Rev. 14:2 – I heard a sound from heaven like the sound of cascading waters and like the rumbling of loud thunder. The sound I heard was also like harpists playing on their harps. (HCSB)
I heard a sound from heaven
John sees the Lamb and the 144,000 together on Mount Zion. Then, he writes, “I heard a sound from heaven like the sound of cascading waters and like the rumbling of loud thunder. The sound I heard was also like harpists playing on their harps” (v. 2).
Several times in Revelation we are confronted with either the sound of waterfalls or of thunders. When these sounds are heard in heaven they result in worship and praise, but when they are directed to activities on earth these sounds seem to herald God’s judgment. Observe:
Rev. 1:15 – “His voice [was] like the sound of cascading waters.” This is the voice of Jesus, which, along with His appearance, causes John to fall at His feet as a dead man.
Rev. 4:5 – “Flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder came from the throne …” This is accompanied by the worship of four living creatures who never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, the Almighty, who was, who is, and who is coming” (v. 8).
In 1 Samuel 15:3 God commands King Saul: “Now go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
Bible stories like this are fodder for atheists like Richard Dawkins, who writes in The God Delusion, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Though less strident than Dawkins, other cynics struggle to see God as loving and merciful in light of such scriptures. So we must ask, “Is God a genocidal maniac?”
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapters 2-12 likely were written during the reign of King Uzziah.
Isa. 4:2: On that day the branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of Israel’s survivors.
Israel’s present pride and God’s pending judgment will not defeat the Lord’s ultimate plan to establish His future kingdom on earth.
The name Zion is used three times in consecutive verses:
- “Whoever remains in Zion … will be called holy” (v. 3).
- “When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion” (v. 4)
- “Then the Lord will create a cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night over the entire site of Mount Zion” (v. 5).
The word Zion is a Hebrew word whose precise meaning may not be known. It may mean citadel or fortress, but generally it refers to aspects of Jerusalem. The terms Zion, Jerusalem, and City of David often are used synonymously in the Old Testament. The Temple Mount is referred to as Zion as well. Zion is called “His holy mountain” (Ps. 48:1). Zion is used as a metaphor for security and protection (Ps. 125). The New Testament continues this imagery, using the term “heavenly Jerusalem” or Zion in reference to the church (Heb. 12:22), the gospel message (1 Peter 2:6), and the place of God’s dwelling (Rev. 14:1).
The branch of the Lord (Isa. 4:2)
Isaiah closes out this lengthy message (Isa. 2:1 – 4:6) by returning to the same positive themes with which he opened it (Isa. 2:1-5). Both the beginning and the end of Isaiah’s prophecy describe what will happen in the last days when God gathers His special people to Zion. Unlike the beginning, however, which focuses on the coming of the Gentile nations to learn from God, these closing words describe God’s work of purifying His holy remnant in Jerusalem.
Commentators differ in opinion as to whether the term “branch” is a reference to the “fruit of the land” or to the Messiah. The Aramaic Targum, which translates or paraphrases Old Testament passages into Aramaic, translates this verse as “Messiah of the Lord,” indicating that early Jewish interpreters thought this was a messianic passage. In addition, Isaiah later uses a different Hebrew word but says of the Messiah, “a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse” and “the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples” (Isa. 11:1, 10). Jeremiah refers to the “righteous branch of David” (Jer. 23:5; see also 33:15), and Zechariah uses the term “Branch” with connections to the Messiah (Zech. 3:8; 6:12).
Gary V. Smith suggests that Isaiah’s reference to “branch” in 4:2 refers to two parallel acts of God that will transform Zion: “God will (a) cause his messianic Branch to spring forth, and also (b) bring marvelous fertility to the produce of the field. This interpretation shows how God will reverse the situation in 2:6 – 4:1. He will (a) replace the proud leaders of his people and give them a new leader, the Branch of the Lord, and (b) replace the ruin, devastation, and shame of the destroyed land with lush crops that will have great fertility” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 156).
Isaiah’s frequent use of the term “on that day” (or “in that day”) in chapters 2-4 illustrates that God’s work of punishing His people for their sins and establishing His kingdom for His glory are complementary acts of carrying out His covenant promise to Israel. Purification involves intense heat and pressure to burn off the dross and perfect the precious metal. In the end the purged metal radiates with beauty and testifies to the skillful hand of the refiner. Verses 2-6 stand in stark contrast to Isa. 2:6 – 4:1.
A cloud by day and a flaming fire by night (Isa. 4:3-6)
God will cleanse those left in Zion of their sin and transform them into a holy people. The word holy (qados) is a reminder of God’s original plan to make Israel His “own possession,” “kingdom of priests” and “holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). The emphasis here is on what God will do, not on anything His people will do to merit God’s favor. Holiness means being set apart for God alone. The holiness God will give this remnant makes them fit for His kingdom and it stands in stark contrast to the sinfulness of the present generation in Zion (2:6 – 4:1).
In verse 4, Isaiah uses a different metaphor than in 1:25 to describe the purifying work of God. Instead of purification through smelting, God will “wash away” filth and “cleanse” bloodguilt; this is more of a reference to sacrificial work than to refining. The prophet also refers to “a spirit of judgment and a spirit of burning” as the means by which cleansing is accomplished. This seems to describe God’s purification of Zion by destroying the remaining wicked people of the city. But it also could describe the work of the Holy Spirit in cleansing the human heart. Matthew Henry comments: “By the judgment of God’s providence, sinners were destroyed and consumed; but by the Spirit of grace they are reformed and converted. The Spirit herein acts as a Spirit of judgment, enlightening the mind, convincing the conscience; also as a Spirit of burning, quickening and strengthening the affections, and making men zealously affected in a good work” Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 4:4).
After Zion is purified, God will “create” something new. The word “create” (bara) is a divine activity of making something new, either by transforming something that already exists or by bringing into existence something new. What is God going to create? A “cloud of smoke by day and a glowing flame of fire by night.” This appears to be a reference to God’s special act of re-creating the new heaven and the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). God’s glorious presence will be the central feature of this new kingdom. The cloud by day and fire by night are drawn from the Exodus tradition, in which God’s presence in the cloud and fire led the Israelites out of Egypt and ultimately resided in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19, 24; 40:34; Deut. 1:33; 31:15; 1 Kings 8:10-11). This divine presence demonstrates God’s acceptance of His holy people. “The surprising difference is that God’s presence will not be limited to a temple building; it will be like a canopy over the whole of Zion (cf. 60:1-2; 62:2; Ezek. 39:25-29), because all of Zion and its people will be holy” (Gary V. Smith, The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 158).
It is clear from Isaiah’s writings that God is at the center of all promises regarding the future of Israel and the world. Gary V. Smith comments: “God will wash away sin and make it possible for people to be holy. God is the one who writes people’s names in his book (4:3-4). God will create a new world order over Mt. Zion, and his glorious presence there will bring protection for his people. He will make the messianic Branch beautiful and he will increase the productivity of the earth. God is the one people can trust and he is the one to exalt. The future of this world is completely dependent on God” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 159).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
The feasts of Israel are religious celebrations remembering God’s great acts of salvation in the history of His people. The term “feasts” in Hebrew literally means “appointed times” and in Scripture the feasts often are called “holy convocations.” They are times God has appointed for holy purposes – times in which the Lord meets with men and women.
While there are many religious celebrations in Jewish history and custom, seven are most significant: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles. God established the timing and sequence of these feasts to reveal to us a special story – most significantly, the work of the Messiah in the redemption of mankind and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth.
Why seven feasts? The number seven is significant in Scripture. It is tied to completeness or fullness. For example, God rested on the seventh day after creation, not because He was tired but because His work was complete and He was fully satisfied in it. The cycle of the seven-day week provided the basis for much of Israel’s worship. In addition, the seventh month features four of the seven feasts; the seventh year and the 50th year (the year of Jubilee, following seven cycles of seven years) also are significant.
There are several key truths to keep in mind as we study the feasts:
► The Lord established the feasts and gave them to Israel.
► The feasts were based on the Jewish lunar calendar (12 months of 29 or 30 days per month).
► The feasts relate to Israel’s spring and fall agricultural seasons; Israel was and still is, to a great extent, an agricultural nation.
► They picture the timing, sequence and significance of the Messiah’s redemptive work.
► Though the feasts were given to Israel, every person is invited to meet with God and receive His gracious blessings through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
► There is a binding relationship between Israel and the church even though they are distinct entities with distinct promises. God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham promised, “In thy (Abraham’s) seed shall all nations be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). “Every blessing which the true Church now enjoys and every hope she anticipates come out of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants which God made with Israel” (The Feasts of the Lord by Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal, p. 14).
► The number of feasts – seven – relates to the Biblical number for completion. The full work and revelation of Messiah/Christ is pictured in the seven feasts.
► All seven feasts are found in Leviticus 23; additional passages in the Old and New Testaments also address the feasts.
“To summarize, these seven feasts of the Lord are God’s appointed times during which He will meet with men for holy purposes. When completed, these seven special holidays will triumphantly bring an end to this age and usher in a glorious ‘Golden Age'” (www.christcenteredmall.com).
Why study the feasts? There are several good reasons to study the feasts: 1) to remember God’s goodness; 2) to understand more fully His divine revelation through “types;” 3) to increase our knowledge of God’s plan through the work of His eternal Son; 4) to more fully appreciate the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf; and 5) to joyfully anticipate the days in which Jesus will return and establish His Kingdom on earth.
Why do so many Jewish people observe the feasts but fail to see Jesus in them? The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. led to significant changes in the location, emphasis and practice of the feasts. It must be remembered that the destruction of the Temple itself, and the scattering of the Jewish people, was God’s judgment upon the nation for its rejection of Jesus as Messiah. The hardening of the Jewish heart, however, has provided opportunity for Gentile believers to be grafted into the true church, made up of those “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” who worship Jesus as Lord (Rev. 7:9; see also Rom. 11:11-12). All Christians should love the Jewish people. God does, and He is not finished with them yet. The fall feasts in particular point to the coming days when a remnant of believing Jews will “look on Me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10), mourn over their unbelief, and turn to Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.