The Two Witnesses (1)

“And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will be clothed in burlap and will prophesy during those 1,260 days.” These two prophets are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth. If anyone tries to harm them, fire flashes from their mouths and consumes their enemies. This is how anyone who tries to harm them must die. They have power to shut the sky so that no rain will fall for as long as they prophesy. And they have the power to turn the rivers and oceans into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they wish.”
Revelation‬ ‭11:3-6‬ ‭NLT

We are still in the part of John’s vision between the second and third terrors or woes. And he was busy. John has just finished measuring the spiritual well being of the Church when he noticed two figures arrive, dressed in burlap, which is a very coarse, hessian-based cloth. Straight away I am reminded of John the Baptist, who appeared out of the desert dressed in clothes made of coarse camel hair. So these two people, referred to as “witnesses”, were dressed in the traditional way of Old Testament prophets. Perhaps the implication of wearing what was effectively sackcloth was to demonstrate, in the Jewish way, the importance of repentance.

And prophets they were. John said so. And they prophesied for 1,260 days, which is, more or less, the 42 months we read about in previous verses. There has been some speculation about who these two prophetic witnesses were. The most popular suggestion was that one of them was Moses, because of the reference to turning rivers into blood (Exodus 7:17) and that the other was Elijah, who commanded no rain to fall, coincidentally, for 42 months (1 Kings 17:1, James 5:17). But the Scriptures do not say specifically who the two witnesses were.

The reference to “the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth”  is underpinned by the writings of the prophet Zechariah. We read in chapter 4:11-14, “Then I asked the angel, “What are these two olive trees on each side of the lampstand, and what are the two olive branches that pour out golden oil through two gold tubes?” “Don’t you know?” he asked. “No, my lord,” I replied. Then he said to me, “They represent the two anointed ones who stand in the court of the Lord of all the earth.” So in John’s vision he saw the culmination of another prophesy, made many years before. An olive tree represented fruitfulness and the source of the Holy Spirit, and the lampstand declared the light of God to those around.

John was told that the two witnesses, the two anointed ones, prophesied for three and a half years. I wonder what they said. We might get some help from Scripture. 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “Above all, you must realise that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God“. So a genuine prophet is someone who communicates, via the power of the Holy Spirit, what God wants people to hear. In John’s vision the two witnesses had some fearsome abilities to defend themselves from harm, so it can be concluded that what they were prophesying was not always a blessing to their listeners. The signs used by Moses and Elijah were used to back up the witnesses’ prophetic words, and I suspect that the two prophets were also using their power to draw people’s attention to what they were saying, lending weight to their messages.

What do we think of prophecy today? One thing for sure, there are many counterfeit prophecies. People claim to be able to see into the future and make declarations of things to come, usually far enough away to avoid any repercussions if they turn out to be in error because they will be long dead. And a common aberration is the use of horoscopes. But such devices are not of God. We pilgrims must always beware of getting caught up by counterfeits from the devil. We are told to test prophecies (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). And take note that no prophetic message will contradict what God has said in His Word, the Bible.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your prophets, men and women who are prepared to stand up and declare Your message to us. And we thank You for caring so much about us that You send us direct messages. We are so grateful. Amen.

Measuring Stick (2)

“Then I was given a measuring stick, and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple of God and the altar, and count the number of worshipers. But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months.”
Revelation‬ ‭11:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We spend a second day musing over these two verses in Revelation. John was out and about in his vision with a “measuring stick”. Looking over the Church and assessing its spiritual health and well being. If he was roaming over our increasingly secular Western societies, would he find a Church full of life and vigour impacting the very fabric of our culture, or would he find a sick and anaemic group of Christians huddled together in ever-reducing numbers, holding onto the remnants of their faith like drowning men clutch a straw. If John’s measuring stick was able to assess the quality of the worship of God in the Church, would he have found the worshippers going through liturgical motions or was there a meaningful connection with God? Spirit to spirit. Would he have found worshippers more concerned with the flowers on the altar rather than the praise and worship of our loving Heavenly Father? 

Having looked for fruit in the Church, John moves on to measure the altar. When someone mentions the word “altar” a picture emerges in our minds of an ornate, cloth covered table located right at the front of a church building. The church-goers treat it with respect and often go through a process of genuflection, as though publicly declaring that God is somehow located there. But the altar is a place of consecration and it is where we meet God, declaring anew our faith in, and love for, Him. A place where we confess our sins but it needn’t be a physical place or object; for most people it is in their hearts, a place of spiritual significance in the lives of every pilgrim. It’s a place where we pause in our worldly, work-a-day thoughts and prayerfully lift our spirits into His presence. So what would John have measured here?

We consecrate our lives to the worship of God, sacrificing the other less important issues on our altars. On the altar in the Old Testament Temple, a painful and final act took place – an animal was killed as part of an expression of the covenant between God and His people. The sacrifice cost something. And the worship of God in our lives today is also a costly act. It costs us our time. It may cost us financially. But above all, it costs us our independence. A pilgrim sacrifices his or her worldly and sinful ways on God’s altar, expressing our allegiance to our loving Heavenly Father. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” And amazingly, as Jesus said to His disciples in John 8:32, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Sacrificing ourselves on God’s altar frees us from a life of sin and death – true freedom indeed. We now have the freedom to do what we should, not stuck in a life enslaved to the devil’s ways.

The next task John had to do was to count the number of worshippers. Why should that matter? In our times of dwindling church congregations, we try and rationalise events by saying it is all about quality not quantity. But deep down we mourn the loss of our friends who move on to, at best, another church, or, as so many do, fall away from the faith into more secular activities. So why count the worshippers? Perhaps God is asking John to make sure that no-one is missing. I’m reminded of Jesus’s parable about the Lost Sheep, where He diligently searched for the one that was lost. It is reassuring to know that God wants no-one to be missed when it is the Time of the End.

Finally in these two verses, John is told not to bother with the outer courtyard. When thinking of this, I pictured a place full of spiritual tourists, people with no idea of who God is and with no appreciation of the awesomeness and majesty of God. On a recent visit to Salisbury Cathedral, I was touched spiritually when a member of the cathedral’s clergy asked everyone to be respectful while he offered up the morning prayers to God, joining in if they wished. But sadly, most ignored the moment, instead continuing to wander around chatting and commenting on the artefacts on display. They were the tramplers, visitors to the outer courtyards of the Church, and John was told the trampling would continue to do so for forty two months, three and a half years. The mention of the trampling of the Holy City was perhaps a reference to the verses from the prophet Daniel. We read in Daniel 7:25, “He will defy the Most High and oppress the holy people of the Most High. He will try to change their sacred festivals and laws, and they will be placed under his control for a time, times, and half a time“. And Daniel 12:7, “The man dressed in linen, who was standing above the river, raised both his hands toward heaven and took a solemn oath by the One who lives forever, saying, “It will go on for a time, times, and half a time. When the shattering of the holy people has finally come to an end, all these things will have happened.”” Perhaps God’s people were to be persecuted for forty two months by the Gentiles, the unbelievers, present on the periphery of the Church. 

At a time like this, having read of such events, we pilgrims can only shudder, fascinated yet appalled by the implication behind John’s vision. And we do what the Psalmists did. We pour out our concerns before God. I turned to Psalm 7 this morning and read, “I come to you for protection, O Lord my God. Save me from my persecutors—rescue me! God is my shield, saving those whose hearts are true and right. I will thank the Lord because he is just; I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” (‭‭Psalms‬ ‭7:1, 10, 17). A couple of pages further on we read, “But the Lord reigns forever, executing judgment from his throne. He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness. The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.” (‭‭Psalms‬ ‭9:7-10). The Psalms are full of the musings and cries, the prayers and praises, of pilgrims just like us. God’s love just pours from every page, an unstoppable tide of His grace and mercy. And we can’t leave this moment without reading Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!” And somehow, as we put our future in God’s hands, we receive the strength we need. 

Dear Lord God. We once again express our gratitude that You are our loving Heavenly Father, who cares for us. Amen.

The Measuring Stick (1)

“Then I was given a measuring stick, and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple of God and the altar, and count the number of worshippers. But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months.”
Revelation‬ ‭11:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Apostle John was still in his vision. And he was given a job to do, which was to go and measure the dimensions of the Temple and count how many people were worshipping God there. Strange? Possibly, until we start to unpack what might be happening. 

Why would God want to measure His Temple? He knows it’s physical dimensions of course. But what other dimensions does it have? So John must have been transported there in the Spirit but …. hang on a minute … wasn’t the temple destroyed in AD 70? And the scholars reckon the Book of Revelation was written in AD 96. So what Temple was John measuring? The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was nothing more than a pile of rubble.

Perhaps we need to consider that the “Temple of God” in this verse was the Church, and the “measuring stick” wasn’t a ruler calibrated in metres or yards, but something with spiritual dimensions marked off. After all, John was still “in the Spirit” in his vision. So perhaps John was tasked with assessing the spiritual well-being of the Church, using a set of measurements that we can find in the Bible.

Here’s my suggestion for calibrating the “measuring stick”. First of all, we are Jesus’ disciples. Jesus said in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” So our status as a follower of Jesus could be the first mark on the ruler. Here’s another suggestion for the second. Are we friends with Jesus and obedient to His commands? “You are my friends if you do what I command.” it says in ‭‭John‬ ‭15:14. Number three. Are we fulfilling the Great Commission? “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭28:19). Number four. Have we been rebirthed into being a new person? “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:17). Number five. Are we allowing God to perfect our faith? “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne.” (‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:2).

Perhaps the “measuring stick” has got a reverse side (most rulers are two-sided). How are we impacting  our societies as “salt and light”, as Jesus taught about in Matthew 5:13-16? And in James 1:27 we read about our responsibilities in our societies. “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James only singled out the most disadvantaged in his society but each generation has its own challenges. What are we pilgrims doing to bring God’s light into our dark societies, helping those who seem unable to help themselves?

But before we know it we have invented a checklist. The temptation is to start ticking the boxes and find out how good we are as Christians. And if we manage to tick all the boxes then … But of course we can’t do that, and our spiritual ruler cannot be a serious contender for John’s mission if it’s wielded in our hands. Isn’t it amazing that we can be very good at assessing the good and bad points of others but are unable to come up with an honest assessment of ourselves. If John visited our churches today with his “measuring stick”  what would He find? Thankfully, only God Himself can assess how we are shaping up as Christians. We can only humbly bow before Him with repentant hearts, accepting His love, encouragement and grace. 

We live in increasingly secular times. Jesus, in His explanation of the End Times in Matthew 24, stated that “… many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭24:10). The Christian life is not an easy choice, particularly as the challenges to practising our faith are increasing. But before we give up we remember. There was a time two thousand years or so, when “… God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (‭‭John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭NIVUK). We pilgrims remember that priceless act of love, that melted our hearts and turned us around from a life devoted to sinful ways to a life devoted to serving, to loving, to embracing the One who gave Himself for me.

Father God. We are so grateful for Your grace. You are a loving Parent who wants us to become more like Your Son, Jesus. We pray today that through You we have that opportunity. Amen.

Sweet and Sour

“Then the voice from heaven spoke to me again: “Go and take the open scroll from the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll. “Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!” So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.””
Revelation‬ ‭10:8-11‬ ‭NLT

A voice from Heaven jolted John in to action. He was told to go and get the small scroll from the angel and eat it. And he was warned that although the scroll would taste sweet, it would give him heart burn. What was all that about?

John was told that the scroll’s taste would be as sweet as honey. We heard much about this product of the honey bee in Israel’s history – their promised land reputedly would be found to be flowing with milk and honey. Moses was told by God in the Burning Bush episode, “So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live”. (Exodus 3:8). To the Israelites, the presence of honey would be a sign that the land was full of natural resources. A wonderful place to be.

But more than that, honey has a spiritual significance. We read in Psalm 119:103, “How sweet Your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey“. So perhaps John accepted and ate the scroll, enjoying the sweetness of God’s Word. But then in some way he found that the words written on it were not the sweet platitudes full of love and grace that he expected to find, but instead the consequences of the third terror or woe that was still to come. And the sweetness turned bitter to the very pit of his stomach. There is a huge gulf between the sweetness of God’s Word and the bitterness of our wicked and sinful world. The one provides nourishment to our souls. But the other leaves a sour taste in our mouths. There is nothing sweet about the sinful world in which we live. 

The last verse of Revelation 10 had an instruction for John. He was to prophesy again, “about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” But what was he to say? Perhaps it was to make known what was written on the small scroll that he had just eaten. Perhaps he had to communicate God’s mysterious plan, that we read about earlier. Perhaps he was to prophecy what would happen when the final trumpet sounded. John would not have been lacking material about his forthcoming prophetic announcement.

We pilgrims prophecy. Not just by words but by our lives. The ways in which we set an example to the world around us. We are prophetically counter-cultural in all we do. As an example, a group of us Christian men had breakfast together in a local restaurant recently. We had not long finished when the fire alarm sounded and we had to leave, to assemble in the car park. The manager said we were free to go and there was nothing to pay. But we insisted on paying for our meal anyway. That was a counter-cultural prophetic statement, declaring to the rest of those in the car park that God and His ways are true and righteous. The world’s ways are not God’s ways. We are called to live holy lives. 1 Peter 1:14-15 reads, “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy“. 

Dear Father God. You are holy and righteous in all Your ways. Thank You that through Jesus we too can be righteous and holy, as You are. Please help us to declare You and Your ways in our families and communities. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

God’s Mysterious Plan

“Then the angel I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand toward heaven. He swore an oath in the name of the One who lives forever and ever, who created the heavens and everything in them, the earth and everything in it, and the sea and everything in it. He said, “There will be no more delay. When the seventh angel blows his trumpet, God’s mysterious plan will be fulfilled. It will happen just as He announced it to His servants the prophets.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭10:5-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We return to the picture of the huge angel standing astride the sea and land. He raises his hand to Heaven and swears an oath in the name of God. And he then made an announcement, that “God’s mysterious plan will be fulfilled”. Do we swear oaths in the name of God? I suppose the nearest we get to such an event is in a court of law, when we take the witness stand. And raising a Bible in our right hands, we declare an oath, “I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. There is something significant and solemn about such an occasion. And the angel declared an oath in God’s name, affirming without doubt that “God’s mysterious plan will be fulfilled“. This event was to take place when the seventh trumpet is blown.

In Ephesians, Paul wrote about what God intends to happen one day. Paul called it a “mysterious plan”  and that description continues in John’s writings. Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:9-10, “God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfil his own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.” So the angel’s announcement that “God’s mysterious plan will be fulfilled” implies that this must be the “right time” referred to by Paul. All those End Times prophecies in both the Old and New Testament are about to be completed.

We all make plans but they are hardly a mystery. We plan our holidays. We plan our lives. We plan the week ahead. And once the plan has been made, we communicate it to those around us, those who will be affected by it. Before the foundation of the world, God made a plan. We read in Ephesians 1:4, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” God could see that one day sin would enter the perfect world that He had made and He needed to make provision for mankind to be reconciled to Him. And the plan was absolutely amazing. Who would have ever thought that the Creator of the Universe would plan to allow His Son to come to this earth as a human being and end up being crucified on a Roman cross, to redeem the sins that had so blighted the world He had created? God didn’t tell anyone about this part of His plan right at the beginning, but instead revealed that the Messiah would come through His prophets, warning the peoples of their times about what was to come. And their prophetic voices continued with what would happen after the Messiah had returned to Heaven. The Book of Daniel is a fascinating read.

Paul revealed more about God’s “mysterious plan” in Ephesians 3. We read “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭3:10-11‬). God’s plan didn’t end with the coming of Jesus. As mankind embraced His Son, the plan continued with the creation of the Church, to be His Son’s bride, holy, spotless and unblemished, free from sin and wickedness. And at the Time of the End, the Kingdom of God will finally reign supreme. Jesus spoke much about His Kingdom during His time here in Planet Earth. He taught during His short time here on earth that His Kingdom was near. Jesus said in Matthew 24:14, “And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.” Isn’t it both humbling and amazing that pilgrims like us are instrumental in bringing about the end times through our sharing of the Gospel? Through sharing our messages of hope, our testimonies, with our neighbours and friends. In our communities and nations.

But we look around us in our wicked and war-torn world, and wonder if the End Times have already started? Hmmm..

Father God. We thank You that Your plan for mankind is still in process and that You have graciously allowed us time to become part of Your family. Once again I pray that we would have more opportunities to share Your Good News with those around us, giving them the chance of joining Your family as well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Secrets

“When the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. But I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Keep secret what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down.””
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭10:4‬ ‭NLT

“But you, Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end, when many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase.” 
“But he said, “Go now, Daniel, for what I have said is kept secret and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these trials. But the wicked will continue in their wickedness, and none of them will understand. Only those who are wise will know what it means.””
Daniel‬ ‭12:4, 9-10‬ ‭NLT

The Apostle John was about to write down what the “seven thunders” were saying when he was told that he had to keep them secret. Keeping something secret happened once before, when the prophet Daniel was in discussion with an angel, though for him he was told to seal up the book about what he knew “until the time of the end”. In both cases, there was something that God wanted kept out of the public domain until the time was right to reveal it, if at all. And the secrets died with the person who was privileged to receive them, John or Daniel. Why did God even allow mention of the fact that these secrets existed? And what was so secret that it had to be kept hidden?

Before we think further about the secrets disclosed by the “seven thunders” perhaps we should pause and ask what or who they wereIn the Bible thunder is often associated with God, and His judgements. For example in Psalm 18:13 we read, ” The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded amid the hail and burning coals.” In Exodus 9:23 we read, “So Moses lifted his staff toward the sky, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed toward the earth…”. But why “seven thunders” and not just one? Apart from the fact that seven is a number representing completion and perfection in the Bible, we don’t have a specific answer.

But back to our questions about the secrets and what they were. I must confess that I don’t really have a clue, and neither does anyone else, as far as I can see. If anyone knew what the secret was, then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore. There has been speculation of course, but nothing that can be supported by Scripture. The only hint I can see from the verses today as to why these secrets existed is that the knowledge needed to understand them doesn’t yet exist. The words themselves were obviously able to be recorded, but what they meant was to be a secret. There is always the possibility that the words of the “seven thunders” was kept secret because they were too terrible to be disclosed.

Usually secrets exist because they hide information about someone or something that is embarrassing or illegal or to protect a national interest. Technology companies have gone to great lengths in recent years to provide ways to protect data, such as pictures, videos or conversations, from public scrutiny. For example, we have WhatsApp with its “end to end” encryption that is unable to be read by anyone other than the originator and the recipient. Over previous years, before modern encryption methods had been invented, people stayed awake at night dreaming up ways to make messages secure. And we have the much publicised efforts of the code breaking team and their successes at Bletchley Park in the Second World War. But it begs the question as to why such extremes should be followed for the average person having a conversation with a relative or friend. Paranoia? But then I don’t live in a Marxist environment where the authorities wish to control the very actions of their peoples. Where a wrong word, or phrase can lead to a knock on the door.

So what do we pilgrims make of John’s and Daniel’s secrets? We know that one day all will be revealed – I don’t believe that there will be any secrets in Heaven. Until that day we are in a position where we must trust and have faith in our wonderful Creator God. Only He knows the beginning from the end. From the writings in the Bible we have been given a glimpse of what is to come at “the time of the end”. But that is all that it is – a glimpse.

Father God. We rest in Your grace and love today, secure in the knowledge that You know what is best for each one of us. We put our faith and trust in You today and every day. Amen.

Power and Imagination

“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face shone like the sun, and his feet were like pillars of fire. And in his hand was a small scroll that had been opened. He stood with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. And he gave a great shout like the roar of a lion. And when he shouted, the seven thunders answered.
Revelation‬ ‭10:1-3‬ ‭NLT

The Apostle John’s eschatological vision continues with the appearance of another angel. A mighty angel. This angel was surrounded by a cloud and had a rainbow positioned over his head. And John was struck by the brightness of the angel’s face and he also noticed that the angel’s feet were like pillars of fire. The angel obviously had something to say, related to the scroll he was carrying. And he must have been huge, to be able to stand astride on sea and land. He gave a “great shout like the roar of a lion”  and received a response from the seven thunders.

What is all that about, was my first thought. Do we accept the picture that is forming in our minds at face value or do we try and make sense of it, interpreting the vision in a way that imparts a meaning? Firstly, this episode takes place between the sixth and seventh trumpets. An interlude perhaps? Did the people still alive see this angel – something that big wouldn’t have been hard to miss – or was this a spiritual event portrayed for John’s benefit, and ultimately ours as well?

We can draw some associations between what we see and what has been written in the Bible. For example, we remember that God led the Israelite slaves through the wilderness during their exodus from Egypt from within a cloud. And Psalm 104:3 reads, “You lay out the rafters of Your home in the rain clouds. You make the clouds Your chariot; You ride upon the wings of the wind.” So the angel’s message from a cloud perhaps means that it has God’s backing, His seal of approval. Also we know about rainbows. In Genesis 9:13, God said, “I have placed My rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of My covenant with you and with all the earth.” We also have a Biblical precedent for a bright face. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, we read in Matthew 17:2 that “His face shone like the sun”. Regarding the “feet … like pillars of fire” we remember that God led the Israelites at night in the wilderness with a pillar of fire. So we, at the very least, can assume this “mighty angel” was someone of great importance. In fact, some have even suggested that He was Jesus Himself.

Regarding the mighty shout, we read in Hosea 11:10. “For someday the people will follow me. I, the Lord, will roar like a lion. And when I roar, my people will return trembling from the west.” In Joel 3:16 we read, “The Lord’s voice will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth will shake. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a strong fortress for the people of Israel.” John didn’t record in his vision what the great angel shout was about, and neither do we really know what the seven thunders represent. But we do know that when God responded to Jesus’s prayer in John 12, some people thought it had thundered. But, everything considered, this event in Revelation was a momentous event. God was about to say something very important and significant through the mighty angel.

Is there a message in this vision for us pilgrims today? Not many of us, if any at all, will have received such a vision as John did that day. But that is not to say that God has overlooked us and has failed to deliver an important word, tailor-made just for us. Over the years I have received several important messages from God – one of them delivered with His audible voice. Something intensely personal and encouraging. God is always listening to our prayers, to our petitions, to the anguished cries from our hearts, and He will graciously and lovingly always provide the answers and encouragement that we need. 

Jesus said that when He left this earth, He would send the Holy Spirit as His representative. And through Him we will have access to the same power that Jesus had. In Acts 1:8 He said to His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…”. Today we pilgrims are Jesus’s disciples with the potential to be powerful for God through His Spirit. I know that many claim that the power of the Holy Spirit was just for the original disciples and their generation and that it disappeared when they all died. But that is not my experience, and neither can I find any Scriptures that explicitly say that this is what happened. 

I have always been challenged with what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Paul wrote that to a church fellowship located in the city of Ephesus. He didn’t pick out the apostles and the favoured few who knew them. This was written to all those in the fellowship of Ephesian believers. And I firmly believe today that it applies to us as well, and we all have that accessible power deep within us. Just waiting to be tapped. In the power of this Spirit, we can dream. We can allow our imaginations to be led by the Holy Spirit. There is no limit to what can be achieved through the power that is within us. So there may be a pilgrim reading this today who feels inadequate and is lacking confidence in who they are. They might be feeling inferior and incapable. But God wants to encourage us all today. In Ephesians 1:19-20 we read, “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honour at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” So let’s press in today, flexing our spiritual faith muscles, believing God for more of that Holy Spirit power to touch us and touch those around us. In Jesus there is no limit to what we can achieve, if we only believe.

Dear Father God. We confess that we feel most of the time like fragile clay jars. But we declare today our confidence in You, the One who uses such ordinary vessels as us to do great things for You. Thank You. Amen.

Mounted Troops

“Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice speaking from the four horns of the gold altar that stands in the presence of God. And the voice said to the sixth angel who held the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great Euphrates River.” Then the four angels who had been prepared for this hour and day and month and year were turned loose to kill one-third of all the people on earth. I heard the size of their army, which was 200 million mounted troops.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭9:13-16‬ ‭NLT

The starting gun is fired. The four angels who had been prepared for this very time were “turned loose”. They had a vast army at their disposal, consisting of mounted troops implying they were well equipped. And they killed one third of the people alive on earth at that time. Tragic. John continued his narrative, recorded in Revelation 9:17-19. We read, “And in my vision, I saw the horses and the riders sitting on them. The riders wore armour that was fiery red and dark blue and yellow. The horses had heads like lions, and fire and smoke and burning sulphur billowed from their mouths. One-third of all the people on earth were killed by these three plagues—by the fire and smoke and burning sulphur that came from the mouths of the horses. Their power was in their mouths and in their tails. For their tails had heads like snakes, with the power to injure people.

Again, in his vision, John was able to zoom in to see more details of the main players. The vast army were identically dressed and armed. Colours of red, blue and yellow. Lion-headed horses. From their mouths was emitted “fire and smoke and burning sulphur”. And they had snake-headed tails. It all sounded like the description of a scene from a fantasy or horror movie.

Did John really see lion-headed horses breathing fire and brimstone? Or was this just a vision displaying something he could relate to? For example, it would have been no good for John to see a modern battle tank, because he wouldn’t have been able to understand what it was. In the same way, if we had the vision, what would have been shown to us would have to be understandable, so that we could receive the message in terms that relate to the knowledge we have. Weapons of war have changed over the centuries, and in particular over the past century or so. What new weapons of descruction are still to come? A scary thought?

The verses describe the “fire and smoke and burning sulphur” as three separate plagues. And for good measure, the snake-tails injured people. And the three plagues killed a third of the population. But we now come to an extremely sad fact. We read about it in Revelation 9:20-21. “But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” How sad is that? What is there about people that even when faced with the consequences of their rebellion and sin, “their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts”, they still refused to repent and turn to God. 

I have had conversations with people and have been struck by the apparent intransigence, even in the face of adversity, of some of them. They hold an angry and almost violent attitude towards anything to do with God. They speak out that they would rather end up in hell than have anything to do with God. Even if He exists, they say. How they can be so angry towards a loving, merciful, compassionate and gracious God totally beats me. But then I remember how I was before my heart melted in the warmth of God’s love. When I realised that Jesus was and is the ultimate loving Saviour. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1-2, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.” But a couple of verses on (Ephesians 2:4-5), there is a description of what happened to me, “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)”.

Those people, the two-thirds, who escaped the killing spree of the vast army, still refused to turn to God. Human nature being what it is, rather than soberly realise that they had had a lucky escape and had better now do something about it, they rationalised that they couldn’t have been so bad after all. Perhaps God had missed what they were up to. Surely He couldn’t have seen their misdemeanours – after all, they think, He can’t be everywhere can He? Perhaps their “demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood”  had kept them safe after all. In Isaiah 55:6-7 we read, “Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.” That is the message we pilgrims must propagate through out communities. Because today God is near. Tomorrow He might not be. Our message is focused and urgent. Let’s grab the moment.

Dear Father God. Once again we offer up our thanks for Your grace and mercy. Where would we be without You? Please lead us to those who are worried and harassed, that we can speak words of peace and grace to help them. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Gold Altar

“Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice speaking from the four horns of the gold altar that stands in the presence of God. And the voice said to the sixth angel who held the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great Euphrates River.” Then the four angels who had been prepared for this hour and day and month and year were turned loose to kill one-third of all the people on earth. I heard the size of their army, which was 200 million mounted troops.”
Revelation‬ ‭9:13-16‬ ‭NLT

A speaking altar. John’s vision clearly described it as being made of gold, with four horns, and positioned right there in God’s presence. There must have been something sacred and holy about it. And a voice came from it with an instruction that became the second terror, or woe. But what was the significance of the altar? To answer that question we have to look back into the Old Testament, where altar-building instructions can be found.

In Exodus 30, God gave Moses a blueprint for the golden altar, that was to be used for burning incense. We read, “Then make another altar of acacia wood for burning incense. Make it 18 inches square and 36 inches high, with horns at the corners carved from the same piece of wood as the altar itself. Overlay the top, sides, and horns of the altar with pure gold, and run a gold moulding around the entire altar.” (‭‭Exodus‬ ‭30:1-3). God continued with instructions about what the altar was to be used for. “Every morning when Aaron maintains the lamps, he must burn fragrant incense on the altar. And each evening when he lights the lamps, he must again burn incense in the Lord’s presence. This must be done from generation to generation. Once a year Aaron must purify the altar by smearing its horns with blood from the offering made to purify the people from their sin. This will be a regular, annual event from generation to generation, for this is the Lord’s most holy altar.” (‭‭Exodus‬ ‭30:7-8, 10‬ ‭NLT).

So the golden altar in John’s vision was probably the same as the altar we read about in Revelation 8, “Then another angel with a gold incense burner came and stood at the altar. And a great amount of incense was given to him to mix with the prayers of God’s people as an offering on the gold altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out.” (‭‭Revelation‬ ‭8:3-4‬ ‭NLT). Some theologians think that the golden altar with its horns was a “type” of Christ because His prayers of intercession are constantly rising up to God like incense.

 Altars played a very important role in ancient Jewish worship. But what about today, in our Western churches? Pilgrims from a Catholic or Anglican background, and visitors to churches in these denominations, will be aware of a cloth covered table located at the front of a church building. The decorations and ornaments are beautifully ornate, with extensive use of gold and even precious stones, and someone like myself, brought up in an Anglican Church, feel a sense of reverence when approaching this object, what is referred to as an “altar”. From an early age I grew up with the thought that somehow God lives there. In Anglican liturgy it is at the altar that the priest undertakes various duties during a church service, with congregants looking on. Bodily responses such as genuflection or bowing are performed when passing in front of the altar, reflecting the reverence and awe afforded to this item of furniture.

A modern application of an altar is in the wayside shrines that crop up today. Perhaps where some unfortunate person was killed in a road accident, or, as in my local community, where a young man, apparently high on drugs, committed suicide. The person’s loved ones have erected an “altar” in their memory and regularly place flowers there. Another example of this is with the inclusion of plaques of remembrance being affixed to park benches. But an altar is nothing more than a place of consecration. A place where a memory can be immortalised.

But whatever our liturgy or upbringing, is an altar of any real relevance in our pilgrim lives? I would suggest there is great importance in an altar, but a personal one. In Jewish worship it was on the altar that animals were sacrificed as an act of worship to God. But in a personal way we develop an altar to commemorate our commitment to God. In my morning prayer walks, I have way points where I pause to offer up to God thanks and praise for something or someone in my life that has been significant. We all need something to associate our loving Heavenly Father and our relationships with Him. so we develop our own personal altars, where we praise and worship our God. Where we offer up our thanks with grateful hearts for His provision. Where we pray for petitionary prayers for our loved ones and even national issues. In our hearts we have a ready made home for our altars, a place far more precious than any cloth covered man-made edifice located at the front of a dusty old mausoleum.

Dear Father. Where else can we find You than on the altars of our hearts. We praise and thank You for dwelling there by Your Holy Spirit. We pray that You never leave us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Big “Why”

“The first terror is past, but look, two more terrors are coming!”
Revelation‬ ‭9:12‬ ‭NLT

We floated the question in a previous blog post, “Why does God allow disasters to happen?” The implication in the question is that God isn’t all-powerful. Or God doesn’t really care about us. But nothing is further from the truth. The root cause of all the bad things that happen on this planet is sin. The natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and so on, are the effects of sin on God’s perfect creation. In Romans 8:19-22 the Apostle Paul wrote, “For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time“.  I sometimes look around me during my morning prayer walks and try and imagine what all the trees, the flowers and greenery, the wild raspberries and strawberries, will look like when the curse of sin has been removed. I’m sure Heaven is going to be one big Wow!

Because of sin, the world is now in the grip of the devil. Jesus made this clear, as we read in John 14:30, “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me“. However, the devil will not always have control of the earth – in 2 Corinthians 4:4 we read “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God“. One day the current “age” will come to an end, and that is what we are seeing in the End Time vision in Revelation. 

God can certainly intervene in the affairs of mankind and our earthly home. We probably don’t know the extent to which God has already intervened, reducing or even stopping certain events. However, we don’t know why God doesn’t do more to stop the catastrophes. God allows people to behave in wicked ways because He has allowed us free choice. He didn’t create robotic human beings, with a pre-defined behaviour acceptable to God, programmed in accordance with His perfect and holy laws. And in the same way perhaps He allows creation to groan along, taking its natural, sin-blighted, course. But what we do know is that often good things happen as a consequence of natural and man-made disasters. For example, the Kindertransport initiative was instrumental in saving many Jewish children from the horrors of the Holocaust. The aid response to the 2004 tsunami totalled an unprecedented $6.25 Billion. At a time of a natural disaster there is something within mankind that wants to help those who are less fortunate. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them“. 

But we can’t leave this dilemma of why we experience natural and man-made disasters without adding the concept of eternity. God deliberately chose to send a solution to the woes of the world in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Not to sort out or prevent disasters, but instead, to offer mankind an escape route out of a sinful and wicked world into His wonderful presence. God’s love and compassion knows no bounds. His mercy endures eternally (Lamentations 3:22). While we continue to live our earthly lives, God is always available to encourage and help, to pick us up when we fall, and forgive our sinful lapses. And one day He will welcome us into our eternal home. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “…….I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” So today, if there is anyone reading this who wants to know more about our wonderful Saviour, Jesus, and how He, and He only, can show us the way to spend eternity with Him in Heaven, please get in touch.

Dear Father God. We thank You that there is a time to come when we will be with You in Heaven. We pray for Your strength to help us hold firm in our faith to the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.