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 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 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.
Revelation 13 brings us to the beast. I know the interpretation of this can certainly vary depending on your eschatological views, but there is something that stands out to me about who the beast does not have control over.
Rev 13:7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
Rev 13:8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Rev 13:9 If any man have an ear, let him hear.
Rev 13:10 He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
The world is going to fall in love with the beast, but those were following the Lamb will not be following this beast. In other words, it is not possible to be committed to two masters here. If you are following the beast, that is where you are putting your hope. If you are following Jesus Christ, your hope is in a different place.
Spoiler alert. God wins. As we recognize that there is this ultimate divide between those who are following what is right and those who are following what is wrong, think ahead to the end of the story even though we had not read it yet together. God is going to ultimately triumph and it is not going to end so well for the beast.
Therefore, we are faced with a choice. If what the Bible says is true, it should be rather obvious what side we want to be on. Don’t we want to be on the one that leads to eternal joy rather than the one that leads to destruction? It seems rather clear to me.
Revelation 12 begins with a picture of a woman and a dragon. The woman is about to give birth, and the dragon wants to devour that child. The dragon also has an army which is at war with Michael the Archangel after the woman is taken away to hide in the wilderness for 42 months.
Rev 12:7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
Rev 12:8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
Rev 12:9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
I am choosing to highlight this passage because of the one phrase in verse nine that speaks about how Satan has deceived the entire world. This stands out to me because I think that sometimes we think we are above deception. We think that we have everything lined up, and that can lead to a sense of idolatry. We can make ourselves into idols and forget about God which is never a good thing.
I don’t remember who said it, but I have heard it said that the greatest deception Satan ever pulled off was convincing the world that he does not exist. In our society that is steadily losing a belief in the reality of good and evil, I have no doubt that Satan is thrilled. After all, now he is an acceptable alternative to God; he is simply just another choice. When people take away the idea that evil is wrong, evil is what wins.
Consequently, I know I did not talk much about the imagery of this chapter, but it seems highly significant to me to always keep in mind that we have an adversary who is smart. We have an adversary who has in fact deceived all of us; all of us have sinned at some point. We need to be careful that we are following God and make sure that that relationship is in the right place.
It amazes me how stubborn people can be. In Revelation 9, the earth is not in a very good place. They have now been hit by terrible plagues, but there are still people who don’t realize the error of their ways.
Rev 9:20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:
Rev 9:21 Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
They have seen the horror around them, but they don’t recognize the consequences of what they had done. They don’t realize why all of this is happening, and as a result they remain in the darkness.
It makes me think of CS Lewis in The Last Battle. We read about the rebellious dwarf army. The constant refrain is that the dwarves are for the dwarves. Even though they see the world of Narnia falling apart around them, they choose to remain in darkness and remain stubborn.
It makes me think about our world today. If you think about all of the evidence we have that not only Jesus was who He said He was and also the evidence we have in creation that it seems incredibly improbable that everything happened by chance, God seems to be a probable hypothesis. However, some people are so bent on maintaining their naturalistic worldview that they dismiss where the evidence is actually pointing.
That is the challenge then that we face in the world around us. Even with all the evidence around them, there are people who are simply not going to believe. We simply have to be the best witness we are capable of being, and God will take care of the process of conviction.
Now that we have established Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, as the only one who is capable of opening the seven seals, Revelation 6 shows us what happens when the first six are open. The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rode out as the first four were opened, the martyrs cried for justice as the fifth was open and a giant earthquake that literally rearranged the earth accompanied the six. I want to focus on the fifth seal.
Rev 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
Rev 6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
Rev 6:11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
This passage brings us to a somewhat sad conclusion. The martyrs who had been killed for believing in Jesus Christ ask for justice. However, it was said to them that justice would not be done until all those who were going to be killed were killed.
Martyrs are not a thing of the past. I think that in America it is so easy to take what we have for granted. I know there are legitimate concerns about religious freedom, and I don’t want to discount that, but in general terms, it is relatively easy to be a Christian in the United States.
No matter what your eschatology, I think that this passage is interpreted in essentially the same way. Christians are going to be persecuted until the end of time. The number has not yet been accomplished. This ought to encourage us all the more then to pray for the persecuted church. There certainly will be justice in the end, so we don’t need to worry about that. However, we can still pray for the strength of those who have to endure.