Tagged: apocalypse

Seven biblical truths about end times

oncedeliveredworldendingIf you believe doomsayers or John Cusack movies, the world will end Dec. 21. That’s the date of the so-called Mayan Apocalypse, when an important cycle of the Maya Long Count Calendar draws to a close.

Not to worry. End-of-days predictions have made and broken pundits and self-proclaimed prophets for millennia. Not to be outdone by religious fanaticism, contemporary culture embraces the drama of a cataclysmic end to the world.

For example, in the 1979 film “Mad Max,” a shortage of fossil fuels drives the breakdown of society, prompting leather-clad motorcyclists to terrorize anyone with a full tank of petrol.

In “Planet of the Apes,” astronaut George Taylor discovers he has traveled through space and time, returning to an earth where humans are mute and loud-mouthed armor-wearing apes are in charge.
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The fourth seal (Rev. 6:7-8)

Previously: Do not harm the olive oil and the wine (Rev. 6:5-6)

The scripture

Rev. 6:7 – When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8And I looked, and there was a pale green horse. The horseman on it was named Death, and Hades was following after him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the earth” (HCSB).

When Jesus opens the fourth seal, the fourth living creature thunders, “Come!” and a horse and rider appear. This horse, the last of the four, is a ghastly grayish green. The rider is called by name – Hades, the Greek word for the abode of the dead – and Death follows closely behind. This frightful duo is granted authority to strike a fourth of the population by sword, famine, plague and wild animals.

What does all this mean to John’s first-century readers? And what does it mean to us today? Let’s take a closer look.

The fourth seal

The Lamb opens the fourth seal, enabling the fourth living creature to call for the fourth horse and rider. Recapping what’s been written in previous chapters before about seals, they likely are pieces of wax or clay that have been stamped with a ring or other metal object bearing the insignia of the owner. They identify the person who has authorized what’s been written. The seal may be broken only by a designated authority, in this case the Lamb. As each seal is broken, it gives way to another portion of the scroll until all seven seals are removed and the full message is revealed.

As the seal is opened, John hears the fourth living creature say, “Come!” This call probably is not to John but to the horse and rider, who appear at once.

A pale green horse

This horse is described as pale green or greenish gray, the ashen color of death. And no wonder, for the rider upon him is named Death. The Greek word used here to describe the horse’s color, chloros, is the same word used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe vegetation. In Mark 6:39, for example, the Gospel writer records that Jesus has the multitudes sit down in groups on the “green grass.” In Rev. 8:7, at the first trumpet judgment, the “green grass” is burned up. And in Rev. 9:4, the locusts are told not to harm the “grass of the earth.”

What a stark contrast this horse is to the others: white, fiery red (yes, horses can be varying hues of red), and black. But what horse is the color of faded summer vegetation? Perhaps like the grass, which eventually withers and dies, this horse symbolizes the fleeting nature of human life – “As for man, his days are like grass,” Ps. 103:15 – and the inevitability of death and judgment. Consider these passages of scripture, particularly as they speak to death and judgment of the wicked:

  • Ps. 92:7 – “though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will eventually be destroyed.”
  • Ps. 129:6 –“Let them [all who hate Zion] be like grass on the rooftops, which withers before it grows up.”
  • Isa. 5:24 – “Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes straw and as dry grass shrivels in the flame, so their roots [those of the wicked in Judah] will become like something rotten and their blossoms will blow away like dust.”
  • James 1:11 – “For the sun rises with its scorching heat and dries up the grass; its flower falls off, and its beautiful appearance is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will wither away while pursuing his activities.”
  • 1 Peter 1:24-25 – “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like a flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower drops off, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (quoting Isa. 40:6-8)

Ultimately, youth gives way to old age, vitality to inertia, health to illness, riches to ashes, life to death. While the clock ticks on the life of the unbeliever as he speeds headlong into a Christ-less eternity, the stark reality of death involves even the faithful Christian and is a reminder that the whole world groans beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22). The difference, however, is that Christians – and creation itself – wait eagerly to “be set free from the bondage of corruption” (Rom. 8:21). For the wicked, Death comes on a pale green horse, with Hades close behind.

Next: A horseman named Death (Rev. 6:7-8)

A unique voice: Rev. 4:1

Previously: An open door in heaven (Rev. 4:1)

The scripture

Rev. 4:1 – After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that I heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (HCSB).

John hears a voice and recognizes it instantly. It is “[t]he first voice that I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet” (v. 1). This is, of course, the voice of Jesus, who spoke to John many times during His earthly ministry. But now, with the sonic fullness of heaven’s atmosphere, John hears the Messiah’s magnified tones and remembers the sound from Rev. 1:10 as Jesus instructs him to write what he sees to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Now, however, the Savior tells John, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (v. 1).

Those who hold to a futurist view of Revelation argue that John’s call into heaven is a foreshadowing of the Rapture, which Paul describes as being accompanied by “a shout” from the Lord and “the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16). There is some connection between the shouts of Jesus and the opening of the graves. In John 11, Jesus stands outside the tomb of Lazarus and shouts loudly, “Lazarus, come out!” His friend soon emerges from the grave after being dead nearly four days. In Matt. 27:50, just before dying, Jesus shouts with a loud voice and then gives up His spirit. The very next verses record, “Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had gone to their rest were raised. And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many” (vv. 51-53). And, of course, Paul’s teaching about the future resurrection of the saints in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 features Jesus descending from heaven with a shout, resulting in the resurrection of believers whose bodies rest in the graves.

The sound of the trumpet also is significant. Not only are trumpets used to herald kings, alert armies to prepare for battle, and forewarn God’s people of judgment, but Paul tells us a trumpet will sound when it’s time for the church to be called into heaven: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52b). Some argue that Rosh Hashanah, the feast of the Jewish New Year, prefigures the Rapture of the church – a feast in which shofars, or rams’ horns, play a prominent role.

Next: In the Spirit (Rev. 4:2)

Read about Christ’s letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3)

Read five views of the Book of Revelation

Read what every Christian should believe about the end times

A voice like a trumpet

In Revelation 4:1, the apostle John writes, “After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.'”

So, whose voice is like a trumpet?

John hears this voice and recognizes it instantly. It is “[t]he first voice that I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet” (v. 1). This is, of course, the voice of Jesus, who spoke to John many times during His earthly ministry. But now, with the sonic fullness of heaven’s atmosphere, John hears the Messiah’s magnified tones and remembers the sound from Rev. 1:10 as Jesus instructs him to write what he sees to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Some time later the Savior tells John, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (v. 1).

Those who hold to a futurist view of Revelation argue that John’s call into heaven is a foreshadowing of the Rapture, which Paul describes as being accompanied by “a shout” from the Lord and “the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16).

There is some connection between the shouts of Jesus and the opening of the graves;

  • In John 11, Jesus stands outside the tomb of Lazarus and shouts loudly, “Lazarus, come out!” His friend soon emerges from the grave after being dead nearly four days.
  • In Matt. 27:50, just before dying, Jesus shouts with a loud voice and then gives up His spirit. The very next verses record, “Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had gone to their rest were raised. And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many” (vv. 51-53).
  • And, of course, Paul’s teaching about the future resurrection of the saints in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 features Jesus descending from heaven with a shout, resulting in the resurrection of believers whose bodies rest in the graves.

The sound of the trumpet also is significant. Not only are trumpets used to herald kings, alert armies to prepare for battle, and forewarn God’s people of judgment, but Paul tells us a trumpet will sound when it’s time for the church to be called into heaven: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52b). Some argue that Rosh Hashanah, the feast of the Jewish New Year, prefigures the Rapture of the church – a feast in which shofars, or rams’ horns, play a prominent role.

Whether John’s vision in Revelation 4 is indeed a preview of the Rapture, as futurists contend, or simply a unique invitation from Jesus for the apostle to see inside heaven’s throne room, it is clear that that future resurrection awaits all people, and that Jesus is the one who calls the dead from their graves and into judgment. He said in John 5:28-29: “… a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His (Jesus’) voice and come out — those who have done good things to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgment.”

One final note: Lest you think Jesus’ words support the false notion of works-based salvation, Jesus is clear on the requirements for eternal life just a few verses earlier: “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). The “good things” and “wicked things” of verse 29 are merely the fruits of a person’s belief, or lack thereof, in Christ.

To the church at Philadelphia

Read an introduction to the seven churches of Revelation 2-3

This is the sixth in a series of commentaries on Christ’s letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Read about Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis.

Twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis is Philadelphia, built by King Attalus Philadelphus of Pergamum. “Philadelphus” is similar to the Greek word philadelphia, meaning brotherly love, which occurs seven times in the New Testament. Known for its agricultural products, Philadelphia also is situated on a geological fault and therefore prone to earthquakes. In 17 B.C. a major earthquake destroyed Philadelphia, Sardis and 10 other cities. Its location is crucial, however, as it sits on a main route from Rome to the East and therefore is called “the gateway to the East.” It also is known as “little Athens” because of its many pagan temples.

The city hosts one of only two churches – the other being Smyrna – for which Christ has nothing but unvarnished praise. While the city’s good name preceded the church, the believers in Philadelphia no doubt enhance its reputation because of their love of Christ and love for one another. “But it is not enough to love God and our fellow believers; we must also love a lost world and seek to reach unbelievers with the Good News of the Cross,” writes Warren Wiersbe. “This church had a vision to reach a lost world, and God set before them an open door” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 3:7).

Christ’s self-description

Jesus identifies Himself as “The Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens” (v. 7).  His declaration of holiness is a claim to deity, which the faithful saints in Philadelphia celebrate in contrast to the city’s numerous pagan gods. The “True One” undergirds this audacious claim to being, not just a deity, but the one true and living God to the exclusion of all others. The name also corresponds to Rev. 1:5, where Jesus is described as “the faithful witness.” In the words “the One who has the key of David,” Jesus tells us He has the authority as Messiah to open and close doors of ministry. He also has the keys of death and Hades (1:18) and ultimately tosses both into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). In the New Testament, an “open door” is an opportunity for the gospel’s advance (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). As the Head of the church, Jesus determines when and where the gospel will be effective (see Acts 16:6-10).

As the One who holds the key of David, Jesus is the antitype of Eliakim, to whom the key, the emblem of authority over the house of David, is given in Isa. 22:15-25. Taken away from Shebna, who is unfaithful and therefore unworthy, the key is given to Eliakim. In much the same way, Jesus takes authority over His people – indeed over the whole earth – because He alone is worthy to receive all authority from the Father (Matt. 28:18)..

Christ’s evaluation of the church’s condition

Jesus says, “I know your works” in the midst of limited strength. The believers in Philadelphia have “kept My word,” “not denied My name,” and “kept My command to endure” (vv. 8, 10). This is perhaps a reference to some particular unnamed trial in which the faithful, with little strength and few resources of their own, have found comfort in the words of Jesus to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Matthew Henry suggests that Jesus’ commendation is laced with a mild rebuke in the words “Because you have limited strength” (v. 8). Henry writes, “[T]hough Christ accepts a little strength, yet believers should not rest satisfied in a little, but should strive to grow in grace, to be strong in faith, giving glory to God. True grace, though weak, will do more than the greatest gifts or highest degrees of common grace, for it will enable the Christian to keep the word of Christ, and not to deny his name. Obedience, fidelity, and a free confession of the name of Christ, are the fruits of true grace, and are pleasing to Christ as such.” Other commentators see no hint of rebuke whatsoever in Christ’s words. Rather, they see Jesus praising the believers in Philadelphia for leveraging what little measure of faith they’ve been given. The apostle Paul tells us not everyone has the same capacity for faith in God (Rom. 12:3).

There appear to be two obstacles for the church in Philadelphia. The first is a lack of strength; evidently the church is neither large nor strong. Second, the church faces opposition from unbelieving Jews in Philadelphia. Jewish Christians perhaps are banned from the synagogue in the city. In addition, since Satan is “the father of liars” (John 8:44), believers in Philadelphia no doubt are the targets of slander and false accusations hatched from the “synagogue of Satan” (v. 9). Warren Wiersbe writes, “Unbelief sees the obstacles, but faith sees the opportunities! And since the Lord holds the keys, He is in control of the outcome!” (Re 3:7).

Christ’s comfort and/or commands

Jesus offers three promises to the church: an open door, deliverance from enemies, and protection from an approaching time of trouble. As mentioned earlier, the New Testament uses the concept of an open door as an opportunity for ministry. Peter rightly opens the gospel door to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1-48), then wrongly tries to close it in part through hypocrisy in Antioch (Gal. 2:11-18). Paul on several occasions refers to an open door of ministry:

  • “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, because a wide door for effective ministry has opened for me …” (1 Cor. 16:8-9a).
  • “When I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ, a door was opened to me by the Lord” (2 Cor. 2:12).
  • “At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah – for which I am in prison – so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak” (Col. 4:3).

It is clear that the Lord (referred to as Christ, the Holy Spirit or God) opens these doors of opportunity – and at times closes them. Luke records, for example, that the Holy Spirit prevents Paul and Timothy from speaking the gospel message in the province of Asia while empowering them to speak in the regions of Phrygia and Galatia. When they come to Mysia, the missionaries try to go into Bithynia but the “Spirit of Jesus” prevents them. Paul then has a vision in which he receives the Macedonian call and immediately sets sail, concluding that “God” has called him to evangelize there (Acts 16:6-10).

Jesus’ second promise to the church at Philadelphia is deliverance from its enemies: “Take note! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying – note this – I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and they will know that I have loved you” (Rev. 3:9). Matthew Henry notes, “Observe, First, The greatest honour and happiness any church can enjoy consist in the peculiar love and favour of Christ. Secondly, Christ can discover this his favour to his people in such a manner that their very enemies shall see it, and be forced to acknowledge it. Thirdly, This will, by the grace of Christ, soften the hearts of their enemies, and make them desirous to be admitted into communion with them” (Rev. 3:7-13). The promise to Philadelphia is greater than the Lord’s promise to Smyrna. Jesus tells the believers in Smyrna they will suffer at the hands of those in the “synagogue of Satan,” but He indicates to the faithful in Philadelphia that some of the Jews ultimately will turn in faith to Christ. At what point will the unbelieving Jews bow down at the Philadelphians’ feet? Perhaps when they are glorified and enthroned with Jesus, at which time every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11).

The third promise of Jesus is deliverance from “the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). What is this hour of testing? And does it impact the entire earth or simply the known world of John’s day? Futurist scholars believe the “hour of testing” is the coming global tribulation. If so, Jesus’ message should comfort believers that we will not have to endure these unprecedented dark days. Preterists argue that a crisis affecting the Roman Empire satisfies the terminology of verse 10 since the term “the whole world” is used to designate the empire in Luke 2:1 and elsewhere. Since they place the writing of the Book of Revelation prior to 70 A.D., they say the “hour of testing” is the death of Nero in 68 A.D. and the civil wars that follow, along with the quelling of the Jewish rebellion, destruction of the temple, and scattering of the Jews in 70 A.D. Still others, such as idealists, say the time of trial is generic and applies to Christians who suffer throughout the church age. It is difficult to know with certainty which of these interpretations is correct – if any of them. However, Jesus’ promise must have meant something to the first-century believers in Philadelphia, even if there is a further fulfillment in later times.

Warren Wiersbe offers this view: “This is surely a reference to the time of Tribulation that John described in Revelation 6–19, ‘the time of Jacob’s trouble.’ This is not speaking about some local trial, because it involves ‘them that dwell on the earth’ (see Rev. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:2, 8). The immediate reference would be to the official Roman persecutions that would come, but the ultimate reference is to the Tribulation that will encompass the earth before Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom. In many Bible scholars’ understanding, Revelation 3:10 is a promise that the church will not go through the Tribulation, but will be taken to heaven before it begins (see 1 Thes. 4:13–5:11). The admonition, ‘Behold, I come quickly,’ would strengthen this view” (Re 3:7).

Finally, Jesus exhorts His followers, “Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown” (v.  11). What do believers in Philadelphia have? Limited strength that compels them to trust God, faith in God’s promises, faithfulness to His name, and endurance in persecution. By the world’s standards, these are puny resources. But entrusted to God’s hands they are powerful weapons for waging spiritual battle, and believers who employ them will earn rewards (crowns) for faithful service. While a crown may be taken away, a believer’s salvation cannot. We should not conclude that Jesus is threatening to undo His finished work on the cross if the church in Philadelphia stumbles. On the contrary, He returns as a Lamb slain, bearing the marks of His crucifixion, and bringing His reward with Him.

Christ’s urge to listen

Jesus ends this letter with the familiar invitation: “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” It is not a church’s membership roll, staff size, budget or programs that determine its greatness; rather, it is the degree to which it is ready – by faith in Christ and faithfulness to Him – to walk through an open door of ministry. In the Lord’s economy, some of the greatest churches are the smallest, poorest, and most obscure.

Christ’s promises to the victor

Jesus says, “The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God – the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God – and My new name” (v. 12). Ancient cities often honor great leaders by erecting pillars with their names inscribed. Pagan temples boast majestic pillars, as does the temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus has something far greater in mind. He tells the faithful in Philadelphia that He will make them pillars in the heavenly sanctuary and write God the Father’s name upon them, along with the name of the New Jerusalem, and His own new name. Matthew Henry adds: “On this pillar shall be recorded all the services the believer did to the church of God, how he asserted her rights, enlarged her borders, maintained her purity and honour; this will be a greater name than Asiaticus, or Africanus; a soldier under God in the wars of the church” (Re 3:7-13). And unlike the pillars of the temple in Jerusalem, which fell to the Romans, or the pillars of the pagan temple in Philadelphia that crumbled in an earthquake, the heavenly pillars will stand for eternity as a testimony to great men and women of faith – and to a greater Savior.

One final issue should be addressed: Why does Jesus refer to “My God” four times in verse 12? Is He denying His own deity? Quite the contrary. Jesus is expressing His intimacy with the Father and His unity of purpose with the Godhead. It is true that on the cross Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46) Some argue from this that Jesus is not divine – a weak argument that collapses beneath the weight of Jesus’ own claims to the contrary (John 8:58 and 10:30, for example). Others more accurately observe that He is crying out in His humanity to the Father while experiencing the full weight of God’s wrath for mankind’s sin. Jesus does in fact became sin for us on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21) and bears the penalty of our sins (Rom. 5:8). Yet even during those dark moments before His physical death, when He experiences spiritual death as our substitute, He never ceases to be the eternal Son of God. When faced with challenges like the four-fold use of “My God” in Rev. 3:12, we do well to see these verses in the light of clear Scripture. There is no doubt Jesus is the second person of the Trinity and has never laid His deity aside.