Thursday 22nd December 2022

REVELATION 14

We now meet another group in heaven who have not been sealed with the ‘mark of the beast’, but instead have the name of the Lamb and of his Father on their foreheads.  (Verses 1-5).  Who are they?  Surely the same ‘sealed multitude’ as in chapter 7.  Both are called the 144,000 and both groups surely represent the entire roll of the elect and redeemed people of God – rescued out of the most intense persecution and raised to the blessedness of God’s eternal home which was prepared in advance for them from before the creation of the world.  From our perspective, this is the ‘great multitude that no man could count’ – and of which we joyfully count ourselves a small part.

Joy represents one of the main qualities of this immense crowd of the blessed ones.  They surround the great throne of God, and their singing is like the roar of a mighty waterfall and with bass notes like the deepest thunder.  It is indescribably beautiful too; full of rich harmonies like thousands of harpists playing together, and with words that only the redeemed could learn – and for a very good reason…

Such words come from the life-stories of rescue and redemption that each beloved child of God has themselves experienced and lived through.  Only the rescued ones can sing of their Rescuer!  They have been purchased at great price and purified forever more.  Having received such a great salvation, they give everything that they are to God.

Then follows a fresh set of warnings to the rest of the inhabitants of the earth – delivered by three angels in sequence.  First, there is an appeal to them to recognise that God has made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the waters – he is the Creator and as such deserves mankind’s respect and worship.  The second warning refers to ‘Babylon the Great’ having fallen.  We will see later on in Revelation that Babylon represents the temptations of a sinful lifestyle, of decadence, immorality, and personal indulgence – as epitomised at that time by the city of Rome.  Babylon has fallen, or soon will fall.  The temptations to sin are short-term prompts to depart from the true God and indulge the appetites; these appetites never satisfy for more than a millisecond, but their damage lasts a lifetime.  Be warned, the angel says, or you will fall – along with that city!

The third angelic warning is delivered to all who have weakened and have decided to worship the beast and its image (the Roman emperor of the day) and have therefore been branded with the beast’s mark of ownership.  Watch out!  If you stick with that beast, you will join it in the final judgment that will befall it!  This will be no trivial short-term episode, but an ongoing eternal punishment with all hope removed.  If you are a disciple of Jesus, then you simply cannot afford to join this group of people.

In any case, for the believer, physical death is now nothing to fear – in fact, to the persecuted, it is a blessed release and gift of freedom.  They enter God’s rest and will soon receive their great reward.

So we see that the warnings have been ignored by the earth’s inhabitants, and now the end has arrived.  A white cloud of holiness appears, surrounding the Son of Man, seated on his throne (see Daniel 7:13), wearing the crown of victory.  He himself has the harvester’s sickle and he liberates his own people (Matthew 3:12).

Then two angels, also with sickles and fire descend to the earth and harvest the remainder of mankind, casting them like grapes into the ‘winepress of God’s wrath’ (v19), where they were trampled in judgment, with blood flowing like a great lake from that winepress, in all directions.  This surely symbolises the complete and thorough judgment of all the ungodly, those who have rejected the Living God and his Son and have gone their own ways upon the earth.  And with these last few verses, we end another three-chapter section of the Book of Revelation – from First Coming to Final Judgment.

EZRA 7, 8, 9 and 10

We are now back in Jerusalem (reading from the Book of Ezra) and the hero now puts in his first appearance – halfway through the book!  Ezra means ‘The Lord Helps’.  He was a direct descendant of Aaron, both a priest and a teacher of the Law, and he was sent from Babylon by the king with specific instructions that the Jews be assisted in every way in their building of the temple.  The journey from Babylon to Jerusalem was about 500 miles in a straight line – but that would involve a life-threatening trek across a dry and featureless wilderness – and 900 miles if you wanted to go via the sensible route with plentiful water and relatively safe roads.  So it took four months.

Ezra devoted himself to the study of, and obedience to, the Law of God – which qualified him to teach others in the nation.  Too many teachers of scripture miss out that middle bit and so lack credibility.  He was even recognised as a great man by the king himself, who requested that Ezra appoint magistrates and judges over the territories around Jerusalem, and to teach them the Laws of God; furthermore, anyone who did not obey God’s Law was to be punished in various ways.  This was quite an amazing political turn-around; it happened extremely quickly in an empire that had, until then, been moving all the time in opposition to the Lord, his laws, and his people.  It would have seemed impossible beforehand that suddenly the laws of the land would change to mirror the Laws of the Lord.  There is still hope for our own nation, then, too.

The king was completely ‘on board’ with the Jews’ vision of a new temple and a new city – and clearly God had spoken this vision into his heart.  Ezra could not help praising and thanking the Lord for creating favour for him in the eyes of others.  As God says: “Those who honour me, them I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30). 

A headcount of those in the travelling party revealed that no Levites were present – perhaps they preferred a more comfortable lifestyle back in Babylon to the pressures of a pioneering lifestyle back in Jerusalem.  Once one is in exile, it takes longer than expected to regain the ‘frontier’ mindset and the scriptures are invaluable for reprogramming the Christian mind.  Ezra encouraged his fellow travellers to fast and pray – humbling themselves before the Lord – in order to ensure a safe journey; he preferred to have the Lord’s direct protection than to ask the king for military assistance.

On arriving safely in Jerusalem, everything was well… except that they discovered that the people of the land had been intermarrying with the neighbouring peoples in defiance of God’s Law.  Ezra was appalled at this disobedience and prayed long prayers of intercession and repentance on behalf of the nation.  Having done so, he demonstrated that he was a man of action as well as contemplation; he forced all those who wished to remain in the new community to make a covenant to put away these illegal spouses and (harshly?) their children.  The family heads were delegated to investigate all cases of intermarriage and to ensure that this was dealt with – and the perpetrators were named and shamed.

Under the new covenant, we are commanded not to marry an unbeliever, since he/she will generally cause us to wander away from God’s priorities and lordship in our lives.  Many people protest and claim that they will be the strong ones and that they will convert their unsaved (potential) partner.  Rarely does this happen.  If you really want your boyfriend/girlfriend to be saved, then you are going to be more effective by breaking off the relationship and praying for their salvation first.  God honours those who first honour him – and only He can breathe salvation into their heart, in any case.  Do not marry a non-Christian; it just is not worth the pain!  See verses on this in 2 Corinthians 6:14;  1 Corinthians 7:39;  and 1 Corinthians 7:12 (this last verse differs from the Old Testament command by preventing an already-married couple from divorcing, simply because one person has become a believer subsequently and the other has yet to.)

The book of Ezra ends rather tamely; this is because it was originally part of an Ezra-Nehemiah single book and so it continues with Nehemiah chapter 1.

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