Armageddon in Rev 16:16

Posted by R. Fowler White

Many sincere Christians have concluded that the term Armageddon in Rev 16:16 describes the predicted geographic location of the final battle between Israeli and anti-Israeli armies, the decisive war to be fought in the plain of Megiddo, near Mount Carmel approx. 25 miles east of the Sea of Galilee. In common parlance, folks apply the term more broadly to a worldwide, age-ending war. Our purpose below is to provide evidence supporting an interpretation of the term in the light of biblical theology.

I. The Holy Wars of the Lord God in the OT

A. The Lord our God as King waged holy war on behalf of His people to make them secure and pure for fellowship-worship in His dwelling place.

B. God’s presence in holy war was manifested in earthquake, thunder, phenomena in sun, moon, and stars, rain and hail, terror and panic. The following are examples.

1. Holy war victory through Moses against the Egyptians; see Exod 15

2. Holy war victory through Joshua and then the faithful judges against the Canaanites; see, for example, Judges 5

3. Holy war victory through David and his faithful sons against their enemies; see, for example, 2 Sam 22:1-16, 32-40, 47-51; Ps 2

4. Holy war victories for Zion; see Pss 46, 48

5. Holy war victory against even faithless apostate Israel; see Habakkuk

6. The final holy war victory against the last assailants of the Spirit-filled Messianic Israel; see Joel 3:9-21 with Joel 2:28-32

7. Interestingly, holy war is never presented in Scripture outside of Revelation as a secular military struggle between nations.

II. The issue in God’s holy wars was not primarily geography, nationality, or ethnicity; the issue was principally theology, Christology, ecclesiology. The issue in God’s last holy war in Revelation is, Are you the Lamb’s Bride or the Bride’s enemy, the Harlot?

A. Taking our point of departure from Revelation, it’s noteworthy that the entire world population before Christ’s return will be divided into the Bride of Christ the Lamb, on the one hand, and her enemy, the Harlot Babylon, on the other. The Bride of the Lamb, Jerusalem-Zion, is a composite entity made up of the tribes, tongues, nations, and peoples of the earth, Rev 5:9. The Harlot Babylon is also a composite entity made up of the peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues of the earth, Rev 17:15.

B. Question: in the context of holy war, how was the identity of Israel’s enemies characterized? Answer: not merely by their geographical or ethnic origin, but by their hostility to the Lord their God. We read of certain Gentiles like Canaanite Rahab in Joshua’s day, Moabite Ruth in the judges’ days, and the Ninevites in Jonah’s day who were marked by conciliation (expressed in faith and repentance), not hostility toward the Lord God.

III. Conclusion: Armageddon is best understood as the worldwide site—the worldwide battleground—of the war at the end of the age between the Harlot and the Lamb on behalf of His Bride.

A. The word Armageddon probably combines two Hebrew words that mean “Mountain of Assembly, Mount of Meeting.” Three contexts in Revelation—16:13-16, 19:19-21, and 20:8-9—all have the same plot and tell the same story. In those contexts, Armageddon is the Mount of Meeting, the encampment of the saints, the beloved city.

B. As the Mount of Meeting, Armageddon is the place where—better, it is wherever—God is present as Divine Warrior to save and to judge.

1. It is wherever He assembles the spirits of the righteous-made-perfect with myriads of angels: it is “Ecclesia Mountain.”

2. It is wherever He engages in judicial surveillance of the world: it is “Lookout Mountain.”

3. It is wherever He convenes His heavenly court for deliberations: it is “Council Mountain.”

4. It is wherever He marshals His troops for battle: it is “Staging Mountain.”

D. Armageddon is wherever God is present as Divine Warrior in final judgment against the Harlot as He brings about the final salvation of the Lamb’s Bride.

1. God’s presence in the final holy war will be manifested in cosmic collapse: earthquake, thunder, phenomena in sun, moon, and stars, rain and hail, with the terror and panic that accompany these phenomena.

2. The Lamb will wage the final holy war against the Harlot to make His Bride secure and pure for fellowship-worship in His eternal dwelling place on the new earth.

Who are the 144,000 in the Revelation to John?

Posted by R. Fowler White

I. Two proposed answers

A. The Christian remnant of ethnic Jews either at the end of the 1st century, or in the future tribulation, or at the 2nd Coming; the number is usually interpreted as figurative, occasionally as literal.

B. The Christian remnant from all nations, Jews and Gentiles; the number is figurative.

II. My answer: The Christian remnant from all nations, Jews and Gentiles, the Church; the number is figurative.

A. The list in Rev 7 is a military census list, and the vision in Rev 14 describes the army of the Lamb. Both chapters in Rev follow the pattern of the military census lists in the OT: see Num 1; 2 Sam 24.

B. The number “1,000” is technical terminology for a military division, as it was in the OT. – It is comparable to the name Legion, which means “thousands,” a word taken from a Latin term for a large group of soldiers that could vary in number from as few as 3,000 to as many as 6,000 men.

C. The 144,000 are an all-male army, 14:4, as the armies of the OT ordinarily were.

D. The 12 tribes of Rev 7 are the 12 tribes of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21. The New Jerusalem is the Church Triumphant, the True Israel composed of the innumerable remnant from all nations, 21:12, 14, 24; 22:2-5. Gentile Christians receive the name of the New Jerusalem, 3:12. These tribes are the Israel of God from whom the idolatrous tribe of Dan (Judg 18) has been omitted. They are Israel according to the Spirit, not Israel according to the flesh.

E. The number “144” is evidently the number of apostles (12) multiplied by the number of tribes (12) of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21. It represents the complete number and perfection of the Church, the whole of God’s people, 21:9-10.

F. The number “144,000” describes the totality of the army of the redeemed, conscripted, and made ready by Christ the Lamb to fight in His holy war.

G. In Revelation John takes OT labels (names, epithets, titles) for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, which included both believing Jews and believing Gentiles.

1. Rev 2:9; 3:9 – John takes the name “Jew” away from unbelieving Jews and gives it to believing Gentiles, 2:17; 3:12. They are Israel according to the flesh; they are not the True Israel who worships God in Spirit and truth.

2. Rev 1:5-6; 5:9-10 – John takes the label of “kingdom of priests” from Israel and applies it to believers from all nations, regardless of ethnic origin.

H. This is consistent with the rest of the NT.

1. Christ Jesus declared that the kingdom would be taken from Israel and given to a new nation and people, the Church, Matt 21:43. Israel forfeited its kingdom identity in the fall of Jerusalem.

2. The Apostle Paul takes OT labels for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, in which Jews and Gentiles together are the one new people of God, Rom 2:28-29; Gal 6:15-16; Phil 3:3; Eph 2:14-21.

3. The Apostle Peter takes OT labels for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, 1 Pet 1:1; 2:9.

I. This is consistent with the OT.

1. Unbelieving Israelites, who didn’t share Abraham’s faith, were declared “Not My People” – they lost the labels of Israel. They lost their national identity in the exile.

2. Believing Gentiles, who like Rahab and Ruth shared Abraham’s faith, received the labels of Israel.

III. Summary: The 144,000 is a symbol representing the Lamb’s army of holy warriors from among the Jews and the Gentiles. They are the Church Militant who becomes the Church Triumphant, the “overcomers” of Revelation. They are not Israel according to the flesh, but the True Israel who worships God in Spirit and truth. They are the true Israel sealed by Christ the Lamb to keep them from apostasy. As many as believe in Christ alone for salvation are among the 144,000.

About Those Prophecies of Trump’s Re-election

Posted by R. Fowler White

During the recent election cycle, many continuationists (who believe, among other things, that the NT gift of prophecy continues today) reportedly predicted former President Trump’s re-election, and those prophecies failed to come to pass. These failures have led certain continuationist leaders to issue strongly-worded rebukes to those whose predictions proved false. Other leaders have called for renewed humility, and still others, while also calling for humility, have denied that any penalty is applicable. As an alternative to penalties, the failed but humbled predictors are told that they should admit their inaccuracies, recommit to exercising discernment, and, to prevent future such failures, submit themselves for review by and accountability to church overseers.

I don’t bring up this topic to debate (again) whether the gift of prophecy continues today. I raise it to reflect on how the churches should treat the prophesiers and their overseers. I’m particularly interested in the claim that there’s no need to apply any penalty. That response, it seems to me, presupposes the absence of relevant standards and sanctions in Scripture. And, in fact, some leaders tell us that there is nothing relevant in either the OT or the NT for what the recent prophesiers did. We can’t take up the full sweep of that argument in this format, but I’m not convinced, and I’m sure others aren’t either. In the NT, we do read of prophetic ministries in the churches that failed. Christ’s letter to the church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29) presents just such a case, and it’s not presented as an isolated concern. Pointedly, Christ makes Thyatira an example from which “all the churches” should learn (2:23). Of course, the issue at Thyatira is not necessarily identical to recent failures, but it is analogous to them and relevant in ways that we should consider. So let’s take a look.

To begin, it’s striking to notice Christ’s opening and closing commendations to the Thyatira church. They were a congregation where love was bearing fruit in service, and where faithfulness was bearing fruit in endurance (2:19). They had congregants who held fast to what was true and good and abstained from what was false and evil (2:24-25; cf. 1 Thess 5:21-22). How, then, did an unsound ministry emerge in such a church? The clues are reasonably clear: the church had not corrected one of their own who was calling herself a prophetess and was teaching what was false and evil (2:20). Instead, the church had tolerated her ministry and had done so long enough to see her multiply herself in a troubling number of the congregants (2:20, 22-23). The negligence was such that it had spurred Christ Himself to do what the church had not done. He had warned the self-identified prophetess to repent and had given her time to do so (2:21a). Subsequently, He had uncovered her refusal to repent (2:21b). Finally, He had determined to afflict her and her followers with temporal punishment (2:22a) and even final punishment if they did not repent (2:22b, 23b). From the details of Christ’s letter to the Thyatira church, then, we learn that they had failed to deal properly with a prophetess whose ministry had become a notorious contagion in the church. They had taken no action through the formative-preventive oversight of instruction, nor through the corrective oversight of admonition, suspension from the Lord’s Table, or excommunication. In short, the church’s inaction was blameworthy. Why? Because Christ hates what is false and evil in His visible church, and so He commands all His congregations to carry out the oversight necessary to foster what is true and good. Wherever and whenever we do not give that oversight, we can expect the Lord of the church to do what He deems necessary, because He intends to reclaim guilty Christians, to deter others from sin, to turn away God’s wrath from His own, to purge leaven from our midst, and, above all, to vindicate His honor and the holy profession of His gospel.

In saying all this, I am not contending that those who made false predictions about the election should be prejudged as guilty of a particular sin and therefore liable to a particular penalty. I am contending that there are now, as there were in the NT era, relevant standards and sanctions in Scripture to apply to prophesiers and their overseers. I am contending, for example, that, because the fifth and ninth commandments still apply to us, congregations should at least investigate such issues as whether the recent predictors bore false witness (with or without intent to harm), whether they were in submission to church overseers, and whether church overseers adhered to a proper process of review and accountability before the predictions were made. If violations did occur, then penalties would presumably need to be determined and applied. These concerns would appear to be consistent with the implications of the lesson of the Thyatira letter for “all the churches.”

Heaven’s Splendor vs. The World’s Allure, Pt. 5 (Rev 5:8-14)

Posted by R. Fowler White

If not for the vision that John sees in Rev 5:5-7, we should be weeping as he did. After all, we now know the truth that John knew. We know that no creature, angelic or human, is qualified to secure the future of Christ’s church or empowered to fulfill God’s purposes for history. This world, with all its enticements, tempts us away from Christ. With all our vulnerabilities, we Christians and our congregations are increasingly at risk. Watching John’s weeping turn to worship, however, we too stop our weeping as we see the omnipotent, omniscient Lamb in Rev 5. Yet there is more to that scene than glorious sights to see. There are also glorious sounds to hear. Creatures from every part of creation worship the Lamb in Rev 5:8-12 and the Lord God Almighty in Rev 5:13-14.

The heavenly anthem begins in the inner circle around the throne: the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down, throwing themselves to the ground to celebrate the Lamb who is God’s Lion (5:8-10). Accompanied by the music of harps and by prayers for vindication, they sing a new song, a song of joy after the Divine Warrior’s victory, a song celebrating the Lamb’s worthiness to finish God’s plan of redemption and reckoning. The Lamb is worthy because the price He paid in His sacrificial death had the power to redeem a people of every kind for God and the power to reform those He redeemed into a kingdom and priesthood for God.

The choral singers’ number expands outward from the throne, beyond the living creatures and the elders (5:11-12). Now the choir of angels multiplies to include millions and millions of voices. They sing to the Lamb, attributing to Him all the excellencies belonging to God Himself.[i] Then the sacred chorale expands once more to every quarter of creation (5:13-14). Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them celebrate the Lord God and the Lamb. Now the choir of all creation celebrates Their glory, attributing to Them blessing and honor … glory and might, and that in an everlasting doxology. Confirming the truth of this glorious heavenly anthem, the four living creatures shout, Amen! Meanwhile, as in the previous scene in ch. 4, the twenty-four elders again throw themselves to the ground to pay homage to the supremacy of the Lord God and the Lamb.

How clear can it be that, for every part of creation, the Lord and the Lamb—God the Father and God the Son—in company with God the sevenfold Spirit (4:5; 5:6), are the sum of all that is held up to be glorified and enjoyed! Every part of creation finds in God alone all moral and spiritual excellencies and perfections. Every part of creation finds in Him all these qualities in impeccable proportion, harmony, and unity; in delicate balance, stunning brilliance, and full integrity. Every part of creation finds God in Three Persons to be altogether excellent, exquisitely splendid, supremely beautiful, and radiantly wonderful.

John the Apostle came to the visions of Rev 4–5 troubled for the congregations of Christ’s church in his day. Who can doubt that he would be troubled for us in our day? We see the vices of unbelief corroding government and business. We hear anti-Christian bigotry becoming the norm in society at large. Pressured in such an environment by the prospect of losing rights and privileges, some in the church advocate for us to shrug off the historic Christian confession and moral vision and to embrace the world’s priorities. Forget about it. As citizens of a heavenly homeland, we’ll follow John’s example and his words. With the eyes of faith, we’ll ponder the glorious sights of our Divine Sovereign in His Heavenly Palace surrounded by His angelic court. With the ears of faith, we’ll revel in the glorious sounds of creation’s choir worshiping the Lord and the Lamb in the presence of the Spirit—the Blessed Trinity in the splendor of heaven’s holiness. Thus prepared, we’ll fight the good fight, singing a new song as King Jesus delivers God’s chosen captives from the domain of darkness and transfers them into His own benevolent kingdom of priests.

[i] Richard D. Phillips, Revelation, ed. R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, and D. M. Doriani, REC (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017), 204.

Heaven’s Splendor vs. The World’s Allure, Pt. 4 (Rev 5:5-7)

Posted by R. Fowler White

It’s hard for most of the congregations of Christ’s church to resist the world’s promises of influence and affluence, especially when it threatens to shove us to the hinterlands of society. Some negotiate with the world to avoid that marginalization and persecution and to gain financial security and influence—and in the process they lose their Christian identity. Following John’s example and words, however, we know that there is a better choice: ponder the sights in Rev 5:5-7 with the eyes of faith. That vision turned John’s sorrow into joy. That revelation turned his weeping into worship. Just look at how the drama unfolds …

When we last saw John, he had broken into tears, aching for God’s plan of salvation and judgment to be fulfilled. And, at just that moment, John hears one of the twenty-four elders speak words of comfort to him. That elder, remember, was among the rank of angels who serve as God’s court officers and who represent the redeemed in both Testaments. He tells John, “Stop weeping and look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” But wait a minute: why should seeing this Lion stop John’s crying? Because this Lion is the One with the ancestry of God’s chosen king. He is the king from Judah to whom God had promised the nations as His inheritance. This Lion is the king whom God had charged to engage in holy warfare to make His people secure and pure for fellowship with Him. He is the king who is greater than David: He is not just David’s son; He is also David’s Lord. He is the One with proven qualifications: He has already conquered sin, the world, the devil, and death. This Lion is thus the Conqueror poised to take the scroll of inheritance and to finish God’s plan for history. “John,” says the elder, “stop weeping and behold, the Lion.”

We can only imagine John’s excitement as his weeping gives way to wonder. Blinking his tears away, John turns to see a Lion … but instead he sees a Lamb, and not just any lamb. This Lamb is greater than the Passover lamb and the sacrificial lambs of Israel. This Lamb has been slaughtered as a sacrifice and yet has taken His stand, not just outside the tomb on earth but also here in heaven. This Lamb is like no other lamb. He has seven horns, the fullness of strength. This Lamb has seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, the fullness of the Spirit, the fullness of knowledge and wisdom. It is this omnipotent, omniscient Lamb who steps forward to take the scroll, to finish God’s plan for the destiny of this world and of all who are in it. What a vision this is for John and for us his readers: this Lamb, slaughtered yet standing, is the Lion of God who has already conquered!

How do these sights strike our eyes? Weeping John was told to stop crying and look: look at, look to the victorious Lamb. Does this revelation stop our weeping? No creature in heaven or on earth was or is qualified to secure the future of Christ’s church or to finish God’s plan for history. Only Christ—David’s son and David’s Lord—is worthy because He is the Lamb led to slaughter as an innocent sacrifice for His guilty people. He alone is qualified because He is the Lamb standing as the Lion who has conquered the devil, the world, sin, and death. Because of His death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ alone is worthy to open the scroll of inheritance and to finish God’s plan for the ages. He alone is qualified to be Heir of all things and to make His people into co-heirs with Him.[i]

Christian, does your heart ache for God to finish His plan for the ages? Church, is it hard to resist the world’s promises of influence and affluence, especially as it threatens to shove us to the hinterlands of society or worse? Don’t bargain with the world to avoid its threats and to gain its promises. If you do, Christ says, you’ll lose your Christian identity. Instead, like John, stop weeping, look up, and worship the Lamb in the splendor of heaven’s holiness. God’s plan for the destiny of this world and for the future of His church is in the good hands of that victorious Lamb, of that conquering Lion.

[i] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (1999), 341.

Heaven’s Splendor vs. The World’s Allure, Pt. 3 (Rev 5:1-4)

Posted by R. Fowler White

We know the plot of Rev 1–4 pretty well. Our King Jesus dictated seven messages to prepare His church for the battlefield of this world. We’re to follow Him into battle with the mission to bring God’s chosen captives out of Satan’s kingdom into His kingdom until He returns. In His seven messages, Christ tells us time and again that He knows the state of every congregation in His church. He tells us that for most of His congregations, the chief problem is that we prefer the majority culture to the church’s historic faith and practice, and so we jeopardize our Christian identity. If that is King Jesus’s diagnosis of our problem, what’s His remedy? We’ve seen the first part of His prescription in Rev 4. As we keep reading, we realize that the scene in ch. 4 continues uninterrupted into ch. 5. The Lord our God, who is worshiped in 4:8-11, is before us again in ch. 5, but this time the vision adds even more depth and breadth to our understanding of Christ’s remedy for His church.[i]

John’s vision in ch. 5 opens with him seeing a scroll in the right hand of the Lord God Almighty. As for the scroll’s appearance, it’s written within and on the back. It’s a double-sided document like the scroll handed to Ezekiel (2:10). In addition, similar to the sealed scrolls of Isaiah and Daniel, it’s a sealed document, signaling that it’s not just important but also authentic, unchanged, and unchangeable. The scroll has seven seals, suggesting that it’s filled up, complete, and comprehensive. As for the scroll’s content, it reveals God’s plan, His predetermined agenda, for the ages, covering the development of all of sacred history. The scroll’s content, though partially revealed and documented in the OT, focuses in Revelation especially on sacred history from the cross to the new creation.[ii] In other words, the scroll covers God’s plan for the rest of this age and the age to come. But we can say more: from the worship described in ch. 5, we also learn that the scroll is a last will and testament of inheritance for the heirs of God. This scroll, then, contains God’s plan for the destiny of this world and of all who are in it.

John’s vision of the scroll of inheritance notwithstanding, the scene in ch. 5 takes an unexpected turn. A powerful angel from God’s palace in heaven addresses anyone who has ears with a loud voice: Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals? In other words, who is qualified, who has the ability and the authority to execute God’s plan of salvation and judgment?[iii] As John looks on, not one created being in heaven or on earth steps forward. Those creatures know what the scroll represents: they know no creature has either the autonomy to direct history to its proper conclusion or the capacity to carry out God’s plan of inheritance.[iv] Seeing that no creature qualified to open the scroll, John breaks into tears, weeps loudly, greatly, intensely. Can we even imagine such a thing: crying in heaven? He aches for God’s plan to be accomplished, yet he knows that human beings can’t depend on mere creatures, human or angelic, earthly or heavenly, to carry out God’s plan for the destiny of this world—and that knowledge moves him to sob.

How does this scene in Rev 5 move us? If it were not for the vision that John sees next, it should make us weep as John did. Why? Because the drama in God’s heavenly palace in Rev 5:1-4 reminds John and his readers that no creature can rescue them from the dangers on the battlefield of this world. No creature, even among those in heaven, is empowered to fulfill God’s purposes in salvation or judgment. There is no creature, not even one from heaven, who is qualified to secure the future of Christ’s church. Put this together with Christ’s seven messages, and it hits us how vulnerable the congregations in Asia Minor were to the world’s allure. In fact, so are ours. This world is a threatening place for Christians and congregations with our many liabilities. So where does all this leave us? Out of fear or trust of the world, some would negotiate (i.e., compromise) to ensure rights and privileges and to avoid penalties and punishments. Following John’s example and his words, however, there is a better choice: learn the lessons of the scene that comes next in Rev 5:5-7. It turned John’s sorrow into joy, his weeping into worship—and it ought to have the same impact on us.

[i] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (1999), 337.
[ii] Beale, 341.
[iii] Beale, 348.
[iv] Beale, 338.

Heaven’s Splendor vs. The World’s Allure, Pt. 2 (Rev 4:8-11)

Posted by R. Fowler White

If the seven letters of Rev 2–3 are any indication, it’s hard for most of the congregations of Christ’s church to resist the world’s offers of influence and affluence, especially when the alternatives are life at the margins, in the shadows, and worse. So, what exactly should churches do to resist the world’s allure? As we saw in a previous post, we resist by keeping before us the vision that King Jesus has given to us in Rev 4:1-7: a revelation of the Lord our God in the splendor of holiness, the grandeur of our Divine Sovereign in His Heavenly Palace surrounded by His court. Yet Christ gives us even more to see and hear in heaven above, more to make us bold on the battlefield of this world. Christ presents to us the never-ending worship of the attendants of the Lord God Almighty. What started in 4:1-7 as a heavenly montage unfolding before John’s eyes now becomes a scene of adoration and acclamation in Rev 4:8-11.[i]

John begins by telling us about the worship of the four living creatures (4:8). With six wings they are shielded before the brilliance of God’s holy presence; they are equipped to do His bidding with alacrity. Full of eyes they are attentive and perceptive. Day and night, they never cease to praise. They break out in choral song, extolling the Creator God for His perfections. First, they honor Him, the God of heaven and earth, as Holy, holy, holy. He is infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably superior to and separate from all His creatures, even the sinless ones. But especially when compared with His sinful creatures, there is not a trace of evil desire, of impure motive, or of unholy inclination in Him. Second, they pointedly hail the God of heaven and earth as the Lord God Almighty. He is infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably all-powerful, omnipotent. Here is the one Being who does whatever He wills, however and whenever He wills it. Only He can do, and does do, all His holy will. Third, they also adore the God of heaven and earth as the One who was and is and is to come. He is infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably beyond time and history. He has always existed; He will always exist. He never began; He will never end. He does not grow; He does not age. He sees and knows each event and all events of history as one. Do we hear the never-ending worship of the four living creatures in heaven? Surely, the world’s siren song pales by comparison.

John’s focus shifts from the four living creatures to the twenty-four elders, who are also worshiping (4:9-11). Perhaps these who represent the redeemed of both Testaments are singing antiphonally with the four living creatures; perhaps they are singing harmony. In any case, these angelic officers of the heavenly court fall down (4:9), throwing themselves to the ground as an act of devotion and humility before the ever-living Lord God Almighty. They cast their crowns before His throne, paying Him homage, submitting to His supremacy. They ascribe all worthiness, the highest worthiness, to Him as Creator. He exerts His sovereign power and will in creating and sustaining all things, and His sovereignty in creation and preservation guarantees the fulfillment of His purposes in re-creation. Do we hear the never-ending worship of the twenty-four elders in heaven? For those with ears to hear it, the heavenly anthem drowns out all music but its own, including the world’s siren song.

So, what do we do when the congregations of Christ’s church seem indifferent to the boundaries between the world and the church? When the world presents us a choice between economic security and influence, on the one hand, and society’s margins and shadows, on the other, how exactly will we resist the world’s siren song? King Jesus gives us a better song to sing: the chorus sung by the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders. We’ll join that everlasting song because the issue at stake for us is not merely a first amendment issue; it is a first and greatest commandment issue. So we’ll praise the Lord God Almighty for His perfections. We’ll rejoice in our eternal God and His unceasing rule in and over history. No matter the time or place, no matter the trial, our holy, eternal God is enthroned in heaven. He alone is the Creator and Preserver of all things, so we’ll resist the world’s allure and sing of Him in the splendor of holiness, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.[ii]

[i] J. Ramsey Michaels, Revelation, vol. 20, IVPNTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), Rev 4:1.
[ii] M. Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, 2471.

Heaven’s Splendor vs. The World’s Allure, Pt. 1 (Rev 4:1-7)

Posted by R. Fowler White

The messages dictated by King Jesus to the seven churches in Asia Minor in Rev 2–3 are meant to prepare us readers to follow Him onto the battlefield of this world, with the mission to bring God’s chosen captives out of Satan’s kingdom into His kingdom. From those messages, we learn that the battle is hard for most churches. The difficulties for the seven churches came not because they were universally poor, or totally alienated from their culture, or even subject to government-sponsored persecution. No, for the most part, those churches—five of seven, to be exact—were weak or self-satisfied, compromising with the majority culture, blurring the boundary between the historic faith and practice of Christ’s church and the beliefs and behaviors of the world, all to secure their “place at the table” and, with it, their viability. The issue at stake, in other words, was not a first amendment issue; it was a first (and greatest) commandment issue. Squeezed into the world’s mold, they were jeopardizing their Christian identity. Sound familiar?

Well, what’s the remedy when congregations are blurring the lines with the world’s beliefs and behaviors, when they’re feeble or complacent and compromising their Christian identity? Christ Jesus, the Lord and Head of His church, gives His answer in Rev 4. He gives John a fresh vision of the Divine Palace in heaven where the Sovereign Divine Ruler sits enthroned, surrounded by His court of attendants (4:2b-7). It’s a marvel of sight and sound unlike anything on earth.

John describes what his eyes can see of the invisible God Himself (4:3). God makes Himself visible to John in a splendor like that of precious light-diffusing stones that intensify the radiance emanating from His throne, the unapproachable brightness surrounding the Deity Himself.[i] Displayed in this portrait is God’s magnificent grandeur, His dazzling glory and, from the rainbow, His abundant mercy. Ineffably sublime, here is the One who is the Majesty enthroned on high!

To enhance our grasp of God’s cosmic supremacy, John’s eyes pan around to His attendants. Around the throne (4:4) are twenty-four elders seated on thrones. Reminiscent of both the twenty-four divisions of old covenant priests and also of the twelve tribal fathers of old Israel with the twelve apostles of the new Israel, these angelic officers of the heavenly court represent the entire community of the redeemed of both Testaments.[ii] Dressed in white garments and wearing golden crowns, they are upright and holy, having a majesty all their own. From the throne (4:5) come flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, evoking the sights and sounds of Mt Sinai. God appears here in His holy power, ready to reveal His judgment and His salvation. Before the throne (4:5-6) are burning seven lamps of fire, which are the seven Spirits of God. Present with God on the throne is God the Spirit in His sevenfold fullness, just as Isaiah described Him in Isa 11:2. Before the throne was also something akin to a sea of glass like crystal, waters quieted by God’s power, like those at creation, after the flood, after the Red Sea and Jordan crossings, in the bronze basin of the tabernacle and temple courtyard. Together with the precious stones, this sea of crystalline glass suggests just how resplendent God’s throne is. Also around the throne (4:6b-7) are four living creatures. Guarding and supporting God’s throne like the seraphim that Isaiah saw (Isa ch. 6) and like the cherubim that Ezekiel saw (Ezek chs. 1 and 10), this rank of angels embodies all the highest attributes of living creation, projecting the likenesses of a lion (the greatest and fiercest undomesticated animal), an ox (the strongest domesticated animal), a man (the ruler of all animals), and an eagle (the noblest bird).[iii]

The contrast between the grandeur of the Divine Palace in heaven and the allure of the world’s blandishments could hardly be more stark. Offers of influence and affluence from the world are hard to resist for churches, particularly the weak or complacent, when their earthly alternatives are a place at the margins, in the shadows, or worse. So, how exactly do churches resist the world’s siren song? By remembering what King Jesus gave all seven churches in Asia Minor. Along with His open letters to them, He gave them a revelation of the Lord God in the splendor of heaven’s holiness. That is the vision He gives us too. Captivated by that vision, we won’t do what most churches in Asia Minor did, even if we’re pushed to the margins and the shadows. We won’t blur the boundary between the world and the church. We won’t jeopardize our Christian identity to ensure financial peace and influence. Instead, we’ll heed Christ’s call from heaven to join, in Spirit and truth, the creatures in heaven around God’s throne. We’ll heed Christ’s call from heaven to engage in the single most important activity of all time and space: the worship of our Divine Sovereign in His Heavenly Palace, surrounded by His court of attendants. Then, as heavenly-minded strangers and pilgrims in this world, we’ll “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” and we’ll carry out the mission our King has given us, speaking the truth in love to bring God’s chosen captives out of Satan’s kingdom into His kingdom.

[i] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (1999), 321.
[ii] Beale, 323.
[iii] Richard D. Phillips, Revelation, ed. R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, and D. M. Doriani, REC (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017), 171.

Why John Didn’t Go Quietly Into Exile (Rev 1:12-20)

Posted by R. Fowler White

In a recent post on Rev 1:9-11, we said that the Apostle John did not go quietly into exile, and neither should we. He fulfilled his prophetic commission from Christ and wrote Revelation, inspiring our courage by highlighting not only the condition of Christ’s churches but also the position of Christ Himself. Having looked at the condition of Christ’s churches in Rev 1:9-11, John looks also at the position of Christ in Rev 1:12-20. In brief, the Apostle John bears witness that the resurrected and ascended Christ is in the glory of heaven, ruling and tending the congregations of His church. You need courage, church? Look no further than to Christ in glory.

John bears witness in Rev 1:12-16 to the glorious Christ he had heard and seen. The Apostle had heard a loud voice like a trumpet, as Moses did at Mt Sinai, and he had seen seven golden lampstands and one like a Son of Man among them. The lampstands show us the churches positioned in the heavenly temple as bearers of light, but John wants our attention drawn to Christ Jesus, as his was. Even as one like a Son of Man, the Christ John had seen is more than a mere human. He is the Messianic King with all authority in heaven and on earth, in this world and in the world to come, and He is the Head over all things to His church. Clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest, He is dressed as the High Priest of heaven in holiness, beauty, and majesty. With the hairs of His head … white, like white wool, like snow, Christ is one with the Ancient of Days in Daniel’s prophecy, crowned with purity and wisdom. With His eyes … like a flame of fire, He is the Judge who dispenses rewards and penalties with all holy justice. With His feet … like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, Christ glorified possesses incorruptible, unchanging moral spotlessness and splendor. With His voice … like the roar of many waters, He speaks with awe-inspiring power and majesty. In His right hand Christ holds seven stars, exercising complete control over even the heavenly host of angels. From His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, declaring His invincible word of judgment. With a countenance of radiant majesty, His face was like the sun shining in full strength. This is the glorious Christ whom John had heard and seen.

No wonder, like the OT prophets Ezekiel and Daniel, John was literally laid out on the floor, overwhelmed with reverence and awe (Rev 1:17a). And how did Christ respond to him (Rev 1:17b-20)? He comforted John with a touch of His hand, with words of comfort, with words about Himself, reminding John of who He is. He declared, “I am the first and the last, transcendent over time, God Eternal who governs history from beginning to end and brings world affairs to their climax in salvation and judgment.[1] And I am the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore. Not even death can frustrate My purposes. I’ve even made My own death the way to new life for My believing people. On top of that, though Death did hold Me in its grip for a short time, I now have the keys of Death and Hades. You see, not only could Death not hold Me forever, I now exercise power and control over Death and Hades, over body and soul, for joy or for anguish.”

Now we know why John didn’t go quietly into exile: he knew Jesus Christ glorified. Do we? We have to ask because the Jesus John had seen and heard was not the Jesus of so many self-identified evangelicals today. He was not the first and greatest being created by God. He was not merely a great teacher. No, the Jesus John had come to know was and is God Incarnate, resurrected and ascended, the One in whom all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. This God-man is now in glory, ruling and tending the congregations of His church as He commends and corrects them, as He exhorts and warns them. Such is His ministry to ensure that His people are fit to serve as light bearers in this dark world.[2] It was none other than this Jesus who inspired John with the courage to fulfill his prophetic commission. And it is none other than this Jesus who will inspire us with the courage to fulfill our evangelistic commission.

More and more in today’s world, we who confess the historic Christian faith and moral vision are being made to look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. If we would stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by our opponents (Phil 1:27-28), we must take courage from knowing the Jesus John saw and heard: Christ in the glory of heaven, ruling and tending the congregations of His church.

[1] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (1999), 213.
[2] Beale, 211.

John Did Not Go Quietly Into Exile (Rev 1:9-11)

Posted by R. Fowler White

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands … we proclaim also to you (1 John 1:1-3). All that and more is why the Apostle John wrote as he did in Revelation 1. He wrote out of his own up-close-and-personal experience of the resurrected and ascended Jesus, out of his own transformed life, and out of his participation in the early church’s phenomenal growth. In truth, he also wrote as he did because he saw in his day, as we see in ours, Christians being shoved to the margins of societal life or sent off into cultural exile. John, however, did not go quietly, and neither should we. In Revelation he speaks to us still, having written to inspire our courage by spotlighting not only the condition of Christ’s churches but also the position of Christ Himself. Consider first the condition of Christ’s churches in this world, according to Rev 1:9-11. In sum, says John, the churches are in tribulation (conflict), as he was. Transformed, however, as we are by the resurrection and ascension of Christ Jesus, John underlines crucial facts of the life that he, as our brother and partner, shares with us who are in the congregations of Christ’s church (Rev 1:9).

We share in the tribulation that is ours in Christ. Like it or not, the church of Christ Jesus is at odds and in conflict with the world. The world, at its origin and at its worst, criminalizes the church, persecutes the church. Why? Because, among other things, when we’re faithful, we don’t make the same choices that our society does, in belief or behavior. When we’re faithful, we’re different; we’re foreigners with no intention of assimilating, because we’re not, first, citizens of this world. We’re exiles in this world, at odds with it. We also share in the kingdom that is ours in Christ. We believers are not only subjects in the kingdom of King Jesus. He has freed us from our sins by His blood and has–already–made us His kingdom of priests together under Him. Our victorious reign in history is not only in the future. No, the kingdom is ours now in King Jesus. We also share in the patient endurance that is ours in Christ. The church of Christ perseveres in faith with good works despite conflict from the world. When we’re faithful, we do not compromise our witness in the face of trials; we resist the forces of evil, seen or unseen. When we’re faithful, we defeat sin in our lives, and we defy death and Satan.

Through the faith that we Christians share in the resurrected and ascended Jesus, we share a common identity, a transformed identity given to us by God. We’re siblings and partners in the conflict, kingdom, perseverance that are ours in King Jesus. Oh, yes, from time to time, the world allows us to lead peaceful and quiet lives (1 Tim 2:2). But our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom does not shield us from suffering at the world’s hands. In its gut, the world scoffs at our identity. Taking the form of any branch of any government from any party, the world will seek, overtly or covertly, to interfere with the practice of the Christian faith or even to run Christ’s church. Yet this remains true: the resurrected and ascended Jesus has transformed us into siblings and partners in tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance.

Though we share a transformed identity with the Apostle John, he also underlines how he differs from us. King Jesus, John tells us, had transformed him into a prophet with a special commission to write a book to us his siblings and partners. John rehearsed the particulars of his transformation for us (Rev 1:10-11).

He had been exiled to Patmos for his testimony and ministry. He had been deemed an enemy of the state. Government officials had exiled him to Patmos, a small island in the Aegean Sea where Rome relocated those deemed a danger to its political and religious order. Barred from leaving the island, possibly sentenced to hard labor in the quarries on Patmos, this was John’s part in the tribulation, kingdom, and endurance that are ours in King Jesus. Despite his exile, however, John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, on the true Emperor’s day–Sunday–the day of the resurrection and ascension of Christ. There in the state of worship and revelation, he received a special commission from King Jesus to write a book–that is, a scroll–to the seven churches of Asia Minor. That commission made John different from others in the church.

Will we be careful to heed John’s word and example? You see, despite his exile, poverty, and affliction, John had continued to worship and serve Christ Jesus and to bear witness to the gospel of salvation. John did not go quietly into exile. Those of us who share in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in King Jesus will not do so either.[1]

[1] Richard D. Phillips, Revelation, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017), 61.

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