everything. He is not just good; He is the most good. He is not just beautiful; He is the most beautiful.
Living in the presence of perfection is something I simply cannot fathom, but look at the results it brings about. There will be no more sorrow or pain. Why would there be any reason for despair when we are in the presence of the all sufficient, perfect God?
I know that there are terrible things that happen on earth. I don’t mean to diminish that whatsoever when I say this. No matter what evil we face on earth, it is a drop in the bucket as compared to the infinite perfection goodness of God that we are going to experience for all eternity.
I don’t know about you, but as I read this passage, it is clear that it is worth it. Everything that we might go through because of our faith on earth is worth it. The finite troubles are no comparison to the infinite perfection. God is good, and living with Him eternally is going to be remarkable.
Revelation 20 brings us to the ultimate consequence of our belief in God. We have the judgment at the great white throne.
Rev 20:11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
Every one of us deserves to be judged by our works. That intuitively make sense. There are consequences to actions, and some of those have eternal repercussions. We all deserve eternal separation from God. If God is perfect, then we, as people who are not perfect, would not generally have access to God. After all, how can something imperfect enter into the presence of someone who is perfect?
Jesus Christ did that. Through his sacrifice, we are able to be saved. We’re justified by our faith.
Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Eph 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
That is where we see the difference at play here. We are not saved by our own works. In fact, being judged by our works alone leads to disastrous results.
Rev 20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
We need to be written in that book of life. We are saved through faith. It is so important to understand this concept. It is not enough to be a good person because I know many good people, but all of them have done things that are wrong. No one is perfect, and without the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, we are told that works are not enough. We’re also told that we are going to be judged by our works. It is not as if God has changed the criteria from the time that Paul wrote Ephesians. It is impossible to have enough works, then we need something else are we are not going to see heaven. Faith is still what matters.
Revelation 19 is the beginning of the end. Evil is going to be thrown away forever.
Rev 19:20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
Rev 19:21 And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.
Naturally, the problem of evil is a powerful argument against the Christian faith. Why does God allow evil to exist? Especially in the light of Revelation 19, it shows that God is certainly capable of throwing out evil. Evil is going to lose.
If God has that kind of power, why is God waiting?
On one hand, we certainly cannot absolutely know the mind of God. Perhaps God has a reason that we are not capable of comprehending. It doesn’t mean that God does not have a reason. This will naturally be unsatisfactory to many skeptics however, so I think it is wise to have at least a conception of a possible reason that God might be waiting.
It seems to me that verse 20 sums it up pretty well. It is not just the beast who is going to be separated from God forever. All those who followed him will also be separated from God forever. Perhaps then God is giving as much time as possible so that more have the opportunity to come to faith in Him.
Of course, this invites the rebuttal that since God is the judge, He could simply let everyone into heaven anyway and let it be done now. However, God is also a God of justice, so He cannot simply go against His character and not bring justice.
Evil has no place at the wedding ceremony of the Lamb, and Jesus Christ died so that we might have our sins covered over and forgotten. Accepting that gift gives you a ticket to the banquet.
Revelation 18 brings us to the destruction of Babylon. Again, I know that many people disagree over the nature of what Babylon is exactly in context, but when it does fall, notice who is upset.
Rev 18:15 The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
Rev 18:16 And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
Rev 18:17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
Rev 18:18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!
Rev 18:19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.
Rev 18:20 Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.
It doesn’t necessarily surprise me. Particularly in modern society, it seems that greed is one of the biggest downfalls of those who are powerful. They might be well-off, but they always want a little bit more, and sometimes people will cut corners or hurt other people to get what they want. Financial sector scandals come to mind immediately, but even if we think about smaller things in our own lives, don’t we sometimes fall into this trap? We use other people as means to achieve a certain end, and often times we are motivated by greed on some level.
The thing about wealth is that it can go away so quickly. That is what we see here in Revelation. These merchants had become incredibly wealthy, but now the network had fallen, so business was going to die. They had nothing left without the business. That is the beauty of the Christian worldview incidentally. Certainly, it would not be easy for any of us to lose everything we have, and I don’t want to say this somewhat flippantly. I understand that would be incredibly difficult for any of us. However, I also know that because we are Christians, our two most valuable possessions are things that we did not buy. We have our lives which are gifts from God, and we have the gift of salvation. Even if we lose our money, we certainly have things to be thankful for.
Obviously then, this chapter makes me think about how God really wants to show the consequences of putting your faith in money. The money is not a sure foundation.
Revelation 17 shows us what evil looks like, and we actually get some interpretation from one of the angels about what this vision means. While this obviously is not an attractive image, there is one thing that stands out that ought to be particularly troubling for Christians.
Rev 17:6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
When people become drunk, it seems that there are a few general reasons why they might do that. They might really enjoy the beverage. Some people really enjoy the taste of alcohol, and they consume it to excess. If the woman portrayed here has that kind of appetite for the blood of the followers of Christ, it is naturally troubling.
Some people become drunk because they are addicted. They simply have become hooked on the consumption of alcohol, and it has become a habit for them. Similarly then in this situation, if this woman is addicted to the blood of martyrs, it is similarly tragic.
Why do I point both of these things out when there are interesting prophecies that we can talk about in this chapter?
No matter which of my thoughts above is accurate, or if neither one is accurate, an easy conclusion to draw is that there is an adversary, and this adversary has consumed plenty of the blood of the followers of Jesus Christ. We need to be aware. Jesus promised that those who followed Him would be hated that for His sake. From the first martyr, Stephen, to the final martyr who has not yet been challenged for his or her faith, there is an enemy who wants nothing more than the destruction of the people of God.
The good news however is that even though the adversary certainly can end lives here on earth, itcannot take us out of the hand of God, and Christians know that one of the rewards of the Christian faith is that to be absent from the body is to be present with God. Even with that knowledge though, thinking about all of those who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of Christ is difficult, and it does challenge me to think about what I would do in some of these situations.
Revelation 16 brings us to Armageddon.
Rev 16:16 And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
Rev 16:17 And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.
Rev 16:18 And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.
Rev 16:19 And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
Rev 16:20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.
Rev 16:21 And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.
It is interesting that even after everything that has happened throughout this book, people are still not willing to acknowledge God. People are still going to curse God rather than recognize that they need to get themselves right with God.
From the beginning, sinfulness has been a human problem. Free will that was abused brought about a world that was fallen and plagued by sin. It created the separation between God and man, and Jesus Christ provided the bridge to bring people back to God if they are willing to again make the free decision to repent.
Even at the end, there are going to be people who will not make that decision. Obviously, that is a terrible thing, but with the gift of free will that we were given, there is the potential for people to turn away.
As we enter Revelation 15, we see seven angels fly out with seven final plagues. What is fascinating, and we have seen before in Revelation, is that before the judgment is laid out, there is a worship service.
Rev 15:3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.
Rev 15:4 Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.
I know we have talked about this before, but let’s think about this idea that everyone is going to worship God when His judgments are made manifest. That seems somewhat counterintuitive. After all, I don’t know very many people that are thrilled about being judged. You would think that they would be mad at God.
This passage also does not seem to limit this worship to those who believe in God. It hasn’t happened yet because it is speaking in the future tense. Ultimately however, every knee is going to acknowledge the deity of the one and only God. As a result, it seems to me that this is rather confusing.
If God is everything He says He is, then God is just. If God is just by definition, then it seems to me that He cannot do anything that is unjust. If He is not capable of doing anything unjust by definition because it is not consistent with His character, then if the Christian God is real, He has to be just. This might sound like circular logic to some people, and I freely admit that for the purposes of this post, I am not providing a full apologetic defense for the reality of the Christian God. I think you can make that defense, but that is for a different post.
My main point is that we live in a world today that is yearning for justice. People want to see wrongs made right. It is not hard to see that. Therefore, maybe that is why every knee will bow even when they are faced with the judgment of God. Because we are wired to desire justice, when we actually encounter the source of that justice, I would not be surprised to see everyone worship no matter how they encounter God whether in adoration or judgment.
Revelation 14 begins speaking about Babylon. I know that some people view Babylon as being literally rebuilt and fallen, and some people will not take it as the literal city but more as a symbol. However, regardless of your perspective, look at what we learn about it.
Rev 14:8 And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
Let’s try to get a picture of the imagery here. Babylon has a cup full of wine. The wine is incredibly evil. Babylon has made other nations drink from that cup. Babylon is being punished.
This makes me think of the Garden of Eden. Satan convinced Eve to take the fruit from the tree. Eve and later Adam should not have done that. They should not have taken a drink from the cup to extend the metaphor. Obviously, they were punished for breaking the law of God, but Satan was punished as well for his role in the activity kind of like the way that Babylon is being punished here.
This of course raises questions about responsibility. It is wrong to lead someone to do something wrong even if you do not do it yourself. Babylon we know whether literal or metaphorical is a symbol of wickedness. However, in this particular passage, they are not being condemned for their own wickedness specifically. They are being condemned here specifically because they also corrupted those around them. Satan was evil before Adam and Eve fell, but he was specifically condemned in the relevant passage in Genesis for causing the corruption of Adam and Eve.
Of course, that raises questions for you and I as well. Are we helping those around us or are we driving them farther away? Through our actions and our speech, could we possibly be causing damage? We need to be careful here. Every person is certainly responsible for his or her own actions, but as followers of Jesus Christ, we would not want to do anything that would drive people away from Him. God does seem to appreciate that given these two examples.