Deborah & Jael: Judges 4-5, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Did you know that of the Forbes 100 most powerful women, 3 are supreme court justices (or judges), 9 are the heads of state (or the leaders of their countries), and 4 of them are first ladies (known because they are wives)? Of these 16 powerful women, 8 of them tell us that they are mothers too. We see in our modern world that women have been honored for their gifts and talents and have grown into roles of power and influence.

Last week, we talked about the one of the most helpless of women, Hagar, a slave in a foreign land, who is taken as a 2nd wife to Abram just to produce an heir. In contrast, tonight, we get to talk about two women who were on the opposite spectrum. Deborah was among the powerful elite of Israel during the time of the judges, and Jael proved her valor through a courageous act. We’ll see that even in the ancient world of the Bible, there were women honored for their gifts and talents and who had roles of power and influence in God’s kingdom. We meet Deborah and Jael in Judges 4 and 5.

Deborah was known for her wisdom and discernment in deciding disputes between the Israelites. She was a prophetess, receiving direct words of revelation from God. She was a leader of the entire Israelite nation. Like we saw with Mary 2 weeks ago, she knew her primary role was to follow God, in all the aspects of her life. Like the 16 powerful women of today, Deborah, too, was a judge, a leader of her nation; she also was a wife and a mother.

Jael also stepped into her divinely appointed task at the right time. She, like Deborah, rose to the occasion and was able to deliver the people of God from their oppressors. Through their stories, we’ll see how God sends a redeemer. The Lord rescues his people from themselves by sending a judge to deliver them from the oppressive evil at work in their world.

Context of the Book of Judges in the Whole Bible

Before we jump in, I want to give us a little context on the book of Judges. I want us to see how it fits into God’s overall story of redemption in the Bible. We know that God’s story culminates in the NT with the sending of his own son, to rescue or redeem humanity. We know how the story ends, but sometimes we don’t know how to read and understand these OT stories. So we have to start by seeing them as a part of the larger whole.

The book of Judges comes early on in God’s story. It is after Israel’s time of slavery in Egypt and after God dramatically rescues them through the Red Sea from their oppressors (a story very similar to the one we have tonight). After wandering in the wilderness, they finally were able to enter the Promised Land.

This is where the book of Judges comes in. The Israelites are in the land, but they are still surrounded by their enemies. They don’t yet have a king, and they haven’t been sent Jesus Christ. We’ll see though, that because all of God’s story points forward to Christ, there will be ideas and themes in this story in Judges, that point us to Christ as the ultimate redeemer and leader of his people.

The Circle of Repentance in Judges 4-5
Open your Bibles to Judges 4 and 5. These two chapters tell the story of the only female judge in Israel’s history, really, the only female leader of the people of Israel. Chapter 4 tells the story in narrative form, and Chapter 5 retells the story as a song of praise, written in poetry, praising the Lord for his role in the story. The two chapters complement each other and give us a full picture of what happened during the time of Deborah. I am going to weave the two chapters together tonight where Ch. 5, the song, sheds light on Ch. 4, the narrative.

Stages 1-3: Evil, Oppression, Crying Out. Starting in verse 1, we read:

“After Ehud [the previous judge] died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help” (Judges 4:1-3).

We learn that the people of Israel had gotten themselves into this situation because of the evil that they had done, which would include serving the gods of the Canaanites (Judges 5:8). So the Canaanites, Jabin and his commander Sisera, had 900 iron chariots, and they cruelly oppressed the Israelites for 20 years. For 20 years, the people of Israel were abused and oppressed, beaten down both physically and emotionally by this Canaanite king.

The Circle of Repentance Defined
In the book of Judges, there is a common pattern that emerges in each of the stories. Over and over again in the book, we find a circle of repentance with 5 stages that the people go through. There are 5 stages and we see all of them play out in this story. The 5 stages of the circle of repentance in the book of Judges are:

  1. Israel does evil in the eyes of the Lord; they fall away from God, often beginning to serve the gods of the other people in their land (we see this in 4:1).
  2. They are oppressed. God sends others to oppress them for their disobedience and seeking their own ways (we see this in 4:2-3).
  3. They cry out to God for help. The oppression is too much for them to bear, so they turn back to God and cry out to him, usually in a last-ditch effort and act of desperation (it took them 20 years in this case) (we see this in 4:3).
  4. God raises up a deliverer for them: a judge. The judge is usually a military leader who saves the people (this will be the bulk of the story).
  5. The fifth and last stage is peace. God gives the people and the land peace and rest for the life of the judge (we won’t see this until the very last verse of the story in 5:31).

But, like I said, it’s a cycle, so it repeats. After a time of peace, the people forget the Lord again, do evil, are oppressed, cry out, then a new judge is raised up to deliver them and give peace, again.

Their Oppression

So after turning from God, the Israelites in this day were oppressed. We learn from the next chapter, Judges 5:6-8, what their oppression was like. Look in verse 6, we see that the roads were abandoned and travelers took to winding paths, out-of-the-way, because they were afraid. In verse 7, we see that village life had ceased-there was no social interaction-and inverse 8, that there was not a shield or spear among 40,000 in Israel. Not only were they afraid, and hiding out, but they had no means of protection either. They were completely weak and vulnerable and under the control of Jabin and his powerful chariots.

Stage 4: God Raises Up a Deliverer: Deborah

It’s at this point in the story that we meet Deborah. Look back at Ch. 4, verse 4, we read:

“Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading [or judging] Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm [tree] of Deborah…and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided” (Judges 4:4-5).

Deborah was both a prophetess and a judge or leader for the people. The only other judge in Scripture that was also a prophet was Samuel, who we studied last fall. What qualities do you think she would need to fill these roles (prophet, leader, judge, wife, mother- 5:7)? How about: wisdom, discernment, understand hearts of men and women and children, trust in God, balance of many roles, etc.

1. Deborah as Judge
We’re studying a judge in the book of Judges, but what was an ancient judge? Was it someone who held court with a gavel, like in our modern day? Well, there’s an aspect in which Deborah does do this as she settles disputes among the people, but the ancient judge was also a ruler, a rescuer, and deliverer for the people from their enemies. The role went well beyond settling cases of disagreement. What they do is a gift and calling from God; they delivered their people.

2. Deborah as Prophetess
In verse 6, we see God speaking through her, giving his plan of rescue for the Israelites. She sends for Barak, son of Abinoam, saying:

“The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands'” (Judges 4:6-7).

God reveals to her to summon Barak to lead the people out from under the oppressive hand of Jabin. But, we see in his response, a lack of faith in this word from God. In verse 8, he says, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Barak wavers. He hears the command of God, but he’s willing to disobey if Deborah doesn’t go with him. His response goes to show that there really wasn’t any male leadership in Israel at that time. Deborah replies in verse 9 that she will go with him, but because of the way he’s responded, she says,“the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.” A woman will be the one to deliver Israel and to give them the peace and rest.

Then verses 9-10 both tell us that “Deborah went with him.” What do you think Deborah would be feeling as she goes into battle with 10,000 men? Maybe: scared, afraid, or trusting in God? What would give her the emotional strength/faith to do this? Maybe the roles she’s already been called to, her past interactions with God, trust in her abilities, having received direct words from God (prophecy), wisdom in deciding disputes, trust God’s word is true…

Yes, so her strength would come from God. In Judges 5:2-3, she praises God, and says that the people willingly volunteered themselves to serve with God, then she sings to the Lord. In5:9, she says her heart is with Israel’s princes and willing volunteers. She gains strength from the people-her community-as well as God. Later we’ll see she has strength in God because she sees him at work in nature…and because she knows the Lord has gone out ahead of them (seeverses 4:14, 5:21, and 5:31).

3. Deborah as Commander of the Battle
Next, we move to the scene of the battle in Ch. 4, verses 12-16. Barak’s 10,000 men are to fight the 900 iron chariots of Sisera. While the numbers might seem to be in Israel’s favor, they are still severely outmatched. The riders of the iron chariots had been oppressing them for 20 years, you’ll remember. So, Barak goes, because Deborah is with him. And we see that she’s now taking on a military leadership role as well. In verse 14, we see she’s the one who commands the troops, giving the battle cry to “Go!” The Lord has revealed to her that today is the day they will defeat Sisera. The Lord says that he has gone out before them.While Deborah goes with the troops and with Barak, the Lord has gone out ahead of them.

So Barak’s men charge down the mountain toward Sisera and his chariots, and verse 15 says that “the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots.” Not Barak routed Sisera, but the Lord did. We learn that Sisera abandons his chariot and flees on foot; meanwhile all the other men were killed by the sword (verses 16-17).

4. The Lord as Deliverer
What has happened though, we don’t really get much more information here in Ch. 4? We do know that it’s the Lord’s battle and that he had a hand in it, but how could they beat the iron chariots and why would Sisera abandon his? Ch. 5 gives us more information about the way God wins this battle for them. So look at Ch. 5, the second ½ of verse 4, we see that “the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water. The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai, before the LORD, the God of Israel” (Judges 5:4b-5). God sends a storm. The ground would turn to mud, and iron chariots on wheels pulled behind horses aren’t going to get too far. The chariots would get stuck, and Sisera’s power would be rendered ineffective.

Ch. 5, verses 20-21 adds that “From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong!” says Deborah (Judges 5:20-21). So the rain and the swelling of the river swept away the power of Israel’s oppressors. The Lord routes the army by his mighty hand and his mighty power. The battle was not won by man, but by the Lord. God is the divine warrior who ultimately rescues his people, using the team of Deborah and Barak to help carry out his plan. (Verse 21 tells us that Deborah’s soul gains strength from seeing God working a natural miracle.)

5. Jael as God’s Instrument
But what’s happening with Sisera? Back to Ch. 4, verse 17-22, remember that he escapes; he flees from the battle as the only survivor. On his escape route, exhausted, he comes upon the tent of an ally.

Verse 17 tells us that he comes to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, who had friendly relations with the Canaanite king Jabin. But, verse 11 above tells us that he would be distantly related to the Israelites too, by marriage through Moses. So he would have loyalty to both sides.

In verses 18-21, we learn that Jael, lures Sisera into her tent, telling him not to be afraid. He accepts her hospitality. She covers him and offers him milk to drink, rather than the water he requests. She promises to divert anyone who comes looking for him, but as soon as he falls asleep, she carries out a different plan. She takes a tent peg and a hammer and drives it through his head, killing him instantly.

When Barak comes looking for him, Jael calls out to him, telling him in verse 22, “‘Come, I will show you the man you’re looking for.’ So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple-dead.” Jael has just killed a man. What are we to make of Jael’s actions? Is she a hero or a treacherous woman? What would do you think would drive her to do this?? Are we to follow her lead?

  • remember that the honor would go to a woman, it was already prophesied
  • this is in warfare
  • we should not follow her lead… (see below, “ancient warfare vs. modern”)

6. Jael’s Actions Blessed

Let’s look at what this story has to say about Jael’s actions. Ch. 5 sheds more light for us. Look at verse 24 with me:

“Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk. Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay. At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell-dead” (Judges 5:24-27).

Here Jael is called most blessed of women for her role in killing the commander of the oppressive army. She is the one who literally delivers the people in this story; she is God’s instrument. Back in Ch. 4, verse 23, the writer says that “On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king.” Jael, a woman and wife, a tent-dweller and foreigner, stepped into the role that God called her to. She was willing to save the people from their enemies and to rescue them when needed. She dealt the decisive blow that saved the people.

7. Ancient Warfare vs. Modern
But what about for us? Are we to follow her example in battle? Do you think that God wants us to be sure and kill our enemy if he ever is passing by our house? The NT would definitely tell us no, this is not God’s way now that he has sent Jesus. By the standards of ancient warfare, though, these two women were both heroes. But today, we don’t fight battles like they did in the OT. Now that we live in the NT times, our enemies are the spiritual forces of darkness.

Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Since Christ has come, the battle is different…He has already won, so instead of literal armor, we put on the spiritual armor of God. Yes, we will still see flesh and blood enemies, but we are not to fight them in the same way. We are to use our spiritual weapons and armor.

Stage 5: Peace
At the end of this story, Ch. 5 verse 31, we see the final stage in the circle of repentance, after Sisera died, “then the land had peace forty years.” The circle for this judge was complete. The cycle of Deborah as judge with Jael as her warrior ended with lasting peace for 40 years.

Christ as Ultimate Deliverer and Giver of Peace
Let’s begin to wrap up by looking at what would this story have meant for the original hearers? They would have seen that through Deborah and Jael’s courage and faith, the Lord rescues his people Israel from the trouble they got themselves into by doing evil in his sight. God sends a judge to redeem the people from their oppression and situation. But since it’s a circle of repentance, it happens over and over again; they needed a new judge, each time they got themselves into this circle. The point of this story in Judges is that God intervenes to send someone to help rescue Israel during times of oppression.

For us, we have to look not just at how the original hearers would have taken this story, but how we are to take it now that Christ has come. In the context of the whole Bible, we learn that God is the ultimate one who redeems his people, even as we saw in this story-it was God who routed the army. As we look forward to the NT, we see that Jesus is the redeemer, he is the leader, who finally and ultimately delivers his people from themselves. Deborah and Jael’s story, these two women, point us to Christ’s work. Outside of a saving relationship with Christ, we are weak and poor, oppressed by the spiritual forces of darkness; we are in need of God’s divine intervention. We need Christ as our savior, redeemer, and judge to fight the battles for us, because we have no hope of winning them on our own or of bringing lasting peace on our own. Only he can do it.

Application and Conclusion
What does this mean for you and me? Well, we no longer have to bear the oppressive weight of evil. We don’t have to wait for the redeemer, the deliverer, he’s already been sent. We don’t have to wait for God’s peace; it too has already been sent.

Now yes, we may still today see this same circle of repentance play out in our own lives; we are human after all… We need to be aware of it, but we also need to recognize that we are not left in it. We need to repent when we stray from God and come back to him. The more we grow in our Christian walk, the less we should enter into the depths of this cycle. What I mean is that we shouldn’t move so far out in disobedience that we don’t even acknowledge the Lord anymore. We need to learn to recognize that he has been there, right beside us, all along, and that he has already rescued us from our worst battle with sin and evil.

In conclusion, God’s promise is that he is the one who provides the victory and the one to accomplish it: his son. As women, we need to be willing to step into the roles he has called us and to use the gifts he has given us. We also need to learn to have strength in our faith in God and trust in him to deliver us, from whatever our situation may be.

Questions for Discussion and Application:

  • What is an area of your life right now where you feel trapped in the circle of repentance (disobey, feel oppressed, cry out, be delivered, then have peace)? How can you begin to move forward out of this?
  • How has God called you to step out as a woman to a role that might be uncomfortable for you? How do these women’s stories help us gain perspective on God in our own lives?
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Hagar: Genesis 16:1-16

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The second woman we are going to be looking at in our 6 week study on women in the Bible is a little more of an obscure character. Hagar in the Old Testament. So turn to Genesis 16 and let’s look at Hagar’s story.

Verse 1 introduces us to the characters in this story, it says…

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar”

Here’s the Cliff Notes version of who Sarai & Abram (who we will later know as Sarah & Abraham) are and where they are at in their lives. When Abram was 75 God called him on a journey and promised Abram that he would have offspring and that He was going to make him into a great nation. During this journey they encounter the Pharaoh of Egypt and to make a long story short, Pharaoh makes them very wealthy giving them “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.” (12:16) They finally settle in the land God said He would give to them. So in Chapter 16 this is where we find Abram and Sarai, he is 86 and she is like 76, and they are waiting for this child God is supposedly going to give them.

The other character we meet is Hagar, who we are going to be focusing on tonight. And here we learn that Hagar is Sarai’s “Egyptian Maidservant.” From these two words we actually learn a lot about Hagar. In Genesis 12:16 it told us that Abram received from Pharaoh livestock and servants as a sort of bribe. Hagar was most likely one of those servants who was given to him. Just knowing this we can really begin to paint a picture of what Hagar’s life was most likely like. Society treated her like a piece of property, equal to sheep, cattle, donkeys, and camels. Servant sounds ok, but in reality she was a slave. And in that culture as a woman she had even less value and worth. So think about what Hagar must have felt and how she must have viewed her life. She was torn from her family, her friends, and even from her culture and her country when Abram left Egypt with her as part of his newly acquired property. She had no choice in the matter, she is now a slave to a strange foreign couple being dragged away from everything she had ever known.

So those are our main characters, so now let’s set the stage, verse 2…

2 “so [Sarai] said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said”

 In verse 1 we learned that in their old age they are still childless, which is a problem since God had promised them off-spring and He told Abram it would be a blood child. So Sarai, in verse 2, does what just about every woman would do in a situation like this. She has given God plenty of time to do His part, but He hasn’t, so she analyzes the situation and concludes that even though God told Abram He would have manyy offspring, He has kept Sarai from having children, which must mean He wants her to have children in a different way so she needs to come up with plan B to help God carry out His plan.

And she decides that since she can’t have children, Abram will have them through her servant Hagar. Now what we need to understand here is that in their culture it was a common practice protected by the law to have children through a servant if you were barren. Verse 1 makes this clear when it says she was childless but she had a servant, what that means is that she had another option. And it says in verse 2 she would build her family through Hagar…so when this baby is born it would not be Hagar’s, it would be Sarai’s. Sounds like a good plan, and Abram agrees to it. (and I would love to spend a lot of time on why Abram is such a passive husband in this story, but it’s not our focus, maybe another time!)

So Sarai carries out her plan, look at verses 3-5

3 “So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.  4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.  5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

So Abram marries the servant Hagar, sleeps with her, and she gets pregnant. I think we can only begin to imagine how Hagar felt about all of this. Abram is 86 and Hagar is most likely somewhere between 14 and 30. How might this little arrangement affect Hagar? How do you think she is feeling? Put yourself in her shoes. What do you think that was like? She’s not married which means she is a virgin!! She may have been disgusted to have to have sex for the first time with an old man who is also a foreigner. Perhaps she feels hollow, like she is nothing but an object, a means to and end, without a say in the matter. The one thing she had was her own body, and now even that didn’t belong to her. She was robbed. Being a wife and mother was the highest calling on a woman’s life in that day and age. Just like you and I, she dreamt of that. Can you imagine all your dreams coming crashing down on you as you realize what your true fate is and that your fairy tale will actually never come true.  Perhaps at night she dreamt of the day a man would save her from her situation and give her purpose and meaning in life. But, instead she must live a nightmare. And we can bet she was hormonal! I know this sounds funny, but seriously, in those first few weeks your hormones go nuts. We got in the biggest fight of our marriage when we were two weeks pregnant only to find out several days later that I was pregnant and the hormones had played a big role in it. On top of all of this remember that she actually has no rights to that baby, if Sarai wants it as her own she can take it and even send Hagar away.

Now we can understand why it says in verse 4 that Hagar despised her mistress when she found out she was pregnant. In the dictionary it explains that to despise someone is much worse than to dislike them, “it suggests looking down on someone with great contempt and regarding the person as mean, petty, weak, or worthless.” The ESV even says here that “she looked with contempt” on Sarai. It was visible and full of hate.

Now for the irony of all ironies. In light of the contempt Sarai is receiving from Hagar in verse 5 she turns to Abram and blames him for everything. But we know, this was all her plan! Abram didn’t do anything to her, she did this to everyone else. Secondly, she completely fails to recognize her mistreatment of Hagar and only sees the “wrong [she is] suffering.” Even if what she forced Hagar to do was common and protected by the law, she doesn’t for a moment consider Hagar’s feelings and the situation she is now in.

But again, Abram passively bows out of this sticky situation and tells Sarai to do what “she thinks is best.” And evidently what she thinks is best is to mistreat Hagar right back. Which is also a natural human self-protective response. And in response, Hagar runs away.

Now the scene changes and the focus becomes solely Hagar, and we are introduced to a new character. Look at verses 7-8,

7   The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert…  8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.”

 What is the most amazing thing about what it says happened in verse 7? Well, first is that the angel of the Lord appeared. The Angel of the Lord is a messenger from God who represents God Himself and speaks the very words of God. So the Angel represents God’s presence. But what is truly amazing is that the angel of the Lord found Hagar! She was an Egyptian slave woman, she was not even of God’s people. She didn’t know God and didn’t believe in Him. But she had probably heard of YHWH since Abram had a relationship with God. And here we are told the Angel of the Lord comes to her. He finds her. She wasn’t seeking Him out or even praying to Him as far as we know. But God came to her in her darkest hour and revealed Himself to her.

And when He finds her He asks her about her situation. Where have you come from and where are you going? So basically, what happened Hagar and what are you planning on doing? By coming to Hagar and asking these questions God is treating Hagar as a human, an individual. He shows her that her life has purpose and meaning enough for God to take notice and show concern. Everything in the world has told Hagar she is worthless and that her life has no meaning, but God is showing her that He sees her very differently and that she does matter in His eyes. And in one sentence she gives her exasperated answer, she is running away from Sarai. That says it all.

Now if you were in a situation where you were being mistreated, even abused by your employer, and you prayed to God for help and guidance, what kind of answers would you expect to get from God? Maybe, I’ll protect you, you’re going to be ok, everything is going to work out. Or at least, run away and take care of yourself and your baby…I will judge and punish Sarai for what she has done. And He could have said, Go back to Abram and tell him what has happened and I will be sure he will protect and love you. But instead, God says what we would least expect and what seems most harmful to Hagar.

“Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”

He tells her to humble herself. To return to a harmful and horrible situation and to submit to a crazy woman. He never once tells her “Yes, Sarai is wrong and I will judge her for that.” Think about it, if she goes back and submits to Sarai it will look like Hagar is accepting responsibility and admitting fault! WHY would God tell Hagar to do something that is so obviously harmful and oppressive to her? Why wouldn’t God vindicate Hagar or at least free her from an unfair situation?

Our Limited Perspective

When we are in a situation that isn’t fun, that is oppressive, or is causing us sadness or pain, our natural instinct is to run. The way we see and understand the world we think that God would never want us to be in such difficult places, that He would want us to do whatever we can to be happy and live a peaceful life. But our vision is limited, temporary, and often worldly. And when we look at our lives through our limited perspective  we often fail to see God’s greater plan or even consider that God’s plan might include a difficult situation. So we justify running away.

But God’s perspective is not only bigger, it is eternal. And sometimes God’s will for our lives does include us submitting to difficult situations or hardships. Sometimes doing that is even required in order for God to do what He plans to do. And this is not an oppressive thing, it is always infused with God’s love for us and the knowledge that He will always care for us and be with us in those lowest and darkest of times.

When we view Hagar’s situation through those lenses, what might God’s plan have been for Hagar? What good could we possibly see in her returning to Abram and Sarai? Perhaps this was God’s protection over her and her child. She would certainly be safer in their home than out in the desert where she could be raped, robbed, and abused. She would have a safer and healthier pregnancy there than homeless. How would she feed and care for her child living on the streets? And what about breaking the law? By running away from her owners she was breaking the law. She may have been killed for it or even separated from her child once he was born. He would have most likely been sold in slavery as well.

As we think of these things you might be tempted to say “But we don’t know any of this for sure so why create false ideas? We can’t put words in God’s mouth.” Well, think of it this way – We do know that God always has a plan. As Romans 8:28 says, His plans always include not just His eternal purposes but also our good. The Psalms tell us that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. So truly, what the whole of Scripture tells us is that we can look for those things. We should consider what in God’s plans is for our good, for our protection, because He loves us, and so on. That is what it means to have an eternal perspective, it means not just seeing our life at face value, but seeing beyond it to God’s purposes and looking for meaning in all things good and bad. And even then, when we don’t see what good could come of something, submitting because we trust God and His care for us.

But God doesn’t just leave it at that, He does give her a little more to hold on to and to encourage her. He says in verses 10-12,

10  “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.

11                “…You are now with child

                        and you will have a son.

            You shall name him Ishmael,

                        for the LORD has heard of your misery.

12                He will be a wild donkey of a man;

                        his hand will be against everyone

                        and everyone’s hand against him,

            and he will live in hostility

                        toward all his brothers.”

Why would knowing these things be encouragement to Hagar? Why would it help her to return? It validates that He is God because He knows what no man could know. He knows her child, He knows it’s gender which in those days you couldn’t know til the child was born! When Michael and I first saw our baby at the sonogram we both immediately thought of Psalm 139 where it says that God knew us in the womb. I was amazed to think this child that I sometimes wonder if it’s still there or not, is known by God before I will ever even meet him/her. And God doesn’t just know each person before they are born, He knows what every day of their life will hold. And I guarantee as Hagar heard this she also realized that it meant God knew her in an intimate way as well! It shows that He isn’t just telling her to go back on principal but that it is part of a bigger plan. He’s helping her see beyond the dark hole she is in now. In a way God is telling her Ishmael is her son, not Sarai’s. That she will have many descendants. All that matters is how God sees it and that’s the validation she needed to hear. It is her body and the child in it is hers. He gives the child a name which will forever remind Hagar that God sees and hears her since Ishmael means “God hears.” She is not invisible or hidden. And by giving the child a name God helped Hagar to think of the child as a person, to make decisions for the best of that child, to care well for the child, and to know there is purpose in that life. The horrible way he was conceived is now validated and given purpose.

Now in the midst of this encouraging news God also gives her a little bit of bad news in verse 12, your son will be like a wild ass and he’ll clash with lots of people. But regardless of God telling her this she responds in verse 13 saying,

“You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

And I really think this reflects how this encounter with God has already matured Hagar and given her faith. Her focus is no longer herself and her sad situation, instead she is overwhelmed and encouraged to simply know that God sees her, that she matters, that He will be with her and has a purpose for her life….even if that means she will have more hardships to face. This is enough for her.

We live in a broken and fallen world and the reality is that even with God at our side we will face problems, sorrow, and hardships. But what Hagar learned that day was that knowing God is with us, sees us, and has purpose in all things, makes all the difference. A relationship with God meant more to her than having a perfect life, just like what we saw with Mary last week. And this is what an eternal perspective is, seeing past the temporary and worldly, to see the spiritual and eternal.

In her book, Lost Women of the Bible, Carolyn Custis James says that when Hagar realized this,

“[It] freed her to do the extraordinary – to love her neighbor, to put the interest of others ahead of herself…, and to reflect the image of God in her relationships.” (p.94)

It’s amazing to see the power of stepping away from our lives to regain perspective. Sometimes we get so buried under the complexities of our lives that we can no longer see the big picture and gain perspective. So we have to learn to retreat, to turn to God with those things, and to listen for His voice through His Spirit and His Word giving us encouragement and understanding of the harder things in our lives. I bet many of you are in need of that right now just as Hagar was…

So in verse 15 we read Hagar’s response to her encounter with God, to this retreat which helped her to gain a God-centered perspective on her life. She returned because the God who sees her commanded her to return. She did it knowing the outcome wasn’t going to be everything she had ever dreamed and hoped for. But that’s because it wasn’t the outcome that motivated her anymore, it was simple obedience to the God of creation, humbling herself to His greater plan.

Conclusion

Last week we talked about when we are living in unexpected situations in our lives and things in our lives look nothing like what we had thought. I think tonight’s story about Hagar builds beautifully on top of that. God’s command to us is to “Stay and submit to it.” and the encouragement we can take with us when we do is that God sees what we don’t see. That we are never alone in it. That He is with us. That He has purpose in the dark and lonely places you might find yourself in.

That simply knowing God sees us and loves us can motivate us to do things we never would have imagined doing on our own. And that if you know and trust that God is good and that He loves you, then that thought will bring you hope and joy not despair. Hagar was truly one of the first people in the Bible to see God in a personal way and it changed everything about how she lived and viewed her life. And that is what you and I can learn from the life of a woman who in the world’s eyes was worthless – but whose legacy has lived on to teach women like us thousands of years later some of the most important lessons of our lives….how would Hagar have ever known that that was one of the purposes of such a hardship in her life?

Questions for discussion & application

●       What is an area (or areas!) of your life right now that you feel buried in and are in need of some perspective?

●       What lessons from Hagar’s encounter with God can you apply to those areas of your own life to help you gain perspective?

What are some ways we can “retreat” to gain perspective?

Mary the Mother of Jesus, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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What happens when our lives don’t turn out as we expect?  Take for instance, Elizabeth Edwards.  Elizabeth was the wife of failed presidential candidate John Edwards.  They met in law school, married, and had two beautiful children.  They were living the American Dream.  They had the perfect life.  But suddenly one day her life took a turn for the unexpected.  Her 16-year-old son was killed in a car accident.  After a period of grief, they had two more children. And she was already 52 years old at this time.  They moved to DC since John had been elected senator, and he soon set his sights on being President.  During his campaign, there were allegations that he was having an affair with a staffer, which he strongly denied.  But soon, he was exposed, found out.  He had been having an affair and even had a child with this other woman.  Elizabeth separated from her husband and later contracted cancer, and died.  Her story is sad, really sad.  I don’t intend to minimize her suffering in any way.  But I can guarantee you that her life didn’t turned out how she expected…

What happens when our lives don’t turn out as we expect?  Where do we turn?  Who do we turn to?  I honestly don’t know who Elizabeth Edwards turned to, but tonight we’re going to study another woman whose life also didn’t turn out how she expected.  But we do know where this woman went; we know who she turned to.  Tonight we get to study, Mary, the mother of Jesus.

How We Can Relate to Mary, the Mother of Jesus?

The first woman we get to focus on is Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Mary is a woman that you and I can relate to, even though it might not be completely obvious at first.  You might be thinking: what do I have to do with the mother of God?  I’m pretty certain I’m not going to have a virgin birth to the Savior of the world, or be visited by angels.  Nobody is going to write a Christmas pageant starring me, but Mary, like us, lived a life that was unexpected.  Mary’s life didn’t turn out like she would have dreamed it would as a young woman.  She didn’t have the perfect life, in fact, it was far from it.  Most likely she would have been shunned and an outcast in her culture, everywhere except in the close community of Jesus’ followers.

Our lives often turn out way different than we expect as well. What are some ways that our lives don’t turn out as we expect?  What expectations do you feel there are put upon you? I know most of us grew up thinking that we need to get married by a certain age, have a certain number of children, and stay at home to take care of them, or at least while the children are young.  But we know that this isn’t reality for most of us.  A lot of you are like I was, young and searching, searching for meaning in life, a job I enjoyed, a man who would love me, so we could have the “perfect” life.  The reality is that many of you are still single and maybe “getting older” by the world’s standards, some of you are in hard marriages or have even experienceddivorce.  If you’re still really young, you’ve probably experienced a broken heart at least once. Others of you may be finding out that this career you’re in isn’t all that satisfying and you long for something more. Probably none of us expected our lives to look like what they currently look like.  Most of our lives have already or will turn out to look a lot different from what we expected.  The same was true for Mary.  Let’s look at her story.

Mary’s Story- Unexpected Changes

Turn in your Bibles to Luke 1 ~ Mary’s story starts in Luke Ch. 1, verse 26.  Right off, we learn that Mary was a virgin and she was pledged to be married to Joseph; these are two important social customs.  First, virginity was super-important in this culture.  There are actually OT laws that say: if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, then she was to be stoned to death by the men of the city.  So there’s a lot at stake in a woman being a virgin on her wedding night.  When the angel visits Mary, she is a virgin, she’s not yet married; the author Luke makes sure we understand it.  He repeats it in verses 27 and 28, and later in verse 34.  It’s a very important fact, especially if he’s going to mention it three times.  It’s important because it emphasizes the work of forming Jesus in Mary’s womb is the act of God alone but it also emphasized that Jesus really was human, he was born from a woman in the natural way that children are born. So he’s really human.  The second social custom we’re talking about is being pledged to be married was a legal contract, just like marriage.  The only way to get out of this pledge, or betrothal, was to file for a divorce.  It was different from our modern engagements, which we can back out of, if need be.

When the angel appears to her, she is terrified and wonders: why in the world is this heavenly being standing here talking to me.  If this were me, I would probably think, “Oh no, what have I done?”  In verse 30, though, we see that the angel tells her not to be afraid and he says her name.  “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” He goes on to tell her inverse 31“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” 

 Then the angel tells her a little bit about whom this son will be.  Verse 32“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Mary responds to the angel in verse 34“How will this be…since I am a virgin?”  At this moment, life is turning upside down for Mary, she’s not going to get to live the life she expected, and she knows it.  I mean, there’s an angel standing there talking to her.  Mary’s reputation, her dreams, the respect of her community is going out the window. No one is going to believe her story.  Wouldn’t this be the perfect cover-up for getting pregnant before marriage…? “I promise…an angel visited me…” But this is only the beginning; Mary’s life is heading for much more unexpectedness.

In verse 37, the angel says this is all going to happen, because “nothing is impossible with God.”  Mary trusts in the Lord then, and accepts what is to happen.  She could have questioned him, but she didn’t.  She said, “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.” She’s basically saying, “Ok, I’ll do it.”  Mary’s world is about to turn upside down, but she trusts God’s goodness and plan, and is willing to be used by him.  She’s willing to serve God in what he’s called her.  She’s not, like you or I might, trying to make excuses, back out, procrastinate, stall, or ignore.  But, she accepts and moves forward.

 Birth of Jesus

The birth story continues, but now Jesus is the main focus.  This is the Christmas story.  Mary, fully pregnant, has no access to a clean room or midwife to give birth.  She gives birth in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn.  This is not an ordinary son that Mary has given birth to.  She knows it.  She knows that her life will be nothing like what she might have expected prior to that first visit by the angel.

There are a few other stories including Mary that I want us to look at tonight.  We can’t look in depth at all of the stories that the Bible says of her (she’s mentioned at least in 8 different places). I want us to notice how Jesus, her son—who she knows is God—continues to upturn her expectations for her life.  And he does this for us too, in our own lives…Let’s look at 2 incidents.

 1.  Mark 3:31-35

In this story, Jesus is now a grown man.  He has been teaching in a house, and people are beginning to oppose him.  They are saying he’s possessed by an evil spirit, Beelzebub, or Satan.  Look with me starting in verse 20 for a little context.  It says, “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”  So Mary, along with Jesus’ other brothers, heard he was not eating, they thought he was crazy, and went “to take charge of him.”

So in verse 31, they arrive at the house and send someone in to tell Jesus that they are there. They’re definitely trying to pull rank here, hoping to get through the crowd because of their relationship to him.  They’re trying to use their backstage passes, with its perks and privileges, to gain access to Jesus.  They want the VIP treatment.  When Jesus is told that they are outside looking for him, he turns the situation into a teaching opportunity, like he often does.  In verse 33 he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then looking and pointing to the people sitting inside around him, he says “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”  Jesus is telling the people that there is no special treatment in his kingdom.  There are no VIP, backstage passes.  No one is better than another.  In fact, so long as you do God’s will, you are his family.  Jesus is pointing all of them, Mary and his brothers, and us, to the truth of his ministry and the truth of his calling and telling them what his kingship looks like.  We all have access to Jesus.

In saying this, Jesus challenges Mary’s expectations.  Not only that, but he’s challenging her identity as well.  Carolyn Custis James, who will be at PCPC next Thursday, has this to say.  She says that she felt her biblical calling was to be a wife and mother.  And because of this, she felt lost when she was single (James, Lost Women of the Bible, 177).  What Carolyn saw is that in this story, Jesus calls Mary to see that her primary role is not as mother, but as a follower of Christ.  Jesus calls each of us to see that following him is what ultimately matters and must be foremost in our lives.  Our true identity is to be a follower of Christ, in all we do and in all our situations in life.

2.  Luke 11:27-28

This exchange also comes after the same story, where Jesus is accused of being possessed by the demon Beelzebub.  As a little background, in the ancient culture, being a mother was really the highest achievement a woman could hope to attain.  The more sons the better and the greater the sons were, the greater the honor would be to a woman.

Well, in this story, after Jesus is teaching them, a woman calls out in verse 27, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”  Jesus, though, in true form, challenges the expectations that a woman should be known by the work of her son.  He says in verse 28, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”  Again, Jesus challenges their expectations and assumptions about Mary’s role as mother, about her identity.  He says that it is better to hear the word of God and to obey it: to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and to follow him. Carolyn Custis James again says,

“Jesus zeroed in on two sacred institutions for women—motherhood and family—and redefined them both.  According to Jesus, a woman’s life is truly blessed not when she becomes a mother, but when she hears and obeys his Word.  The crowning glory for a woman (as for a man) is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  This is a woman’s true identity and the only path to blessedness.  To base our identity on anything else is to stand on shaky ground,” (James, Lost Women of the Bible, 177).

So Mary’s expectations about her life and family have turned out much different than she would have thought.  Her life didn’t look like a normal person’s life and then, even in having such a unique and amazing son, her expectation of what it meant to be his mother is also challenged.

Unexpected Ending to Mary’s Story

Now we come to the unexpected ending of Mary’s story. Remember that the angel in Luke 1told her that her son would reign on David’s throne and that his kingdom would never end. Well for everyone, what would happen to Jesus was unexpected, to everyone except Christ. Even his disciples did not expect that he would be crucified.  Jesus told them time and time again that he was going to suffer and die and be raised again, but they didn’t expect it, not until they saw him crucified, hanging on a cross, dying the death of a criminal.  The people, they were expecting a great military leader, someone who would fight to the death, but would triumph and overthrow the Roman government and give Israel back her land.  But Jesus’ death was not what anyone at that time really expected to happen.  His story looked different than what they thought.  It certainly looked different from what Mary had every right to expect of her son.  One minute she’s called blessed among women, and the next her son is traded out for the most notorious criminal, Barrabas, to be crucified.  What shame this would bring on her as a mother.

This week, right now, is Holy Week.  Christians all over the world are remembering the final week of Christ’s life before his death and the lead-up to his crucifixion on Good Friday, which is this Friday.  As we remember this time in Jesus’ life, you and I get to see from the perspective of Mary, Jesus’ mother, as well.  We get to see her part in Christ’s story and how Christ kept pointing her to his greater purpose, to what his kingdom really meant, what it meant to truly be a follower of Christ: to follow him to the cross.  He pointed her beyond her role as mother to him.

Mary was there on the day that Christ was crucified.  Imagine the agony of watching the brutality that her own son had to suffer and experience.  But even as he hung on the cross in excruciating pain, he saw her and spoke to her.  He told John to take care of her, that she was now John’s mother and John was her son.  Even in his death, Jesus took care of his own, his followers.  But, thankfully, Mary’s story doesn’t end at the cross any more than Jesus’ did.

Mary: A True Follower of Jesus

The last that is written of Mary is actually found in Acts 1:14.  Turn there.  After Jesus’ resurrection, after his 40 days on earth, the disciples gathered in the Upper Room to wait for the giving of the Holy Spirit, for the day of Pentecost, we see that Mary is there.  She’s waiting with them.  Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”  By this time, although nothing in her life turned out as she would have expected, Mary had learned what it meant to trust God.  She learned to embrace the truth and the plan that God had for her life.  She knew he cared for her and brought her through all of life’s unexpected turns.  She quit holding onto the things that she thought should be important and began to turn to the truth: to turn to Christ.  “Jesus’ word for Mary is the same as it is for women today: ‘Follow me.’ It is a way that is open to all of us.” Mary helps us find our true identity by being women who follow Jesus (James, Lost Women of the Bible, 180).

Application of Mary’s Story to Our Lives

I want to leave you with a few questions to think over, jot them down and ask yourself these questions during the week or later tonight.  Spend some time thinking about them.

  • How has your life turned out differently than you expected?
  • What were your expectations based on? (Your parents’ ideas? The culture’s definition of success or womanhood?)
  • How do Jesus’ words to Mary point you in a different direction?

Remember that Mary’s life didn’t look like what she would have expected or probably chosen for herself.  But through her son and her encounters with him and his teaching to her, she learned what it meant to really be a follower of Jesus and to have him be the basis of her identity.  She didn’t know how to do this automatically because she was his mother, but she had to learn from him, just like you and I do.  God wants us to have life and to have it fully. That’s why he sent Jesus to us.  So let Christ be the one to define your life, to give you meaning.  Let him be the one by whom you set your expectations by.  Pray that you would be able, through the Holy Spirit, to follow God’s will, to hear his word and to obey it, not because you have to, but because you trust your life to the one who overcame death to give you his own life, true life.  So, live into this life that Christ has given you.

Conclusion

When life doesn’t turn out as you expect, allow Jesus, even his words to Mary, to point you back to him as our risen Lord and Savior.  Jesus has lived the truly unexpected life, so that our lives don’t have to be unexpected, so long as we are following Christ to the cross.  We just have to look to his life to understand our own.

Questions for Application and Discussion:

  •      What did you expect your life would be like?  How have you seen the Lord at work in this?
  •      What does Jesus say is woman’s highest calling?  How would your life be different if you really believed this?

Revelation 21-22: New Heavens & New Earth, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Tonight, I want to start by reading a little bit to you from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  It’s the last book in the series and it’s called The Last Battle.  In it, Lewis tries to explain the difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia.  As you listen, think about your reading in Rev 21-22 of the New Heavens and Earth.  (This story is going to give us a picture of what that new earth is like).

“It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste.  Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this.  You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains.  And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass.  And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass.  And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different-deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.  The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that.  The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.  I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.” (Lewis,The Last Battle, 212-3)

Tonight we’re going to look at God’s glorious picture of the New Heavens and Earth. I want you to think back over our past few lessons, what are some things we’ve spoken of happening at the 2nd coming?

  • spoke about judgment: either you have believed in Christ as savior and been covered by his blood and his work on the cross at the judgment, or you stand based on your own works, which over and over the Bible tells us is not sufficient to win any favor with God: only trusting your life to him is.
  • God’s kingdom becoming kingdom on earth
  • peace

Great, these are all things that will happen at the 2nd coming.  The last picture we get from Revelation is this vision of Rev 21-22: the New Heavens and Earth. Get out your Bibles. We’re going to be flipping around, and I want you to look at and see the different passages we’re discussing. Open to Revelation 21…  We’re going to look in these chapters at 3 sections; we’re going to organize it into 3 parts: 1) A Preview of the New Heavens and Earth in Ch. 21:1-8, 2) A Description of the City in 21:9-22:5, and 3) A Final Call in 22:6-21.

Revelation 21:1-8: A Preview of the New Heavens and Earth

First, 21:1-8: A Preview.  The first 8 verses are a sort of bridge from last week’s talk, where Ashley went through the sections on the judgment of all people, either to eternal life or death in the lake of fire.  The verses we went through ended with the judgment and a focus on the negative side of God’s judgment: what happens to those who don’t believe.  (I know last week’s material was tough.  I know many of you left with a lot of questions about God and left feeling burdened.  But Ashley pointed us to the hope that we have in Christ as well.  ) These 8 verses show us the positive side of God’s judgment, what happens to those who do believe.  This is what’s in store for those who believe and are covered in the blood of Christ, who have washed their robes in his blood. These verses also give us a preview of what we’ll see in the rest of Chs. 21 and 22.  This vision is so beautiful and important.  Let’s look at some of it together.

Read Rev 21:1-5

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”   5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.””

What are some things that John sees?  What do we learn in this passage?

  • We learn about the New heaven and earth, New Jerusalem, bride, God dwelling with man, being their God
  • he will wipe away their tears, no more death or mourning or crying or pain!

I want to focus right now on two things in this section: the “old” order of things and the “new” order of things…

The “old” order of things

Verse 4 speaks of “the old order of things” passing away and verse 5 of God “making everything new.”  These verses tell of a start of something new, a new creation that will happen.  Turn to 2 Cor 5:17, Paul says here that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Interesting…Paul uses the exact language that John in Revelation has used.  Paul also says that “the old has passed away” (but Paul’s not talking about the 2nd coming, he’s speaking in the past tense in his own day).  He says the new has come.  The new has already broken into the current creation.

Why does he say we are a new creation if we’re in Christ?  Why does Paul say this?  Well, when we were baptized and believed, scripture tells us that we entered into Christ’s death and resurrection.  So if anyone is in Christ, you have entered into new creation.  We’ve entered into Christ’s triumph over death and the old “order” of things.

We, like Jesus, will receive resurrected bodies.  Our current bodies won’t be destroyed, like his wasn’t, but they will be transformed and immortal.  Jesus, in his resurrected body, ate, drank, was recognizable to his friends, had scars, but was also glorious beyond words.  Jesus’ resurrected body shows us what happens to the old order of things when they have been made new…  When God says he is making all things new, it doesn’t mean he is making them from scratch, but he’s taking what we see in the current, or old, order of things and making them glorious, transforming them.

Back in Revelation 21, verse 1, it says that “the first heaven and the first earth passed away.”  The heaven and earth we know of are part of the old order of things then.  Well, what does that mean for our current earth? What happens to the earth we live on?  Is it destroyed, is it burned up, where does it go?  Is it worth caring for how we treat the earth?

Read Romans 8:18-22:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.   22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

This passage, in verse 19, says that the creation waits in eager expectation.  So the creation is waiting for the 2nd coming.  Verse 21 says that at that time, the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage, and it will be brought into glorious freedom.

That doesn’t sound like the earth is going to be destroyed and burned up, does it?  Paul is saying that the earth too is waiting for redemption, like our bodies are.  So when Rev 21:1 says that “a new heaven and a new earth” come, we see not a death to the old, but a new creation.  A freedom from the effects of sin and the curse that the earth has been under since Adam first sinned.  It will be glorious, that is what the new heavens and earth will be, a redeemed and whole and perfect form of what we currently see around us, of all the beauty that we are able to see even now, but in much greater form.  So our bodies and our current earth will be made imperishable, they will be new creations.

The New Order of Things

So Revelation 21:1-5 gives us a glimpse of what new creation will look like.  There will be no more tears, no more death or crying or pain.  There will be new, resurrected bodies, and a new heaven and earth.  Remember the story I just read from C.S. Lewis, he described the new order by saying: “it’s like looking into that mirror, but seeing that things are in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time, they were somehow different-deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.” The opening section of Rev 21 gives us a picture of the new order of things.

So, is this vision of the new heavens and new earth, something that came along in the NT?  Have you even heard of this before?  Well, this is not a new story.  This isn’t something new that Jesus spoke when he came, actually, the new heavens and the new earth were prophesied about, long before Jesus ever came. Turn to Isaiah 65:17-20…  I want you to see the similarities between what the OT prophesied and what John saw.

17 “Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; 

Isaiah prophesies of this future peace, of the New Heavens and Earth, of a New Jerusalem that will be a joy and a delight to his people.  He goes on to say that they will dwell there, they will build houses that will be theirs forever, they will plant vineyards and eat the fruit, and no longer will they toil in vain. So back in Revelation 21, John sees a vision of this same New Heavens and Earth, this same New Jerusalem that Isaiah had prophesied about nearly 2500 years ago.

Revelation 21:9-22:5: A Description of the City

So, let’s turn to the 2nd section of our reading Chapter 21:9-22:5.  If the first 8 verses of the chapter gave us a preview of the New Heavens and Earth and the New Jerusalem, this next section gives us a description of them. The section from verses 9-14 describes the New Jerusalem.  Look in verse 9, an angel says to John, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the lamb.” Remember that in the past few weeks, we’ve talked about how the bride of Christ is the church.  In verse 10, the angel takes John up “in the Spirit to a mountain great and high” to show him the bride, and he sees a city coming down out of heaven from God.  The city is the bride, it is the church. In verse 11, it says the city shines “with the glory of God, and its brilliance is like that of a very precious jewel.”  In verses 12-14, we see the number 12 showing up again with the 12 tribes of Israel represented in the gates of the city and the 12 apostles in the foundation of the city.  The entire church of the OT and NT is represented and seen in this city.

Measurement 

In verses 15-17, John sees the angel measure the city.  The NIV translation keeps the original numbers, so that we can see their symbolic significance.  We see a multiple of the number 12 again.  The city is 12,000 stadia in length, and in width, and in height.  It’s a perfect cube.  But just to give you a visual of the size of what is described here, 12,000 stadia is equal to roughly 1,400 miles.  This is roughly the distance from here to Los Angeles.  So the length is described as the distance from Dallas to LA (this is a city), the width is the same length, and so is the height.  Well, when the World Trade Center was still standing, it was only one ¼ of a mile tall.  ¼ of a mile.  This city is 1400 miles high.  My point isn’t to tell you this will literally be the dimensions of the city, I don’t know, but these numbers are the same highly symbolic numbers we’ve seen over and over again the last few weeks.

Jewels 

Next, verses 18-21 speak of the beauty that this city and the bride are covered in.  She is covered in rare and precious jewels.  The bride is dressed for the final feast, decked in jewels for her husband, Christ (21:2).  There are twelve of them.  Twice in verses 18, then 21, we learn that the city and its streets are of pure gold, somehow as pure and transparent as glass.

No More Temple

Next, in verses 22-27, we see the fulfillment of two biblical themes.  The first theme is God dwelling among his people: verse 22 says there is no more need for a temple, because God is the temple.  God will dwell perfectly among his people.  In the OT, God had to be separate from his people because of his holiness and their/our unholiness.  In our broken condition, we weren’t given direct access to God, not until Jesus came.  Through the Holy Spirit, we gained that access to God.  He dwells in us now.  We have a foretaste of that access to God.

God is Light

The second biblical theme is carried out in verse 23-25, is that of God as light.  When Jesus came the first time, he said “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  We have a foretaste of it now, when we seek and follow God, he does enlighten us, “his word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto the way” (Ps 119:105).  In the new city, we will know this perfectly.  The sun and moon won’t be our sources of light, but God and the Lamb will be (see also Isa 60:19-20).  Verse 24tells us that the nations will walk by the light of God.  Like I saw a few weeks ago, our races and identities aren’t going to be wiped out.  We’re not going to all look the same in heaven.  Even here we see that the nations are visibly recognizable.

Verses 25-27 speak of the city’s security with no need for protection-the gates are open.Verse 27 says it’s a city that will only be inhabited by those whose names are written in the lamb’s book of life.  This is the future for the church: for Christ’s bride, and we have a foretaste of it now.

Creation/New creation motifs

As we move into Ch. 22, we continue getting a picture of what this future city will be.  The first 5 verses are meant to make us think of the Garden of Eden from Genesis 1-3.  In verse 1, the angel shows John “the river of the water of life…flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, down the middle of the great street of the city.”  In Gen 2:10 (through v. 14), there was a river that watered the entire garden.  But now, it’s called the river of life.  Ezekiel andJoel, OT prophets, spoke of the waters of life that God would give to his people (Ezek 47:12; Joel 3:18).  If you were here last fall, you heard Ashley teaching on John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well, who Jesus offers living water (John 4:10-14).  That living water, we learned in John 7 was the life that the Holy Spirit gives us (John 7:37-39).  So we see that we have a foretaste even now of new creation.  We have access to this river of life, through the Holy Spirit.

The waters of life, the Holy Spirit, give us rest when we’re weary.  When you feel pulled in many directions, whether from too much travel or being in a new city.  The living water from the Holy Spirit gives us peace and rest.  It nourishes our soul, especially when we feel distant from God… we must ask for his Holy Spirit to fill us even more, to give us the water of life.  God, through Christ, already offers us wholeness and restoration from our broken lives, even now.

Verse 2 recalls the tree of life, except now this tree super-abundant.  It’s on both sides of the river, it has 12 different types of fruit on it, and it bears fruit once a month.  And, notice that the garden is in the midst of the city.  Our lives are moving towards a city, not a return to the garden.  In verse 3, we see that the curse will be finally gone.  We won’t be exhausted from our work and have little to show for it.  We won’t feel like we have to prove ourselves to anyone.  There will still be work, but no more toil in work.  We know this because even Adam in the garden had work before the fall (he had to name the animals), but it was only after the fall that his work was hard and a burden.  This work won’t be anything like we can imagine, because it won’t be under the curse.  Work will be redeemed and transformed; it will be joyful and fulfilling.

Christ came and was crucified, died on the cross, to begin this work, to give us freedom from the effects of sin to show us what new creation is.  This is what the NT is about.  The new creation has begun and yet we see that there’s a radical transformation that’s still to come.

Already/Not-yet

So, now we’ve learned a lot more about the New Heavens and Earth, about the new city called Jerusalem that is coming to this restored and whole earth.

We’ve seen that it’s a future hope, one that is still to come, but I’ve spoken of it as a foretaste, as something present already.  We see glimpses of it in this earth already.  This is what people mean when they speak of “the already/not-yet.” We have a foretaste of new creation already, but not yet fully.

So, it’s not just a totally future hope.  God calls us now to be a part of his kingdom work, of bringing wholeness now to earth, living into the resurrection work Christ has begun.  We are called to live this way, but we don’t do it out of duty, but out of love and thankfulness that God wants to have us be a part of his work, part of his will here on earth.  We are motivated by what God has already started and what he’s done in our own lives.

How can you and I be a part of bringing God’s restoration right now in our own areas of life?

  • engaging the work of “shalom,” restoring God’s peace
  • in our relationships– apologizing and telling someone they hurt you instead of avoiding them
  • to the earth– our part in caring for it-recycling, paying attention to things that corrupt- being a part of change; social causes that have eternal significance

Remember that Christ’s resurrection is what began the change in the old order of things on earth!  Remember too, that Christ died to make this possible.  His death and resurrection are what motivates us.  Ultimately, he is the one who will accomplish it, but he graciously and lovingly invites us, calls us, to join him in his work.

Revelation 22:6-21: A Final Call

As we turn to the final section of these chapters, Ch. 22, verses 6-21, we see John, the angel and Christ all giving final exhortations, final encouragements for the church.   In verse 6, the angel testifies to the trustworthiness of these words, of these visions.  In verse 7, Christ reminds us that he is coming soon.  In verse 8, John testifies that he heard and saw all these things, and then in verse 9, he does the same funny thing that Ashley brought out last time inRev 19:10.  He’s so overwhelmed and taken aback by everything that’s been revealed to him that he falls down and worships the first thing he sees, the angel, who says “get up, don’t worship me, worship God.”  Verse 10 says: the time is near.

In verses 12-16Christ speaks again, reminding us of who he is, what he does and what we’ve already learned about him from the rest of the book of Revelation.  He is coming soon, he gives his reward, he’s the beginning and the end, and he clothes us in his blood, gives eternal life, and judges the actions of those who aren’t wearing the clothes he bought for us with his life. He is the one who sent his angel to give this testimony for the churches, for us.

Invitation

As the book ends in verses 17-21, we see even here an invitation to come to Christ (it’s kind of like the Bible’s last altar call).  Even in the last verses of the Bible, God is still reaching out to people saying come to me.  In verse 17, the Spirit and the bride, the church, say “Come!”  All you who are thirsty: come.  All who want to take the free gift of life: come.  God doesn’t want us to miss his call, to miss this free gift which he gives willingly and lovingly, at the cost of his life.

Verses 18-19 describe what will happen to anyone who changes the words of this book.  This may seem like a strange way to end, but it’s actually very similar to how the last book of the OT, Malachi, ends as well: with a blessing and a curse.

In verse 20, we hear Christ speaking again, saying these things are true. He says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Then we with John say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”  And verse 21 ends with a benediction, like other letters, saying “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, life on this earth matters.  It’s the beginning of a life that will continue without end-this life is the precursor of the life on the new earth.  When we follow Christ, and invite him into our lives, this has already begun; our lives have greater importance.  Our lives take on purpose and meaning.  We have purpose.

I want to close by reading to you from The Jesus Storybook Bible (by Sally Lloyd-Jones) about the end of Revelation:

“One day, John knew, Heaven would come down and mend God’s broken world and make it our true, perfect home once again.  And he knew, in some mysterious way that would be hard to explain, that everything was going to be more wonderful for once having been so sad. And he knew then that the ending of The Story was going to be so great, it would make all the sadness and tears and everything seem like just a shadow that is chased away by the morning sun. ‘I’m on my way,’ said Jesus.  ‘I’ll be there soon!’ John came to the end of his book.  But he didn’t write ‘The End.’ Because, of course, that’s how stories finish. (And this one’s not over yet.) So instead, he wrote: ‘Come quickly, Jesus!’ Which, perhaps, is really just another way of saying… To be continued…”


Questions for Application and Discussion:

  • How should the idea of new creation already being here, yet not being here fully, affect the way you live your life right now? How?
  • What are ways that you personally can be a part of God’s plan for this earth?

Revelation 12-20 Overview

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What I really want to do tonight is give a birds eye view of Revelation. We are not going into detail and interpreting every little thing, but instead we are trying to give an overall understanding of what Revelation is about and also an understanding of the structure and what it generally means. So it would be like seeing a play and then giving someone a 3 or 4 bullet pointed explanation of the jist of the plot based on what happened in each act without getting into every little detail. So let’s start by reviewing what we learned last week which is very important to understanding what we’ll talk about tonight.

  1. How to approach Revelation – As we seek to understand the strange content we find in this book of the Bible it is important to remember that Revelation is a picture book, not a puzzle. We are not suppose to approach it to decode some secret message, but instead to look at the visual imageries and allusions it gives us to understand the spiritual reality of the world we live in today and of what will come in the end. Revelation helps us to make sense of the things we see in our world today, it shows us that God and Christ are at the center of it all, and it points us to the second coming of Christ and the reality of eternity which those who believe in Christ will receive. What we read in Revelation is meant to encourage and nourish us as we live in a fallen world where evil and Satan are present and working, to help us to endure to the end because of the victory of God that is sure to come. Most of what is in Revelation is already in the New Testament but is present here in symbolic form. So to understand the message of Revelation is to have an eternal perspective on the things that happen in our lives today.
  1. What is the 2nd Coming – Another thing to remember, which this is all leading up to, is the Second Coming. The first coming of Christ was when He came to earth as a man and lived for 33ish years. So the second coming is when He will return to earth to gather believers. Matt 24:30-31 (also in Luke 17).

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

So when Jesus returns he will gather those who belong to Him and user in the renewal of the earth.

  1. The 7 cycles of judgment – Look at the Handout. The area between the lines are the 7 cycles of judgments. The bulk of the book of Revelation is a repeating pattern of judgments, most of them carried out in a cycle of 7, and the pattern repeats 7 times. The significance of the number 7 throughout the Bible is that it signifies something that is perfect and complete. As Keeley told us last week, we are not suppose to understand these cycles as occurring in chronological order, but instead as parallel, repeating the same themes of God’s judgment leading up to the Second Coming of Christ. If you remember some of the themes are destruction of the earth, of our resources, of commerce, of those who do not believe in Christ (the inhabitants of the earth), and so on…all as a part of God’s judgment on the wicked. But each cycle offers a unique vantage point on God’s judgment and the later cycles focus more on the most intense phases of conflict and on the 2nd Coming. Keeley gave us a good picture of this by telling us to think of them as each being stacked on top of the other. And another aspect of the pattern of these cycles that we learned last week is that in each cycle there is a sort of interlude, between the 6th and 7th cycle of the numbered cycles, in which the people of God are given a promise to comfort them and encouraged them to endure.

CH. 12-14 THE SEVEN SYMBOLIC HISTORIES & FIGURES

We are starting tonight with the 3rd cycle of 7’s. This cycle is distinct from the first 2 in that rather than a series of numbered “events” focused on the judgments of God, we are given 7 un-numbered figures/characters and their histories which depict spiritual warfare. So let’s walk through these, and I want you to look at the verses as we talk about them. Beginning in chapter 12, verses 1-6 begin with a brief opening scene which introduces us to the woman and the dragon. Then the following verses unfold the story/history of each.

  1. The Woman – The Woman’s story is told in verses 13-17, but she is described in 12:1 as being clothed with the sun. She represents God’s people, the church. And the characteristic of the church that is depicted is that of being a witness of God’s light. And we also see a picture of the Messiah being born out of the people of God.

 

  1. The Dragon – In verses 7-12 we read about the dragon. We are explicitly told in 12:9 that the dragon is Satan, who is the head of the evil spiritual forces in our world. His actions represent his nature to constantly oppose the plans and people of God. His seven heads represent the different ways in which Satan manifests his power. When he fails to destroy Christ, he takes out his wrath on the woman, the people of God, but God protects those who are His.

 

  1. The Beast – In Ch. 13 we are introduced to the beast (v.1-10) and in v.2 it says the beast’s power and authority comes from the dragon, satan. Most likely the beast is not a person, but represents political powers. Powers that might demand worship and persecute those who won’t worship them. Or it could be more subtle in it’s insistence to be looked at as the cure to all earthly problems and trials, in a sense like a messiah. The beast is Satan’s replacement of Christ, what people are to look to instead of Christ. So the Beast represents human institutions that are created to have power and authority over people and to meet our needs instead of Christ.

 

  1. The False Prophet – Starting in 13:11-18 we read that another beast comes who has authority on behalf of the first beast and who made the people worship the first beast. If the first beast is Satan’s replacement of Christ, who would the false prophet be? A replacement of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit leads believers to worship and know Christ, the false prophet leads non-believers to worship and know the beast. Just as God puts a seal on those who belong to Him, the false prophet marks those who follow the beast.

 

  1. The 144,000 – Again, we are given in 14:1-5 a description of God’s people but this time it is of the 144,000 who (v.4) “did not defile themselves with women, [but] kept themselves pure” So first the church is shown as those who witness to the truth, but now they are shown as those who have remained pure and separate from the way the world has become corrupted.

 

  1. 3 Angelic Messengers – In 14:6-11 we read that three angels come to offer three messages. Their role is to give a final warning that judgment is coming for those who have not repented. Not only will Babylon (who we will talk about in a little bit) fall, but those who don’t repent will face God’s wrath.

 

  1. The Son of Man – 14:14-20 provide us with the 7th figure, the Son of Man, Jesus. This is a vision of the Second Coming of Christ when Christ will come to harvest those who belong to him. We are also given a picture of God’s wrath on those who don’t belong to Him as grapes being trampled on in a winepress.

This clear picture is meant to give believers a strong picture that there are two sides to the spiritual battle that we live in. There is no gray. There are not “many ways” that lead to heaven, there is only one. In the end, we will be found to be on one side or the other. So part of having an eternal perspective is understanding the spiritual reality of the world we live in.

In 14:12-13 we read the interlude for this cycle. What encouragement is given to the saints? To endure patiently, to obey God’s commands, and to remain faithful to Christ. And then a reminder is given that those who die in the Lord are blessed, they will receive spiritual rest because of how they lived.

CH 15-16 THE SEVEN BOWLS OF GOD’S WRATH

Next we find another numbered cycle of 7 judgments. In chapters 15-16 we read of seven bowls of God’s wrath that are poured upon the earth bringing 7 plagues as judgment against evil-doers. The plagues are horrible and bring complete and final destruction upon the earth. They communicate to us again, that God’s judgment will come upon the earth and He will destroy evil and wickedness completely. And there are just a few interesting things here I want to point out:

16:5-7 In these verses the angel in charge of pouring out the bowl of wrath on the waters to turn them to blood, stops and proclaims….

“You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; 6 for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” 7 And I heard the altar respond: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”

“The altar responded”, what does that mean? Who was under the alter in Rev. 6:9? The “altar” refers to those who had been killed for their faith in Christ.

Just as we recognize God’s goodness, His love, His mercy as being good and right. We must also too recognize, like the angel here, that His justice  and judgments are good and right. As we talked about a couple weeks ago, we can’t just worship God because of ½ of who He is, we worship Him for the whole of who He is which includes what we read here. When we read of God’s wrath it should not cause us to question Him, but to stand in awe of Him.

16:15 Is the interlude, the encouragement for the saints. It says,

“Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.”

In light of these horrible plagues that will come upon the earth as a result of God’s wrath, the saints are encouraged to stay awake, to not become complacent or lukewarm, but to stay strong in their faith. Then they are told to keep their clothes on, which represents Christ, the truth, spirit, God’s Word, which covers over our sins so we will not be found to be naked and shamefully exposed. So in the  midst of this terrifying description of what God’s wrath on the earth, mankind, and evil will look like, believers are suppose to hold fast to their faith and be clothed with the righteousness of Christ, knowing His wrath will not be directed at them.

CH 17-19:10 BABYLON JUDGED & CHURCH VINDICATED

So now we turn to the 5th cycle of 7’s. And it begins when one of the angels holding one of the 7 bowls takes John to see the fate of “the great prostitute.” So look at chapter 17 and we’ll figure out who this is referring to.

Verses 1-6 describe for us who the “great prostitute” is. These verses tell us…

  • kings of the earth committed adultery with her
  • the inhabitants of the earth/non-believers got drunk on her adulteries
  • sits on a 7 headed scarlet beast – look at 13:1, this is the beast!
  • dressed in purple/scarlet, glittering gold, precious stones, pearls
  • held a golden cup full of abominable things & filth of her adulteries
  • Wore the title: Mystery, Babylon the Great, Mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.
  • She was drunk with the blood of the saints

So what would this mean she represents in our world today?

  • She represents the seductions of the world – worldliness, pleasure, sensuality, power, wealth, and so on.
  • She is the worship of anything other than Christ – idolatry & false religions or beliefs
  • And what does it tell us by describing her as riding the beast? That she is directly connected to the beast, has the same goals, and the same father: Satan.
  • She seduced the world to give her allegiance
  • Babylon represents everything apart from Christ which seduces us away from a life lived for Christ and according to God’s ways.

And, what we see next are 7 judgments against Babylon… 17:7-18:8 The judgment on Babylon begins with three messages/announcements

  1. Explains that war will be waged against he lamb but the lamb will overcome and Babylon will be destroyed. (17:7-18)
  2. Announces that Babylon has fallen. (18:1-3)
  3. Warns the saints to come out from Babylon to not take part in her sins or her fall. (18:4-8)

18:9-20 The judgment comes in the form of laments from those who were “friends” of Babylon, whose lives and lively hoods depended on her, who looked to her for their prosperity and well-being.

  1. The kings of the earth will be terrified and mourn over Babylon’s destruction (9-10)
  2. Merchants will weep and mourn over the loss of commerce and profit (11-17a)
  3. Sea Captains/Sailors will weep and mourn over the same and look longingly at the city burning (17b-19)

When Babylon falls their lives are ruined, their lives lose meaning, they are lost without her because they were dependent on her and had built their lives upon her foundation.

18:21-24 Then we read the 7th pronouncement against Babylon in 18:21-24. An angel announces the final destruction of Babylon and focuses on the finality of it, that it is irreversible and complete.

19:1-10 After the 7 proclamations of judgment against Babylon the vision is followed by a sound of celebration from heaven. As John looks upon this scene of utter destruction of Babylon, he hears rejoicing in heaven. In v. 1 it describes it as a roar of a great multitude shouting, in v.6 he says it was like the sound of rushing waters and loud peals of thunder. We could only imagine what it was like. But we can see what hearing this praise in heaven caused John to do in v.10, he fell to his knees and began worshipping the angel, which of course the angel stopped and told him to worship God!

How can we summarize the message of this 5th cycle? What is it’s unique vantage point? How is it different from the previous 4 cycles?

  • It shows clearly that those who live for worldly things are living for something that is from Satan and is not eternal. And when it is taken away they will be left with nothing, lost and confused.
  • As Christians we talk about this, but do we really believe that it will absolutely and definitely come to an end? That the destruction of worldly powers and institutions will be irreversible and complete?
  • For those whose lives were built on the foundation of Christ and the truth there really will be incredible rejoicing and celebration.
  • So when we are feeling left out from the things of the world because of our faith and the choices we make, this is where we should turn for encouragement knowing that what we live our lives for is eternal.

CH 19:11-21 THE FINAL BATTLE

Now the 6th and 7th cycles are different in structure than the first 5 and do not give us a “numbered” account of God’s judgment but instead focus on the final judgment. The 6th cycle which we find at the end of chapter 19 focuses primarily on the Second Coming of Christ and what happens immediately before and after it. And we are given a very vivid and tangible picture of the consummation of spiritual warfare and what it is about.

In the first half of this passage, verses 11-16, there is a detailed description of Christ. And each aspect of this description affirms His right and authority to judge the world and to conquer evil. When Jesus returns He will come to redeem those who are saved and renew the world, but part of that is the complete and final destruction of evil. So this passage focuses on that aspect of Jesus’ return before then turning to the redemption of His people and of the earth.

Then, in verses 17-21 we are given an image of what this destruction will be like… Verse 20 tells us that the beast and the false prophet will both be thrown alive into the lake of burning sulfur, which is hell. The lake of burning sulfur is always final and irreversible….so they are destroyed fully and finally when Christ returns. Then verse 21 says those who followed the beast and the false prophet, will be killed by the sword in the mouth of Christ, which is the Truth/God’s Word. Their death will come as a result of their rejection of Christ. And verses 17 & 21 tells us that the birds of the air will eat the dead remains of kings, generals, mighty men, and so on. And throughout the OT this is the picture of a dishonorable death. Jezebel and Ahab’s bodies were eaten by dogs as if they were animals themselves. This is the same, those people who lived for the things of this world and for themselves and were “honored” in this world will die in the most dishonorable way.

So this passages reminds us that Jesus will return, that He will conquer evil, and that those who have not put their faith in Him and who live for the things of this world will be judged by His Word and face eternal death because of it.

CH 20: REIGN OF THE SAINTS & THE LAST JUDGMENT

The final cycle is found in chapter 20 and it is going to focus on the destruction of Satan and the judgment of mankind. If you remember from chapters 12-14 we were first introduced to the dragon/Satan, then the beast, then the false prophet, then in chapter 17 to the prostitute/Babylon. Each is in a way built upon the other. And their destruction has happened in the opposite order, leading us to the foundation of them all, Satan. If you look at chapter 20 we can basically divide it into two sections.

The Fate of Satan – 20:1-10

The first section deals with the fate of Satan. In verses 1-6 we learn that Satan is bound for 1000 years and during this period of time he is kept from deceiving the nations and those who have been martyred in Christ are resurrected and reign with Christ in heaven.

Again, we are not going to get into the little details for now, but what we need to do is understand overall what is going on here. The first week we presented to you the different views of the 1000 years called the Millennium. (handout on the dresser). So we know that there are many different takes on what this 1000 years refers to and if it chronologically will follow the Second Coming of Christ or not.

But if you follow the view that these cycles are not chronological but instead develop and unfold the principals and concepts of God’s judgment leading to the Second Coming and that these cycles are symbolic not literal – then we would believe that we are living in the time of Satan being bound now. While he is active and working on earth, because of the death & resurrection of Christ, his power is limited and the gospel of Christ is being spread and the kingdom is growing. The reign of Christ on earth began at the resurrection and continues in the hearts of all believers until the Second Coming of Christ.

Then verses 7-10 tell us Satan’s sure fate. He will gather his followers in all the nations to war against Christ, but Christ will destroy them all. And, satan will be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur where the prostitute, the false prophet, and the beast have all been thrown. So regardless of your view of the millennium the overall message here is the same. Satan will be fully and finally defeated.

The Fate of Non-Believers – 20:11-15

All of evil has been destroyed. But now each and every person will be judged “according to what they have done as recorded in the books” that are in heaven. And we are told in verse 15 that these books include the book of life which holds the names of those who belong to Christ. Chapter 21 will deal with the fate of believers but first we learn what is the fate of those who did not put their trust in Christ, of non-believers.

v.12 Gives us an image similar to that of a courtroom. Where every person stands before the judge and is held accountable for how they lived.

v.15 But what it says in verse 15 is really what seals the deal. For those whose names are not listed in the book of life, their sins are not covered over with the blood of Christ. And because their sins are not atoned for, and they are unable to atone for their sin, they too are thrown into the lake of fire. Verse 14 tells us this is the second death. The first death was physical, but this death is spiritual and final.

And again, the message we hear in this final cycle is that God has the greatest authority, that all He has said will happen will come to pass, that evil will be judged, He will conquer and destroy all evil, and all of mankind will be held to account and face an eternal fate. While the passage we ended on tonight is sort of a downer, for those who have put their faith in Christ it is meant to be an encouragement. When we stand before the throne, if our names are in the book of life, we will not face the second and final death. This is meant to give us hope and encouragement in our lives today no matter what we are facing so that we will stand fast and hold tight to our faith.

Questions for discussion & Application:

●       The beast, the false prophet, and Babylon all represent the things we are tempted to turn to and worship aside from Christ, the things that seduce the people of the world. What are some of those things in our world today and what do you struggle most with?

●       If the main message of the book of Revelation is to give us hope as believers, how can we apply what is in Revelation to the struggles and temptations that we face today? Try to offer an example of something you are struggling with right now.

Revelation 4-11 Overview, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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A 12-year-old girl read the book of Revelation for the first time. When she finished, a teacher her asked her if she understood it. She said, “I think so. It’s kind of like a fantasy, except I knew it was true.” Years later, when the teacher retold this story, an adult student came up to the same teacher and said “I felt like that 12-year-old girl. I remember reading it when I was around that age and thinking I understood it, but now I understand it less and less!” (adapted from Poythress, The Returning King).

As we dive into the visions, symbolism, and imagery of Revelation over the next three weeks, let’s try not to overanalyze the book, but to read it like a 12-year-old, and view it from an imaginative, creative point-of-view, where it reads like a fantasy, except we know it is true.

Apocalyptic Genre
Revelation reads like a fantasy because it is in the genre of “apocalypse.” Apocalypse isn’t a genre most of us are familiar with, like we might be with the gospels, or letters, or historical books of the Bible. But, knowing the genre helps us know how to read and interpret better the section of the Bible that we are dealing with.

So what does it mean that Revelation is in the genre of “apocalypse”? During the time between 200BC and AD400 (surrounding the time of Christ), there was a huge influx of writings in this genre. We know of at least 12 writings in this style, and in the Bible, there are examples in parts of books and more fully in the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation.

An “apocalypse” was a particular style of Jewish writing that had several key features. Apocalypses were known for revealing “secret things” of God, which are normally not accessible to humans; for speaking of a great catastrophic event that will establish God’s rule; for bizarre and wild symbols that tell us about historical movements or events; for visions of things in heaven; and for a concern about the end times. In John’s day, readers of this book would have recognized this type of genre and would not have thought it to be as wild and fantastical as we think it is. The use of complex symbolism was “in the air” during the time this book was written. Revelation is not presenting “new” ideas, but is repeating a lot of the themes and ideas found elsewhere in the NT, but in symbolic form. The visions given to John add color and expression to things that our minds couldn’t otherwise grasp.

As a reminder, Ashley and I are teaching from the perspective that is called amillennialism, which is the belief that we currently live in the end times where Christ reigns now over the earth from a throne in heaven (and not from a future throne on earth). Even within the “amillennial” perspective, there are still many ways of understanding the symbolism of Revelation.

For your reference, I want to give you an outline of what we’re going to cover tonight. We’re going to divide tonight’s (long) reading into 3 sections 1) Chs. 4-5: The Throne Room, 2) Chs. 6-8:1: The 7 Seals, then 3) Chs. 8:2 through the end of Ch. 11: The 7 Trumpets.

Revelation 4-5: God and Christ at the Center of the Throne Room
The first section of our outline is chapters 4-5: The focus of these chaptersis on the throne room of heaven with God and Christ at the center of it all, ruling from the throne. These chapters will be the anchor for the rest of the book… John’s vision starts with him being taken up “in Spirit” to the throne room. God’s place at the center will give spiritual security to his people(they can’t be harmed or lost spiritually)and it will give his people, us, confidence to live out our faith day to day.

Chapter 4
In Chapter 4, we see God is worthy as Creator. There’s an angelic court surrounding him. There are 24 elders, who are seen to represent the entire church from OT and NT times, 12 from each (the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles are sometimes suggested). There are 7 lamps shining which are the spirits of God (Rev 1 spoke of the 7-fold spirit of God). Then there are the 4 living creatures. In them, we can see a reflection of the things God has created on earth: a great and fierce lion, a strong ox, a majestic eagle, and a ruler in man. These animals show us meaning, but also humbly remind us that we can’t fully understand God right now. Another noteworthy part of this scene is the praise all the angelic beings are offering to God. He is holy, Almighty, God of the past/present/future; he is “worthy” “to receive glory and honor and power, for [he] created all things” (v. 11). There is a focus here on God as the Creator. The point of the book of Revelation is to show us God, not to tell us the future, but to show us God, who will bring all things to pass in his time and in his way (Poythress, The Returning King). Revelation is about God and his greatness. Keep this in mind as we journey through the rest of the book.

Chapter 5
In Chapter 5, we see that the slain lamb, Christ, also is worthy. As chapter 5 opens, we are introduced to a scroll held in God’s hand. Only Jesus, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” is able to open it. Only he has triumphed, says the elder, triumphed over death and the grave in his resurrection. He is the only access point we have to God and to understanding the things to be described in the scroll. Again, notice the praise that is offered to Christ in verses 9-10 and 12-13. “By his blood he purchased men for God.” In verse 13, he too receives “praise and honor and glory and power.”In this chapter, Christ also stands at the center with God the Father. God was praised for his act of creation and now for his act of redemption, which allows men and women access to God through Christ’s death.

Chapters 4-5 show us God the Father, the Son, even the Spirit, at the center of all things. God is on the throne, he is ruling now, he has power and might. Knowing God is at the center of all things gives us confidence.

Revelation 6-8:1: The 7 Seals
The second section of our outline is Chapters 6-8:1. As look into this section, I want to draw your attention to the structure we’re going to be seeing throughout the book. Be sure and hear what follows: it’s important for helping us conceptually understand what’s going on in the book.

Cycles of 7 
So, the structure that I want you to keep in mind as we read through Revelation is what we’ll call “The Cycles of 7.” The cycles provide an important literary device for helping us understand the book. You’ll notice that we have the 7 seals in this section of our outline then the 7 trumpets in the next.

What these “cycles of 7” are going to show us is different perspectives on the same group of events. Each cycle will recapitulate, or restate in a new form, the same events. We’re going to see the cycles lay out in the book of Revelation sequentially (one after the other), but they represent all the same events. (Imagine stacking them.) They explain and elaborate over and over again the same complex of events leading up to the 2nd coming. They are not listed in order that they will happen, as if Rev is meant to be a detailed, step-by-step guide to the end times.

(If you’re interested in going deeper, I highly recommend these two excellent books: Revelation by Michael Wilcock and The Returning King by Vern Poythress. Both these books are pretty easy to follow and have very accessible language.)

Illustration…

So to try and better understand the concept of what I mean by these cycles of 7 giving different perspectives on the same event, I want you to think of how we sometimes need many different sides of a story to understand all of its pieces…Maybe some friends went to a conference and you want to find out what the main speaker had to say. One friend will describe certain aspects of the talk and will leave others out. They will say what they got from it, but they won’t remember everything. If you ask another friend, you might see some overlap in what they say, but will also learn different parts of the same event. The more people you ask, the fuller picture you will get of what the speaker actually said. The difference here in Revelation is that the perspectives are all coming from one person, John, who is in the Spirit. John needs to receive these different perspectives of the same series of events to see a fuller picture of the whole, just as we need it.

The cycles of 7 are going to show us events that are happening now in our day (and in the past in John’s day), events that are still future, even events associated with the 2nd coming of Christ. In the gospels, Jesus tells us what the end times will be like in Matt 24 and its parallels (Mark 13, and Luke 21). We’ll use his depiction of things as a guiding control for the cycles of 7. The cycles will increase in intensity, the further we move through Revelation, the more intense they will be and the more they will tell us about the 2nd coming.

Chapter 6
With this “cycles of 7” structure in mind, we’re going to look in brief at the cycle that is the 7 seals on the scroll that Christ is to open. In Ch. 6 the first 6 seals are opened, then Ch. 7 will provide an interlude (or break from the action for a specific purpose), and verse 8:1 will describe the opening of the 7th seal. (This pattern will also repeat in the third section of our outline. We’ll encounter the first 6, have an interlude, and then see the 7th.)

In the first 4 seals, we see 4 riders coming to bring judgment on the earth. They bring 1) conquest of earthly warfare and fighting, 2) violent conflict and mass killing, 3) famine and great economic difficulty, and 4) death. In Jesus’ account in Matt 24:6-8, he says,

“6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.”

These events happen today, they have happened in the past, and they will happen in the future.

In the fifth seal, we see the cry of the martyrs or the suffering of God’s people. The lesson for us, is that we in the church are not immune from these physical disasters that are happening. We will suffer for our faith, and we may come to physical harm just because we live on this fallen earth. This passage applies to all believers who suffer for Christ’s sake and desire true justice to come on earth. Jesus said in Matt 24:9-11:
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.”
These events too are happening now, and happened in John’s day as we saw in the letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia (persecution) and Thytira (false teachers-Jezebel). We can expect them to continue in the future.

In the 6th seal, we see the events that will immediate precede the 2nd coming. The vision is of a great earthquake, the darkening of the sun and moon, and stars falling from the sky. Verses 16-17 say it is the “great day of the wrath” and it”has come.” Jesus in Matt 24:29-30 describes it, saying:

“29 “Immediately after the distress of those days [what’s occurred in the previous 5 seals]
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.”

So the 6th seal describes events immediately preceding the 2nd coming, and not necessarily things that are happening in the past and present.

How do these events/seals help us understand what’s going on right now in our world?
We can have confidence that it’s according to plan. Not be scared about what we hear. Know that God is with us in the midst of our suffering, and that these disasters will affect believers too, because we live in a fallen world.

Chapter 7
After the opening of the 6 seals, we expect to see the opening of the 7th seal, but we have to wait an entire chapter as we see what’s going on in Ch. 7, before it’s opened. Chapter 7 is an interlude in the action of opening the seals, and it is there for a specific purpose-to give comfort to Christians about their spiritual security in Christ in the midst of all these events.

Chapter 7 begins by saying he saw this after the first 6 seals, but it doesn’t say this happened after. We’re going to read this section as an interlude in the action, one that describes something in time that happens distinct from the cycles (the seals in this case). So what happens? The sealing of God’s people: his 144,000. Like the rest of numbers in Revelation, we’ll see it as symbolic. Ezekiel 9 speaks of God’s faithful receiving a mark on their forehead, and Eph 1:13 speaks of believers being”sealed with the Holy Spirit.” Believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit at the moment when they believe. We don’t need to wait to receive a distinctive mark on our foreheads; we’ve already been sealed when we first believed. From God’s perspective, we are all God’s people and part of Israel, the tribes listed; God knows and numbers his people.

In verses 9-17, John sees a great multitude of people. In verses 1-8, John hears the number of 144,000 who are sealed, and now he sees the people, it is a crowd so large that it cannot be counted. These two groups are meant to represent one in the same, they are the people of God, who God knows by number and yet John cannot count them, they are so large. They are both listed as God’s servants (v. 3, 15) and so the first group can’t be exclusively Jewish, as some believe. In seeing the crowd, it says in(v. 9) that John sees people from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne. God’s people come from every race, every nation, and every different language group.

What does this multi-cultural aspect of God’s people tell us about how we should live among people who are different from us?
Most of God’s people will not be like us. They will not speak our language, but they might live among us-especially as our cities become more multi-cultural; we have to love them for whom they are, including the color of their skin and the language they speak. God’s people, like our cities, are truly multi-cultural.

The purpose of Chapter 7, as an interlude, is meant to be a comfort and security to Christians. They have been sealed.Spiritually no harm can come to them, though physically, it says that there will be martyrs and we will suffer. Knowing we are eternally, spiritually secure, gives us the confidence to live out our faith day to day.

Chapter 8
In Ch. 8, verse 1, we come to the opening of the 7th seal, and it says “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour,” it says. The cycles of 7 all move to the 2nd coming, but here, it’s like “oh, that’s it…” But what we see here is a picture of silence and peace and completeness. Christ is not yet ready to reveal what the 2nd coming will be like, but we will see it as we continue to move through the book, and we’ll see it most fully in Rev 21-22, which we’ll study in 2 weeks. Now we just have an anticipation of the peace it will bring. And this finishes our first cycle of 7, our first perspective of history.

So far, we’ve seen in Section 1 (Chs. 4-5) andSection 2 of our outline(6-8:1) that knowing God is at the center of all things and his people are spiritually secure gives us confidence to live out our faith day to day.

Revelation 8:2-11:19- The 7 Trumpets
The third and final section of the outline, 8:2-the end of 11, presents another perspective or view on past, current, and future history. Another cycle of 7 begins, complete with an interlude, and moving toward a picture of the 2nd coming.

In chapter 8, we are now introduced to 7 angels holding 7 trumpets. Their message will be similar, but more intense than the message of the 7 seals. The first 4 trumpets affect 4 parts of the natural world They are not sequential events but aspects of history that are true at any time period. So, the first 4 trumpets strike 4 parts of creation: 1) the dry land (environment), 2) sea (commerce- shipping imp. in ancient world), 3) fresh water (our resources), and 4) sky (our vision). The instruments of destruction in this cycle of 7 are symbols of any kind of destruction which at any time damages the earth on which man lives. These cycles retell aspects of the same events, and they’re meant to remind us of the plagues of Egypt. Then in verse 13, an eagle comes to announce that the next 3 trumpets will be woes to the inhabitants of the earth, or nonbelievers.

Chapter 9
Chapter 9 begins with the 5th trumpet announcing a swarm of locusts that stays for 5 months torturing and tormenting nonbelievers (we know it’s nonbelievers, because verse 4 says they could only torment only those that did not have the seal of God on their foreheads). We do not need to imagine that real locusts looking just like this are to come to earth, but remember them as symbols. Let’s not ask the question “How does this happen?” but “Why does this happen?”

The 6th trumpet and 2nd woe is the last warning (in this cycle) for the inhabitants of the earth, bringing destruction. By the time of the 7th trumpet, it will be too late to repent. The armies here, like the rest of the images, are not to be taken literally. The point is that many nonbelievers will see death all around them, but they will still be unrepentant; they continue to not see God in the midst of their struggles, continued to not hear God’s voice. Verse 20-21 says, “they did not repent the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons…and idols…” These events foreshadow the 2nd coming when there will not be another opportunity to repent, this is why they are woes to nonbelievers. The answer to why this happens is that they are unrepentant. It’s are a wake-up call, meant to draw people to God’s mercy, but to show his justice as well.

How must we be careful in interpreting when bad events happen? How have you seen people in the church misusing them? People said that the earthquake in Haiti was God’s judgment on the country for allowing voodoo and false worship there for so many centuries. A lot of the time, what people are saying is going to have to do with their theology-the 4 millennial positions we talked about the first week in Rev 1. We also can’t just say that if something bad happens, then they were all unbelievers and it was God’s judgment-remember that the seals happened to believers too.

Chapter 10
Chapters 10-11 form another interlude in this “cycle of 7.” In chapter 10, an angel holding a little scroll appears. The angel announces in verse 6 that “there will be no more delay!” The 7th trumpet is coming and the mystery of God will be accomplished at the 2nd coming (the 7th trumpet). What is that mystery? Rom 16:25-27 says that it’s just the gospel, that Christ came to redeem men and women and to reconcile them to God (also Eph 3, 5; Col 1, 2, 4). So the gospel age, that mystery, will end with the 2nd coming.

Next, John is told to eat the scroll, one that tastes sweet going down, but that turns his stomach sour. After eating the scroll, he is told to prophesy. John’s prophesying is a model for the church’s witness to the world before the 2nd coming, we are to digest the words of God and speak them. The gospel is sweet in the ears of those God has drawn to him, but bitter and sour to those who do not want to hear what God has done and is doing in the world.

Chapter 11
In Chapter 11, the 2nd part of the interlude, John goes and measures the temple of God. We should not expect this to be a literal temple rebuilt on the old site in Jerusalem, like your tour guide will tell you, if you’ve ever been there. This is because Christ has told us already that we, his church, are the temple of God (Eph 2:19-22); he’s already been building it. This chapter describes, rather graphically, what happens to the two witnesses of God. Again, they are a symbol of the witness the church has. The two witnesses are called lamps, just as Christians are called lights in the world in Phil 2:15, witnessing to Christ. This interlude again reassures Christians that they have spiritual security in the midst of these tribulations and trials as they witness to their faith.

Finally, we come to the 7th trumpet in Ch. 11, verse 15. And now in this trumpet we get a beginning picture of what the 2ndcoming will look like. We see the last judgment occurring (v. 18), and God’s rule being established (vv. 15, 17). We see the opening of the temple and the viewing of the ark, which symbolizes God fully revealing his glory. This trumpet is the third woe for those who do not know Christ because there’s not more time for them, not more opportunity for repentance. God’s kingdom has fully become the kingdom of the world, just like we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It will be complete in his 2nd coming.

For now, we’ve finished looking at two cycles of 7 within Revelation. We know that God stands in the center of it all. We know that we are spiritually secure: we can’t be lost; God knows us and numbers us. This confidence and security are what move us to witness to who God is, to live out our faith.

Application and Conclusion
As we think application, I want to remind you of an illustration I gave a few weeks ago in our study of 1 Samuel. I spoke of people wanting to know the minimum they have to do to follow Christ and not fall off the symbolic ledge of the circle of faith/Christianity. I then said how we shouldn’t be looking backwards, but should be looking inwards to how we move toward the center, toward God. The vision of his throne room give us just that: a picture of what the center looks like, of what it is that we are meant to be moving towards: God and Christ, ruling this earth. We move closer to God’s glory and to understanding God’s death for us, so we can know his mercy and forgiveness better. This is a picture of what he looks like in the center.

How do we apply these lessons, this story, these symbols to our day to day life? How does knowing God is at the center of all things and his people are spiritually secure give us confidence to live out our faith in the day to day? This is the hard part, and I want us to talk about it in our small groups…I want you to work through it together.

The thought to take with you into your groups and into your week is: knowing that God is at the center of all things and his people are spiritually secure gives us confidence to live out our faith day to day.

Questions for Discussion and Application…

  • Does the vision of God at the center of the throne room help you view your life situation differently? How?
  • What keeps you from witnessing to your faith or living it out daily (this is more than just sharing the gospel with someone…)?

Revelation 2: Thyatira

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So we are in the book of Revelation and we have learned that it was given to John on the island of Patmos to “unveil” what is to come. It was given as a picture book not as a puzzle. So it wasn’t given to us to decode it like the Davinci Code, but more to give us a picture of what is to come. Jesus himself gave John the revelation to send to 7 churches in his day, and in chapters 2 and 3 we have been studying the letters Jesus had John write to accompany the revelation. Each letter follows the same structure (handout) and basically offers three things:

  1. Jesus tells them how they are doing, whether good or bad
  2. He urges them to either repent and change their ways, or stay faithful under persecution and struggles
  3. He gives them a promise for those who overcome what they are facing

Tonight we are going to look at one letter, the letter written to the church in Thyatira. So go ahead and turn to Revelation 2 starting in verse 18 and we are going to be studying this letter verse by verse tonight.

The Letter To Thyatira

In each letter, Jesus begins with a description of Himself, and we should all know by now that the description He chooses for each church is directly related to who they are and what they are facing. So to Thyatira He describes Himself as,

 “the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”

 If you look at the full description of Jesus by John in Revelation 1:14-15 the exact same description. Look at those verses…

“…his eyes were like blazing fire.  15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace…”

 And in the book of Daniel, which is also a book containing end times prophesy, it uses a similar description of Jesus, Daniel 10:6….

6 “… his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze…”

 Eyes Like Blazing Fire

The first description of Jesus’ eyes being like blazing fire might be a little easier to understand. If you look at little later in this letter, in verse 23, Jesus describes Himself to Thyatira as, “he who searches hearts and minds.” So Jesus’ eyes are different than ours, we can only see what is on the outside, but Jesus can see what is on the inside. What is in our hearts and what is in our minds. His eyes of blazing fire can see our true motives and the true state of our hearts.

Feet Like Burnished Bronze

The second description is of His feet. It says they are like burnished bronze. Burnished means highly polished, so they are shiny. And in Revelation 1 they are described as bronze glowing in the furnace. If we look at descriptions of the feet of God and what the represent in other passages in the Bible we find that they stand for God’s judgment. In Isaiah 63 we read a description of God judging those who did not look to Him as God – in this description those who do not trust in Him are grapes in a winepress, and God carries out His judgment and wrath on them by trampling on the grapes. It is a very sobering picture of the truth of God’s judgment and wrath. By reminding those in Thyatira of His bronze feet He is reminding them of His judgment that is sure to come to those who turn away from Him and walk in wickedness. He goes on from here to commend them for what they have done well.

19 “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.”

 This list is amazing, look at all they have done well in their church….

  • Deeds – they serve God in their actions and good deeds
  • Love – the opposite of Ephesus who had lost their first love, they have not lost their first love, instead their love for God and love for others is evident
  • Faith – they continue to have faith in God, trusting Him in their lives and looking to Him as God
  • Service – they are reaching out to those in need and serving the less fortunate
  • Perseverance – they are holding on to their faith even in the face of trials and hardships
  • Doing more than they did at first – this is probably the best compliment of all. They are growing! Imagine if Jesus said this to you how encouraging it would be – to know that you are making progress in your walk with Christ.

If someone came to you and gave you a review, like a year end review with your boss, on how you were doing as a Christian and this is how it began – you would probably not imagine that any flaw or weakness of yours could be all that big in light of how well you were doing. But that is not the case here, what Jesus says to them next is truly devastating. The harsh words He uses let’s us know it is no minor problem. He is basically going to tell them their faith is incomplete because of this one issue and it could destroy everything they have been doing well.

Look at verse 20. In this verse Jesus tells the church what He has against them. What have they done wrong? What is their problem?

“I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel…”

Their problem is first and foremost, not what has come because of Jezebel in their midst, but Jesus says what He holds against them is their toleration of her. Think about this. Let this sink in. Jesus is telling them that their greatest blindspot in their faith is toleration of another person’s sins in their church.

Let’s talk about this. How might this be shocking or offensive to someone in our culture today?

  • We live in a time when a person’s individual rights and freedom to live however they choose is emphasized
  • If someone is doing something that you don’t agree with you don’t have a “right” to impose your views or belief system on them.
  • And this view has even infiltrated the church. Many in the church today do not believe that anyone in the church has a right to call out someone for their sins. But clearly, Jesus is saying the opposite to the church here. Let’s keep reading as we unfold this…

Looking at verses 20-21, what do we learn about this person Jezebel? What has she done wrong?

  • She calls herself a “prophetess” – this means that whatever she is teaching to others in the church, she is claiming is from God, that it what she is teaching is truth.
  • Look at verse 24, it calls her teaching “Satan’s so-called deep secrets.” So in her teaching she is implying that there is more for us to know than what God has revealed to us. Like there is more to God’s truth.
  • By her teaching she is leading followers of Christ in the church into sexual immorality and idolatry – she is leading them into sin. (eating food sacrificed to idols was a form of idolatry)
  • In verse 21 we are told that she has been given time to repent but is unwilling. The literal translation simply says “she does not want to.”

Understanding what Jezebel has been doing that they have been tolerating helps us even more to understand why it was wrong for them to tolerate her. The Definition of “Tolerate” is “to allow and not interfere with the existence, occurrence, or practice of something that one does not necessarily like or agree with.”

 Our culture tells us toleration is a virtue. But as Christians we live by a different belief system, toleration is not just good, but at times it can be bad, very bad. So, first, when is toleration a good thing?

  • when it involves bearing with someone who is different than you in personality, background, interests, appearance, etc….
  • Basically, when it doesn’t involved false teaching or sin

 When is toleration a bad thing as a Christian?

Toleration for a Christian is bad when it means we are:

  • Unwilling to recognize sin as sin based on God’s truth
  • Indifferent towards sin and the way it destroys not only that person but also those around them.
  • Unwilling to deal with sin in another’s life and root it out as God’s Word commands us to do
  • When we only focus on the good and ignore/tolerate the bad in order to live at peace and be “P.C.”

God’s Word is very clear on what is sin and how we are to deal with sin. His Word even instructs us on what to do when someone in the church is living in sin and even leading others into sin. Never does God give us any reason to not deal with sin in the church or to tolerate it. So by allowing someone to teach something that does not line up with God’s Word and is even leading people in the church into sin, they are being disobedient to God’s commands to deal with sin and to discipline those in their church who are living in that way. The church in Ephesus, the first letter in Revelation 2:2, is commended for not tolerating sin in the church – Jesus said to them, “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.” But unfortunately this is the blindspot for the church in Thyatira, since they have tolerated wicked men, and sadly Jesus is telling them it could destroy everything they have.

Jezebel

Let’s talk a little about Jezebel. Across the board, scholars agree that Jesus here is not referring to an actual woman in the church in Thyatira named Jezebel. But that He is referencing the Jezebel of the Old Testament as a picture of what is going on in Thyatira. Everyone there would have been very familiar with Jezebel in the Old Testament and would take very seriously the accusation that they have tolerated a Jezebel-like person and her sins in their church.

Let me give you a picture of who Jezebel is in the Old Testament:

●       1 Kings 16:29-33 – We are introduced to her first in 1 Kings 16 where it tells us that the most wicked king who ever ruled over Israel, Ahab, married Jezebel. She was the daughter of a Baal worshipping, pagan king And she influenced Ahab to also worship Baal. So the king of God’s people is now leading the people of God into worshipping a false God all because of the influence of his wife, Jezebel.

●       1 Kings 18:4 – Then a couple chapters later we learn that Jezebel is not only now leading God’s people into worshipping a false God, but she is also having the prophets of God killed. Not good.

●       1 Kings 19:1-2 – In the midst of this we meet God’s prophet Elijah and he proves to all the people of Israel and all the worshipers of Baal that their god is false and YHWH is real. When Jezebel hears about this she is infuriated and sends a message to Elijah saying that she will have him killed within 24 hours.

●       1 Kings 21 – Then in chapter 21 we learn that after a man refuses to sell his property to King Ahab, Jezebel derives a plot to have the man killed and make it look like a freak event, so then the king can have the man’s land. Elijah announces God’s judgment on both Ahab & Jezebel, and while Ahab repents, Jezebel refuses to.

So Jezebel is a real classy lady. Her life is characterized by not just the worship of false gods, but also false teaching and leading others into sin and idolatry, murdering anyone who disagrees with her, and especially murdering anyone who stands for God’s truth. In 1 Kings 21:25 Elijah prophesies about Ahab and Jezebel and how they will die, and he makes it clear that the evil Ahab did was incited by Jezebel. So Jezebel is guilty of leading God’s people into sin through her seductive and deceptive ways, and being unrepentant of her actions. But, what we can’t fail to see is how God’s people responded. They didn’t fight her, but instead they tolerated her and allowed her to influence them which slowly turned them away from God and towards a false belief system with false gods.

Jezebel in Thyatira

So taking that understanding of Jezebel back to Revelation 2:20, we can assume that what’s going on in the church in Thyatira is that someone is teaching those in the church things that are contrary to God’s Word, but claiming that what they have to teach is truth. Remember verse 24, this person claims to know some deeper and secret truths about God and the world. Through her deceptive teaching she has misled other believers into somehow thinking it is ok to engage in some sort of sexual immorality and idolatry. And while this person appeared to be enlightened, to understand things that others didn’t, the truth was they probably didn’t truly know or worship God. And like the Israelites in 1 Kings, the people in this church tolerated and let it go on to the point that they began to believe what she was teaching and allow it to turn them away from God and to a different belief system.

Jesus’ Response

So what does Jesus say He is going to do about this woman who has misled believers in the church and about their toleration of it?

22 “So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely…. 23 I will strike her children dead. …and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”

  1. First, God will judge Jezebel for what she has done. In contrast to the bed where she found temporary sexual pleasure on earth, He says she will find a bed of suffering in eternity.
  2. Second, He will judge those who have followed her ways, who have joined in her spiritual adultery by turning from God and His truth. Remember the Bible often uses marriage as an illustration of our relationship with God, so when we turn away from Him to other beliefs and false gods it is likened to adultery.
  3. Third, He will strike her children dead. This is not referring to her actual children, but to her followers. Those who choose to follow her instead of God will also be judged as she is.

Jesus’ explanation of the judgment that is to come shows them the seriousness of sin and what has been going on in their church. If they can understand how serious sin is and even more the judgment that is sure to come because of it – then they will surely not tolerate or ignore it anymore. Yes, God is love, but we can’t just pick and choose what we want to focus on about God. The full picture of God includes his justice, His wrath, and His hatred and judgment of sin and evil. The culture around us is trying to tell us that toleration is love. But God’s Word shows us that what is truly loving is to intervene in the lives of those who are headed towards eternal judgment and speak truth and light into their lives. Why? Because there is hope…

Look at verse 22. What hope is offered to those who are living in sin and have been misled by false teaching?

“…unless they repent of her ways.”

If those who have listened to Jezebel and engaged in sexual immorality, or idol worship, repent – then they will not face eternal judgment. In the midst of this horrible revelation of the sin in their church, Jesus offers them hope, mercy, forgiveness.

And then in verses 26-28 He gives them not just hope, but an incentive and a vision of what will be theirs if they repent of their sins, hold on to God’s truth, overcome this major obstacle in their church, and do His will.

Authority

First, Jesus says he will…

26 “give [them] authority over the nations…27  just as [He has] received authority from [His] Father.”

One day the truth of God will be revealed to all and they will all know that all authority lies in the gospel. So those who follow God will share in God’s authority over the nations as they bear the truth. He quotes there this same promise found in Psalm 2:9 and says this promise will be fulfilled in the end. The truth of God will dash to pieces the lies of Satan in the end and those who held to them. The truth will be revealed.

Morning Star

Second, in verse 28 He tells them they will be given the morning star. Does anyone know what the morning star is literally? It is Venus, the last and brightest star in the night sky. It appears just before daybreak and is an indicator that the night is coming to an end and a new day is about to dawn. Who is our morning star figuratively? Who is our sign and hope that a new day is about to dawn? Jesus.

In Revelation 22:16 Jesus says,

“I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

 To those who overcome, who repent, who persevere and follow God. They will receive Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and the right to enter into eternity with God.

Are we like Thyatira?

Anytime we study the scriptures we need to ask ourselves how it applies or relates to us today. This is a hard passage to do that with. But last week was too. I talked to a few of the small group discussion leaders last week after Bible study and we all agreed it was a little like pulling teeth trying to think of ways we had been persecuted for our faith. And the very difficult and challenging thought I want to leave you with tonight is: Maybe that is because we are more like Thyatira than we think.

The belief system that infiltrated the Israelites and also infiltrated the church in Thyatira is very different from those we see today. Baal worship involved performing sexual acts in the temple with prostitutes as a form of worship and drawing near to the gods. They sacrificed food to idols and ate it as a sign of their faith. But today the false beliefs that infiltrate our church look very different.

Can anyone give an example of some beliefs in the world today, that are counter-Biblical, but have subtly infiltrated some churches today?(then answer for each how it affects the faith and lives of believers.)

●       All roads lead to God – keeps us from living out our faith publicly, sharing our faith with others, and challenging the beliefs of others. We say instead, you have your faith and I have mine. Or even worse, we believe it.

o      Eat Pray Love – this is the message in the book. If you read the book then you know that she claims Christianity as her faith of choice but also acknowledges that there are a lot of very valid options out there, just choose one.

o      My Aunt was married to a Methodist priest and after he died she told me that because of her travels around the world, spending time with people of different cultures and faiths, that she now “understood” that there wasn’t just one way to God.

●       Issues of Homosexuality – Christians who choose to believe that God made gay people that way and that it is ok in the eyes of God to live a gay lifestyle, completely ignore the many passages in the Bible that say the opposite. I know people who because of this issue have decided that the Bible has flaws and human errors. When we give an inch, it will always lead to much more.

When the non-Biblical world-view begins to infiltrate the church the result is a desire to blend with the world rather than stand-apart. It also results in us not sharing our faith with a lost and dying world….seeking to be P.C. and accepting of others’ more than desiring that they know truth and have eternal life. Do you see how so easily the faith systems of the world can infiltrate the church over time if we tolerate them, and how it leads us to decisions, beliefs, and actions that are the opposite of how God calls us to live.

The definition of compromise is “to weaken a principle by accepting standards that are lower than is desirable.” The question we really need to be asking ourselves after looking at this passage is: Have I allowed my faith to be weakened by accepting standards/beliefs that are not God’s? Look at Jesus’ encouragement to us as we face the challenge of not allowing the views of the world to infiltrate our faith in verse 25…

 25 “Only hold on to what you have until I come.”

Questions for Discussion & Application…

●       On a scale of 1 to 10, how seriously do you take sin in your life? (after everyone has answered) If you saw sin as God saw it how would that affect your life and behavior?

●       How do you see the views of the world today infiltrating YOUR Christian beliefs? (another way to say this is: How have you compromised your faith in order to blend in with the world around you?)