Revelation 17:1-18 – A Vision of the End

“The Whore of Babylon” by Hans Burgkmair, 1523

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters.With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery:

BABYLON THE GREAT

THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES

AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH

I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.

When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.

“This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

“The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” (New International Version)

Today’s New Testament lesson is the beginning of a long and elaborate vision of the Apostle John. The vision includes a woman and a scarlet beast, and the angel’s interpretation of what John saw.

An Incredible Vision

“The Whore of Babylon” from Martin Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible.

Consistent with Old Testament’s imagery depicting the relationship between God and people, John’s vision is of a prostitute whom the kings of the earth committed adultery. This great offense will not be overlooked. It is provoking divine wrath.

The prostitute sits on a scarlet beast, an imposing and rather incredible looking creature with seven heads and ten horns. The woman and the beast signify and portray the pinnacle of opulence, extravagance, and luxury. Yet, she is also the ultimate depiction of corruption, indecency, and irreverence.

The great prostitute influences all the world. She is the evil genius behind the blood of the Christian martyrs. The woman deceives and connives so that she can wreak her violence against the saints of God.

John appears to be slack jawed with all this. The prostitute’s seductive influence has been so great that nations fall to her erotic power. She is so diabolically smooth, her presentation so marvelous, that even John is mesmerized by her.

Why Are You Astonished?

The angel’s question to John is akin to saying, “Well, what did you expect? The Wicked Witch of the West? Evil is much more sinister than an ugly old woman. Unrighteousness cloaks itself in nice garb. Snap out of it, man!”

Astonishment and awe belong to God, not some alluring vision of beauty. The enticement only traps humanity into a sticky web which the Black Widow can feed upon. The woman and the beast are doomed to destruction. Their time is imminently near.

John (and us) must see beyond the surface presentation to the darkness within. Antichrist is not only a person but the evil systems which feed upon helpless humans caught in the web of seduction.

The End Times

The leaders of the earth, deceived and smitten by the temptress, ally together to wage war on all that is right, just, and good – all the while believing they are fighting for beauty. It will eventually climax at Armageddon, the place of final victory over all the malevolence.

The Lamb shall overcome the nefarious forces of corruption. The faithful followers of God need only to persevere and see the punishment of the wicked. Please keep in mind that none of this has a timetable for us to chart. Biblical time revolves primarily around events, not precision clockwork.

It is not our task to walk around predicting dates, nor is it to point fingers at anyone we don’t like as being the antichrist. There’s plenty of shock-and-awe in the Apocalypse of John without us adding to it with our half-baked ideas of the end times.

The world, as it presently exists, is distorted by sin. And we humans tend to be ill-equipped in discerning the difference between The Great Prostitute and Lady Wisdom. What the book of Revelation does for us is show, with alarming symbolism, just how difficult it can be to navigate this old fallen world.

So, let us run to God; trust in the Lamb; and be filled with the Spirit.

Sovereign God, you are slow to anger and abound in steadfast love. Grant to national leaders the wisdom, courage and insight needed for this time of change and uncertainty. Give to all who exercise authority determination to defend the principles of freedom, love and tolerance, strength to protect and safeguard the innocent and clarity of vision to guide the world into the paths of justice and peace. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 – Encourage One Another

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (New International Version)

The believers in Thessalonica were discouraged.

Jesus said before his ascension to heaven that he would return…. Christ is still a no show.

So, the Thessalonians, not knowing exactly when Jesus would come back, were finding they needed patience and perseverance. They needed to avoid discouragement so as to not lose hope. They needed to be built up in their faith so they could live each day, even a lifetime (if that is what it took) continuing in love without giving up.

After all, it can be stressful not knowing a future time schedule. We simply do not know when Jesus is returning. Until that time happens, we are not to sit on our hands waiting, but are to be active, encouraging one another and building one another up. 

This present moment is not the time for bitterness and complaining, because it just does not help us to persevere. The church is to be a community of mutual support for one another. The world can be a tough, unfriendly, and lonely place. It’s easy to get hurt.

The word “encourage” is a beautiful word (Greek: παρακαλέω and English transliteration: parakaleo). It is actually two words smashed together (compound word) to communicate a wonderful truth. ‘Para’ means to come alongside. This word is found in many of our English words (i.e., parachute, paramedic, etc.). The other half of the word, kaleo, means ‘to call out,’ that is, to exhort or tell someone to do something. 

When we put those two words together, parakaleo means to exhort someone to do something by coming alongside them and helping them to do it. Therefore, we do the dual work of saying helpful words and backing it up with helpful actions.

The phrase “build each other up,” is, in many translations, “edify.” The word literally means to build a house. The Apostle Paul was saying to the church that, just as a builder takes great pains to carefully construct a house over a stretch of time, so we in the church are in the business of constructing souls. 

We must engage in the tedious and patient work of building up the faith of one another. Not everything goes according to plan when you actually are in the building process; there are unforeseen delays and issues and problems which cause the builder to be creative, and other times to just have to submit to the wait and not become upset or discouraged about it.

You must encourage one another each day. And you must keep on while there is still a time that can be called “today.” If you don’t, then sin may fool some of you and make you stubborn.

Hebrews 3:13, CEV

When it comes to community and faith, we are not to give up when things don’t go as we think they should, or as planned. In stressful situations, we are not to tear-down one another, nor look at people as objects to be “fixed” when they don’t perform, or do, or say, what we want them to. 

Everyone needs a continual stream of encouragement to keep going so that we do not lose heart or lose hope. If we are in the habit of only pointing out things to others we don’t like, or consistently feel the need to correct people, then we really must say at least five encouraging things for every single complaint. 

Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople in the fourth century, said to his congregation concerning encouragement: 

“Do you see how everywhere Paul puts the health of the community into the hands of each individual?  Encourage one another and build each other up. Do not then cast all of the burden on your teachers, and do not cast everything on those who have authority over you. You are able to edify one another…. If you are willing, you will have more success with one another than we (pastors) can have. You have been with one another a longer time and know more about one another’s affairs. You are not ignorant of one another’s failings and have more freedom of speech, love, and intimacy. You have more ability than we do to reprove and exhort. I am only one person. You are many. You will be able to be teachers to one another.”

St. John Chrysostom

He also exhorted his fellow clergy:

“Edify one another and in this way we will have the satisfaction of seeing the church grow in strength, and you will enjoy more abundant favor from above through the great care you show for your members. God does not wish Christians to be concerned only for themselves but also to edify others, not simply through their teaching but also through their behavior and the way they live. After all, nothing is such an attraction to the way of truth as an upright life – in other words, people pay less attention to what we say than to what we do.”

St. John Chrysostom

We encourage and edify one another with Christ who is both our example and our substitute. Jesus is our example of leaving the comfort of heaven and coming alongside us in our human condition; he lived the holy life we could not live, and so, is our substitute. 

Jesus came alongside us and taught us how to live by showing the way of love and taking care of the sin issue once for all. After rising from the dead and ascending to heaven, we now have the hope that Christ will return.  Then we will no longer have to deal with the world, the flesh, and the devil dogging us at every turn, seeking to discourage us. 

The three indispensable elements of the Christian life are faith, hope, and love. We need all three in order to be encouraged and built up. We need a close, personal, and intimate faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus.  We need a faith that is continually being tested and strengthened so that it stands the variety of challenges that this life has for us. 

We need biblical hope, a confident expectation that God will make good on all his promises to us. We will not try and hold God accountable to things never promised but will get to know the Scriptures to such a degree that our desires are in line with God’s desires. 

We need love. Love is to be the air that we breathe. Love is to be so common and routine for us that we put it on every day just as we put on our clothes. We need to love one another by encouraging each other through meeting needs. Love each other enough to say what needs to be said, and back it up with help so that they will not become discouraged but will persevere and keep going.

The Holy Spirit of God is referred to by Jesus as the Paraclete – the noun form of our word for encouragement.  The Spirit is the one who comes alongside us and teaches us all things by helping us. The Spirit’s work is to sanctify us and make us holy. 

God does not shout commands from heaven; the Lord comes alongside us by means of the Spirit to help us live the Christian life. And that is how believers are to function – pointing one another to Christ, exhorting and helping and edifying each other until the Lord Jesus comes again. 

Will you participate with the Spirit in this work of encouragement?

Lord Jesus, as the great Day of your return approaches, help us to speak your words of life and hope and healing to those who need them the most. Help us to bring your hands of mercy to bear in tangible and timely ways. Put before us names and faces who need the encouragement you alone can bring. Amen.

Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension of the Lord

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So, when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted-up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (New Revised Standard Version)

“When you went to bed last night Jesus was at work subduing his enemies. While you slept he was continuing to rule over the world. He was still at it when you woke up this morning and even now as you read this. That is the outrageous claim of the ascension.”

Tim Chester

Jesus was taken up to heaven in what Christians celebrate as the “Ascension of the Lord.”  It is hugely important for followers of Jesus. The ascension means that Christ is now presently sitting at God’s right hand offering continual prayers on our behalf to the Father. We have an advocate, a champion who has gone before us and secured deliverance from sin, death, and hell. This is no small thing. On top of it all, Christ’s ascension means that Jesus is the universal ruler; he commands a kingdom which will never end. Yes, the ascension of the Lord is a big deal.

So, why does a day set aside on the Christian Calendar celebrating the Lord’s mighty and redemptive ascension over all creation garner scant attention from many churches? Maybe the church has A.D.D. (Ascension Deficit Disorder). Perhaps our clue to the inability to focus on such a grand event is the disciples’ response when Jesus ascended.

The picture St. Luke paints for us in the account of our Lord’s ascension is a group of guys looking up into the sky slack-jawed and shoulders hunched. It took a couple of angels to come along and ask them what in the world they were doing just standing there. Now is not the time to stand and gawk at the clouds, the angels insisted. Jesus will come back when he comes back. You aren’t going to know when. So, now is the time to get busy with what Jesus just told you to do two minutes ago: Tell everyone about me.

“At His Ascension our Lord entered Heaven, and He keeps the door open for humanity to enter.”

Oswald Chambers

Christ’s ascension to heaven is a deeply theological event. It’s freighted with major implications for our prayer lives. And it means Christ is the King to whom we must obey. Jesus is coming again. In the meantime, there’s to be no cloud-gawking. Instead, there is to be a well-developed and well-cultivated connection with Jesus which proclaims the good news that Christ died, rose from death, and ascended to heaven for mine and your forgiveness of sins and a new clean slate on life.

Developing extensive prophecy charts and trying to peer into the future about how the end of history will shake-out is, frankly, not the job we are called to do. Believers in Jesus aren’t supposed to stand and gawk at the clouds waiting for the Lord’s return, as if we are in some earthly holding tank until heaven. 

Rather, we are to bear witness about the person and work of Jesus. The Ascension of the Lord means we are God’s people blessed with deliverance from the realm of sin, and the hope of Christ’s coming again. The Church everywhere recognizes together the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus.

“The miracle of Christ’s ascension to heaven is not in the lifting off from earth to another realm. It is in the reality that though being far away, the Lord is actually near.”

Mit Tdrahrhe

The world as we know it shall eventually come to an end. Until that time, Christians since the time of the ascension have been proclaiming Christ crucified, died, risen, ascended, and coming again. This is a day of joy and celebration for us. Jesus is our ascended and glorified king! The fate of the earth is with the benevolent and mighty Ruler of all. Jesus is Lord, and no other human leader is. Thank you, Jesus.

The great Reformed Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, question and answer 49, states:

Q: How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?

A: First, he is our advocate

            in heaven

            in the presence of his Father.

Second, we have our own flesh in heaven

            as a sure pledge that Christ our head

            will also take us, his members,

            up to himself.

Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth

            as a corresponding pledge.

            By the Spirit’s power

                        we seek not earthly things

                        but the things above, where Christ is,

                                    sitting at God’s right hand.

Amen.

2 Peter 3:8-13 – It’s Time

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. NIV)

The Apostle Peter invites us to see the moving of history as God sees it. Peter addressed two questions and concerns the people had about the Lord’s coming: Will this coming be worth the wait? And what should I be doing in the meantime now while I wait?

The people in Peter’s time were impatient. They saw time from a mere human perspective and needed a bigger understanding of God’s purposes. The fact of the matter is that God’s timing is different than ours. There are two words for “time” in the New Testament: chronos and kairos

Chronos is where we get our English word “chronological.” This is time measured by the clock and is the way much of our lives are governed. The other term for time, kairos, is seasonal time. Kairos is not determined by the clock but is event oriented. 

God is not time-oriented in the sense that we are, that is, God is not ruled and controlled by the clock. God is event-oriented, which is why the Lord’s understanding of time is that a thousand years are like a day, and a day like a thousand years. In other words, God measures time differently than most Westerners do. When the Bible says Christ is coming soon, it means there are no events left in the course of history except the Day of the Lord, the return of Jesus, to judge the living and the dead.

I admit I am a clock-oriented guy. I also confess that my wife and girls are not. They are much more event oriented than me, so I suppose when it comes to time, they are the godly ones. After all, the seasons will continue to come and go but a clock will eventually die, that is, when its time is up.

I cannot begin to count how many hours of my life have been spent waiting on my wife and girls. I used to get frustrated and impatient because I thought they should be clock-oriented, like me. Yet, over the years, I have learned to accept this reality. Now I take the time of waiting and read. I have read a lot of books over the years through my waiting. I used to want to time travel because of wasted time, but that is all in the past now.

A clock-oriented guy like me needs to grasp that God has all the time in the world. God serves no clock. Clocks are merely playthings for the Lord. When God wants a hot time, he just puts a clock in the oven. I, however, tend to get antsy, impatient, and frustrated, believing that God must operate on my time schedule. However, what looks like divine tardiness to me is really something else.

God seems slow in keeping divine promises. But the truth is, the Lord takes all the time in the world because of divine mercy. While I am beating my chest trying to get everyone on my time deadlines, God beats up the clock, just to kill time.

In the face of so much that is not right with the world, we might wonder why God is not just stepping in and taking care of all the evil and unjust situations on this earth. What we view as a lack of mercy is, in fact, sheer grace on God’s part – patiently waiting for all kinds of people to confess their guilt and shame and come to Jesus. God is waiting for that lost soul to make their way to forgiveness. You cannot bear your secrets with a clock around because time will tell.

Whereas I tend to think I am waiting on God, God is waiting for me, too. What should I be doing in the meantime while I wait? We ought to be living holy and godly lives as we look forward to Christ’s coming and speed its coming. Yes, God is the One who is waiting on us. Do you know the time of the Second Coming? No, me neither; we have not met yet.

The holiness and peace of God’s people will influence the timing of the Christ’s return. When God upends our current situations, it is time to get a new set of circumstances. In other words, since God is an event-oriented God, the Lord has all the time in the world to wait on us to be the kind of people we need to be.

The fact that we are two-thousand years removed from the first Advent of Christ probably does not speak very well to the church in general. It will do no good to sit on our watches so that we can be on time. God is still waiting for a lot of folks to come to repentance, as well as the church to take up her mandate of making disciples.

God is gracious and does not bully us or strike us with lightning when we disobey. Rather, God is patient, wanting us to approach and receive mercy. The Lord is waiting for us to avail ourselves of divine help to live holy and godly lives. Holiness simply means to be separated from evil and attached to God. Godliness means to live a worshipful and spiritually disciplined life.  Our Lord’s patience means deliverance from all that disconnects us from Jesus so that we might rightly attach ourselves to Christ.

Robby Robins was an Air Force pilot during the first Iraq war. After his 300th mission, he was given permission to immediately pull his crew together and fly his plane home. They flew across the ocean to Massachusetts and then had a long drive to western Pennsylvania. They drove all night, and when his buddies dropped him off at his driveway just after sun-up, there was a big banner across the garage—”Welcome Home!”  How did his wife know? No one had called her, and the crew themselves had not expected to leave so quickly.

Robins relates, “When I walked into the house, my wife came running down the hall—she looked terrific—hair fixed, make-up on, and a crisp yellow dress. ‘How did you know?’ I asked.  ‘I didn’t,’ she answered through tears of joy. ‘Once I knew the war was over, I knew you’d be home one of these days. I knew you would try to surprise me, so I was ready every day.'”

In the history of redemption, the war has been won. There is only one event left on God’s calendar: The return of Jesus. When a clock stops ticking, it just hangs around. That is not what the Lord wants. Throwing the watch across the room will not make time fly; Jesus will come when he comes. Meanwhile, our focus is on living holy and godly lives as we wait….

Even so, come Lord Jesus.