Patient Endurance

And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword. This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.” 
Revelation 13:7-10 NLT

These last days will be an uncomfortable place for Christians to be in. In John’s vision he saw that the “beast“, the global governmental system, was “allowed to wage war” against “God’s holy people”. And, worse, Christians everywhere were to be “conquered”. What does all this look like?

First of all, God has to provide His permission to allow the devil to do any of his malevolent acts.  We see that from the story of Job. In Job 1:9-12 we read, “‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has’? ….  The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger’ …” In John 16:33 we read that Jesus said, “‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’” When Jesus had been arrested and was standing before Pilate, this incredible conversation took place, “‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realise I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’” (John 19:10-11, emphasis mine). Throughout history Christians have suffered for their faith. We pilgrims were never promised an easy ride by choosing to follow Jesus. In fact being counter-cultural in a secular society will be difficult. I think there is a hint about why this should be in James 1:2-3, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

The world system was given permission to overcome Christians everywhere. And I have no doubts in my mind that this is something happening today, with increasing severity. Even in Western societies, supposedly more focused on equality and diversity, societal animosity against religions often emerges. Laws can be passed that outlaw attacks on minority groups but that does not stop the violence, verbal or otherwise, from happening. And the availability of social media provides an apparently anonymous platform for abusers to exploit. Attacks against some religious groups invokes a violent backlash, making many wary of exposing their vitriol and hatred towards them, but Christians have always been a soft target, because they adhere to a policy of non-violence and forgiveness. But in other parts of the world, persecution against Christians is extreme, to the extent that anyone professing a faith in God has to be eliminated. 

So whether we like it or not, on 21st Century Planet Earth, there is a partial global governmental system in place that is waging war on Christians. It is not yet total, but it seems as though each year sees an increase in the reach of the authorities into the lives of Christians, with increasing persecution. One day, as John saw in his vision, it will be complete. Total anti-Christian mayhem.

But what does Revelation 13:10 mean? It says, “Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword. This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.” To me, this verse seems to be saying that there is a predetermined destiny for every human being, beyond their abilities to choose. In absolute terms this is true, because mankind will one day come to the end of their lives. We cannot choose not to die. But on our journeys to the tomb we do have choices, very limited for some, but less restrictive for others. The ultimate choice we make is whether or not we wish to follow God, but this will by itself bring about consequences we might not like. In the End Times, the resulting persecution of Christians may well lead to imprisonment and death, but we are reminded in John’s vision that patience and faithfulness will result in the right conclusion – eternal life with our wonderful Heavenly Father.

Dear Lord and Father, we thank You that You are always there for us. You see what we suffer and are always there to help us and strengthen us for the journey through difficult times. We praise and thank You today. Amen.

The Beast

Then the dragon took his stand on the shore beside the sea.”
Revelation‬ ‭12:18‬ ‭NLT

“Then I saw a beast rising up out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns, with ten crowns on its horns. And written on each head were names that blasphemed God. This beast looked like a leopard, but it had the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion! And the dragon gave the beast his own power and throne and great authority. I saw that one of the heads of the beast seemed wounded beyond recovery—but the fatal wound was healed! The whole world marvelled at this miracle and gave allegiance to the beast. They worshiped the dragon for giving the beast such power, and they also worshiped the beast. “Who is as great as the beast?” they exclaimed. “Who is able to fight against him?” Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven.
Revelation 13:1-6 NLT

We now come to the part in John’s vision where he saw a beast. There has been much conjecture about what John’s description of this fearsome monster represents, with references to the Roman Empire and other governments. Some commentators insist that this beast is the Anti-Christ, as described in Daniel 7 and a verse from 1 John 2:18, “Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come“. But whatever John’s vision represents, the most likely possibility is that this beast represents a world governmental system that is opposed to God. A system that is complicated and convoluted, probably viciously totalitarian, but above all, a system that is violently blasphemous of God and His people. I can think of governments today that partly, if not totally, fit well within the bounds of John’s vision. And there have been others in past history. The major attribute of the “beast rising up out of the sea” is that this government is global. The references to heads and horns probably represent different factional governments, but overall they contribute to a truly evil system of government. 

Revelation 13 and Daniel 7 go into great detail about the beast and its implications, and it is quite conceivable that much of Daniel’s and John’s visions has already passed, being represented by nations and governments now in history. But Daniel 7:23 reads, “Then he said to me, “This fourth beast is the fourth world power that will rule the earth. It will be different from all the others. It will devour the whole world, trampling and crushing everything in its path“. In our verses today from Revelation 13, we see a reference to “the whole world”. The references in both Daniel and Revelation perhaps indicate that the world governmental system described as Daniel’s fourth beast, is yet to come. One day we will be able to look back from the security of Heaven and see what the “fatal wound” in Revelation and Daniel’s little horn all mean. We also read in today’s Revelation verses that the nations and peoples in the world worshipped the beast. And we see a global population largely taken in by the blasphemies being uttered by the beast. I am reminded of the tragedy of state-sponsored misinformation being disseminated in many countries today, poisoning minds into worshipping lies.

It would be easy to get caught up with those people whose vivid imaginations and extrapolations lead to theories of what the beast, or beasts, represent. And in the process they try and position their theories on the time line of history, even bringing in the possibility of a visitation of aliens from another place in the universe. But as pilgrims we must keep focused on the real issues. To me these End Times apocalyptic visions generate a sense of urgency because  the time is short. What is represented by John’s vision is disturbing, even frightening, but there is little we can do about what is yet to happen. We are, I believe, already a long way along the count down to that glorious moment when the devil and his forces are defeated and dealt with. But we pilgrims have work to do. We cannot afford to sit warming a pew, hoping others will do what God requires. We are in a season of grace, where God’s favour, love and care is available for all to accept. But this season will not last forever. Perhaps the forty-two months are nearly over. Hmmm…

Dear Heavenly Father. We can only praise and worship You, the only true God. Please give us eyes to see the truth, Your truth, in all we think and do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Eagles’ Wings

“When the dragon realised that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time. Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.” 
Revelation 12:13-17

The woman in John’s vision could fly. She needed to, so that she could escape the devil’s malignant intentions. And we are told through John’s vision, that she had two wings “like those of a great eagle”. The eagle is a special bird. The bald eagle is the US national bird. And throughout history, the eagle has come to represent strength, with a freedom as it soars through the skies; truly a majestic bird.  So it is of no surprise that John sees in his vision eagle wings transporting the woman into the safe place prepared for her in the wilderness. The devil couldn’t keep up with her.

We read in Isaiah 40:31, “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint“. We concluded previously that the woman represents the Church, so in that context this verse in Isaiah has a special and important meaning and message. It’s all about trusting God. So the converse is true, that a church that does not trust in God will inevitably be as described in the previous verse in Isaiah 40. “Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion“. A church that doesn’t trust God will quickly become weak, tired and exhausted. The implication in these verses from Revelation is that the “woman” received care and protection because she trusted in God.

The protection and care continued for a period of “a time, times, and half a time“. I believe that this is currently the season, the period in mankind’s timeline, that we pilgrims are enjoying God’s care and protection. There is a wonderful picture of God’s care, including a reference to an eagle, in Deuteronomy 32. we read, “He found them in a desert land, in an empty, howling wasteland. He surrounded them and watched over them; he guarded them as he would guard his own eyes. Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them up and carried them safely on his pinions. The Lord alone guided them; they followed no foreign gods. He let them ride over the highlands and feast on the crops of the fields. He nourished them with honey from the rock and olive oil from the stony ground. He fed them yogurt from the herd and milk from the flock, together with the fat of lambs. He gave them choice rams from Bashan, and goats, together with the choicest wheat. You drank the finest wine, made from the juice of grapes“. (Deuteronomy 32:10-14). 

We pilgrims have access to the very best of provisions, all supplied by our wonderful Heavenly Father. But the key thought here is that although God’s care is accessible, we have to do something to enjoy it. What God has for us will not just fall into our laps, like manna from Heaven. We have to – back to that word again – trust God for our nourishment, spiritual or otherwise. The picture of wine, finest wine, representing the Holy Spirit. The nourishment from rock honey and milk and yoghurt, all generating the impression of a place of abundance, of plenty, for all we need for life. And all we have to do is trust God. Easy, isn’t it? Well, no it isn’t.  We are living in a society that suggests that it is dangerous to trust anyone. Disappointments with people erode what little trust we have developed over the years. I know someone who, as a small child, was repeatedly let down by a father who broke promises time and time again. And all these life-related disappointments conspire to make it very difficult for such a person to trust our Heavenly Father. There are even those who have lost their trust in God because of their unrealistic or misguided expectations. At times like these we dig into His Word, the Bible, and hang onto verses such as Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding“. And Hebrews 13:5, “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you“. 

There are times in our pilgrimage through life when we need to trust God. Really trust Him. When a child is sick. A loved one is dying of cancer. An unexpected bill falls through the letterbox. Life can be tough at times. But if God has said that He will never abandon us, we have to believe it and trust Him who said it. I look back over some crises in my own life. Difficult and frightening at the time, but in hindsight, God wove a path through the situations and I came through. Probably a bit battered and bruised, but intact and wiser for the experience. And I can remember in one situation that I had to make a positive declaration that even if God didn’t come through for me, I was still going to praise Him. We read in Habakkuk 3:17-18 – “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord ! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” We trust our loving Heavenly Father regardless of the circumstances.

Dear Lord God. Thank You for Your assurance that you are always there for us, in every circumstance. We truly rejoice in You, the God of our salvation. Amen.

The Pursuit

“When the dragon realised that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time. Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.” 
Revelation 12:13-17

John’s vision of the woman and her journey clarifies a bit and more information emerges. The dragon, or the devil as we assume, is after her. But with divine protection, he had no chance of reaching her. He did his best to drown her with “a flood of water that flowed from his mouth”. As an aside, what a strange weapon. In John’s vision, would we not have expected him to see the devil using more conventional weapons of the time? Arrows or swords perhaps? 

But according to the commentaries, the flood represents an overwhelming disaster. Think about a tsunami hitting a coastline and the resulting destruction, as we have seen in recent years. The Old Testament refers in several places to a fear of a flood, such as in Psalm 69:15, “Don’t let the floods overwhelm me, or the deep waters swallow me, or the pit of death devour me.”

As we considered recently, the woman represents the Church, or the Jewish nation, or a combination of both. Some of the old saints have suggested that the flood represents public opinion, expressing hostility to the Church as a whole. A scenario where the governments and politicians make public declarations, or pass laws, that are hostile to Christian Churches and all who worship within them. And we have seen the establishment of clandestine churches in some countries, driven underground by the actions of the country’s leadership, with the general population implementing their evil sentiments on any Christians they can find. In 21st Century Planet Earth, we see such a scenario well established in countries such as Afghanistan, North Korea, China, India and others. In these places being a follower of Christ is not a safe life choice.

In his vision, John saw the earth swallow up the flood of water, thus helping and saving the woman. Perhaps this means that the Christian Church established in countries where Christians are persecuted receives protection from God. And it is true that in some countries, Christianity, even though officially oppressed, has flourished in underground churches. China is such a country, where it has been estimated that there are ninety six million Christians, just under seven per cent of the population. Churches there are regularly shut down by the authorities and their leaders arrested, but they continue and grow anyway. 

Our verses today conclude that a very angry devil makes war on all God’s children everywhere. He fights against “all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus”. Sadly, that is so true, with persecution against Christians so prevalent all over the world. The UK charity “Open Doors” estimates that 360 million Christians worldwide are suffering persecution of one kind or another. 

So what do we pilgrims make of all this? We of course stand firm in our faith, confident that by doing so we will one day receive the reward awaiting us in Heaven. In Matthew 24 Jesus warned His disciples about what was going to happen in the End Times, and taught what they should do. We read, “Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:9-13 – emphasis mine). Our salvation is assured but the narrow road we follow will not be easy. And we read in today’s verses from Revelation, that Christians who hold the line of their faith will be constantly hassled and attacked by the devil. So we pray for our Heavenly Father’s protection, as we continue to do His will. We pray that His love and grace covers us as we live in His shadow, day by day, step by step.

Dear Lord. We praise and thank You today. Only You have the words of eternal life, there to sustain us. Please lead and guide us through the minefields of life, hedging us around with Your love and protection. Amen.

The Martyr’s Testimonies

“Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, “It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth— the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.””
Revelation‬ ‭12:10-12 NLT

The devil seems to have little going for him. Because of his sin he was thrown out of Heaven, and now on earth he is again defeated by God’s people, who have accepted the saving grace and protection of the “blood of the Lamb” and established through their testimonies the devil’s defeat.

The pilgrims who have defeated the devil in John’s vision, however, paid a heavy price. The ultimate price. They paid for their victory over the devil with their lives. In John’s vision we see that their secret weapon was their willingness to put their faith in God above personal safety. In Western societies, the battle with the devil and his minions doesn’t impact our lives directly but is waged on a different level. But in some parts of the world, the battle is generating many martyrs, people who have taken the ultimate stand against our enemy, the devil. According to “Open Doors”, an organisation in the UK that helps persecuted Christians in over sixty countries, nearly six thousand people were murdered for their faith last year. Their statistics are sobering, reporting that one in seven Christians suffer persecution of one kind or another. According to their latest information, the most life threatening countries in which to be a Christian are Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia. The strap line on the “Open Doors” web site says, “Over 360 million Christians suffer persecution and discrimination. They follow Jesus, no matter the cost”. But these are the pilgrims, our brothers and sisters, who John could see in his vision. And he went on to say that all who live in Heaven are rejoicing about them. 

Jesus said in Matthew 5:11-12, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.” In Hebrews 11, that great chapter about faith, we read about Moses, “He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.” (Hebrews 11:26). 

Why do Christians suffer such persecution? We are motivated by love and compassion for our fellow human beings. Christian organisations and charities everywhere work tirelessly to help those less fortunate. The drug addicts, the poor, those struggling with all sorts of issues. The list is endless. I heard recently from a Christian lady who has successfully worked for some years running a youth project in the town where she lives in Norfolk, England. The charity for which she works does much good work amongst a marginalised segment of her society. And yet Christians are reviled and persecuted, even in societies that are more peaceful and accepting. But the reason is simply that the devil hates anything to do with the One he hates the most, God Himself. God’s people can be an easy target for him.

As pilgrims, we will all, sooner or later, have to face into persecution of one type or another. But one day we know that we will join our wonderful Heavenly Father in our eternal home. And we will find there the great heroes of our faith, who have paid the price for following God and not the devil. So we pray for all those who are being persecuted, that they will stand firm, regardless of the cost.

Dear God. Thank You for the opportunities we have to reach those who are less fortunate than us in our societies. Help us we pray to be salt and light in our communities, our families. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Salvation At Last

“Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, “It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth— the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.””
Revelation‬ ‭12:10-12 NLT

The time has finally arrived. With the ejection of the devil from Heaven, the Kingdom of God can finally be established. With it comes those attributes of His Kingdom, salvation and power. And, to fulfil the prophetic Scriptures, Christ Himself will rule and reign.

John saw in his vision that the devil was adopting the role of accuser, and recorded that fact in his writings. But accusing God’s people of what? Having been ejected from Heaven because of his sin, the last thing the devil wanted when he arrived on earth, was to find out that God had some of His children living there, covered by His love and grace. But to the devil’s “great anger” he did indeed find out that God’s grace through His Son, Jesus, had provided a remedy for sin even outside of Heaven. And so at every opportunity, he searched out, and continues to search out, God’s people, those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Once he has found a Christian, he waits, he tempts, and tries to get them to commit sin. If they fall he can then accuse them of being sinful like himself.

The story of Job gives us a fascinating insight into what the devil gets up to. We see in Job 1 that a conversation developed between God and satan about this Godly man, Job. We read in Job 1:7, ““Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan. Satan answered the Lord, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”” The plot pans out with Job afflicted by loss of family and fortune, and finally with boils. But through it all, the devil finds nothing in which to accuse Job of. We read in Job 1:22, “In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.” Job defeated the devil through his testimony. We Christians have an even greater opportunity to defeat the devil because we are covered “by the blood of the Lamb”. 

I don’t know about you, my readers, but the devil tries to attack me by resurrecting thoughts and scenarios from my life in the past, trying to bring me down with thoughts of shame and guilt. But I have a powerful weapon – through the blood of Jesus I am no longer the person I was. I am a new person, washed in “the blood of the Lamb”.We read in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” There is a picture of the flood of humanity travelling through their life along a road that is unknown to us pilgrims. It’s an easy road to see and follow, and it requires no effort to stay on it. To “go with the flow” is an expression often used today and it applies to most people we are likely to meet. Matthew recorded an illustration Jesus used about life choices, referring to gates and roads. We read in Matthew 7:13-14, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” But we pilgrims discovered a narrow gate in life. It was difficult to find and open. But through the grace of God, find it we did, and we chose to open it. On the other side was a narrow path that twists and turns into the distance. Today as we journey along that path, we don’t know what is ahead, and we find that the devil does his utmost to get us to return to the “broad” way. From our verses today we read about those pilgrims who have travelled this path before us. Pilgrims so intent on following that path that they have forfeited their lives rather than return to the other way. There will be rejoicing in Heaven as the fast-tracked martyrs arrive, undefeated by their adversary. There is an old song, referred to as a Negro Spiritual, based, in part, on the book of Revelation, and it refers to saints marching into Heaven, and one line the singers belt out is, “I want to be in that number”. I think all us pilgrims can agree on that!

Dear Lord and Father, we thank You that You are preparing a place for us in our Heavenly home. We thank You for Your love and grace, giving us time to complete our journeys. We thank You that in Christ we are new creations, fit to be called the children of God. Amen.

War In Heaven

“Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.”
Revelation 12:7-9 NLT

I must say I was perplexed when I read these verses because they don’t seem to fit in with the schedule of events in John’s vision. It is as though John has had a flash back in time. A bit like a film in which historical clips are occasionally shown in order to illustrate the plot, clips perhaps including the leading actor or actress when they were much younger, now being played out years later in front of the audience. The events that led up to the devil being ejected from Heaven are largely unknown though there are hints in Scripture that he was the most senior angel, involved in leading worship in Heaven. John’s vision described in today’s verses gives us some idea of the consequences of the devil’s rebellion. Sin was at the root of the devil’s downfall, as it was when Adam and Eve were ejected from their earthly paradise. We read in Genesis 3:23-24, “So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” There was, and is, no place for sin and sinful behaviour in Heaven, because our wonderful holy God lives there. The Garden of Eden was an extension of God’s domain here on earth – He frequently came to visit Adam and walked and talked with him – so sin couldn’t be tolerated there either.

The sad thing for mankind is that the devil and his angels are now occupying the same space on Planet Earth that we are. Not a problem for most people, because the devil’s malevolent ways fit in with their sinful and wicked inclinations. But for us pilgrims, trying to live and breathe God’s ways, the devil is a problem. Always trying to trip us up. Always trying to get us to fall into sin so that he can destroy our relationships with our loving Heavenly Father and divert us from polluting his sinful domain, Planet Earth, with purity and holiness. Of course, we have read the end of the Book. We know what will happen to him. But in the meantime we have to be on our guard. Thankfully, we have been warned in God’s Word, our Biblical Handbook. A well known verse is in 1 Peter 5:8, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” How does he “devour” pilgrims like us? One way is through temptation to try and get us to sin. He tried that on with Jesus (he failed, of course) but that never stopped him trying with anyone else. He started it in the Garden when he said to Eve, “ …. Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1). Putting doubts in our minds about God is one of the devil’s primary strategies. He will find out our weaknesses and will try and exploit them at every opportunity. 

Thankfully, God knows our weaknesses and doesn’t condemn us when we fail. We read in 1 John 1:9, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” We are living in a season of God’s grace, but as we know from the information contained in  the Book of Revelation, it won’t last for ever.

I am writing this at the start of a glorious day in the West of Scotland. The sea is calm, like glass, and the Isle of Jura is visible through the early morning mist rising off the sea. In such a moment it is easy to forget the devil is still out there. But God has prepared a place of care for us, a place of beauty in the world He created. And we are thankful for His provision, sustaining us in our pilgrimages through life, as, step by step, we trust in His protection.

Dear Father. Once again we thank You for Your love and grace. We reach out to You today secure in the knowledge that You are caring for us. Amen.

The Woman Fled

“She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.”
Revelation‬ ‭12:5-6 NLT

After the woman gave birth, and found that her child was safe, she did a runner, and ended up in the wilderness. To make any sense from this we have to be clear about who the woman was or who she represents. We considered yesterday that the woman could have been the Jewish nation, giving birth to their Messiah, Jesus. Or another possibility is that the woman represents the Church, giving birth to the rule and reign on Christ in His Kingdom. Or perhaps there is a combination of both possibilities.

But two truths do clearly emerge from these verses. Firstly, God took exceptional steps to make sure the child and his mother were protected. Secondly, the woman was important enough to Him that He cared for her, to the extent that the devil couldn’t touch her. We also have to consider that this could all have taken place over a significant period of time. Perhaps John’s vision provided a summary, condensed into a short video clip.

If we extrapolate and superimpose these events onto history, we find that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in Heaven. We read in Mark 16:19, “When the Lord Jesus had finished talking with them, he was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honour at God’s right hand.” Secondly, we know that we Christians are living in a time of God’s grace. He cares for each one of us, loving us, helping us, healing our hurts and diseases, talking with us. And, perhaps more controversially for some, He is caring for His own people, the Jewish nation. In spite of pogroms, persecution, wars, natural events, and even the Holocaust, His people are still a nation, living in their own lands once again in Palestine. 

How much God cares for us can be found in the illustration, the parable, that Jesus taught in Luke 15. We read in verse 20, “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” God not only provides and cares for us in a passive way, but He also more aggressively runs after us. He even encourages us to approach Him in times of stress. We read in 1 Peter 5:7, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” So we are living in a time of extraordinary love and grace, coming from our Heavenly Father. All we have to do is to take a small step towards Him. He’s looking our for us!

The “1,260 days”, three and a half years, is therefore a problem, if we take these verses literally.  Perhaps a time of seven years can be considered a representation of a very long time so half of that period might relate to what Jesus said in Matthew 24:22, “In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.” But I don’t know the relevance of “1,260 days”, and if it relates to this season of God’s grace in which we are living. We will find out one day, I’m sure. However, one thing I do know is that while God is close to us and listening, we have an opportunity to grasp His grace with both hands. The time for our salvation is close. We read in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2, “As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvellous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.” Perhaps we are in the caring place God provided for us in the wilderness of sinful humanity.

Dear Heavenly Father. We are so deeply grateful for Your care and provision in this sinful wilderness of life on Planet Earth. Please forgive us for the times when we have rejected Your care and tried to go our own ways. Your care covers us like a blanket, like the way a mother hen covers her chicks with her wings. Thank You Lord, Amen.

A Baby is Born

“…He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born. She gave birth to a Son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days”. 
Revelation 12:4b-6 NLT

The devil wasn’t at all happy about the impending birth. Her offspring was someone or something that he was very much afraid of and he had to destroy it, come what may. The description in John’s Revelation account seems to fit with the expectation that one day Christ will return, His second coming, and He will rule and reign together with His people. Perhaps the rule all nations with a rod of iron is a reference to the prophecy in Psalm 2:9, “You will break them with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots”. But it is possible that the “baby” in our verse today applies to the rule and reign of Christ, an event that started with His birth two thousand years ago and is still in process. Or did John’s vision once again run the video of an event that had already happened, the birth of God’s Son, Jesus, Himself? The devil was waiting for something to happen, so are we still looking to a future event at this point? A future event that will see the establishment of the Kingdom of God, ruled by Jesus, His second coming? The traditional view is that the birth event described by John was the first coming of Jesus, and the mother of the baby was the Jewish nation. But how does this fit in with the 1,260 days being assigned the label, ”The Great Tribulation”, which is yet to come? Whichever interpretation we choose to believe, however, is is clear that John’s vision was of something very significant. Once again, the verses in Revelation seem to generate more questions than answers.

We continue to read John’s account and see that the child was “snatched away” into God’s presence, where the devil couldn’t get to Him. The child in fact was brought into the very presence of God, which indicates that they had a close and special relationship. Of course, the most plausible explanation in this context is that the child was, and is, Jesus, God’s Son. But God also has a special relation with His children as well, those people who were adopted into His family, of which the first born was Jesus. We read in Hebrews 2:11, “So now Jesus and the ones He makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them His brothers and sisters”.

Do we pilgrims consider ourselves brothers and sisters of Christ? Sadly, many Christians look with suspicion at those in other denominations, but the reality is that we are all part of God’s family. Once when Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people He was told that His mother and brothers were outside and wanted to talk to Him. His response, recorded in Matthew 12:48-50 was, “Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”” Unfortunately, we so often get caught up in worldly thoughts and behaviours without addressing the real issue about our heart attitudes. We pilgrims aspire to be siblings of Jesus, so the solution is clear – we must do what God has asked us to do – His will. Do we know what that is? Perhaps a good place to start is Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect“.

Dear Father. We confess our desire to be Your children. Please help us to discern what Your will is for each one of us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Red Dragon

“Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth….”
Revelation 12:3-4a 

No prizes for guessing who this red dragon is. John again knows he is witnessing another “significant event“. Something special is about to happen. The red dragon is large, we are told. And he has seven heads, ten horns, seven crowns and a tail. What is this all about? It is worth reading Daniel 7, which gives us some insight into John’s description of the devil, particularly with reference to the horns.

The dragon has always, Biblically, referred to satan. Theologians propose that the heads, horns and crowns all refer to the Roman Empire. Their theology suggests that the seven heads describe the seven mountains on which Rome was built, the ten horns were ten kingdoms into which the Roman Empire was divided and the seven crowns confirm the seven-fold foundation of Rome. The fact that the dragon was coloured red confirms, they say, that the Roman Empire was involved. But the Roman Empire came and went, and has been replaced by many different governmental and political scenarios over the years, covering Europe and the Middle East. Another possibility is that John had a flashback in his vision, seeing events that had already happened.

Regardless, though, of what John’s vision actually meant, what conclusion can we draw from this verse in his Revelation? The implication is that a world power, under the devil’s jurisdiction, was dominant. John saw the devil’s tail sweep away a third “of the stars in the sky“.  There seems to be hints in the Bible that a third of all the angels rebelled along with satan and were thrown out of Heaven, so perhaps that explains the reference to the stars. Incidentally, we note that the stars were thrown down onto the earth. The angels have fallen from holiness and purity into uncleanliness, and have become the demons that have aggravated and tormented mankind from the beginning. But overall we get a picture of a malevolent being, waiting for a baby to be born. 

The devil, with his angels, has caused unimaginable misery and distress to mankind from the very beginning. He started with Adam and Eve and hasn’t let up one bit ever since. He even tried to tempt Jesus but had to give up in the face of a superior Being. The Apostle Peter wrote about the malevolence of the devil in 1 Peter 5:8, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour”. We have been warned! The devil hates pilgrims like us, people who are blood-bought followers of Jesus, because we have declared our allegiance to God and His Kingdom, instead of the devil and his. Peter continued in the next verse, “Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are”. We refuse to be distracted by the tempting whispers of our enemy, instead adhering to God and His Word, with a spiritual super glue that withstands all attacks.

Dear God. Where else can we go other than into Your arms, embraced with love and grace? We praise and thank You today for all that You have done. Amen.