122. Seeking a saviour.

[John12]

Do we really know what darkness is? When there is no hope of intervention or outcome in any way. I wonder whether our modern western world, in which Christianity and the doctrine of an almighty God is such an integral part of our culture that it is “to be had” even if a person does not believe, begin to understand the confusion of many gods and the bewilderment of mythological beliefs. There is profound uncertainty when we think about the deeper things in life. What is life? What is love? What is morality? What is influence? The more perplex thoughts are into the mysticism. How is it supposed to be? Is there perfection out there where we don’t know? How can we attain it?

The Greeks were good at thinking. Their philosophers of centuries before Jesus’ life on earth are honoured to this day. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle are well known names in history. Plato in particular wrote about the unseen world as perfection to be attained through death.

It is in this atmosphere that John writes. As we have seen in the first chapter of the Gospel, John addresses the Plato question with his explanation of Jesus as logos. [Pebbles 83]

Here in John 12:20-26 the Greeks ask about Jesus. At this stage of his life, writing the Gospel, John lives in Ephesus and writes with the Greeks in mind. He records this incident in particular. The Greeks were ardent travelers of the time. They were all over the world. They traveled for trade and commerce, for philosophy, for new ideas – they were the ancient world’s most notable tourists.

The Greeks always sought truth. They checked out religions all over. Their seeking minds would enquire after Jesus.

Again Andrew brings them to Jesus. Maybe they spoke to Philip because he has Greek name, but Philip asks Andrew to bring them to Jesus. Andrew knew that Jesus is always open for enquiry. He led them to Him with great confidence knowing Jesus answered the enquiring mind.

Jesus says the crisis, the hour has come and speaks about death, which to the Greeks held particular significance. He calls Himself the

Son of man according to Daniel 7:13. In Daniel’s vision the world powers are described as wild animals because of their lust and cruelty. The new power was to be gentle and gracious – very unlike anything before or after. The symbol was a man not a wild beast.

The Jews expected the Son of man. So much literature were written during the 400 years of “prophetic silence” between the Old and New Testaments to keep the dream alive. He would be the undefeatable conqueror sent by God. Obviously the Greeks had no Messianic expectation.

Jesus talked to the Jews about His glorification on the Cross and they misunderstood. Jesus spoke of sacrifice and death and they were not willing to hear that. To them His words did not make sense.

He said to the Greeks: By death comes life just like the grain of wheat, buried in the ground, then follows life, growth and fruit.

By dying to self will come a life of understanding and insight.

Love of your own life will render you unfit for service. (Mark 8:35; Matthew 16:25; Luke 9:24;17:33)

Men who serve are great in the Kingdom of God. For Jesus – greatness was in the Cross.

He brings a dazzling new view on life.

John does not tell about Gethsemane. Here (12:27-36) he records the human Jesus’ agony to avoid the Cross. It is the real cost of courage. He is very afraid of the horror of death. For Jesus it is weighed against obedience.

His words become triumphant to break the power of evil.

 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour28 Father, glorify Your name.”

He brings heavenly perspective. He would be the ultimate conqueror of men. It would be a greater conquest than the crowds ever imagined.

Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”

 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake.

Fear becomes triumph when hearing the voice of God. The Jews believed that God spoke directly just like to Samuel, Elijah and Moses. By the time of Jesus nobody believed that anymore. God’s voice came to Jesus on special occasions: at baptism (Mark 1:11), on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:7) and it now came to Him to strengthen Him for what was lying ahead.

God will speak to anyone who is willing to listen.

Daniel 7 talks about an everlasting kingdom. How could it end in a Cross? He was supposed to be the Prince forever (Ezekiel 37:25). His government will have no end (Isaiah 9:7). He will reign on thrones over all generations (Psalm 89:4).

Jesus’ death on the Cross would crown Him in the hearts of men forever. It was so different from anything they expected. The contrast of His life to the community, in which He lived, was burnt into history forever. He was not just another conqueror who fought a great war and won. He was the Conqueror of all time and all people ever.

He promises light in the darkness, relief from the shadows. The shadow of fear, doubt, confusion and sorrow does not reign supreme over life. Jesus promises light in all of this with joy that cannot be taken away.

John quotes from Isaiah 53:1-2 and 6:9-10 in the following passage (12:37-41). It is all about unbelief and intentional blindness.

[Jesus mentions it often in Matthew 13:14,15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10 then Paul in Romans 11:8; 2 Corinthians 3:14.]

There are always people who will not believe.Isaiah was bewildered and heartbroken because of the unbelief of the people.

For the prophets God was the source of everything– even unbelief. They could not explain it otherwise. God is greater than any sin – so their unbelief must have come from God.

In 12:40 is a great truth stated:When you choose to see, you will see and experience the revelation. When you choose not to see, your eyes are blinded and your heart hardened. Life then does not make sense and nothing is significant, because understanding is already lost.

 No repentance – no revelation.

In actual fact our decisions and choices are God-given and does come from our Creator. That is why our refusal of His grace is so powerful. Our choices shape our lives. God has given us full power over our choices so that we are able to express love. Anything else would not be real passion. Choice enables love. He chose the Cross – He also had the alternative not to choose the Cross.

We choose Him and His expression of love on the Cross, because we have the choice to reject it. We consciously decide to love. Love changes us.

In the next passage (12:42- 50) the terrible cowardness and self-interest of men are described. They believed but could not go public. They feared the church.

 Secret discipleship is not possible. Someone said:  “either the secrecy kills the discipleship, or the discipleship kills the secrecy.”

For the people it is always the fear of losing what they gained in life.  They would lose profit and prestige. They chose men over God. God’s judgment matters for all eternity.  We have to look through heaven’s eyes.

If you choose people over God, then the people will judge you. It is always better to be judged by God. People are cruel and unjust.

What follow are Jesus’ last words of public teaching. He addresses the people and tells them about His father. He did not speak for Himself. In Him men are confronted with God. They listened to Him and at the same time knew what God was saying.

Jesus came to save – God wants to save. Love saves. Inevitably the same love judges the rejection of it.

The truth will judge. If you know the right thing and do not do it – you will be judged by the truth.

Our own knowledge will bear witness against us.

PRAYER: Lord speak into my heart. Show me Mary, Martha, Judas, the crowd, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the church leaders, the Greeks searching for truth and the impact their examples has on my life. Help me to learn from them.

Show me my armour against You my God, my lobster-shell, my hard heart, my obsession with prestige and honour and other stumbling blocks that deafen my hearing of the voice of God. Help me to express my love for You and to realize what the true significance of that expression is.

 

Jesus show me JESUS.

 

 

 

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105. The One and Only, the One in All.

The package deal, is what we want. We have so many things pre-packaged. Somebody else thought long and hard and put things together to serve a combination of needs. Some may call it a hamper, some may call it the full meal deal, some may call it a wrap up – whatever the goodies inside may be, it is an effort to meet more than one need in one container tied together.

Here in John 5 we start with one of the first longer discourses of the Fourth Gospel. John writes his interpretation of what Jesus meant in all the words spoken to His disciples over the many months of His three-year ministry. John wrote to establish Jesus as the true Messiah, the Promised One, the Lamb of God, the Light of the World and every other title that could have been expected by Jews as well as Gentiles. His writing comes with a half a century of Holy Spirit insight in the life of Jesus, which he witnessed in person.

The passage (5:19-47) is packed with good things, explaining the superior and excellent good news, which is the answer to every query about life all contained in one man, Jesus. He is the only ONE you will ever need.

SON OF MAN

To the Jews who heard this passage it meant that Jesus is the Messiah.

  • Son of Man is a title we hear in Daniel (7:1-14). THE Son of Man – not a son of man.

The visions of Daniel were all about the cruel and ruling empires:

the lion with eagle’s wings was Babylon, the bear with ribs, devouring the nations was the Medes, the leopard with four wings and four heads was the Persians, and the fiercest of beasts with the ten horns and iron teeth was the Macedonian Greeks under Alexander the Great. They will all will pass away. All this cruel and savage reign, that could only be described in terms of beasts, will be replaced with a gentle and peaceful human.

In the coming of Jesus humanity was brought back to its original created purpose.

Between the Testaments there arose a whole literature, which promised the golden age to come in which the Jews called the Messiah the son of man. Jesus called himself the Son of Man. It is a clear claim to be the Messiah.

  • Miracles of healing are associated with the Messiah. (Isaiah 35:6 and Jeremiah 31:8-9).
  • Raising the dead is something that God alone could do . Only God could kill and make alive. Death is in God’s hands. (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1:17, 1 Samuel 2:6, 2 Kings 5:6)
  • Final judgment was also ascribed to the Messiah.

For Jesus to speak like this was an act of the most extraordinary and unique courage. He must have known well that to make claims like this would sound like blasphemy to the orthodox Jewish leaders and the consequence was death. Any man who listened to words like this had only two alternatives – he must either accept Jesus as the Son of God or hate him as a blasphemer.

Jesus’ obedience to the Father is not based on equality or submission of power; it is based on love, as ours should be.

Jesus was confident in his identity – against all the forces of Jewish orthodoxy. He was completely fearless. He could be misunderstood; His words could inflame and endanger His life. He knew full well.

It is more important to fear God than men.

God through Jesus is the giver of life. Not possible to live fully without God. Jesus changes our lives on the deepest level possible, both in this world and the world to come. He is the ALL in one for ALL times.

JUDGMENT

He judges. Jesus’ life and words are judgment in itself. Through Him, judgment of personal sin is solved. To accept Him is life, the ultimate way to peace and happiness. True judgment, how Jesus judges, only happens in full harmony to the will of God. (5:30)

I used to fear judgment. I often wondered how I can relax in the Gospel message if it speaks of judgment. My own sinfulness, especially the realisation of my own unworthiness, made me worry about a judging God.

God comforted me in my fears and revealed to me how this world needs judgment. We cannot confront sin and evil without the clear direction of what is good and right. That is judgment. God’s judgment is the solution to our broken world. It makes it better, not worse.

For us it is difficult to judge fairly. We suffer pride, prejudice, jealousy, intolerance, contempt, ignorance and self-importance. Have you ever seen court procedures and the paperwork involved? It takes thousands upon thousands of pages to come to a conclusion.

God alone is perfect. He knows everything. He judges from perfect love, sitting on the mercy seat.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

Unsupported evidence by only one person is unacceptable (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1). A man cannot state his own case. It is his word against another. We are so privileged to have our case stated by Jesus. He is the Son of Man and have received the authority to judge from the Father (5:26)

SPIRITUAL DEATH

When Jesus was persecuted, He received honour in His suffering and opened up the path of honour through suffering to all of us. It does not matter what life throws at us – Jesus was there and promises hope and salvation from the worst. It is an unquenchable hope and an unconquerable certainty. Amid all the persecution of the early church they never doubted Christ’s ultimate victory.

Jesus is life and He is life now. Without Him death has already in this life, become a reality. We can live with dead works and dead thoughts. This is the core of the Gospel – spiritual death.

Life is promised by a new relationship with

  • God: fear becomes love, distance becomes intimacy;
  • fellow man: hatred becomes love, selfishness becomes service, and bitterness becomes forgiveness;
  • self: weakness becomes strength, frustration becomes achievement and stress becomes peace.

To be spiritually dead means to stop trying to be good. This life is a constant forward push. We can either slip back or move on. To have no courage means slipping back. Spiritual death is to stop feeling, become insensitive, comfortable with evil, with no compassion and a mind shut to truth. Nothing new can change the thinking or learning of such a man and that leads to a blunt conscience. (The best description of the spiritually dead while in this life is found in Ephesians 4:17-19)

This life determines eternity. The hour is now. Our new life in Jesus is for NOW. (5:24,25)

Jesus talks about another witness – meaning God. (5:31-40)

He cites John the Baptist who bore witness to Him.

He talks about a lamp that burns and shines. A lamp is lit, it does not light itself. It is “borrowed” light. The light comes from another source – fire or electricity. The message of John is warm; it was a guide to repentance. A light is temporary; it burns out. John decreased while pointing the way. A true witness burns itself out for God.

Another witness besides John is the witness of Jesus’ works. When John enquired from prison if He is truly the Messiah, Jesus answered that His works will testify as to His authenticity. His works also points to God. God is the supreme witness.

Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. (1 John 5:10)

The Jews were adamant that God is invisible and that no man has seen God, not even Moses (Deuteronomy 4:12). They believed God was only in the conviction of the mind and Jesus expresses that in this passage. It is God’s witness in our hearts regarding Jesus.

SCRIPTURE

To the Jews the Scriptures were everything. Jesus was evident in the Old Testament. They were the best Bible students in the world and they rejected Him – how come?

Here the word for Scriptures is graphe which means autobiography. The Bible is a document written by a divine author by the hands of humans. It is regarded as the eternal voice of God to communicate His character.

How do we read the Bible? With a closed mind, not to find God, but to support an argument? God is revealed throughout history as speaking through the Scripture, but also acting! The Bible is a record of God in action. It is not the words that are holy, it is the story it tells which is holy.

There is only one way to read the Bible and that is with Christ revealed in every chapter. He is the supreme revelation. The Jews were worshipping God’s words alone and not His actions. The words cannot give life; it is the One who speaks them that gives life.

The purpose of the words of Jesus is so that you might be saved. It is all for us, not His own glory that He speaks. He says: I love you and I want to save you.

Before and after Jesus there was a stream of impostors claiming to be the Messiah. Why did they even consider these impostors? Usually a false prophet speaks according to man’s desires. They promise empires, government and material prosperity. Jesus came with a Cross. Jesus died and lives on. The impostors all died and disappeared.

The scribes and the Pharisees desired the praise of men. Everyone recognized them by the way they dressed and behaved; they prayed a certain way; they loved the respectful greetings on the street. They were fully devout, but did not hear the voice of God and did not recognize Jesus. Why?

If a person measures himself by his fellow men, he will not hear God speak.

Jesus points out that Moses writes about Him (5:46). If you read the Scriptures you will find Jesus revealed. Moses himself would have condemned them all. They attached all this value to Moses and did not recognize the One of whom he spoke.

The greatest privilege of the Jews became their greatest condemnation. They had knowledge to no avail. When we have the knowledge, we have the responsibility of acting on it.

 

Dear Pebble pals,

I am travelling for the next month and will be back just after the middle of February. I know that a break brings new inspiration and perspective.

May God bless you richly for seeking Him in His Word. Remember He is always active where we read with a heart focused on Him.

Malachi 3:16-18.

62. Surely it will come.

We are in the first days of a new year. Something new is such a delight. There is deep satisfaction in the idea of new. A clean start, a new beginning, something different and fresh, redesigned, renewed, restored – an inspiring thought.

We have just relived the days of Christmas again. On that first Christmas night, very few people realized the revolutionary change that was imminent. The promise came at last. Over many centuries that moment was prophesied, expected, longed for and maybe even doubted in the delay. It could also be that all the expectation over the generations made the people tired of waiting; one could call it promise-fatigue – doubting the outcome, the promise and even the God promising.

Where do you stand Pebble pal? Do you hold fast, running the race with endurance and faith to press in to your miracle of intervention? Do not give up. Every Christmas and every Easter stand as witnesses of the reliability of God’s promises. Surely it will come. As certain as we are that the seasons will change and day and night will come – a rhythm that has never been interrupted according to the promise of Genesis 8:22.

“While the earth remains,

Seedtime and harvest,

Cold and heat,

Winter and summer,

And day and night

Shall not cease.”

How sure are you about day and night and summer and winter? Exactly that certainty underscores God’s promises. How can we raise our expectations? By faith. There is only one way we can boost our faith.

 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)

We are living in a world where evil surrounds us exactly as we have seen in the previous chapter (17) of Revelation. Immorality, lies, cruelty, oppression, poverty and famine, war and suffering depress my spirit within a few minutes of watching the news. Half the people are thrilled with leaders while the other half cry in despair about seemingly irreconcilable differences in political opinions. I cry out to God to grant wisdom to our world leaders to make the decisions for real progress and upliftment of those who need it most. According to Miriam Webster uplift means to raise to a higher social, intellectual, or moral level or condition. We need that, the world needs that – Jesus is the only One to work a miracle of restoration within a person and his circumstances. He is the answer. What a privilege to know Him.

When we look at the world around us, we see the despair and destruction. When will it end and will it ever end are the questions flung towards the heavens. For any human being the scale of earth’s tragedy is just too big and overwhelming. We need God! We need a good God, an almighty God and a loving God to take care of this mess. This is Who we know, Pebble pal. Our loving Father is “abounding in goodness and truth”, the almighty One, the God of miracles, the Prince of Peace, the wonderful Counselor, the everlasting Father.

Chapter 18 of Revelation is a doom song, in other languages called a song of sorrow, which is common in prophetic literature. We read in Isaiah 13:19-22 a doom song about ancient Babylon and in Isaiah 34:11-15 about Edom. Jeremiah 50:39 and 51:37 is part of the doom songs about Babylon. God judges evil, but it is always with the sorrow of what could have been if they chose salvation. Zephaniah 2:13-15 contains a doom song about Nineveh, here quoted as an example.

And He will stretch out His hand against the north, Destroy Assyria,

And make Nineveh a desolation, As dry as the wilderness.

Here in Revelation 18 the angel comes with the light of God upon him. John might have been thinking about Ezekiel’s description.

He brought me to the gate, the gate facing east; and behold the glory of the God of Israel came from the east; and the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with his glory.” (Ezekiel 43:1-2)

H.B. Swete writes of this angel: “So recently he has come from the Presence that in passing he brings a broad belt of light across the dark earth.”

Before the destruction, God is calling His people out (18:4), as always throughout history. We need to come out from among them just as:

  • Abraham – Genesis 12:1
  • Lot – Genesis 19:12-14
  • Moses – Numbers 16:23-26 – from the tents of wicked men of rebellion.
  • Isaiah – Isaiah 48:20
  • Jeremiah – Jeremiah 50:8, 51:6,45.
  • Paul asks believers in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15:

 Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial?

… and 1 Timothy 5:22:

Do not participate in another man’s sins; keep yourself pure.

How does one live this practically? One cannot leave this world altogether. In the words of one commentator:

[The words] imply a certain “aloofness of spirit maintained in the very heart of the world’s traffic.” They describe the essential apartness of the Christian from the world. The commonest word for the Christian in the New Testament is the Greek hagios whose basic meaning is different. The Christian is not conformed to the world but transformed from the world (Romans 12:2). It is not a question of retiring from the world; it is a question of living differently within the world.


The vengeance of God on the pride of Babylon (18: 6-8) speaks of punishment. The instruction is to an angel, not to the people. Vengeance always belongs to God. It will come according to His command and always just; more just than humanity could ever hope to be.

Man reaps that which he sows. Jesus said:

The measure you give will be the measure you get. (Matthew 7:2)

The concept of double punishment or double reward, or double payment for loss was often found in Jewish laws. (Exodus 22:4,7,9)

Pride will be humiliated. Rome’s sin is pride. Often sin can be “argued” back to the root of pride. (Isaiah 3:16 -17)

 Tyre is condemned because she has said: “I am perfect in beauty”. (Ezekiel 27:3)

 In Greek hubris means arrogance, which literally means: has no need of God. In the Strong’s definition it is explained further:

Pride is an inwardly directed emotion that carries two antithetical meanings. With a negative connotation pride refers to a foolishly and irrationally corrupt sense of one’s personal value, status or accomplishments

The whole rest of the chapter is a dirges [a lament for the dead, especially one forming part of a funeral rite] for Rome as a symbol of evil society in the same measure as Babylon and all aspects of her social order including the kings (18:9-10) merchants (18:11-16) and shipmasters and sailors (18:17-19). We hear about the greatness, wealth and luxury of evil society.

This part of the vision is almost an echo of Roman literature and the writings of historians on Roman society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, Satires of Juvenal, Lives of the Caesars and the works of Tacitus.

In comparison with these books nothing John wrote about Rome could be an exaggeration.

Even the Talmud (Jewish Bible) said ten measures of wealth went to Rome and the rest received only one. Scholars think we are babes in the matter of enjoyment and luxury compared to that of the ancient world. There existed almost a desperate competition in ostentation. Everything was done for show. To desire the impossible was deemed impressive. The first century world poured its riches into the Roman Empire from east to west. The money possessed and spent was colossal. Caligula and Nero were among the biggest spenders. It is said that they squandered the income from three provinces in one day.

One Roman historian writes of Caligula: “In reckless extravagance he outdid the prodigals of all times in ingenuity, inventing new sorts of baths and unnatural varieties of food and feasts; for he would bathe in hot or cold perfumed oils, drink pearls of great price dissolved in vinegar, and set before his guests loaves and meats of gold.” He even built galleys whose sterns were studded with pearls. Of Nero Suetonius tells us that he compelled people to set before him banquets costing more than 20,000 British pounds. “He never wore the same garment twice. He played at dice for 2,000 British pounds per point. He fished with a golden net drawn by cords woven of purple and scarlet threads. It is said that he never made a journey with less than a thousand carriages, with his mules shod with silver.”

Drinking pearls dissolved in vinegar was a common ostentation. Cleopatra is said to have dissolved and drunk a pearl worth 80,000 British pounds. Valerius Maximus at a feast set a pearl to drink before every guest, and he himself, Horace tells, swallowed the pearl from Metalla’s ear-ring dissolved in wine that he might be able to say that he had swallowed a million sesterces in a gulp.

In the time when John was writing a kind of insanity of wanton extravagance, to which it is very difficult to find any parallel in history, had invaded Rome.

When Rome fell, the merchants lamented all over the world, as they supplied her extravagance and were enriched in the process (18:11-16). It reminds of the lament of the kings and merchants over Tyre in Ezekiel 26:1-21, 27: 1-36.

The lament of the merchants is purely selfish. The markets and wealth of the merchants and kings stand afar off to watch Rome’s demise. There is, of course, no helping hand, no love since the only bond was luxury and trade.

Rome had a passion for silver. For many years they had as much as 40 000 slaves in silver mines. Pliny tells us that women would bathe only in silver baths, soldiers had swords with silver hilts and scabbards with silver chains. Even poor women had silver anklets and slaves had silver mirrors.

 Precious stones were brought to the West by Alexander the Great.

Of this Plinius said: the fascination of a gem was that the majestic might of nature presented itself in a limited space.

One of the strangest of ancient beliefs was that precious stones had medicinal qualities. Today in New Age tradition all sorts of crystal are sold with the promise of well being and healing.

Of all stones the Romans loved pearls more than any other. Linen came from Egypt. Purple came from Phoenicia. It is derived from phoinos, which means blood red. Ancient purple was redder than today. It was made from a shellfish vein and had to be extracted as the little creature dies. It dried up quickly and only one drop came from each fish. Silk came from China. It was far away and sold for a pound of gold. Scarlet was used for banqueting couches to supplement very ostentatious furnishings.

 Woods, used for the many furnishings in the palaces of the noble, came from North Africa. It was called thyine in Latin. It was a citrus wood, sweet smelling and beautifully grained. The tree was not very large and that made tabletops rare. Tables were made with marble legs. Nero had 300 of these tables in his palace.

 Ivory, from the elephants of Africa, was used decoratively in sculptures, statues and swords.

Bronze came from Corinth, iron from Spain. Rome had a special office to import the finest marble from wherever it was mined. Cinnamon was brought in from India and Zanzibar. All sorts of spices were used in the oils for dressing hair and preparing for funerals.

Incense was made of stacte, onycha, galbanum and frankincense, which are all perfumed gums or balsams (Exodus 30:34-38).

Myrrh was the gum resin of a shrub which grew mainly in Yemen and in North Africa. It was medically used as an astringent, a stimulant, and an antiseptic. It was also used as a perfume and for the embalming of bodies. Frankincense was the gum resin produced by a tree of the genus Boswellia. It was used for perfume for the body, for the sweetening and flavouring of wine, for oil for lamps and for sacrificial incense.

In the ancient world wine was universally drunk, but drunkenness was regarded as a grave disgrace. Wine was usually highly diluted, in the proportion of two parts of wine to five parts of water. Even slaves had abundant wine as part of their daily ration.

The chariots here mentioned was called rede. They were not racing or military chariots. They were four-wheeled private chariots, and the aristocrats of Rome often had them silver-plated.

Slaves and the souls of men mentioned here can be explained by the language of the ancient world. The word used for slave is soma, which literally means a body. The slave market was called the somatemporos, literally the place where bodies are sold. A slave is sold body and soul into the possession of his master.

Roman civilization was built on slavery and fully relied on it for its existence. Any given time there were around 60 000 000 slaves throughout the Empire. It was not unusual for one household to own 400 slaves. They used slaves like the limbs of the body – each for a task. Slaves were also for thinking. The nomenclatores (nobility of Rome) used slaves for comprehensive assistance to everything they did – eating, going to bed, even greeting friends on the owner’s behalf. Slaves learnt poetry, and were required to stand behind the master to provide suitable quotes. Beautiful slaves were used for decoration. Talented slaves had to perform for entertainment and sometimes even present obscene repartee. As entertainment pornographic plays were performed by slaves. Guests wiped their soiled hands on slaves’ hair. Freaky bodily disfigurement, like dwarfs, giants and others was used for entertainment. The angel paints the grim picture of a society that could only lead to doom and punishment. For this the merchants mourned.

Shipmasters were the businessmen of the ports important to transport the goods. They were wealthy because of the obscene extravagance of the caesars. They lament, not for Rome; only for themselves. There is a complete lack of friendship and love.

Friendship is a gift from God – don’t take it for granted. Just to have somebody who feels sorry for what you are going through and pray with you, is more valuable than any wealth or fame.

There is joy in the middle of everything (18:20). Joy in God’s vengeance and judgment, brings rest and peace. We do not have to judge or punish. Leave it all to God. (Deuteronomy 32:43 and Jeremiah 51:48)

 Final desolation is described in 18:21-24. Rome will be obliterated, illustrated by the symbolic action of throwing a millstone into the sea. The heavy rock will be impossible to haul out again. There will be no way that the final judgment of God could ever be reversed.

…then you shall say, ‘O Lord, You have spoken against this place to cut it off, so that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but it shall be desolate forever.’ Now it shall be, when you have finished reading this book, that you shall tie a stone to it and throw it out into the Euphrates. Then you shall say, ‘Thus Babylon shall sink and not rise from the catastrophe that I will bring upon her. And they shall be weary.’” (Jeremiah 51:62-64)

God said Tyre shall never be rebuilt (Ezekiel 26:13).

Let us rest in God’s judgment. He is just and faithful and wants everybody to be saved. He is a good God, always. This is His word. Heaven and earth will pass away, but His word will never pass away.

 

59. The two songs of heaven – come and sing it now!

From my heart the very best for 2017!

I pray God’s richest blessing on all of you and your plans for this year. May every promise in His wonderful Word be the content of your year and future. May you be filled with hope and faith and that every day will be a field of action to build up and not break down. May you find your dwelling place in the tent of testimony…

Images of dreadful distress fill our television screens daily. The anguish and misery of the human and animal world are heartbreaking and depressing. Volunteers and relief workers from world organizations and individual countries are called in and called up to be the Hands of Jesus extended. Pebble pals, we are the church of Christ on earth. We are the answer, whether they accept the message of Jesus or not. Our walk in love and grace is a Jesus-walk. Goodness and love has only one Source.

As I write this piece, the reporting on Aleppo in the Syrian war takes your breath away. Physical relief might be at hand, but the inner wounding of those people will take time to heal and ultimately become their soul scars. Images of their time of suffering might never leave their mind. It is not our own experience? Bad things happen to good people in a broken world of evil and destruction.

How will we know it is Christ’s adversary working? In the words of our Lord Jesus:

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]. (John 10:10)

It is when our peace, joy and fullness of life are “stolen”, destroyed and shattered, that we know it does not come from the One, defined as “abounding in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34)

We walk on through more revelation to come in this 15th chapter of Revelation. The seals have been opened and the trumpets have proclaimed, now the angels hold the bowls of terror and calamity. It is typical of apocalyptic writing, to write in groups of seven and three. The third and last group of terror upon the earth denotes completeness.

The scene in heaven is glass mingled with fire. It reminds of the Red Sea miracle when the Israelites were caught between the Egyptian Army and the Red Sea and God split the sea to let them walk on dry land, while destroying their enemies in the same miracle. God’s presence was in the column of fire. Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12) – it is for our good.

The beast comes out of the sea of chaos, but God brings deliverance by the sea. The sea of chaos is our miracle while destroying our enemy.

The sea of glass depicts God’s majesty and unapproachableness. In His Presence it is an outpouring of reverent worship. The worship will rejoice over the victory of the martyrs (church) and those who overcome.

It is the high function of our worship on earth. It focuses our mind on the power and miracle-working love of God and diminishes our worry and fear of our circumstances.

For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25)

The two songs of Revelation to be sung – the Song of the Lamb (Revelation 14:3) and the Song of Moses – a song of victory on the greatest deliverance in Israel’s history (Exodus 15). It is symbolic of our rebirth in Christ, repentance which brings us out of the slave pits and baptism through the Red Sea.

…all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,

(1 Corinthians 10:2)

The words of the song of Moses are repeated throughout the Old Testament. Isaiah often sings: Who is like you Oh God to reverberate in the heavenlies. The song is entirely composed of quotations from the Psalms and prophets.

(Psalms 92:5, 98:1,145:17, 86:9, 99:3, 111:9, 98:2, 1 Samuel 2:2)

There follows in verses 3 and 4 a lyric outburst to sing about the greatness of God:

“Great and marvelous are Your works,

Lord God Almighty!

Just and true are Your ways,

O King of the saints!

 

Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?

For You alone are holy.

For all nations shall come and worship before You,

For Your judgments have been manifested.”

In the chaos of life on earth, this is our song. Our victory is not brought about because of our own achievements.

“In the perfect vision of God self is wholly forgotten.”

 Just rejoice in the Song of Miriam, the Song of Hannah and the Song of Mary. It all serves to focus on the God of heaven and earth for Whom nothing is impossible. It is the perfect illustration of role of praise in our life and the seal of our testimony.

The tent of witness, tabernacle of testimony is opened. (Numbers 9:15,17:7 and 18:2)

Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire. (Numbers 9:15)

It is in this atmosphere that the rod of Aaron sprouted, bloomed and blossomed in ONE day.

And Moses placed the rods before the Lord in the tabernacle of witness. Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses went into the tabernacle of witness, and behold, the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds. (Numbers 17:7,8 and 18:2)

Just think of this for a moment. Could it be that your outcome will come in one day? Raise the level of your expectation Pebble pal! This is the Word of God for the New Year.

The tabernacle of witness is a symbol of the Presence of the Most High. It is only in His presence that miracles happen. The angels come from God.

They were clothed in pure white linen. White robes are the priestly dress with a golden girdle like the High Priest; royal and heavenly. It is clear that the judgment is from heaven.

One of the living creatures (we don’t know which one of the lion, ox, man or eagle) gave seven golden bowls of judgment to the angel. Nature itself hands the bowl of wrath.

In Isaiah 6:4 the presence of God is described like smoke. It is common in the Old Testament. God is unapproachable as depicted in Exodus 40:34-35.

 Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

 Moses could not enter. The ideas and purposes of God are often clouded and unclear. Because of His holiness we cannot enter in our own right. The Cross is access; always through Jesus. We need to be reminded that our salvation is through Jesus – never on our own righteousness. The cloud will bar us from approaching unworthy.

The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. (Leviticus 16:2)

Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; Coals were kindled by it. (2 Samuel 22:9)

Smoke is also mentioned in Job and Psalms. Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?

 We might experience smoke as confusing and negative, but in the Song of Solomon it is associated with beauty and attractiveness.

Who is this coming out of the wilderness Like pillars of smoke, Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the merchant’s fragrant powders? (Songs of Solomon 3:6)

And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. (Revelation 8:4)

Compare Revelation 15:8 and Isaiah 6 where the presence of God is represented by either cloud or smoke. Both proceed from the throne of God and both are glorified.

[It is] proof of the majestic presence and extraordinary interposition of God in the execution of these judgments: [Benson Commentary]

Often smoke over cities was the sign that they have been judged. It signifies the destructive power of God, which is always bittersweet – blessing and judgment at the same time. Within destruction there is always a miracle of outcome to be found, which is often not reported or proclaimed in the media.

If we trust in the purposes of God, we will not be confused by the smoke, only rest in His Plan.

In the Temple, God’s presence in the Holy of Holies was expressed through the seat of mercy, only seen by the High Priest once a year. God’s plans spring forth from the seat of mercy, never condemnation. Remember, mercy means to hold back the punishment. Jesus took our punishment on the cross (Isaiah 53) so that we can go free. Rejoice in the mercy of God’s judgment.

The plagues in the golden bowls in the next chapter, explain the punishment for sin that should call the people to repent.

 

 

52. Sudden silence – the intense instance of prayer.

We can pause for a moment and think of the sounds in heaven. They are very pronounced and accompany the vision in every instance. John describes the voice of God like the sound of many waters, the angels with trumpets, the new song, the worship of innumerable saints, the voices of the martyrs and nature in active participation. It is sounds that cannot be ignored. So often it is sound that catches our attention, causes us to look up and see something appearing on the scene. We build sound into our lives to alert us of things that need our awareness – people arriving at our door, robbers who trigger the alarm, telephones ringing to communicate.

Chapter 8 starts with silence and the breaking of the seventh seal. We have talked about the seventh seal in the previous chapter. It cannot be emphasized enough that the events as described and divided into chapters are not chronological and do not follow each other in strict succession. The opening of this chapter is meant to be further illustration of things already touched on in previous chapters.

The silence creates the theatrical introduction to a vital, significant continuing occurrence in heaven – the prayers of the saints. The sudden silence gives weight to the picture unfolding. More than sound, sudden silence is greatly effective in capturing attention, ceasing activity and draws the concentration to a  focal point.

Pebble pals, the image of the altar of incense with the prayers of the saints before the Throne of God has been a pillar in my prayer life that builds faith and drives out fear and worry.

All of heaven is silent as the prayers of the saints arrive in the golden altar before God.

unknown   An image of the altar in the desert Tabernacle.

One scholar is of the opinion that the needs of the saints are more to God than all the psalmody of heaven. All of heaven is completely silent so that even the faintest, whispered prayer of the humblest of saints is heard. I do not think it is necessary for God to have silence to hear our whispered sigh, but John describes it to us in human terms, to explain the importance of our prayers to our Father.

We need silence to concentrate. Just think what we do in a car while driving. It is fine for the music to play and the children to fool around at the back, but the moment things become difficult – a complicated traffic situation, road works, detours and gravel or ice, we want silence to concentrate. We order the kids to be quiet and turn the music softer. We need silence to hear the whisper of another.

This is our Father. He will silence the cosmos for us. Rejoice in this. Our prayers are in the golden altar within reach of His touch.

Andrew Murray writes this:

It is fellowship with the Unseen, most holy One. The powers of the eternal world have been placed at its [prayer’s] disposal. It is the very essence of true religion, the channel of all blessings, the secret of power and life. Not only for us, but also for others, for the church, for the world, it is to prayer that God has given the right to take hold of Him and His strength.

God hears all prayer. He is more ready to answer prayer than we are to pray it.

The angel is standing at the altar. The altar is mentioned often – (6:9,9:13,14:18). It is the altar of incense in the Holy Place before the entrance to the Holy of Holies, where the table with showbreads and the golden lampstand are. It is not the altar of burnt-offering as there is no sacrifice in heaven. The altar is described in Leviticus 16:12, Numbers 16:46, Luke 1:8-10. It depicts worship and prayer.

It was made of gold, eighteen inches square and three feet high. It was hollow with horns on the corners. Covered over with a gold plate it had a little railing, a miniature balustrade, to contain the burning coals.

Prayer is a sacrifice, wrapped in a beautiful fragrance pleasing to God. No other sacrifice is necessary, only prayer, which are helped by angelic hands. The image of live coals taken by the angel and thrown on the ground is the prelude to more revelation and happenings on earth. Prayer is the key to revelation and consequences in circumstances.

The live coal from the altar touched Isaiah’s lips to prophecy described in Isaiah 6:6. The cherubim scatters the coals of the altar over the city in Ezekiel 10:2.

The angel takes the live coals from the censor and hurls it to the earth (8:5). Prayer directly impacts earth.

Verse 2 belongs with the rest of the narrative on the trumpets.

A trumpet is a symbol of the intervention of God in history.

It is warning to wake up, or a call to battle or the announcement of royalty and celebrations. It was often used to announce the wrath of God: Zephaniah 1:14-16, Joshua 6:1-8.

The trumpet sounded:

  •        when the law was given:                   Exodus 19:16, 10.
  •        to summon back the exiles:             Isaiah 27:13
  •        the day of the Lord:                            Joel 2:1, Zechariah 1:16,   9:14
  •        the gathering of the elect:                Matthew 24:31.

Paul speaks of the day the trumpet shall sound. (1 Corinthians 15:52-53 & 1 Thessalonians 4:16) It is a day of great joy for the church, a day of revelation and reckoning on behalf of the faithful.

The first four trumpets announce the unleashing of the elements on earth to destroy. Nature takes part in the judgment of the world. Only a part of the world is struck. It is only a prelude to the end and not the final judgment.

A third depicts a significant minority. The detail of the sequence is given in the next verses:

First the earth (8:7), then the sea (8:8-9), then the fresh water and springs (8:10-11) and then the heavenly bodies (8:12), in other words every part of creation.

Origins of these afflictions on earth can be found in the plagues of Egypt – hailstones, water turned to blood, the fishes die, darkness. [Exodus 7: 17-21,9:23-25 &10:21-23] Zephaniah 1:3 talks about the birds and fish that are struck in judgment.

All these calamities are repetitive though history with acceleration and intensification in the last days. It gives us insight into the natural disasters and pollution these days that is hard to understand. In the light of these judgments, we as a church know that the earth groans under the consequences of sin.

Wormwood depicts the bitterness of the judgment. [Greek = apsinthos – a plant from which a bitter oil is extracted that is highly toxic to the nervous system.] The name “wormwood” comes from the fact that the oil was used medicinally to kill intestinal worms.

Rain that looks like blood has been reported in Italy and southeast Europe 1901. It was explained as the sand from the Sahara desert that is red being blown over the Mediterranean into the rainfall over Europe. A flaming mass falling into the sea sounds like a volcano, which is a well-known occurrence all over the world. In 79 AD Vesuvius destroyed Bay of Naples and buried the city Pompeii under lava. Today it is a well-preserved tourist attraction to reveal life in ancient Rome.

The last verse mentions an eagle, not an angel, which utters three fearful woes, forewarning doom to come. An eagle in Jewish writing was very familiar as the king of the birds to carry prophecy and revelation.

During the first four trumpets, judgment fell on nature, but in the final three trumpet judgments (Revelation 9-11), unbelieving humanity will be directly punished through torment, death, and at last total destruction.

The world around us is a picture of this heartbreaking state of affairs. God’s judgment is the natural result of a sinful, evil-embracing world. His first gift to mankind was choice and He never revokes any gift ever (Romans 11:29). We, who are privileged to call ourselves children of God by repenting our sins and inviting Jesus into our hearts, are in a unique position to live in the embrace of redemption within the judgment.