The End Times

“Then the seven angels with the seven trumpets prepared to blow their mighty blasts.” 
Revelation 8:6 NLT

At this point in John’s vision, the humans on earth had been through famines and earthquakes. Wars and slaughter. All the woes delivered through the breaking of the seals were behind them. There were also 144,000 of God’s people, the Jews, present on earth and marked out with a seal that clearly denoted them as belonging to God. And here we are about to embark on the seven trumpet judgements. 

This was clearly the “End Times”, an event, or series of events, during which the earth and its inhabitants would be destroyed. Note that we are not aware from John’s vision about any reference to time. We do not know if all these judgements were to take place quickly, or whether they were to be drawn out over hundreds or even thousands of years. Was a judgement to be delivered followed by a long gap before the next one or was there to be one after another in quick succession? And it also begs the question – why didn’t God apply His judgement on the wickedness of mankind all in one go?

The obvious answer is down to God’s infinite patience, grace and compassion. We saw this time and again in the Old Testament accounts of when His people, the Israelites, lapsed into sin and wickedness. Sometimes generations passed away before God brought about a judgement dealing with their wickedness and evil ways, using nations such as the Philistines or the Assyrians as His judgement tools. Perhaps in the End Times in John’s vision, God was still patiently and graciously applying His judgements a bit at a time, in the process giving everyone, even generations, an opportunity to turn from their wicked ways and embrace Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

There are some today who believe that the End Time judgements have already started. Certainly, we hear reports of wars and strife, with the last century seeing two wars of unprecedented scale. There are global famines. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. All signs that appear both in Jesus’ accounts in Matthew, and in John’s vision here in Revelation. And there was a great expectation in the early church that Jesus would return “soon”. In reality we don’t know when the End Times will start, but we do know that one day there will come a time of judgement. Jesus’s disciples asked Him about when the world will end, and He gave them some clear answers in Matthew 24. But Jesus also said that no-one knows when it will be.

Today’s pilgrims know what is coming. And we look around at the wickedness that is infecting our world like a cancer, spreading out of control, threatening to consume us all in a maelstrom of evil. Our politicians have adopted anti-God ways and attitudes. Oh, if only they would read Psalm 2, and turn towards the One who has all wisdom and whose heart is breaking with pain over what they are doing. So we pilgrims pray for all those in government. All those who have rejected God and His ways. We pray for our friends, families and communities. And patiently wait for the Creator of the Universe, our loving Heavenly Father, to work out His ways in the souls of mankind.

Father God. I pray with my fellow brothers and sisters for our governments, our families, and friends, our communities, that Your Kingdom will come and Your will be done, today and forever. Amen.

The Four Winds

“Then I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds so they did not blow on the earth or the sea, or even on any tree. And I saw another angel coming up from the east, carrying the seal of the living God. And he shouted to those four angels, who had been given power to harm land and sea, “Wait! Don’t harm the land or the sea or the trees until we have placed the seal of God on the foreheads of his servants.” And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel:”
Revelation‬ ‭7:1-4 NLT

The scene in John’s vision changes. He now sees four angels, each standing at the four corners of the earth. Their task was to hold back the four winds, with the implication that wind-damage was waiting to happen. But before they could get to work, a fifth angel emerged from the East (with the dawn?) carrying “God’s seal”. And he called out to the four angels to wait. He had a job to do first. The vision continued and John discovered that the job of the angel carrying God’s seal was to place a mark on 144,000 people from the tribes of Israel. A mark that would clearly identify them as being servants of God. The number, 144,000, was derived from 12,000 people from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. And if we read on in chapter seven we find that each of the 12 tribes of Israel were listed by their family names derived from being sons and grandsons of Jacob.

We don’t know what the mark of the seal was. In this age of QR and bar codes, I suppose we could speculate about the seal being a digital mark. In John’s day, a seal would have been a blob of hard wax, pressed with an imprint from a ring. At first thought, a tattoo might be the mark, but then for the Jews that was prohibited, as we read in Leviticus 19:28, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord“. But whatever the mark was, it would have been distinctive. And the four angels holding back the winds had to wait before they could unleash them to do harm over the land and sea. 

It is interesting to note that at this point in John’s vision, the mark of God was applied to Jews and not Christians. We may be guilty of thinking that the Jewish nation was sidelined and overlooked by God, perhaps encouraged in this thought by what Jesus, speaking to the Jewish leaders, said in Matthew 21:43, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.” But it was quite clear in John’s vision that the 144,000 were Jews and not Christians of Gentile origins (I suppose they may have been Jewish Christians). It is also clear that those with a mark were not, as some sects have claimed, exclusively made up of their leaders and those members who are worthy of joining them. 

So why were the Jews marked? In John’s vision it was obviously important enough for the four winds to be held back. And they were being marked with God’s seal. It would seem reasonable to think that these Jews became Christians and proceeded to evangelise their fellow Jews, and the Gentile nations, in these difficult times in the Tribulation period.

As an aside, the Bible is clear that the Jews are God’s chosen people. As far back as the time of Abraham, God made a promise that He would make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the sands on the sea shore. We read in Genesis 22:17-18, “I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” God also made it clear that He would retain a remnant of His people throughout the generations, regardless of how they behaved (1 Kings 19:18, Romans 11:4). So we shouldn’t be surprised that God had a mission for His people, the Jews, in these end times. God told Abraham that through his descendants, the Jews, all the nations on earth would be blessed – perhaps this was one of the times when they would be called upon. And with a mark on them that distinguished them as belonging to God, the world’s remaining population would have been aware of who they were.

What sort of mark do we pilgrims carry? Are those around us aware of our faith and belief in God? Is it a positive or negative experience for them? Sadly, in our society here in Scotland, Christianity is considered to be a bit of an irrelevance. Church attendances are dwindling. And some churches and denominations are compromising or ignoring key teaching in the Bible, in a vain attempt to win new members. If our churches become accepting of worldly and unGodly beliefs why should a person, who is not a Christian, want to go there? But for us as individuals, we nevertheless have a mission. And that is to reach those people with our messages of hope, maintaining the purity of the Gospel and our faith. We look out for those who will otherwise be heading for a lost eternity. 

Father God. We too have a mission to our communities and families. Please lead us to the right people. And we pray for the strength and boldness to make our faith shine like a beacon, illuminating the dark corners in our worlds. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Spreading the Good News – 1

“As I briefly wrote earlier, God himself revealed His mysterious plan to me. 
And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving Him by spreading this Good News.
Ephesians 3:3, 6-7 NLT

Paul was much taken up with this thought of God’s “mysterious plan”. Looking back, as we do, there doesn’t seem much about it that is “mysterious”, but to the peoples of Paul’s day, the Middle East in the first century, it must have been an amazing revelation. This is the second time Paul has mentioned the subject in this Epistle, previously revealing it in chapter 1 and verse 10. Can you imagine the impact it would have had on the religious people of Paul’s day? The Jews would have immediately been offended and upset, that someone, particularly someone who they knew at one time was a Pharisee, would suddenly turn their belief system upside down, by preaching what to them was a heresy, committing the sin of blasphemy in the process. To the non-Jews, referred to as the Gentiles, the Good News would have had a similar impact, in that it too would come up against the worship of accepted religions such as the Greek pantheon of gods. The Ephesians had their own special god, Artemis, aka Diana. And we see the mayhem that Paul stirred up in Acts 19 when a riot developed because the local silversmiths, who made a living making images of the goddess, could see their livelihood disappearing. 

So God’s plan was so counter-cultural, that, humanly speaking, it was bound to fail. But as Paul pointed out, “God’s grace and mighty power” was involved. Perhaps the nearest scenario we could imagine today would be if someone was going round preaching the good news that Christians and Muslims were part of God’s plan, which was to unite them into one faith. Can you imagine the mayhem that would result? Even though God’s grace extends to everyone, regardless of who or what they are? 

God’s plan was one of equality and unity. Through Jesus we all share in His unlimited blessings. We all share in an inheritance unlike any other. And Paul again pointed out that he was privileged to be able to share God’s plan, through “God’s grace and mighty power“. A privilege to be in prison for sharing the Gospel? But a privilege it is. God had done so much for Paul, and does so much for us, that it is surely a privilege to be able to serve God through our service to Him. Regardless of the consequences. So we pilgrims continue our journey, conscious of, and grateful for, the sacrifice made by Paul, a sacrifice that laid the foundations for many a church congregation and left us a legacy of his grace and love filled letters. Letters that contain so much of our theology today. We too look out for opportunities to do our bit in sharing the Good News, just as necessary today as it was in Paul’s day. 

Memories of Zion

“Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, His holy mountain.
Walk about Zion, go round her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.”

Psalms‬ ‭48:1, 12-13‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Many years we used to sing the song derived from the first two verses of Psalm 48, and written by Steve McEwan in 1985. It’s one of my favourites still, over 30 years later. The contemporary Christian music genre is full of good songs, from worship powerhouses such as Bethel and Hillsongs, but also from individuals hearing from God and writing down what they receive through the Spirit. In it all, though, there is something significant about singing Scripture. It has already been “God-breathed” through Godly men and women, many centuries ago, and has stood the test of time in one of the most important written works mankind has ever had the privilege to hold, The Holy Bible.

Psalm 48, though, enthuses over Zion, the city of God. But what is all this about this place called Zion? It initially appeared in the Bible as a fortified part of Jerusalem, to which was added the Temple area, but became extended in scope to eventually mean a figurative description of the people of Israel, the Jews. And then in the New Testament it took on a spiritual significance as God’s spiritual kingdom. Today the word “Zionist” has become synonymous with the Jewish nation, and sadly has become a derogatory term for Jews adopted by anti-Semites everywhere. A situation which is not really surprising because the enemy of God’s people, Satan, does not like to think that there is a physical and spiritual domain belonging to God in this world, which he claims for himself. And so he whips up anti-Jewish feelings among other nations and peoples everywhere.

However, the Psalmist ends his Psalm with the instruction to “walk about Zion”. Imagine if someone had said to you that they want you to walk around, say, Edinburgh Castle or Westminster Abbey, observing and recording the layout, with all its artefacts and architectural features, making notes so that you can share everything that you have seen with your children, your next generation? It could be quite a project, I think you will agree. But what about doing the same with our spiritual Zion? Where God lives? That would be a project that will take a lifetime and more, because no matter how hard we try, and how much time we can devote, we will never plumb the depths of God and His Kingdom. We will never find the limits of His domain. But we can share the glimpses of His home that the Holy Spirit reveals to us. Sharing a physical picture of an earthly edifice is only of limited value to the next generation, but sharing a spiritual picture of God’s Kingdom, particularly through our own experiences of His grace and love, will save their lives.

So today, join me in “walking around Zion”. I find my “Zion” in the pages and verses of Scripture. In the highways and byways of my local prayer walks in Dean Woods. In the company of God’s people. But where do you find your “Zion”? The amazing fact about God’s Kingdom is that it is everywhere. No matter where we are, where we live, who we are with, even when using technology such as WhatsApp or Zoom, we will find God and His presence. If we look for Him.