Back to the Future?

Promise of Persecution and Perseverance. The Overcomers

“And I saw–another sign in heaven,–great and marvelous,

seven angels–who had seven plagues,–which are the last,

because in them–the wrath of God–is finished.

And I saw,–as it were,–a sea of glass mixed with fire,

and those who had come off victorious from the beast–and from his image–and from the number of his name,

standing–on the sea of glass,–holding harps of God.

And they sang the song of Moses–the bond-servant of God–and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and marvelous are Thy works,–O Lord God,–the Almighty;

Righteous and true–are Thy ways,–‘Thou King of the nations

“Who will not fear, O Lord,–and glorify Thy name?–For Thou alone art holy

For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME–AND WORSHIP BEFORE THEE,–FOR THY RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.”

After these things I looked,–and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony–in heaven was opened,

and the seven angels–who had the seven plagues–came out of the temple,

clothed in linen,–clean and bright,–and girded around their breasts with golden girdles.

And one of the four living creatures–gave to the seven angels–seven golden bowls

full of the wrath of God,–who lives forever–and ever.

And the temple was filled with smoke–from the glory of God–and from His power;

and no one was able to enter the temple–until the seven plagues of the seven angels–were finished.”

Wait a minute, I thought the world ended in chapter 14, what is going on? Did the harvest happen or not? Let’s apply the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics and see what we can uncover. Context is king, however, within the apocalyptic genre, anything can happen. Therefore we waltz, considering the context, the genre, the aspirations, using exegesis and dividing rightly the word.

The primary statement, said by John is about a sign that was both great and marvelous. The Greek word which is translated to English as “marvelous,” is only used five other times in the New Testament. One of those times it is used is by John in verse three of this chapter, during the song of Moses and the Lamb. The other times of its use also indicate a very wonderful and very positive thing or event. We have read this recently–1 Peter 2:9; “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” As we waltz, and attempt to see the sign as John saw the sign, we must remember that he was positively awe-struck. We must also remember what a sign signifies–it is symbolism not a billboard.

A great and marvelous sign of seven angels and seven plagues which are the last because in the plagues, God’s wrath is finished.

A great and marvelous sign of a sea of glass mixed with fire and the servants saved by the Lamb standing on the sea of glass, singing a song of salvation to the savior.

A great and marvelous sign of the song sung by the servants of God, saying,

“Great and marvelous are Thy works,–O Lord God,–the Almighty;

Righteous and true–are Thy ways,–‘Thou King of the nations

“Who will not fear, O Lord,–and glorify Thy name?–For Thou alone art holy

For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME–AND WORSHIP BEFORE THEE,–FOR THY RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.”

Ok. We’re stopping here, can anyone guess why? I have a sneaking suspicion we’ve seen this before. I sense that somehow, some way, we’ve been here before. A differently detailed situation certainly, nevertheless it’s very familiar. I am sure I have seen this all before.

Let’s look at certain items or figures and compare and contrast–see if anything fits. Now, a cautionary tale told to me; “That’s not how you should read your Bible.” Now, a cautionary tale from me; “I’m pretty sure it is, especially in Revelation.” How else would one be able to understand the imagery? Most likely, this is precisely why people take the position that Revelation is pure prophecy and should be taken literally. To the text!

Seven angels with seven somethings; where have we seen seven angels with seven trumpets or plagues or bowls? Whoops, getting ahead of myself again. We’ll see the bowls next time. Let’s zoom in on the seventh trumpet. For time’s sake we will not look at all the trumpets here. Not only that but we’ve already read about them, try to remember or better yet, re-read the texts.

Seventh Trumpet: Revelation 11:18, “Thy wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to give their reward to Thy bond-servants the prophets and to the saints and to those who fear Thy name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

Notice: wrath, judgement, destruction and reward. But also listen to the words at the beginning of verse 19; And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened…” That’s very familiar, isn’t it? We read today; “After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened.” We know that it is not a coincidence but are these simply similar scenes or something else, such as the same scene with the seven angels, shown to John with different details and at a different angle? Same scenario–separate sign? If this is the case, my current curiosity questions why​? Why would God show John the same scene with different depictions?

When I was a teenager, I loved to shoot videos. I had one of those giant, VHS, full-size camcorders. I was terrible at it but nonetheless, I offered my services to people getting married, or having anniversary parties or any other events that one may want to keep those memories in video form. By the time I figured out how to really utilize the features of the camcorder, the technology changed and it became obsolete.

Nevertheless, I did learn the art of capturing moments. I can assure you of one thing, when filming live events, it’s best to have more than one camera, though it isn’t entirely necessary. With a good tripod and a slow yet steady hand, one can pan from one person to the next seamlessly. One can also get a wide-angle view of an audience, then zoom in on the blushing bride or the babbling, baby bridegroom. Revelation certainly does zoom in and out, but it also retells things from different angles. This is where the second camera comes in. In order to fully capture the moment, is it not best to remember Newton’s third law? One not only aspires to capture the action of the bridegroom crying like an infant, but also to capture my reaction of smirking, handing him a hanky and whispering, “told you so.” When the bride’s father falls down, don’t we want to see the audience’s reaction. Ah, memories. Remember, Revelation is the behind the scenes look at the play, and it is shot in the multi-camera format. We are given second and third looks from different angles, metaphorically speaking.

Perhaps you are a sports fan, and perhaps you have a view on the instant replay review procedure. Personally, I think it is a good idea to allow the referees the ability to look back to see the things which they have missed. With all the action happening it is very easy for a person to miss specific details. The replay review rule allows them to slow down the real-time action and take a closer look. Revelation shows us a similar situation. We see certain things in a different light. In one verse we see the temple opened to present the ark of the covenant, in another we read; “and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony–in heaven was opened,” different description and details–same scenario.

We also see the 144,000 again, yet you doubt this. Notice: “and those who had come off victorious from the beast–and from his image–and from the number of his name…” Who else could this be? Within the scope of apocalyptic genre, considering the context, the reader understands that there are only two types of people, those that take the number of the beast and those that overcome the number of the beast with the mark of God. Look again at the broader context.

“And I saw, as it were, a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had come off victorious from the beast and from his image and from the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. And they sang the song of Moses the bond-servant of God and the song of the Lamb, saying,“ Great and marvelous are Thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true–are Thy ways, ‘Thou King of the nations, Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou alone art holy. For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE THEE, FOR THY RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.”

In chapter 14 we read about the 144,000 singing a new song; this is the new song. In chapter 14 we see descriptions or attributes of the people of God, the 144,000. Things such as, they follow the Lamb wherever he goes. We see from a different vantage point in this text, we’re looking through the lens of a different camera. We hear the same song, this time with words, that only those purchased from the earth can learn or sing, the song of salvation. In addition, we see a new description of the 144,000, that they are victorious over the beast, his image and the number of his name. Remember, it is my belief that Nero was the epitome of the beast. The briefest way to describe the beast is “bad government.” Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords is good government. The people overcame the earthy number and image and mark because of the Lamb paying for God’s wrath against them. Notice that they stand on a sea of glass mixed with fire singing the new song with heavenly harps. This is a strange sight. We remember what we have learned about the sea, the deep blue, Davey Jones’ locker–the beast came out of the sea. We also should remember back to Revelation 4 in a contrasting vision to the beast; “and before the throne there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.” Other than the sea of glass, we also see the four living creatures, which are also present in chapters 14 and 15–same scene, different views. The sea of glass and fire, on which the 144,000 stand and sing in this scene, is the antithesis of the sea we see on the earth, from which the beast emerges.

The book of Revelation, written in apocalyptic genre to the seven, actual, early churches in the first century is an unveiling look behind the scenes using vivid imagery. It is not necessarily chronological, though it can be at times, but it also zooms in and out, changes angles, jumps from heaven to earth and from the sky to the sea. The only way to understand the imagery is by taking our metaphorical vitamins, using the CAGED method. One may also use another hermeneutical method of their choosing that may differ slightly from the CAGED method, but it should be very similar with respect to the importance of Context, Genre, Purpose, and Exegesis–genre being the most difficult principle to understand because it is foreign to us. However, it is the key that unlocks the visions in Revelation and eliminates the literal interpretation.

When we look through the various lenses of the first century church, we begin to read Revelation as it was written, not how many modern scholars and scribes, pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, prophetic ear pleasers and fanciful fore-warner harbingers of havoc have read into Revelation–that is that God is going to rescue his faithful followers from the impending apocalypse about to abruptly come upon the cosmos, when in fact the opposite is true.

With the mirror mashed flat to my face, I am brought to my knees. I see the true mark of the Lamb, those who are truly faithful, those who are truly overcomers of the true beast, those who cannot help but sing a new song, those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. I think of the persecution promised and fulfilled by the early church and the persecution and penalties pronounced on the modern churches in foreign countries. I think of their plight and perseverance. Why would God rescue us and not them? The apocalyptic accuracy is that God is rescuing them. Not by way of a secret rapture but by the blood of the Lamb. We need to read again Revelation 15:2, this time in the ESV; “And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.” The Greek word translated as, “victorious” in the NASB and “conquered” in the ESV, is transliterated, nikáo. Literally it is defined as, conquer, overcome or prevail. I am less interested in the exact definition as I am of its use in the New Testament, especially in Revelation.

We’ve all heard Romans 8:37, “But in all these things we overwhelming conquer (hypernikáo) through Him who loved us.” And it’s been a few months but we should also remember Revelation 5:5, “and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome (nikáo) so as to open the book and its seven seals.” These are two “feel good” verses…when taken out of context. What does it mean that Christ overcame so as to open the book? He lived the perfect life, resisting the devil and his temptations, then was ridiculed, rejected, spit on, flogged, stripped naked, punched, kicked and caused to carry his own cross to be crucified as the only innocent man in all of history. God’s wrath against us was poured out on the Lamb. That is how he conquered. And as proof, God raised him from the dead on the third day.

We must also consider the context of Romans 8:37; “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR THY SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a”feel good” passage, but there are also some elements that we should expect to experience, yet many of us don’t. Nevertheless, our brethren scattered throughout the centuries and throughout the earth have seen suffering that we cannot imagine; or don’t want to. Consider the context in Psalm 44, of which Paul was quoting in Romans;  “Thou dost make us a byword among the nations, A laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my dishonor is before me, And my humiliation has overwhelmed me, Because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, Because of the presence of the enemy and the avenger. All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten Thee, And we have not dealt falsely with Thy covenant. Our heart has not turned back, And our steps have not deviated from Thy way, Yet Thou hast crushed us in a place of jackals, And covered us with the shadow of death. If we had forgotten the name of our God, Or extended our hands to a strange god; Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart. But for Thy sake we are killed all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. Arouse Thyself, why dost Thou sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. Why dost Thou hide Thy face, And forget our affliction and our oppression? For our soul has sunk down into the dust; Our body cleaves to the earth. Rise up, be our help, And redeem us for the sake of Thy lovingkindness.”

The question becomes, how do those of us who have truly only received light, momentary affliction, or no affliction, conquer? Which is answered when we think about these questions. How did the first century church conquer? How did Christ conquer? I am thinking​ about these texts and the Lamb followers we see from many different angles, and I wonder, would I truly follow the Lamb wherever he goes? Do I expect to be saved from tribulation when most of my brothers haven’t? I have much to learn, I have to dig deeper into God’s word and presence. That is another recurring theme in Revelation; the presence of God with his followers. I don’t put much faith in world government nor in their systems of justice. What I do believe in is the true imagery of Revelation; that justice will not be served by a rapture of a complacent church but that Christ is coming and his reward is with him. Faithful unto death seems to be the way in which we overcome. To those in prison in lands foreign to myself, To those being slaughtered as sheep, I know this; Revelation promises justice, therefore, you will not be disappointed.