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Month: June 2016

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 20– The 1,000 Years, the Great White Throne, and the Lake of Fire

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 20– The 1,000 Years, the Great White Throne, and the Lake of Fire

Without a doubt, Revelation is one of the most puzzling chapters in all of the Bible. There is little chance that every question can be adequately answered in such an abbreviated commentary, but I will do my best to give a general understanding of this very puzzling chapter.

Revelation 20:1-6 (The Binding of Satan; the 1,000 Year Reign of Christ)
In this section we are told two things: (1) Satan is bound and thrown into the Abyss for 1,000 years; and (2) The martyred saints come to life and reign with Christ for 1,000 years. There are a few literary connections we can make with other things in Revelation. First of all, in chapter 9, at the sounding of the 5th trumpet, a “fallen star” comes down out of Heaven with a key and opens up the Abyss. Here, another angel comes down out of Heaven in order to bind Satan, throw him into the Abyss, and shut the Abyss.

Second, the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus (19:4) is a clear reference to the martyred souls under the altar in 6:9-11, as well as 14:13; 17:6; and 18:24. Thirdly, echoes of 1:5-6; 2:11; 2:26-28, and 3:21 can be seen here as well.

But here is where things get confusing. First of all, why the 1,000 years? Why does Christ (and the resurrected dead in Christ) reign for only 1,000 years? Why is Satan released again after the 1,000 years? Are they a literal 1,000 years? What is going on here? There are no sure answers to these questions. What follows, though, is what I think is the most plausible explanation.

1,000 Year Reign of Christ
Four Views of End TimesSo, why 1,000 years? This gets us into the question of millennialism, of which there are basically four general views: Historical Premillenialism, Dispensationalist Premillenialism, Posmillenialism, and Amillenialism. Instead of going into a full-fledged discussion of each one, I will just provide the following chart. Instead, I will talk about what some of the prevailing Jewish apocalyptic views concerning God’s kingdom were during the time of John.

One idea saw history as a repeating of the seven days of creation, each day representing 1,000 years.  The six days of divine work were followed by God’s Sabbath rest—so the six “days” of human history will be followed by a Sabbath of the Messiah’s kingdom, which in turn would give place to an “eighth day” without end—the timeless age of the eternal kingdom. Hence, many viewed history this way: 2,000 years from creation to Moses; 2,000 years from Moses to the Messiah; 2,000 years of the Messiah’s kingdom; followed by 1,000 years of Sabbath for the world.

But for John, there was probably more to it that just this. He obviously used Ezekiel 36-48  as a pattern for his writing about the coming kingdom of God in Revelation 20-22. Ezekiel 36-37 describe a “resurrection” of Israel and the restoration of the nation to its land under the rule of a new David. After an unspecified period, the rebellion of Gog and Magog occurs (38-49), followed by the promise of a new Jerusalem with a new temple in the bliss of an untroubled kingdom (40-48). It is very possible, therefore, that John was telling the seven churches to re-interpret this prophecy of Ezekiel in light of the saving work of Christ.  The true Israel (i.e. followers of Christ) would one day be resurrected to reign with Christ. John simply took the unspecified time in Ezekiel’s prophecy and labeled it as the 1,000 years of popular apocalyptic thought of the time to emphasize the idea of the new creation, and that the time would be a Sabbath rest for God’s people.

That might be a bit confusing, so let me try to sum up. John clearly believed that in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, that the promised Kingdom of God had finally come to mankind, and that the New Messianic Age had broken into the old age of sin and death. But John also realized that the Kingdom was not fully consummated yet: it had come, but it wasn’t yet completed. Like the invasion at Normandy in WWII, the vital victory had been achieved, but there still was a “mop up operation” that had to be done to complete the ultimate victory.

Hence, the current time of suffering and tribulation of Christians was seen as that kind of “mop up operation.” The Kingdom of God had come, and through the suffering of the followers of Christ, the Kingdom was gaining control over Satan’s kingdom (much like how the Allies slowly took back France from the Nazis after Normandy). Once the mop up operation was complete, once “the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed…had been completed (Rev. 6:11), that would signal then defeat of the beast, the binding of Satan, and the ushering in of God’s Sabbath rest for creation.

Pretty simple, eh? It actually makes sense, if you think about it. (You can chew on how I Corinthians 15:20-28 relates to this as well, if you’re up for it!). Anyway, given this explanation as to what the 1,000 years is, the next question is, “Who gets raised in this ‘first resurrection’?” Is it just those who have been martyred, or is it the whole Church? The implication is that those who have died in Christ will be raised to rule with all the believers in Christ. Verse 4 says that John saw (a)those who had been given authority to judge (see 2:26-28; 3:21—this implies all believers), and (b) those who had died in Christ. The result is that the whole Church reigns with Christ during this “1,000 year Sabbath Rest/Reign of Christ.” The rest of the dead, therefore, does not refer to the rest of the Christian dead, but to the rest of the dead, outside of Christ. Those who have taken part in the first resurrection (the dead who have been raised and the living who will be transformed—I Cor. 15:50-57), therefore, have nothing to fear from the second death, for death will no longer have power over them, just as it had no power over the resurrected Christ.

Revelation 20:7-10 (Actually, a bit like Genesis 1-3!)
Binding of SatanBut why is Satan released again? A simple answer is this: it is very likely that Genesis taught John (as well as Ezekiel) something about the paradise of God. In Genesis, in the first paradise, the serpent was allowed to tempt man in order to expose the nature of man’s heart. In Genesis 3, man clearly failed the test. In God’s new creation, therefore, Satan will be allowed once more to test man, in order to expose the nature of man’s heart. The first time resulted in exile from the Garden of Eden; the second time results in the entrance into the New Jerusalem, a return to the Garden, and the ultimate defeat of the dragon.

Revelation 20:11-14 (The Great White Throne and the Lake of Fire)
Great White ThroneAfter Satan’s defeat, the “rest of the dead” are raised up to judgment. Here, we see a “great white throne”—this should remind us of the first thing John saw in Heaven, back in 4:2. The point is quite simple: these dead, who have not been raised to new life in Christ, are judged according to what they had done, because they refused the grace offered to them through what Christ had done.  The Lake of Fire, the second death, the eternal judgment for Death itself, still has power over them.

One should note that the reference to “Death and Hades” being thrown into the Lake of Fire relates to I Cor. 15:20-57. With the resurrection power of eternal life in Christ, the power of Death is dead, and to quote John Donne, “Death, thou shalt die.”

Finally, there has always been a question and debate whether or not unbelievers will be “tortured in hell-fire” for eternity. I wrote a post or two on this very topic last year. I’d encourage you to read them.

Oh Hell…or Hades…or Gehenna…or Sheol! Will there be an Eternal Crispy Burning Sensation there? (Part 1)

Oh Hell…or Hades…or Gehenna…or Sheol! Will there be an Eternal Crispy Burning Sensation there? (Part 2)

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 18-19–Flee Babylon, Come to the Lamb’s Wedding Banquet, and Don’t Get Caught Being the Supper of God!

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 18-19–Flee Babylon, Come to the Lamb’s Wedding Banquet, and Don’t Get Caught Being the Supper of God!

Fortunately, Revelation 18 does not need much explanation. Most of what is said in chapter 18 repeats the things said in the previous 17 chapters.

Revelation 18:1-8—The Call to Come Out of Babylon
Verses 1-8, the declaration that Babylon the Great has fallen, echoes many passages in the Old Testament (Isaiah 13:1-14:23; 21:1-10; Jeremiah 25:12-38; Jeremiah 50-51; Ezekiel 26-28). The idolatrous/adulterous Babylon will be laid waste by the hand of the LORD.  So too will idolatrous/adulterous Rome; so too will any city or nation that stands against the LORD and persecutes his people.

Verses 4-8 are particularly interesting. First: “Come out of her, my people.” This echoes passages such as Isaiah 48:20: “Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it forth to the end of the earth; say ‘The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob!’” And also Jeremiah 51:45: “Come out of her, my people! Save your lives, each of you, from the fierce anger of the LORD!” In both passages there is judgment pronounced against Old Testament Babylon and redemption for God’s people. The declaration to the seven churches is the same: Rome will eventually be laid waste, and the children of God will be vindicated and redeemed from this evil world.

Finally, verse 8 is interesting. The plagues obviously echo the plagues of the Exodus against Egypt. The fire also not only echoes the judgment of Sodom, but many early Christians would have undoubtedly seen the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 AD (just 25 years before Revelation was written) as a sign of God’s judgment of Jerusalem for their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

Revelation 18:9-23—The Lament of Commercialism
In this section consists of the laments by the kings of the earth, the merchants of the earth, and the sailors of the sea. In every case, they weep and mourn, stand far off, and are terrified by Babylon’s torment. Why? Because all three represent the commercialism, commerce, and materialism that Rome supported.  In a modern context, John might very well tell Christians in America to “come out of her” and “don’t commit adultery with her”—meaning don’t get wrapped up in the materialism, commercialism, immorality, and sex-driven consumeristic society that we live in. Instead of kings, merchants, and sailors, there would probably be CEOs, Wall Street bankers, business moguls, lawyers, UPS workers, and people who do business on the internet. Just as Rome was the superpower back then, so too is the USA the superpower today. It is worth contemplating what Revelation is saying to America today? No, there is not a persecution of Christians going on, but my oh my is there the seductive temptations of materialism.

One final thing to notice is the list of cargoes of the merchants—the last cargo mentioned is “the lives of men.” Although it is first and foremost referring to slavery, I think we can also see it as a reference to the dehumanizing effect materialism and commercialism has on society.  Back then there was forced prostitution in pagan temples, gladiator games in the coliseums, as well as flat-out slavery. In America we still have prostitution, and we have sweatshops in third world countries, making goods for American citizens to buy cheaply.  America too has its own cargo of human lives.

Revelation 19:1-10—Heaven Rejoices Over Babylon’s Destruction/The Wedding
In contrast to the merchants’ lament over Babylon’s destruction, Revelation 19:1-10 gives the rejoicing in Heaven over Babylon’s destruction. Specifically, in 19:7-8, we are told that the wedding of the Lamb has come, and that his bride has made herself ready with fine linen, which is the righteous acts of the saints. This picture of a weeding supper is very important.

Wedding SupperBack in Genesis 1-3, the picture we have is that of a banquet: God and mankind together in a garden of food—it was a picture of communion of God and mankind. Also, in the gospels, one of the things that Jesus did that was so scandalous was that he shared table with the kind of people who were not considered to be particularly religious. “Sharing table” had incredible significance in that society—it meant that you accepted that person’s love and fellowship. The fact that Jesus accepted the love and fellowship of tax-collectors (seen by the Jews as traitors to Rome), prostitutes, and common “sinners” (and not the Temple priests and Pharisees!) was one of the reasons why Jewish religious authorities wanted him killed. He was saying that the Kingdom of God was being offered, not to the outwardly religious, but to the people the religious leaders had deemed to be “sinners”!

Jesus was always sharing table with people. He was enacting what the Kingdom of God was about. The Last Supper was a meal, after all, not just a strict religious ceremony. In other words, Jesus was giving a glimpse of what the ultimate Wedding Supper of the Lamb would be like (Mark 2:15-20). Simply put, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb points all the way back to Genesis 1-3, and Jesus’ sharing table with “sinners” (including the Last Supper) points forward to the Wedding Supper here in Revelation 19.

Revelation 19:11-21—The Defeat of the Beast
Verses 11-21 give us the picture of the defeat of the beast and the kings of the earth at the hands of Christ. The way in which Christ, the rider on the white horse, is described reflects the way he is described in the very beginning of Revelation—both in John’s vision of 1:12-16, and in the seven letters to the seven churches.

A number of things should be pointed out. First, his name, the Word of God, echoes John 1:1-18, where John says that “the Word was made flesh.” What did he mean by this? He meant that God’s Spirit, who promised salvation way back in Genesis 3, who bound himself to the promise in the covenant with Abraham, who expanded it through Moses and David, and who inspired the prophets to prophesy about a New Covenant—was “fleshed out” in the person of Jesus Christ. God promised salvation and “gave his word,” so to speak. He then made good on that promise, kept his word, and fleshed it out in the person of Jesus Christ, who initiated the promised New Covenant.

Given this fact, one thing should be clarified. When Paul (Eph. 6:17) or the writer of Hebrews (4:12) refers to “the word of God,” they are not referring to the Bible. At the time they wrote their letters, there was no such thing as the New Testament yet. They are referring to the power of the Spirit of God himself. When Jesus began his ministry, he read Isaiah 61:1 and 58:6 in his hometown synagogue: “The Spirit of YHWH is upon me…” God’s Holy Spirit was not fleshed out in Jesus. Then, after Jesus’ ascension, at Pentecost, his followers were filled with that same Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God came through Christ, and was spread through his followers, by means of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Rider on White HorseTherefore,  as we get back to Revelation 19:11-21, we notice that Jesus, the Word of God, strikes down the nations with a sharp sword from his mouth. The sharp sword is the power of the Holy Spirit. We also notice that the rider on the white horse—Jesus Christ, the Word of God—is the one who treads the winepress of God’s wrath (see Rev. 14:17-20). This rider on a white horse is very different from the rider on Rome’s white horse from the first seal.

Next, we see a reference to the Great Supper of God in 19:17. But this isn’t the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. This verse echoes Ezekiel 39:17, in which the beasts of the earth are called together to feast on the flesh of God. The point is simply that everything in Revelation seems to come in pairs of two:

  • The Heavenly Jerusalem vs. Babylon the Great
  • The Woman clothed with the sun vs. the Great Whore and the Dragon
  • Christ vs. the Beast
  • The woman’s offspring vs. the Dragon’s offspring
  • And now, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb vs. the Great Supper of God

Finally, in 19:19-21, we have the defeat of the two beasts and the kings of the earth by the rider on the white horse and his armies (i.e. the saints). The two beasts are thrown into the Lake of Fire, and the kings of the earth are killed by the sword that comes out of the mouth of the rider on the white horse. So, the oppressors of God’s people are gone, and their leaders—the two beasts—are thrown in the Lake of Fire. There is one enemy left to be conquered: the Dragon, Satan himself. And with Revelation 20, we see his end.

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation–Revelation 17: The Whore of Babylon

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation–Revelation 17: The Whore of Babylon

Chapters 17-19:10 form somewhat of a parenthesis to the basic action of Revelation. Now that Babylon has been split apart in chapter 16, John takes a timeout to tell just exactly who this Babylon the Great really is: who is the great prostitute? Before we get into the details of chapter 17, we will present the answers up front.

If the sea beast is the Roman Emperor Domitian, seen as sort of a resurrected Nero, and the land beast is the Imperial cult that impelled people to worship the emperor as a god, then Babylon the Great is the city of Rome itself—to John and the early Christians, Rome was the great city of the world; it symbolized everything that was opposed to Christ.  It must be pointed out, though, that for Christians throughout the centuries, “Babylon the Great” has taken on different incarnations: for Christians in WWII Germany, it was Berlin; for blacks in South Africa during Apartheid, it was Johannesburg, where the racist government was; for Christians today in America, what can we say? Las Vegas? Hollywood? New York? Washington D.C.?

In any case, “Babylon the Great” can be any empire, any city,  that oppresses God’s people and promotes spiritual adultery. For Christians in 95 AD though, it was pretty clear: “Babylon” was code for Rome (I Peter 5:13).

Specifics of Revelation 17
Whore of BabylonThe first thing to point out regarding Revelation 17 is that John is told that Babylon, the “great prostitute,” sits on many waters. This relates to two things. First, as alluded to in Jeremiah 50:38; 51:13, the actual Old Testament city of Babylon stood on the banks of the Euphrates River—it was known as the city that sat on many waters. Second, one must also see the reference to “many waters” as having echoes of the waters of chaos from which the dragon called the sea beast.

Secondly, when John is taken to the wilderness to see the woman who had fled, we must ask, “Why a wilderness?” Possibly because the waters of the Euphrates were dried up with the sixth bowl of wrath? An allusion to the wilderness wandering during the Exodus? It’s ironic that just as the woman clothed with the sun fled to the wilderness to escape the dragon—and that woman represents God’s people Israel—that John goes out to the wilderness to see this woman—the great prostitute Babylon.

In any case, what John sees in astonishing: the woman is dressed in purple and scarlet, glittering with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She holds a golden cup filled with the filth of her adulteries, and she is drunk on the blood of the saints. She definitely looks like a gaudy prostitute, doesn’t she? The way she is dressed is contrasted with how the bride of the Lamb, the New Jerusalem, is dressed in Revelation 21. One is pure and undefiled, and the other is filthy and corrupt.

Thirdly, the woman is not alone. She is sitting on a scarlet beast that is covered with blasphemous names. So who is the beast? Need we ask? The way he is described (i.e. 7 heads/10 horns) makes it obvious: it is the beast that the dragon had called up from the sea; the Roman Emperor…Domitian, the “resurrected Nero” of sorts. Now, there is a lot of complex stuff going on in 17:8-12, so we will only briefly address a few things.

  • The beast “once was, now is not, and yet will come”—this is a parody of the divine name YHWH, which means “who was, who is, and is to come (Rev. 1:4, 8; 4:8) The beast is a parody and mockery of God—he is the antichrist.
  • The beast comes up out of the Abyss and goes to his destruction—this spells out his Satanic origins (i.e. the one who kills the two witnesses in Revelation 11/the one who received power from the dragon in Revelation 13) and his ultimate end.
  • The seven hills on which the woman sits—wait, wasn’t she sitting on many waters? Isn’t she sitting on the beast? Yes…but in apocalyptic literature, the symbolism can be rather free. Here, the seven hills represents the city of Rome, for it was built on seven hills.

One final thing to point out in Revelation 17 deals with 17:15-18. We are told that the beast will hate the prostitute, bring her to ruin, and leave her naked. This, John says, is according to God’s purpose. This picture is strikingly similar to Ezekiel 23:25-25, where Ezekiel prophesies that because of Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness to God, that God would allow Jerusalem to be destroyed at the hands of Babylon:

I will direct my indignation against you, in order that they may deal with you in fury. They shall cut off your nose and your ears, and your survivors shall fall by the sword. They shall seize your sons and your daughters, and your survivors shall be devoured by fire.They shall also strip you of your clothes and take away your fine jewels.So I will put an end to your lewdness and your whoring brought from the land of Egypt.”  (Eze 23:25-27)

[They will] “leave you naked and bare, and the nakedness of your whorings shall be exposed. Your lewdness and your whorings have brought this upon you, because you played the whore with the nations, and polluted yourself with their idols.You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand.” (Eze 23:29-31)

This is how God dealt with unfaithful Jerusalem in the Old Testament, and this is how He will deal with the great whore of Babylon, clearly identified with Rome.

One Final Comment
We must remember that John was a prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit to get his readers (the seven churches who were undergoing persecution under Domitian) to look at their historical situation in light of the assured promises of God that were proven to be trustworthy through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Simply put, what John is saying throughout Revelation is this:

Rome isn’t going to last; her persecution of you is only for a time. Don’t give in to her temptations; don’t be seduced by her idols and immorality, no matter how attractive it may look. Stay faithful to Christ, because when all is said and done, Rome won’t last. Your home is the New Jerusalem and the New creation, not the earthly city of Rome, or Jerusalem, or any other city—so stay faithful. Even if Domitian is a resurrected Nero, even if he destroys you, he’s not going to last. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega—not Rome, not Domitian, not even Satan. Their kingdom is only for a short time, but the Kingdom of God is forever, and it is being established even now. So stay faithful and remain true to Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior—not Rome, not Domitian, not Satan.

John was not into far-off future predictions or fortune-telling, no matter what Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye, or John Hagee might claim. He was trying to get his readers to see the bigger picture of God’s plan. That is what we need to do also.

Atheist Jerry Coyne is a Scientist: He Can Review Books Without Even Having to Read Them (Part 2)

Atheist Jerry Coyne is a Scientist: He Can Review Books Without Even Having to Read Them (Part 2)

hicmmea-2In my previous post, I discussed Jerry Coyne’s dismissive book review of a new book from BioLogos entitled, How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science. What was fascinating about it was that Coyne admitted he hadn’t even read it. So in reality, his book review was a review of someone else’s article, along with the publicity blurb that BioLogos put out about the book.

Jerry Coyne, for the record, is a science professor at the University of Chicago and an atheist who is part of the New Atheist Movement. He even has recently written a book, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible—the name of the book is self-explanatory.

In any case, there was so much to talk about, I just couldn’t fit everything into one post…hence, “Part 2.”

Coyne on Haarsma…
In the second part of his review, Coyne quotes the article he read that quoted Deborah Haarsma, the president of BioLogos: [Haarsma] treasures Genesis, she said, because she reads in it the message that “God is continually sustaining the universe he created with intention and for a purpose.” Science, she wrote, doesn’t replace God, “it gives us a human description of how God is creating and sustaining.”

Now, I think that is a pretty straightforward and accurate statement: science doesn’t replace God. Science (and specifically evolution in this case) is simply a description of the natural processes of the world. Consequently, if you’re an atheist, you’ll think that there is no one behind those natural processes; if you’re a Christian, you’ll think that those natural processes are the means by which God continues to create. But science (and evolution specifically) cannot comment on the existence or non-existence of God, because it is limited to the how questions.

Well, Coyne doesn’t seem to agree. His response is, “Maybe a ‘how’, but surely not a why! As I noted above, it would be a cruel and capricious God who would create through evolution and natural selection. The onus is on theists to tell us why God used evolution rather than de novo creation.”

Jerry-coyneMethinks Coyne has over-stepped the boundaries of science. Once again, he puts forth is idea that if there is a God then evolution would make him “cruel and capricious,” (whereas without a God, evolution is marvelous and wondrous). And then, Coyne the scientist criticizes Christians who believe in evolution because they can’t explain why he did it that way, and not “de novo”—(i.e. instantaneously). I’m sorry, that response is not only not a valid scientific objection, it also is quite childish. It’s a cop out, pure and simple. Why do “theists” have to explain why God creates through evolution, and not all at once? Because Coyne says they have to? I don’t think so.

Coyne is Really Hung Up on Adam and Eve
Coyne then (again) questions how Christians can come to accept evolution based on the evidence, but then continue to believe in a historical Adam and Eve, even though there is no evidence for that. And again, as I said in the previous post, that actually is a valid point to an extent. All I can add to my previous comments is this: you can’t criticize Christians for taking the time to work these things through. In the Evangelical world, ultra-fundamentalists have shoved this paranoid, “evolution is of the devil” stuff for almost a century; many Evangelicals are finally breaking out of that kind of thinking. You can’t expect people to just flip a switch and automatically change. Thinking takes contemplation and time. To criticize that there are some Christians who accept evolution who aren’t yet ready to give up insistence on a historical Adam and Eve is, in my opinion, quite snobbish…

…and I outright condescending. Consider what Coyne says next: “In other words, the book attempts to reconcile an evidence-based scientific conclusion with a brand of Christianity based solely on ancient scripture, revelation, and wish-thinking.”

There you have it: science is “evidence-based” (okay, that’s true), and Christianity is “based solely on ancient scripture, revelation, and wish-thinking” (no…no…and no). First, Christianity is not based solely on ancient scripture. Christian doctrine was developed by some of the most astute, brilliant philosophers and thinkers during the Roman and later Byzantine empires, not to mention brilliant men like Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, and many others. Second, it’s quite clear that the reason why Coyne includes “ancient” and “revelation” is that he equates them both with “wish-thinking” (I think he means “wishful thinking”). But is Christianity just wishful thinking? What Coyne’s comment shows is that, although it is clear he has read Freud’s infantile Future of an Illusion, he clearly has not taken the time to actually understand Church history.

Coyne then says that’s why he doesn’t like these types of attempts of reconciling science and faith, “for while it touts the science, it dilutes it with superstition and enables faith-based ‘truths’ at the same time.” Let me translate what Coyne means: “I don’t like people trying to say you can have faith and embrace science at the same time, because I’ve already concluded that anyone who is a Christian is a diluted, superstitious rube.” I’d like to say to that, “Well, Dr. Coyne, tell that to the likes of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Polkinghorne…” You get the picture. Coyne’s claim that science and faith cannot co-exist flies in the face of the reality of the history of scientific inquiry.

Coyne and BioLogos’ Promotion of the Book
biologos2xCoyne ends his book review by commenting on the promotional blurb BioLogos put out for the book. BioLogos’ purpose is pretty obvious: to let people know they don’t have to choose between the stances of either atheist Richard Dawkins or young earth creationist Ken Ham, and that there is harmony between science and the biblical faith.

That is utterly true. And that is why it is a shame to see the extremists on both sides (i.e. the New Atheists and Young Earth Creationists) use this issue to stir up such paranoia and hatred. And let’s be honest, both sides have profited tremendously off of playing up this idea that there is a “war” between science and faith. I mean hey, Coyne just put a book out on this very thing last month.

In any case, Coyne’s criticism goes back to…again…Adam and Eve (which he erroneously calls “a fable”). One of the real fundamental problems with both young earth creationists like Ken Ham and new atheists like Jerry Coyne is that both of them erroneously label Genesis 1-11, thus making it really, really hard for everyday people (Christians in particular) to properly understand the genre of Genesis 1-11: it’s not “fable,” or “legend,” or straightforward history. If you want to know why so many Evangelical Christians who now accept evolution aren’t quite ready to let go of a historical Adam and Eve, it’s because people like Ken Ham and Jerry Coyne are telling them that either the story of Adam and Eve is history or else it is a fairytale or fable. And so, as we see, many Christians are still working through this…and that’s okay.

…except for Jerry Coyne. He just wants to see Christians interpret the Genesis 2-3 like he does, which is to say he wants them to think it all a fable—and this would be just as incorrect and wrong as accepting Ken Ham’s interpretation, that it is about the first couple a mere 6,000 years ago.

The Way Coyne Sees Things
In any case, it is in the course of this criticism that Coyne actually lays out his own views regarding science and the Bible. He writes:

“As for having to choose between science and faith, well, yes, the rational person should. You can’t accept scientific evidence based on one set of criteria, and simultaneously accept religious stories as true based on a completely different set of criteria. In Faith versus Fact I develop the argument that the Abrahamic religions, and others as well, are indeed grounded on assertions about the world and cosmos, and thus potentially susceptible to empirical testing…”

Basically, Coyne doesn’t think it is possible to for science and faith to co-exist. More specifically, let’s cut to the chase: he doesn’t think it is possible for evolution and faith to co-exist. In this respect, he’s in the same boat as Ken Ham. Well, he’s in luck, I’ve heard Ken Ham is building a boat as we speak!

Seriously, though, Coyne is rejecting the very premise of BioLogos’ argument. They have come out with a book where 25 scientists, theologians, philosophers and biblical scholars describe how they have come to the conclusion that science and faith are not at war with each other, and Coyne’s basic response (in a book review of a book he has not bothered to read!) is this, “Nu uh!”

He claims it is “rational” to choose between the two because, as he states, you can’t have different sets of criteria for science and religion. Simply put, Coyne believes scientific criteria is the only basis for ascertaining truth in the world. By claiming this, he is completely rejecting the notion of metaphysics. His assumption is that the natural world and natural laws are all that exist, and he is putting forth that assumption as his argument against religion. But that assumption isn’t an argument—it is an unprovable assumption. Again, like I said in my previous post, Coyne’s shell game is almost as obvious as Ken Ham’s.

And while we’re at it, let’s not what he says about his own book, Faith vs. Fact. He states that his argument is that the Abrahamic religions “are grounded on assertions about the world and the cosmos.” What that means is that Coyne is assuming that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all doing modern science in Genesis 1-11, and that therefore they are wrong in their claims. But Genesis 1-11 isn’t doing modern science! To assume it is, is just foolish, plain and simple.

Let’s be clear: Coyne’s understanding of Genesis 1-11 is the exact same at Ken Ham’s, namely that Genesis 1-11 is attempting to provide answers to 21st century scientific questions. This is highly ironic, given the fact that in the very BioLogos blurb that Coyne quotes, BioLogos points out that many Christian scholars and scientists “are grieved by the way Scripture is often forced to answer twenty-first century questions that it was never intended to address.”

Of course Coyne is going to criticize this book, it undercuts the very premise of his own.

Coyne ends his review (of the book he hasn’t read) by predictably criticizing BioLogos’ claim that God is the source of all truth, and that science reveals truth about the natural world, whereas scripture reveals the truth about the metaphysical nature of who man is and who God is, and how He has revealed Himself in the history of ancient Israel and the early Church. He writes two things. First he writes:

This assumes, of course, that religion does tell us the “truth” about Jesus Christ and the way to have a relationship with God. But Islam gives us completely different “truths” from Christianity. Which one is right? Science has a way of adjudicating these issues; religion doesn’t.

I’m sorry, this is an utterly sloppy and uninformed statement. First, “religion” doesn’t tell us the truth about Jesus—Christianity, specifically the first century writings of the New Testament, tells us the truth about Jesus. And much of that is historically reliable. Ascertaining the historical reliability of these writings is the responsibility of the historian, not a biologist.

Second, although it is obvious that Christian claims about God and Jesus are different than than of Islam, and although it is true that one or the other is true, it is utterly absurd for Coyne to claim that science is able to “adjudicate these issues,” when he has just stated that among the “issues” to which he is referring is “how to have a relationship with God”—which is clearly not a scientific issue.

To be clear: the issues of God’s existence, and the nature and purpose of human beings are not “scientific issues”—they are metaphysical issues. Coyne, though, not only dismisses the very existence of metaphysical reality, he actually claims that science is able test and adjudicate those metaphysical issues that he denies even exist. That is truly astounding.

Coyne ends with the following:

In the end, that’s why a dialogue between science and faith is futile. Or rather, it’s a one-way dialogue—a monologue. Science can tell religion which of its claims are false, but religion can’t tell science which of its claims are true. And it is this asymmetry that compels a rational person to choose between science—construed as a combination of evidence, observation, agreement, and reason—and faith.

First, Like both Richard Dawkins and Ken Ham, Coyne criticism of what BioLogos is trying to do rest on a mere assumption that science and faith don’t mix—and such an assumption flies in direct contradiction to the historical facts of the rise of modern science (namely, that a whole bunch of Christians were at the forefront of it).

Second, Coyne clearly cannot tell the difference between scientific claims regarding the natural world and religious claims of metaphysical realities. He also wrongly assumes that the primary function of religion (and let’s get more specific, the Bible) is to make scientific claims. And again, as should be obvious, the Bible isn’t trying to do modern science. But Coyne can’t see that. His reading of Genesis 1-11 is just as simplistic and uninformed as that of Ken Ham. Again, they’re in the same boat…head to Kentucky today to see its grand opening on July 7th!

Finally, the very way Coyne juxtaposes science and faith is outright false. He presents them as addressing the same thing (i.e. trying to make scientific claims about the natural world), and then says science uses evidence, observation, agreement, and reason to find truth about the natural world. That is actually true—that is what science does. But religious faith (and again, let’s be clear, he’s talking about Genesis 1-11) isn’t addressing the same issues of how nature works.

To be blunt, Coyne’s review of the book he didn’t read is completely unreasonable. He displays (1) a contempt for even considering the possibility of metaphysical reality, (2) an inability to differentiate between what science addresses and what religion (particularly Christianity) addresses, and (3) a curious hubris for his disdain of faith and his unwillingness to even figure out what Genesis 1-11 and the rest of the Bible are actually addressing.

I would say I’m baffled, but I’m not. I’ve read too much of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris (as well as their doppleganger Ken Ham) to be baffled at anything they claim. It is all so predictable and pedantic. Rabid ideology always is.

Atheist Jerry Coyne Reviews a BioLogos Book on Evolution…Even Though He Didn’t Bother to Read It! (Part 1)

Atheist Jerry Coyne Reviews a BioLogos Book on Evolution…Even Though He Didn’t Bother to Read It! (Part 1)

The other day I came across a short book review by Jerry Coyne, the well-known atheist and biology professor at the University of Chicago. It was entitled, “The Intellectual Vacuity of Theistic Evolution: A New Book from BioLogos.” Just this past May, Coyne published the book, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. I haven’t read the book—after reading books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, I’ve had to detox from books by militant atheists for awhile.

hicmmea-2In any case, Coyne wrote a short book review of How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science, the most recent book that has come from BioLogos. As the title suggests, the book is a collection of short essays by Evangelical scientists, pastors, biblical scholars, theologians and philosophers, in which they tell how they came to accept evolution as the means by which God creates the natural world. I’m about half way through the book, and it is very enjoyable and easy-to-read. The aim of the book is obvious: to ease the fears of many in the Evangelical world about evolution. It’s not the boogey-man, it’s not atheistic religion—it’s just a scientific theory that has discovered some pretty amazing things about the world. Simply put, you can be a Christian and be okay with evolutionary theory.

It is safe to say that the folks at Answers in Genesis will not like this book—I expect at some point they will write their own book review of it, and include insinuations about “those so-called Christians,” and pepper their review with the standard AiG talking points: “the serpent’s lie,” “there are two kinds of science,” “God’s infallible Word or man’s fallible opinion,” “evolution isn’t a salvation issue, but it really is,” etc. etc.

Simply put, BioLogos is going to “get it” from young earth creationists.

Jerry-coyneBut BioLogos won’t just get it from AiG—they, as Jerry Coyne’s book review makes clear, are going to “get it” from the new atheist movement as well. As I’ve said in other posts, this should not be surprising, for at heart—at the fundamental worldview level—young earth creationists and the “new atheists” are each other’s doppelganger. Coyne claims theistic evolution is vacuous (i.e. empty-headed and unintelligent). Let’s check his own arguments, to see if there is a sound of a vacuum to them.

Coyne’s Beef
Now, one might think that a scientist and an atheist like Jerry Coyne would be thrilled that BioLogos is trying to convince the Evangelical world that evolution is true. Well, he’s not…and he wrote a book review to show why he’s not.

The first thing I noticed about the book review that gave me pause was Coyne’s admission, right at the start, that he hadn’t yet read the book. His review is based on what some of the authors and editors have said about the book. More specifically, his review is based on another article about the book, as well as the summary of the book that BioLogos put out.

This struck me as rather funny…and typical for both young earth creationists and the new atheist movement: each group “already knows” their conclusions before they even investigate or pick up a book. In any case, it should be obvious: Coyne isn’t so much reviewing the book—he’s just using the book as an excuse to put forth his own ideas regarding the relationship between science and religion, namely they’re incompatible (“so I don’t need to read a book in which other scientists and philosophers disagree with me on this point—I already know I’m right!”).

Perhaps that is too harsh on my part. In any case, here are Coyne’s specific objections to the book (that he hasn’t read):

First, Coyne says the book is a farrago (i.e. mishmash) of naturalism and supernaturalism. Some of the contributors, although they accept evolution, nevertheless believe in the historicity of Adam and Eve, even though, as Coyne points out, genetics have proven that to be impossible.

Second, Coyne also has a problem with theistic evolution. He describes it as “the doctrine that in some way God impelled the evolutionary process, usually toward Homo sapiens.” He finds to be similar to deism: God just wound the clock up, and let evolution do the rest, but somehow still guided the process to produce human beings.

Because of this, Coyne concludes that theistic evolution is not the kind of thing we should want taught in schools. He then gives three reasons:

  1. Theistic evolution, for Coyne, invokes God in the process, and thus is a violation of naturalism. We don’t have “theistic physics” or “theistic chemistry,” so why “theistic evolution”?
  2. The notion of theistic evolution is rooted in teleology: namely, that the evolutionary process is directional and “upwards,” with the creation of human beings being the goal. But there’s no evidence for such teleological guidance, Coyne claims. Besides, if that was the case, how can anyone explain the sheer waste of evolution? The vast majority of life forms on earth are now extinct: If there was a God, then why did he do it that way?
  3. Finally, one of the wonders of evolution, Coyne says, is that natural selection is a mindless, purposeless process—and that somehow it has produced such marvelous variety in the plant and animal kingdom. By showing that “the diversity of life could all be explained by the simple sorting of hereditary variations in populations,” evolution dispelled the evidence (or need) for God. Coyne claims that what makes evolution “so marvelous” is that “you realize that these fantastically intricate creatures are the products of evolution over billions of years, starting only with a few inanimate molecules, and that nothing guided that save the exigencies of the environment.”

Evolution…and Adam and Eve?
Here are my thoughts regarding Coyne’s book review of the book he hadn’t read. Let’s get right to it.

First, regarding some of the contributors accepting evolution but also accepting the historicity of Adam and Eve—Coyne actually has a point here. For the past 20 years, I have not read the Adam and Eve story as being of the literal, historical first couple. Of course, evolution had absolutely nothing to do with my understanding of Genesis 2-3. My training in biblical exegesis and my background in literature just made it clear to me that not only Genesis 2-3, but Genesis 1-11 as a whole, simply is not trying to relate actual historical facts to begin with.

That being said, I’m not going to completely discount the arguments other theologians and scholars have for their belief that there was a historical first couple. I’m just going to be honest and say, “Okay, but you can’t historically prove it, and it seems pretty obvious to me that those chapters aren’t attempting to give historical information in the first place.” So yes, you can speculate that there might have been an Adam and Eve, or a first couple that God endowed with His image after the long process of evolution—but let’s be honest: it’s speculative, and it always will be speculative, because the Bible itself doesn’t really seem concerned with trying to prove it, or tell how it historically happened.

Nevertheless, Coyne’s real problem (as we will see later) has to do with people believing in the supernatural at all.

Theistic Evolution: A Doctrine and Deism?
Second, although Coyne does have a point about why we need to add “theistic” to evolution, it’s quite clear he doesn’t really get what theistic evolution is. No, it is not a doctrine; and no, it is not a form of deism.

The very reason the term theistic evolution was invented was because atheists (like Coyne) have done a real good job at convincing people that evolution is atheistic. It’s not—it is neither atheistic or theistic, for that matter. It is simply a description of the natural processes that have led to variety of life we have in this world. So yes, we don’t have theistic physics, because at no point is physicists try to claim that physics disproves God and the Bible. Physics is just physics. The case should be the same with evolution, but since over the past 150 years, so many people have tried to equate evolution with atheism, Christians who are convinced of evolution had to come up with something that pushed back against that incorrect equating of evolution and atheism.

In addition, theistic evolution is not a doctrine. Coyne is the only person I’ve ever come across to make that assertion. It also isn’t deism. Deism was a concept birthed in the Enlightenment that essentially regulated God to another part of the universe: he essentially wound nature up like a clock, then left, leaving nature all to its own.

Such a notion betrayed this false Enlightenment notion that radically split the realms of the natural and supernatural worlds. Even Christians still hold to this notion today: God let’s creation run according to natural laws, but then occasionally intervenes and suspends natural laws somehow—and that’s how we get “miracles.”

The Jews and early Christians would be shocked as such a view of reality. They viewed God as intimately involved with his creation at all times, and they also were well aware of what we would today call “natural laws”—(i.e. they didn’t have the word “gravity,” but they knew full well that things fell to the ground). Simply put, they were able to hold both ideas together at the same time: (A) God’s involvement in creation, and (B) the constancy of nature and “natural laws.” And so, far from being deistic, theistic evolution really is just a reaffirmation that these two ideas are not incompatible.

That Word, “Teleology,” I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means
Coyne’s objection that theistic evolution is teleological is also shockingly off. To understand teleology, you have to know a little bit about Aristotle. He taught that in order to truly understanding anything, there are four things you must consider: the four causes. They are as follows:

  1. The Material Cause: You have to understand the actual material that makes up something (i.e. wood, stone, rubber, etc.)
  2. The Formal Cause: You have to understand the form of the thing (i.e. a table, chair, baseball bat, etc.)
  3. The Efficient Cause: You have to understand the process by which that thing was made (i.e. a carpenter in his shop made the table, the existence of me is because my parents made love one night, and that initial cluster of cells developed over the course of nine months).
  4. The Final Cause: You have to understand the purpose or goal for which that thing was made (i.e. a table was made for eating meals on; a bat was made for hitting baseballs).

Teleology deals with this “Final Cause,” for it deals with understanding the purpose of any specific thing. Coyne though, by claiming theistic evolution is “teleological,” is mistaking efficient causes for final causes. Or to put it another way, saying that God uses evolution to eventually bring about the creation of mankind is not a teleological argument. It is really just saying that God is the ultimate efficient cause, if you will. Or still another way, it’s just saying that efficient causes are blind, and that God is involved in efficient causation.

And yes, that claim (i.e. that God is involved in efficient causation) is not a scientific claim—it is a metaphysical claim. But that is really beside the point, for Coyne’s claim that evolution is blind and purposeless is also not a scientific claim—but rather a metaphysical one. Or more properly, it is simply a denial of the possibility of metaphysical reality, with absolutely nothing on which to base that denial.

But my point here is simple: Coyne doesn’t know the difference between efficient and final causes. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Evolution: If God is Behind it–What a Waste! If Not–How Marvelous!
I’ll expand on that point in a “Part 2”. For now, let me just address one more thing Coyne says that baffles me. He says that if there is a God, then how could one explain all the sheer waste evolution has unleashed over billions of years? Simply put, Coyne’s thinking goes like this: if there is a God, then the process of evolution is a horrid waste of death—so therefore, they’re can’t be a God. Got it? Good.

Because immediately after he issues that conclusion, Coyne then turns around and gushes over the “great wonder” of evolution—how a mindless, purposeless process could produce such marvelous adaptations and variety in nature. Now, like I said earlier, Coyne simply throws out the claim that evolution is mindless and purposeless (that in itself not a scientific claim), and then proceeds to praise it as a being marvelous and a great wonder.

I’m sorry, I’m confused. Coyne is saying if there is a God, then evolution is just one, long sordid history of death; but if there is no God, then evolution is a wondrous, marvelous affirmation of life! That is completely illogical, because it’s the same process. You can’t hold up evolution as evidence against God because it involves death, and then turn around and praise evolution for being a life-producing godless process.

It seems that the young earth creationists at Answers in Genesis aren’t the only ones who love shell games.

In the next day or so, I will post “Part 2” of my analysis of Coyne’s book review of How I Changed My Mind About Evolution—a book he didn’t bother to read before he felt compelled to voice his opinion of it.

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 16–The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 16–The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath

In Revelation 16, we have the seven bowls of God’s wrath—these are very similar to the seven seals and the seven trumpets. The only thing to point out here is that the seven seals affected ¼ of creation, the seven trumpets affected 1/3 of creation, the seven thunders (which were passed over) would have undoubtedly affected ½ of creation, and now here, the seven bowls affect all of creation. Throughout Revelation there is a slow, intensification of God’s judgment.

Also, it should be noted that the imagery of “the cup of God’s wrath” undoubtedly comes from Isaiah 51:17-23, particularly verses 21-23:

Therefore hear this, you who are wounded, who are drunk, but not with wine: Thus says your Sovereign, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people! See, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; you shall drink no more from the bowl of my wrath. And I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, who have said to you, “Bow down, that we may walk on you”; and you have made your back like the ground and like the street for them to walk on.

The First Five Bowls
Revelation BowlsAs for the bowls of wrath themselves, it is clear that the first five bowls correspond to the plagues of Egypt during the Exodus:

  1. 1st Bowl: Painful sores (Ex. 9:8-12)
  2. 2nd Bowl: The sea turning to blood (Ex. 7:14-24)
  3. 3rd Bowl: The rivers turning to blood (Ex. 7:14-24)
  4. 4th Bowl: The sun scorches people with fire (opposite of Ex. 10:21-29)
  5. 5th Bowl: The throne of the beast is plunged into darkness (Ex. 10:21-29)

There is an interesting thing to point out concerning what the angel of the waters says in 16:5-6. He says that those who have shed the blood of the saints and prophets “deserve” the blood (i.e. God’s wine of wrath) that God has given them to drink. The word “deserve” really is a bad translation of the Greek word. A better translation of 16:6 would be: “Because they poured out the blood of the holy ones and the prophets, you have also given them blood to drink! That is what they are worthy of.”

Now certainly, “deserve” works here, but if you realize that the angel is saying the ones being judged are “worthy” of God’s wrath, you will see the connection to 5:2, where another angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” The point is that just as Jesus is the only one worthy to open the scroll, the only thing those who persecute Christ’s followers are “worthy” of is God’s wrath.

Another thing to point out is that at the end of both the fourth and fifth bowls, the result is the same: the people cursed God and refused to repent. It is ironic that they curse God for the judgment that they brought upon themselves. Just as in the Exodus, when Pharaoh brought the plagues upon himself by not letting the children of Israel go free, so do the worshippers of the beast bring judgment upon themselves by persecuting and killing the saints.

The Sixth Bowl
The sixth and seventh bowls of wrath correspond incredibly with the sixth and seventh trumpets. The sixth bowl (like the sixth trumpet) gives a picture of a great army coming from the Euphrates River. Now, whereas the sixth trumpet only hinted at the fact that this army was ultimately Satanic, here with the sixth bowl there is no doubt: the army is to be gathered by the three evil spirits (that look like frogs!) that come out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the “false prophet” (i.e. the beast from the land).

FrogsIn ancient times, frogs were associated with evil. Another thing to point out with the sixth bowl is that the armies are gathering for “the battle on the great day of God Almighty.” The Great Day of YHWH was seen throughout the Old Testament as the time when God would come to redeem His people and defeat evil. In the prophets in particular, this was seen as “the 15th round of the ultimate title fight,” if you will. Just read Zechariah 14 for just one example.

But what is being said in 16:15? “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed!” What does this mean? Simply, this is a warning that falls in line with other warnings in the New Testament about the coming day of the Lord (Matt. 24:3-25:13; I Thess. 5:2; II Peter 3:10). Just as Jesus said in Mark 13:5-8, 21-23, and 13:32-37, his followers aren’t to be taken in by the chaos of the world (i.e. talk of wars and rumors of war). They aren’t to be alarmed by such things because the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night—not with a great, obvious political battle.

In addition, the reference to keeping one’s clothes, so that one won’t go naked when the Lord comes, should call to mind echoes of Genesis 3, when God clothed the man and the woman’s nakedness. It was a form of grace. Now in Revelation, the saints have been given white robes, and the warning is to not let go of God’s grace, and get sucked into the adulteries of Babylon the Great.

Finally, in 16:6, there is that famous reference to Armageddon. Armageddon was an actual, strategic place in Israel during war time (Judges 5:19; II Kings 9:27; 23:29; II Chron. 35:22-25). Anyone invading Israel from the north had to pass through a narrow plain near the town of Megiddo. This, then, was an extremely strategic place, much like Normandy was for WWII. Armageddon, therefore, was for John’s readers symbolic of the battle on the great Day of YHWH. They did not think there was going to be a literal battle at that literal place, just as they did not think Satan was a literal dragon who would vomit up a frog. It was simply a symbolic reference to the ultimate confrontation between YHWH and Satan, between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent.

The Seventh Bowl
Seven BowlsThe seventh bowl truly consummates God’s wrath, for it is poured out on the very air—every living, breathing thing will be affected. And the words, “It is finished!” clearly echo the very words of Christ on the cross (John 19:30; Matthew 27:45-53). What happens in 16:18-21 is language that we should be familiar with by now: the lightning, thunder, and earthquake are images associated with the very throne of God (Revelation 4:5; 8:5; 11:19; as well as Exodus 19:16-19 at Mount Sinai). Elsewhere on the Old Testament, the great Day of YHWH was associated with a great earthquake (Ezekiel 38:18-19; Haggai 2:6-7; also Hebrews 12:18-27). The earthquake at the time of Christ’s crucifixion (Matthew 27:51) has to be seen in this light as well. It was the “first tremor” of the ultimate earthquake of God’s coming day of wrath.

Finally, we learn that the great city (i.e. Babylon) is split into three parts, and the cities of the nations (i.e. the ones that followed Babylon) collapsed. There are ultimately two cities in Revelation’s landscape: the New Jerusalem, coming down from Heaven, and Babylon, the head city of all other evil cities on earth. Here we see the Lord God finally giving Babylon the Great the cup filled with the wine of the fury of His wrath. The city of Satan is judged and destroyed.

Why the huge hailstones? All throughout the judgments, beginning with the seals and ending here with the bowls, God’s judgments have intensified. The plagues and judgments of Revelation are an intensification of the plagues of Egypt during the Exodus. In short, everything in the first Exodus is a foreshadowing of the ultimate Exodus here in Revelation.

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 15–The Ultimate Exodus…Get Those Bowls of Wrath Ready!

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 15–The Ultimate Exodus…Get Those Bowls of Wrath Ready!

katyperryBefore we get into Revelation 15-16, I want to emphasize something about the two beasts from Revelation 13 that I should have earlier. Over the past 100 years or so, particularly within Evangelical-Dispensationalist circles, there has been somewhat of an obsession of trying to figure out who the beast is. This obsession is based on an assumption that Revelation is John’s prediction and “God’s blueprint for the future end-times/tribulation period.” Therefore, if your assumption is that Revelation is “end-times history told in advance,” you’re going to try really hard to figure out who the beast is. Over time there have been some quite extraordinary claims: Hitler, Stalin, Ronald Reagan, the Pope…and yes, even Katy Perry (well, technically, this crazy picture is claiming she’s riding the beast at the Super Bowl). Such an endeavor is futile, because John isn’t predicting some future end-times beast/one world ruler/head of the European Union figure. He is simply describing  the anti-Christ of his day: the emperor of Rome.

That being said, this does not mean that Revelation has no relevance for today. Quite the contrary—it has tremendous relevance. By describing Domitian as the anti-Christ beast of that time, John is essentially giving us a description of how we should view any leader at any time in history who goes about trying to destroy God’s people. In this sense, we can say that tyrants like Hitler and Stalin, and currently ISIS, embody the beast of Revelation. Or in other words, Revelation 13 is applicable to tyrants like that, but John wasn’t predicting the rise of Hitler, Stalin, ISIS…etc.

Hopefully that is clear. Now, on to Revelation 15.

The Preparation of the Seven Bowls of Wrath
Given everything that John has shown us up to this point, chapter 15 gives us a picture of the seven bowls of God’s wrath being prepared.  After these are poured out, God’s wrath will be completed.  But the overall image of the chapter is something that screams out Old Testament imagery: it is the scene of Israel during the Exodus, just having crossed the Red Sea, just after God had delivered them from the Egyptian army. The scene, though, is in Heaven. This is the heavenly perspective of the redemption of the saints, seen in the light of the Exodus. Here is what we see in 15:2-4:

  1. The saints who had been victorious over the beast are standing beside the sea
  2. The saints are singing the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18)

The imagery of the sea should be self-evident by now. It is the Sea of Chaos (Genesis 1:1), the sea that the children of Israel passed through (Exodus 14), the sea from which the four beasts of Daniel 7 came, and the sea of the dragon and the beast—all rolled into one.

But how were the saints victorious over the beast? Weren’t they killed and conquered by the beast? The answer is yes. But this scene shows the ultimate oxymoron of the Christian faith. Jesus Christ brought eternal life through death and crucifixion. In the same way, Christians are victorious over the beast by letting themselves be conquered by the beast—but they’re not really conquered, because they will share in Christ’s resurrection. A crucified Messiah is the savior of the world; and his followers overcome the beast by letting themselves be conquered by him—and this is how salvation comes to the world.

Exodus SeaFinally, the “Song of Moses” here is a condensed version of the complete “Song of Moses” in Exodus 15. This simply reinforces the point: the historic Exodus from Egypt and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army foreshadowed the ultimate New Exodus from sinful Babylon, and the evil, dragon-given power of the beast.

Verses 5-8 show a picture of yet more Old Testament imagery: the tabernacle was the tent where God’s Presence dwelled with the children of Israel while in the wilderness during the Exodus (Exodus 25:8). The temple in Jerusalem was also the place where God’s Presence dwelled among Israel once they inhabited the Promised Land (I Kings 8:10-13). The picture of the temple being filled with smoke from the glory of God echoes Exodus 40:34-35, as well as I Kings 8:10-13. The point is this: we get a glimpse of God’s glory, yet things are not complete. Now that God has trampled the grapes of wrath, He still has to pour out the seven bowls of that wrath upon the earth. And in Revelation 16, we see just that.

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 14–Here Comes the 144,000…AGAIN!

Joel’s Commentary on Revelation: Revelation 14–Here Comes the 144,000…AGAIN!

Back in Revelation 6, with the breaking of the fifth seal, we were introduced to the martyred saints under the Altar of Souls. They were told to wait until the full number are killed. Then in Revelation 7, we saw the full number of saints who made it through the great tribulation—the 144,000/Great Multitude. They had been sealed and protected by God before the seven trumpets of judgment were sounded.

Now here in Revelation 14, we meet the 144,000 again (vs. 1-5). In chapter 7, we were told that the 144,000 had come through the great tribulation. How did they do it? Chapter 14 gives us a clearer picture, for it tells us a number of things about them:

  1. They have the name of the Lamb and of his Father on their foreheads (7:3)
  2. They are with the Lamb on Mount Zion
  3. They were redeemed from the earth
  4. They did not defile themselves with women; they kept themselves pure
  5. They were purchased from among mankind, and were offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb
  6. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless

What? No Women?
So what does it mean that “they didn’t defile themselves with women”? Are the only Christians men? Are the only Christians virgin men? Well, newsflash—something else is going on. First of all, you must take into account the imagery of two women in Revelation we haven’t yet met. In this sense, what we read here in Revelation 14 is foreshadowing what is coming.

144,000 2First, there is the Bride of the Lamb, the Heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21). Second, there is the Whore of Babylon (14:8; chs. 17-18). All through the Old Testament, unfaithful Israel was compared to an adulteress. To be unfaithful to God is to go after false gods and commit spiritual adultery. And, in 95 AD, the big temptation was to commit spiritual adultery with the Roman Empire: to engage in its debauchery and perversion and to worship any one of its gods, particularly the emperor.

The 144,000 who had not defiled themselves with women are the Christians who have not committed spiritual adultery. Also, the picture of the 144,000 on Mount Zion is that of a gathering army. It has also been pointed out that in ancient Israel, the men had to be ritually pure and not have sex with women before a holy war (Deut. 23:9-14; I Sam. 21:5; II Sam. 11:9-13). That same idea is found here: before the final holy war with Satan, the followers of the Lamb must be pure.

What are firstfruits? They are a sacrifice to God before the harvest was reaped. The first batch of grain, grapes…or whatever…of the season was offered to God in a burnt offering. Here, we are told that the 144,000 are the actual firstfruits. By virtue of them being martyred for the sake of Christ, they are the ones sacrificed before the full harvest of the world (see I Cor. 15:20-23; 16:15; Romans 8:23; 11:16; 16:5; Lev. 23:9-14). The point is simple: the followers of Christ who are martyrs are seen as the firstfruits sacrifice before the final harvest and judgment of the world.

The Three Angels
After this vision of the 144,000, three angels make declarations. The first makes a call to those who live on the earth (i.e. the unbelievers) to fear God and give Him glory. In short, it is a call to repentance (and based on the previous refusals to repentance, we can imagine how this will be received). The second angels makes the first reference to a very important figure in the rest of the book: Babylon the Great. The angel accuses her of making the nations drunk with the wine of her adulteries. And finally, the third angels declares that anyone who worships the beast and his image will drink the wine of God’s wrath.

All these three things will be fully explained later. But for now, you should see that there is going to be some kind of connection between Babylon the Great and the beast. Verses 12-13 once again gives a call for patient endurance and faithfulness of the saints of God.

The Harvest of the Earth
We have just been told that the 144,000 are the firstfruits. So what do we have now? The harvest of the earth. These are two images found within this picture of the harvest of the earth: the grain harvest and the grape harvest. Each harvest has a different outcome.

The first thing to quickly point out is that the figure of one like the Son of Man comes from Daniel 7:13-14, a passage that is critical to understanding Revelation, and one that we have looked at before. The picture in Daniel is that of God’s Messiah coming to set up his rule, to judge the nations, and to destroy the little horn on the fourth beast in Daniel 7.

HarvestThe second thing to point out concerns the grain harvest (vs. 15-16): the Son of Man reaps the harvest, and the earth is harvested. This is the full harvest of salvation of which the 144,000 were the firstfruits. Reaping here does not mean judgment, but rather to salvation. (Matt. 13:39-42; Mark 4:29; John 4:35-38). And we all know Matthew 9:37-38: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Trampling, though…well that means something else…namely judgement.

The third thing to point out concerns the grape harvest (vs. 17-20): an angel gathers the grapes and throws them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They are trampled in the winepress outside the city, and the blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,6000 stadia. Let’s unpack this.

Grape HarvestJohn does some very poetic things here. All through the Bible (Jer. 51:33; Micah 4:12-13; Hab. 3:12; Hosea 13:3; Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17; Psalm 1:4-5; 35:5; Isaiah 17:13; 29:5; Daniel 2:35) there are references to the gathering and trampling of the chaff—the useless stuff left over from the grain harvest. What John does here, though, given all the images of blood and Babylon’s adulterous wine, and the cup of God’s wrath, John transforms the trampling of the rejects of the grain harvest into a trampling of grapes. The image of trampling grapes works better, given the overall context of Revelation:

  1. Babylon is drunk on the blood of the saints, so God will make her drink the wine of His wrath;
  2. Just as the nations trampled the holy city for 42 months (11:2), in the same way they will be trampled in the winepress of God’s wrath;
  3. Babylon’s wine corrupts the nations with her adulteries (Jer. 51:7), so God’s wine brings wrath and judgment on Babylon and the nations.

The overall point is very similar to what we saw with the 5th, 6th, and 7th seals: God’s people suffer tribulation; God promises redemption; and God brings with that redemption of His people, wrath for His enemies.

Joel’s Revelation Commentary: Revelation 13–THE BEAST…wait…TWO BEASTS!

Joel’s Revelation Commentary: Revelation 13–THE BEAST…wait…TWO BEASTS!

At the end of Revelation 12, after we are told that the dragon went off to make war against the rest of the woman’s offspring, the chapter ends with the dragon standing on the shore of the sea. No, it is not the Mediterranean Sea. It is none other than the Sea of Chaos—the mythical sea that represents evil and chaos. You see it in Genesis 1:1 (“darkness was on the face of the deep), as well as Daniel 7:1-3 (four beasts come out of the sea).  If you keep in mind what started in Genesis 3 (i.e. there would be a war between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring), you should be able to guess what happens next.

Having failed to destroy the “Old Testament Church” (i.e. Israel), having failed to destroy kill Christ, and having now been cast out of Heaven, the dragon goes off to make war with the rest of the woman’s offspring. Who would that be? It is the reconstituted Israel in Christ (i.e. the Church). The rest of the woman’s offspring is every Christian who makes up the Church. So who is going to be the dragon’s/serpent’s offspring? Welcome to chapter 13…introductions are in order.

The Beast Out of the Sea
I mentioned earlier Daniel 7, when Daniel has a vision of four beasts coming out of the sea. The first three beasts represented Babylon, Media, and Persia, and the fourth beast represented Greece. But on this last beast there is a little horn that “makes war with the saints.” In the original context, this was about the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes IV in the 2nd century BC, and his attempt to destroy the Jews. But the imagery in Daniel 7 is intentional: these empires were depicted as evil. That is why the beasts come up out of the sea. In the ancient world, if a beast came up out of the sea, it was going to be evil.

Revelation 13Here in Revelation, it is no different: a beast comes up out of the sea. This beast is, if you will, one of the dragon’s offspring he’s going to use to make war with the Church, (i.e. the woman’s offspring). So the logical question would be, “Whom did the early Christians in 95 AD have understood this sea beast to be?” Spoiler alert—not Nicolae Carpathia from the “Left Behind” series!

The early Christians would have easily seen this beast out of the sea as either the former Roman Emperor Nero, or Emperor Domitian, the man who was emperor at the end of the first century. There are basically two things that show this is how John wanted his readers to understand who the sea beast was:

  1. The blasphemous names on its heads. One of the major points of conflict between the early Christians and Rome was the fact that the Roman emperors were called by such titles as “Lord and God,” or “Lord and Savior.” The Christians would not call the emperors by these titles, and were thus suspected of being traitors. To the Christians such titles belonged only to Christ, therefore to attribute them to Roman emperors was blasphemous. Caesar isn’t Lord and Savior—Christ alone is.
  2. The beast has a fatal wound that was healed. This is a blatant reference to Nero, who committed suicide in 68 AD. When this was reported to the Roman people, although they were overjoyed that the tyrant was dead, they thought it was too good to be true. Consequently, many imposters tried to use this fear to their advantage. Imperial edicts were issued in Nero’s name, as though he were still alive, and no less than three men claimed to actually be Nero. One lead a rebellion in Rome in 69 AD; another was welcomed by Rome’s major enemy, the Parthians, in 80 AD; and one nearly persuaded the Parthians to march with him against Rome in 88 AD.

Finally, the belief that he was still alive and would return to take vengeance on Rome was replaced by the belief that he had, in fact, died, but would return from the dead to lead armies against Rome. Consequently, at the time of John’s writing of Revelation in 95 AD, this was a legitimate fear in the Roman Empire—that the destruction of their world would come at the hands of a Nero who had come back from the dead—the anti-Christ in Christians’ eyes.

Blakes Sea BeastThe Christians had deep fears about Nero. He was the first emperor to savagely persecute Christians. His persecution was limited to Rome itself. One of his atrocities is that he used Christians as human torches to light his garden. The fact that in 95 AD, the emperor Domitian unleashed the first empire-wide persecution of Christians, no doubt had Christians seeing him as sort of a Nero 2.0.

And so, in 13:3-10, this sea beast is described as having dominion over every tribe, people, language and nation. We are told that the entire world followed the beast and worshipped the dragon. At that time, only one man fit that description: the Roman Emperor. Verses 5-8 would have been particularly disturbing for Christians: the sea beast, the very embodiment of the dragon’s evil, would be allowed to exercise his authority for 42 months. Again, this corresponds to the two witnesses in Revelation 11, as well as the woman’s time in the wilderness.

No, this is not to be taken as a literal 42 months. The point is simple: it is ordained by God that His followers go through suffering and tribulation for a time at the hands of Satan’s representative on earth. In fact, the beast was allowed to make war against, and even conquer, the saints—those who have their home in Heaven (13:6)…this is just like when the beast is allowed to kill the two witnesses of chapter 11.

Not only that, but one more thing is said: the inhabitants of the earth will actually worship the beast. The distinction is now made: the people of God are no longer Jews, as opposed to Gentiles, but rather the saints of God who have their names in the Lamb’s book of life, and whose home is in heaven, as opposed to everyone else, who lives on the earth. Ultimately, there are only citizens of Heaven, and citizens of earth. The saints live in Heaven and worship the Lamb, whereas the inhabitants of the earth worship the beast, and ultimately the dragon himself.

Finally, 13:10 gives a downright chilling statement to the seven churches to whom John was writing: “He who has an ear, let him hear! If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” Basically, John is telling these churches that some of them are going to die, so they had better be prepared to be either killed or uprooted from their homes—this is what is means to follow Christ, so endure and be faithful to Him.

There is no “Don’t worry! You’re going to be raptured out of the coming tribulation!” There is no “Don’t worry! This doesn’t apply to you! This will happen 2,000 years from now, during a 7-year tribulation period, when Christians who only become Christians after the rapture will be persecuted!” All there is, is John warning those seven churches that the persecution under Domitian is going to get worse, so be faithful.

Let me just stop and say here that such a passage is hard for Christians in 21st century America to relate to—we’re not undergoing persecution. That is why, I believe, people assume this is a prediction of yet future events. But it’s not—it’s a description of what Christians should expect in this world, be they first century Christians, Christians who suffered under the Communists, or Christians now who are being slaughtered by ISIS. Such a message has direct revelatory relevance to Christians who are being persecuted. We need to remember that.

The Beast from the Earth
There’s another beast! Here is what John says about it:

  1. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon (v. 11)
  2. It made the inhabitants of the earth worship the sea beast (v. 12)
  3. It performed miraculous signs and deceived the inhabitants of the earth (v. 13-14)
  4. It had an image made of the sea beast, and made it talk (v. 15)
  5. It killed anyone who didn’t worship the image (v. 15)
  6. It made everyone take a mark on their foreheads or hands in order to buy and sell (v. 16)

Revelation 13 Two BeastsSo who the heck is this second beast? Well, it sure seems that the earth beast is in the service of the sea beast, doesn’t it? So if the sea beast is the Roman Emperor (Nero or Domitian), who is the earth beast? Since the chief objective of the earth beast is to get people to worship the sea beast, scholars agree that the earth beast is a reference to the official cult of the Emperor throughout the Roman Empire—it was the state-sponsored worship of the Roman Emperor as a god, as the “Lord and Savior” of the world.

The Emperor Domitian, for example, actually claimed the title “Lord and God” while he was still alive. Most of the time, once an emperor died, the Senate would declare him to be a god, but for an emperor to claim that for himself while he was still alive, well, that’s just a bit megalomaniacal, don’t you think? In any case, not all emperors encouraged this imperial cult. The early emperors of the first century discouraged it, but later emperors like Caligula, Nero, and Domitian, embraced it. In fact, throughout the Roman Empire, it was common to have the huge images of various gods (and presumably god-emperors!) that were set up in pagan temples to have hollowed out heads, so that the priests could actually climb inside these idols and give the impression that the image of the “god” actually spoke.

In any case, it is no wonder that Domitian unleashed an empire-wide persecution of Christians—they wouldn’t address him as “Lord and God.”  John’s point here is thus clear. He saw this growing fascination of emperor worship as the work of Satan. The Roman emperor had become the “lamb of the dragon” so to speak—hence the reference to having two horns like a lamb, yet speaking like a dragon. He was utterly hostile to Christ, the Lamb of God. The persecuting Roman emperor, and the cult of emperor worship, embodied Satan’s war against the woman’s offspring…the Christians. The war of Genesis 3 is being played out.

One Final Thing: What’s 666 All About?
Mark of BeastThe “mark of the beast”—what is it? Here in Revelation 13 it is said that anyone who did not have this number on their foreheads or hands could not buy or sell. No, it’s not about bar codes on merchandise at your local store. Back then, many Roman coins had the title of the Emperor on them, and undoubtedly many Christians would have a big problem buying something with a coin that said, “Caesar is Lord and Savior” on it.

By why “666”? No, it’s not some kind of secret computer code. Here’s the most likely explanation. In Greek and Hebrew, they didn’t have numbers—that is why they used letters to denote their numbers (i.e. x = 10; vii = 7). Therefore, every name also had a numerical value. And it just so turns out that the name “Nero Caesar” had a numerical value of…yes, you guessed it…666. It is likely that the early Christians would have identified 666 as referring to Nero or the “second coming of Nero,” if you will—i.e. Domitian. In addition, there is something else significant about 666: it is a triple failing of 777. “7” is the divine number of God, and therefore “666” (possibly a reference to the dragon, sea beast, and earth beast) is a triple failure of trying to defeat God and his Christ.

Revelation 12-13 have been two chapters that have terrified many good Evangelicals for the past 50 years, and have been the focus of many bad Christian movies like “The Thief in the Night” and, obviously, the books and movies of “Left Behind.”

Now that you understand what Revelation 12-13 really are about, you can now put your fears away. You’re welcome!

Joel’s Revelation Commentary–Revelation 12: A Woman, a Child, and a Dragon…O My!

Joel’s Revelation Commentary–Revelation 12: A Woman, a Child, and a Dragon…O My!

I best some of you were wondering when I would get around to tackling the second half of Revelation. Well, here it is.

Revelation 12 marks the beginning of another major section of Revelation. When one compares it to chapters 4-11, one should notice a number of things. First, the basic unfolding of events falls into the same patter as chapters 4-11. In both sections:

  • The scene begins in Heaven, then shifts to earth (Ch. 4-5; 12:1-12)
  • There is turmoil on the earth (Ch. 6; 12:13-13:18)
  • Then there is something mentioned about the 144,000 (Ch. 7; Ch. 14)
  • The seven trumpets (8:1-5) and seven bowls (Ch. 15) are prepared
  • The first six trumpets are blown (8:6-13) and the seven bowls are poured out (Ch. 16); the result of both is that there is no repentance, and the people curse God
  • A pause in the action in 17:1-19:10 has no parallel in part one
  • The events in chapters 10 and 11 correspond to 19:11-21 and 20:1-15 respectively
  • Finally, the consummation of God’s salvation comes (11:15-19; 21:1-22:6)

Chapters 12-22, though, are not simply a rehashing of 4-11. Yes, the basic structure and “tune” is the same, but there is a definite intensification of events. In short, if chapters 4-11 are like a string quartet, chapters 12-22 is the entire symphony—everything is on a grander scale.  The scope of chapters 4-11 is simply that of the servants of God being persecuted by the kings of the earth (although in 9:11 we are given a hint that something bigger is going one—this is where we are told that the locusts from the Abyss have a king over them—the angel of the Abyss, whose name is the Destroyer). The scope of chapters 12-22 tells us that the battle is not simply between Christians and the evil kings of the world, but is ultimately between the Lamb of God and the Dragon himself. The stakes are much higher than first expected. In short, chapters 12-22 show the cosmic significance of this earthly struggle between the saints of God and the evil kings of the earth.

The Scene in Chapter 12
That being said, chapter 12 opens with quite an interesting sight: a woman clothed with the sun is giving birth and is in great pain, while an enormous red dragon with 7 heads, 10 horns, and 7 crowns stands ready to devour the child as soon as it is born. The child, though, is snatched up to God, and the woman flees to the wilderness. Meanwhile, there is a great war in Heaven, and the dragon and his angels are hurled down to earth. Once on earth, the dragon pursues the woman, but she (as previously stated) escapes to the wilderness. And so, the dragon goes off to make war against the rest of her offspring.

So what does that all mean?

In short, chapter 12 gives us the cosmic significance of the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The easiest way to go through chapter 12 is by identifying the main characters in it. But before we do, it would be best to quickly review something in Genesis 3:15-20. After the man and woman sin, the LORD God tells the serpent that He would put enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring. The woman was told that her pains in childbearing would increase, and later on we learn that she is named Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.

This small section in Genesis 3 has a tremendous impact on everything in the Bible, especially here in Revelation 12. Old Testament Israel saw themselves as the woman’s offspring, and the Gentiles who persecuted them as the serpent’s offspring. In addition, the king of Israel was seen to represent all of Israel—he was the figurehead. He was the one “offspring” who represented the entire number of the woman’s “offspring” (i.e. Israel). Therefore, when the Jews began hoping for a future Messiah (i.e. a future Davidic king who would make Israel great again), they  viewed this future Messiah as the embodiment of all Israel who represented them all.

If you don’t yet see the relevance of that to Revelation 12, hang on…you will.

The Woman Clothed With the Sun
Woman_of_the_Apocalypse_(Hortus_deliciarum)Any Jew would have recognized this woman to be symbolic of the Heavenly Zion (12:1-6), of which the Old Testament people of God (12:13-16) represented. Her crown of 12 stars alludes to the 12 tribes of Israel. Not only that, but the scene here has echoes all the way from Genesis 3:15-16. She is also seen in light of Eve, the mother of all the living who gives birth to the offspring who strikes the serpent’s head. To simply say that the woman is Old Testament Israel, though, is not to fully understand the scene. More accurately, it is the Heavenly Zion, the true people of God, of whom Old Testament Israel was a representation. Consider what we see here also as an allusion to Isaiah 66:7-9:

“Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before her pain came upon her, she delivered a son. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor, she delivered her children. Shall I open the womb and not deliver? Says the LORD; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? Says your God.”

The Red Dragon and the Woman (William Blake)

The Dragon
We are told who the dragon is: Satan, the ancient serpent, who leads the whole world astray. The fact he is pictured as a dragon, and is called the ancient serpent, should call to mind images of Genesis (and if you’re a really learned Old Testament scholar, other Old Testament references like Job 3:8; 41:1; Psalm 74:4; 89:10; Isaiah 27:1; 51:9). The great serpent obviously relates back to Genesis 3, for it is a serpent that deceives the woman, and it is between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring that war is declared. God will defeat Satan in a war fought through the woman’s offspring, whose representative is ultimately Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, and through the serpent’s offspring, whose representative (as we shall see) is ultimately the Beast.

But the dragon in Revelation represents much more than just the serpent in Genesis 3. The serpent was a mythological symbol used in the ancient world to denote the great sea monster, the ruler of the watery chaos and evil: Leviathan, Rahab. Let’s just look at one instance of this elsewhere in the Old Testament: Isaiah 27:1—“On that day, YHWH with His cruel and great, cruel, and mighty sword, will punish Leviathan, the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and He will kill the dragon that is in the sea.”

This is a promise that on the Great Day of YHWH, when He comes to redeem His people, He will kill the great serpent (Leviathan), defeat evil, and put an end to the war that was begun back in Genesis 3.

Let’s also consider Isaiah51:9-11—9Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD! Awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago! Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? 10 Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over? 11 So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

RedDragon WomanAgain, this is a promise that, just as YHWH delivered the children of Israel from Egypt, and made a way for them to escape through the great sea (i.e. the Red Sea in this case), so will He once again provide a way of salvation for His people—this time out of the Babylonian exile. Rahab here is a reference to Egypt, the nation who oppressed Israel. It is also a term used to describe the great serpent. Consequently, by calling Egypt “Rahab,” Isaiah is saying that the oppressive power of Egypt ultimately comes from Satan himself. “Just like God saved Israel back then,” Isaiah is saying, “so will He again save His people.”

There are many more Old Testament references that show how Old Testament Israel, and the early Christians as well, viewed Satan. We in the modern world see him as a horned devil with a tail and pitchfork. They saw him as the great and terrible mythological sea serpent of chaos.

The Male Child
Woman and DragonThe child born to the woman is Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. The mention of the fact that he will “rule all the nations with a rod of iron” is a reference to Psalm 2:7, a psalm that looks forward to the coming Messiah. Early Christians would have easily seen the child being taken up to God’s throne as a reference to the ascension, vindication, and glorification of Christ. The point is simple: Satan tried to defeat and kill Christ all through his life (and particularly at the cross), and failed. Christ has now ascended to the throne of God, Satan has been defeated in Heaven (12:7-9), and is hurled down to earth. The battle in Heaven is already decided, but now the battle has to be played out on earth.

A Brief Statement on 12:10-12
This little declaration by a voice in Heaven is quite significant. The declaration, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ,” echoes a similar declaration in 11:15: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” The point is this: with Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension, the decisive battle in Heaven is won, and the Kingdom of God has now come to earth.

A good example of what is going on here is that of D-Day, when the Allies invaded Normandy, beat back the Nazis, and got a foothold on the European continent. Once the Allies won D-Day, once they had gotten that foothold in France, the war against Hitler was all but over. There was still going to be months of hard fighting, but for all practical purposes, the war had been won on D-Day, on the beaches of Normandy. The rest was just a mop-up job. With the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the decisive battle was won. Satan’s power was broken, and death was overpowered. The Kingdom of God had come, it was just a matter of time to finalize the job.

What comes next in 12:11 is this: “How is Satan defeated?” By three things: (A) the blood of the Lamb (Christ’s saving work on the cross), (B) the word of the saints’ testimony (our witness and faithfulness to Christ, and (C) the fact that the saints did not shrink from death (our willingness to sacrifice our lives, just as Christ did). This is very important to realize. Yes, Christ defeats Satan, but we have a part in the war, too. We cannot sit back and do nothing.

Final Comments on 12:13-17
A few things must be mentioned here. First, this passage clearly shows that although Satan is defeated, he’s not dead yet.  He’s wreaking havoc on the earth, the earth in which we are living today. Second, hopefully you noticed the reference to the woman being cared for by God in the desert for 1,260 days, or “a time, times, and half a time.” Does that sound familiar? Three and a half years? 42 months? It should. This is the time of the “trampling of the Gentiles” (11:2), and the time of the two witnesses (11:3). This is the time, as 12:17 clearly states, when the dragon makes war “against the rest of the woman’s offspring”—namely the followers of Christ. The point is that ever since Christ’s ascension, we have been living in the “1,260 days.” Christians have been in tribulation, and are warring against Satan. One last thing, isn’t it kind of ironic that the way the dragon tries to destroy the woman is with…a flood? Hmmmm….

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