Day 356: Two Beasts

Micah 6-7Revelation 13

Two beasts…one affects nations and governments; the other deceives the church. Both beasts are given their authority by the dragon, by Satan himself.

The background for the first beast comes from Daniel 7.

The first beast resembles all four beasts that Daniel saw emerge from the sea before the Son of Man appeared (Dan. 7:1–8, 21). As those beasts symbolized kingdoms (Dan. 7:17, 23), so this beast, a composite of them all, represents every human empire—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and their successors—that demands absolute allegiance and trust, enforcing its demand with coercion (ESV Study Bible, Study notes re: Revelation 13:1-2, Crossway).

I believe the first beast is still active today…in obvious world leaders who brutally kill Christians as well as in the subtle influences of Humanism. The first beast is among us, but even more dangerous is the 2nd beast…

If the first beast lies behind secular powers who strive to overthrow all that is Christian, the second beast comes as a prophet drawing people towards worship.  In other words, this beast targets people within the church itself (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg 183).

Both beasts are disturbing parodies of Christ. The first beast’s “mortal wound which was healed” is a twisted echo of Christ’s resurrection (13:3, 12). And the 2nd beast looks like a lamb, but speaks falsehood (13:11, 14).

The beasts are the Satanic influences in our world. In light of such fierce opposition, John exhorts the church to endure (13:10).

We can endure because God has given us hope. Our hope is in the promises of God – that He will gather His children in the last days and usher us into His Kingdom forever. There, we will live in peace and perfect relationship with Him and one another. This is our hope. This is our future!

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old (Micah 7:18-20).

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 295: Life beyond the grave

Ecclesiastes 7-91 Thessalonians 4

Paul continues his letter to the Thessalonians by exhorting them to continue in their faith “more and more,” encouraging them in their sanctification. And then Paul turns to address a great concern of the young converts in Thessalonica.

Some of the new Christians had died, and not knowing what happened to a Christian at death, the people fell into a hopeless depression. They assumed that since they died before Jesus’ 2nd coming, they were lost, and missed the promised salvation.

Can you imagine how grieved these new Christians would have been without the hope of life after death?

The writer of Ecclesiastes (most likely Solomon) gives us insight into the hopelessness of life “under the sun,” as if there were no spiritual realm beyond this life – no eternal hope for which to live…

But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun (Ecclesiastes 9:4-6).

But Solomon also knows that divine revelation is more trustworthy than his limited perspective, so he writes,

Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13).

Yes, without God’s clear instruction on the eternal nature of life, every possible human conception leads to despair.

Solomon despaired because death was inevitable for both the righteous and the wicked.
The Thessalonians despaired because they believed death prevented the salvation of the righteous.

Paul gives us the truth about life after death… that those who have died before the 2nd coming of the Lord go ahead of those on earth to be with God (1 Thessalonians 4:14-15). And when Jesus comes again, all believers on earth will be “caught up together [with those who have died] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). So all believers both asleep and on earth will be “with the Lord.”

The details of this passage can be difficult to comprehend or imagine, but the heart of Paul’s words are clear. All believers will be with the Lord! Death has lost its sting. It no longer has any power over the believer. No longer are the days of our lives as “the wind,” meaningless or “vanity.”

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection give us hope beyond the grave!

Day 294: Our purpose

Ecclesiastes 4-61 Thessalonians 3

In the first half of Acts 17 we read of Paul’s visit to Thessalonica. He spent a relatively short time there, but long enough to preach the gospel effectively to see the beginnings of a small church. Paul’s presence angered the Jews, and they tried to capture Paul…

But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd (Acts 17:5).

The new Thessalonian converts helped Paul and Silas escape by nightfall to Berea which was 50 miles southwest of Thessalonica. But the persecution did not end after Paul and Silas left. The Thessalonians continued to endure hardship as a church, and Paul was anxious…worried they might fall away from the faith. So he sent Timothy to visit them (1 Thess. 3:5), and to Paul’s joy, Timothy reported back that they were steadfast in the faith (1 Thess. 3:6; 8).

What would enable these new converts to stay faithful amidst harsh affliction?

Christ. Christ’s love. Christ’s sacrifice. Christ’s promises. Christ, alone.

The writer of Ecclesiastes knew that life lived apart from the eternal purposes of God was meaningless. This world is fallen and to work for possessions that will only endure one’s lifetime is vanity. It lacks purpose.

The fact that the Sovereign and Righteous God has made a way for us to be in relationship with him now and throughout eternity gives our lives meaning in this fallen world. Each small pleasure is a gift of God, and therefore, more meaningful. Suffering can be endured because of our hope in an eternal home. We can take joy in the work of our hands because a job done for the Lord brings glory to him and makes an impact for eternity.

God’s love is our song and His word is our guide. In Him, we find our purpose!

Day 194: The new outweighs the old

Ezekiel 35:1 – 36:15; Acts 14

The mountains and land of Israel were judged back in Ezekiel 6 & 7. The people’s great sins brought judgment even on the precious promised land of God. In today’s reading, we find the restoration of the mountains and land of Israel in Ezekiel 36.

Ezekiel uses the technique of contrast to highlight the messages of restoration and hope. First, there is the obvious contrast between the judgment of the land in Chapters 6 & 7 with this message of restoration in Chapter 36. But Ezekiel also contrasts the mountains of Israel with Mount Seir in Edom. He introduces his message of restoration with a harsh judgment oracle found in Chapter 35.

The effect is striking. God will restore the mountains and the land in such a way that they will be better than their old counterparts. The new outweighs the old. This is the way of God!

This judgment of the land is not only symbolic. It emphasizes the importance of the land as one of the past blessings promised to Abraham and points forward to the total restoration of the land in the new earth. We will be blessed greatly by this restoration. This is something to look forward to!

In Acts 14, we read of the final travels of Paul’s first missionary journey. There are so many details in this chapter… Healings, stonings, sermons to Gentiles and sermons to Jews. But most importantly, we are reading of the beginnings of the church!

Because we live in the church age – the age between the two comings of Christ, we have experienced a foretaste of the restoration promised in these later chapters of Ezekiel. Jesus’ death and resurrection enable the restoration to begin… in the context of the church – as we experience God’s presence and grace in community with other believers. But we look forward to the day – when all things will be made new

And we can be sure that the new will outweigh the old. For this is the way of God!

Day 185: To the ends of the earth!

Ezekiel 12-14; Acts 8

Today we see the immediate results of the stoning of Stephen. Persecution increased against the new Christians, and they “scattered.”

How wonderful!! What was intended to hurt the church, God used to grow it! We read as Philip brings the gospel to Samaria. The coming of the Spirit by Peter and John’s command served to legitimize the new believers in Samaria. Even non-Jews could receive the Holy Spirit!

And then we see Philip, by the power of the Spirit, sharing the gospel with an Ethiopian! Can’t you see what’s happening!!?? The gospel is spreading to the far corners of the world! Why? Because persecution caused the church to scatter. I love it when God outsmarts the enemy!

It’s hard to transition from the exciting beginnings of the church to Ezekiel’s judgment oracles over apostate Israel…. So, we’ll discuss Ezekiel more thoroughly tomorrow :)

Day 183: Death turned upside-down

Ezekiel 6-7; Acts 7:44-60

I am attending a funeral today. It’s my second one in a month. Death. I really hate death.

We were created to never have to endure death. We were supposed to live in the Garden, in perfect communion with God and each other. Death was unthought of back then, but sin changed all that.

Today we read of the church’s first martyr. Stephen died with the vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. It’s the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is described as “standing” instead of sitting at God’s right hand.

Death is a strange thing. On one hand, it is odious – something that was never supposed to be. But on the other hand, God turns it upside down and somehow uses it for good. Stephen’s death was a catalyst for church growth. Death impassions people. God has consistently used persecution and death as a means to grow his church.

Recently, I was reading a Romanian pastor’s doctoral thesis on suffering, martyrdom and the rewards of heaven… He argues that suffering on earth advances the Kingdom of Heaven – the prime example being Jesus, Himself. If we are called to suffer and/or die for the Kingdom, it is a great Eternal victory!

And I think there lies the key. Eternal. An Eternal perspective changes everything.

Sometimes when I read passages of judgment like the ones we find in today’s reading from Ezekiel, I become indignant. “Why did the children have to suffer and die right along with their apostate parents?” And then I might go even further and question God’s goodness that He might bring about suffering AT ALL!!

But when I entertain those types of thoughts, I know I’ve lost my eternal perspective.

Wouldn’t I choose to suffer for a little while on earth and gain eternal bliss – rather than have earthly bliss and suffer an eternity of torment???

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Our dot of an existence on this earth must be invested wisely for the sake of our eternities. If that means we must suffer to bring about repentance and a character that is more like Christ’s – well so be it! I don’t think Stephen, who is alive with Christ in heaven, regrets his choice to suffer for the sake of the Truth. Do you?

Day 182: The last word

Ezekiel 4-5; Acts 7:20-43

Man. These chapters in Ezekiel are just strange to my modern self…

God commanded Ezekiel to enact the forthcoming siege of Jerusalem in some sort of bizarre street theatre presentation. It involved a clay model of the city, and symbolic acts including laying on his side and scattering hair. Yep. Scattering hair.

But as I think back throughout the Old Testament, this was a common way for God to communicate to his people. Not necessarily scattering hair:) I mean communicating through symbols or symbolic acts. The tabernacle and temple were built using symbols – all revealing a glimpse of God’s character and redemptive plan. Even the daily sacrificial system was a consistent reminder of the cost of sin that was re-enacted by the priests daily.

Word pictures. Symbolic acts. Different layers of meaning. Poetic imagery. God used all of these techniques to reveal Himself to his people. So even though it seems strange to me, Ezekiel symbolically acting out the siege to Jerusalem as described in Ezekiel 4 was consistent with how God had chosen to reveal Himself throughout the Old Testament – especially among His prophets.

After Ezekiel’s extended street theatre, Chapter 5 records God speaking through Ezekiel… As God explained the significance of Ezekiel’s symbolic acts, we read a familiar message of judgment against Israel.

Sin and judgment. Most prophetic books begin with judgment and end with the hope of restoration. Restoration can only occur after the problem of sin has been dealt with…

As we turn our focus to Acts, we read that even Stephen is preaching on the sins of Israel. He reminds us that Israel had been turning against God from the very moment He rescued them from Egypt…

Our fathers refused to obey [Moses], but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us.’ (Acts 7:39-40)

It’s hard for me to read such harsh words of judgment. It’s like slogging through mud…covered with grime and filth. But understanding the reality of sin is the first step to restoration and hope. As a friend of mine used to remind me…”As the depths of your sin are revealed to you, so the cross becomes larger to cover you.” God has the last word. And thankfully, it is good.

Day 180: Faithful to the end

Jeremiah 51-52; Acts 6

We are introduced to Stephen today. He was the first disciple listed in the list of men chosen to help serve the widows in Acts 6:5. And he was the first non-apostle attributed with performing “signs and wonders” (6:8).

Luke makes a special attempt to compare Stephen to Jesus as he describes how the Greek Jews sought to accuse Stephen of blasphemy. Stephen’s trial before the Jewish council mirrored Jesus’ trial as they fabricated lies and found false witnesses to testify against Stephen.

Even Stephen’s countenance reflected Jesus, “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

We’ll spend the next three days reading his famous defense before the Jewish council. But his defense would only ensure that he shared the same fate as his Lord, Jesus. Yet another way his life reflected the life of the Savior…

So, as we are introduced to Stephen, we have come to the end of Jeremiah. Jeremiah concludes his book, first with the prophetic destruction of Babylon (Jer. 51). Not only did his prophesy point to the destruction of ancient Babylon, but ultimately to all of what Babylon symbolized – the final destruction of all who stand against God and His people. It is with God’s zeal for protecting His people in mind that we read of the inevitable fall of Judah. Interestingly, Jeremiah ends this extremely sad section in the same way that 2 Kings ends – with a shred of hope that the Davidic lineage did not die with the nation. The former Judean king, Jehoiachin, lives and with him lives the hope that God will not abandon his people but will restore the Kingdom and the Davidic King!

I wonder what happened to Jeremiah… What kind of life did he live in Egypt? Did he continue his prophetic ministry, exhorting the people to turn back to their God? Did he die in peace or was he killed for his continued faithfulness to God? However he died, I know he was welcomed in heaven with the words… “Well done, good and faithful servant!”