Abominations and Soul Skirmishes

THE WHORE BABYLON
Ernst Fuchs

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: babylon the great the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth. I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. – Revelation 17:1‭-‬6

Well the wrath is waning but there is still some tricky water to navigate in today’s passage. I have scouted ahead and I believe there are only seven more water-related passages in the bible. But we have to run this rapid so here goes.

Abominations and adulteries, are not exactly uplifting and encouraging topics. One of the main characters engaged in these abominations and adulteries is “a great prostitute, who sits by many waters.” When I first read this I immediately thought the reference to “many waters” was a geographic reference. A place of multiple rivers perhaps like the area of northern Iraq. This would not be the first reference to a geographic location for these dramatic end times events.

As I have pondered and prayed about this perplexing passage I wonder if there is also a metaphorical meaning intended here. God, who is in many ways like water, has said pretty much throughout the entire braided river that is the bible that He, and He alone, is to be our water source. There are so many references in the old testament to planting oneself by the river or water source so that our thirst can be satisfied. Jesus described Himself with as Spring of Living Water that was the only way to satisfy our thirsty souls.

This prostitute in a way represents all the things and ways we use to replace God in our lives, in the same way a prostitute is a replacement for a loving wife in a committed marriage. Both the words abomination and adulteries imply a replacement, or a willful rejection, of the natural order that God has created. Abomination implies using something in a way different than the way it was intended, and adultery has a connotation of spoiling something by misuse or violating a sacred covenant.

The other character in this story, who seems to have some things in common with the prostitute, is the this woman in the wilderness described as “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls.” This fantastic image may be an attempt by the author to describe the indescribable. I do not know. In any case this woman seems to represent the myriad of ways we can be distracted and deceived.

The creature is covered with blasphemous names. I am not sure what these names would be but they seem to be ways to refer to God that are disrespectful or demeaning. Just the sort of thing that the deceiver of this world would encourage us to do to facilitate the disconnection of our souls from their water source, God. I am not sure what to make of the many heads and horns. Perhaps this is a reference to earthly kingdoms and rulers, but it could also have a metaphorical meaning. I wonder if it may be a reference to the many ways that our deception on this earth is tailored to our souls. This idea was explored in a book I am re-reading at moment by C.S. Lewis called The Screwtape Letters.

In this fictional account of the invisible battle being waged for our souls junior tempters are given “lessons” in tailoring their temptations to several individuals. Each of these people has different weaknesses and tendencies which these junior tempters are encouraged to exploit. The woman being describe here represents a leader of this multi-faceted effort to win our souls from God’s loving arms. God is not absent from these soul skirmishes, but we must actively choose Him over the enticing temptations described here metaphorically as “gold, precious stones and pearls.” All the “abominable things” that are in the woman’s cup are the bag of tricks to ensnare our souls, but God has broken the snare for all those willing to be freed.

The passage alludes to the fact that this journey home will be hard and require sacrifice on our part if we are make it to the undiscovered country, “the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” We may have to give up our very lives to make this journey complete, but the destination is worth the difficult road. It is reassuring that if we are faithful and continue to seek out God amidst spiritual squalls we will find Him and in the end God wins.

Prayer: God help us to fix our eyes on You and our ultimate destination so we are not distracted and ensnared by the things of this world.

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Armageddon

A partial view of the ruins of Babylon, as seen from Saddam Hussein‘s Summer Palace

Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.  – Revelation 16:16-‬21

The last angel of the seven pours out his bowl and a loud voice says something that has been uttered before “it is done”, the same words spoken by Jesus when he said “it is finished” after being crucified. In this case what is “done” is the wrath from the seven angels and their seven bowls. In the case of Jesus what was “done” was the rescue of all human kind who choose to be rescued by the blood of the Lamb.

There are several interesting parallels between this event and the crucifixion of Christ. In John 19:30 Jesus’ final hours are somewhat understated “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” No earthquakes, no thunder. Matthew’s account (Matthew 27:50-53) is decidedly more dramatic “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.”

The Matthew account almost seems like there could be a time-bending aspect to these stories, separated by thousands of years. I guess from God’s perspective, outside of time, these events could be happening “at the same time”, whatever that would mean in a reality where time is not linear. Trying to make sense of this is perhaps trying to describe the indescribable, but I do find the parallels interesting.

Back to this account of a massive earthquake. As a geologist I have learned quite a bit about earthquakes and what causes them. I am actually reading a book right now for a course I am teaching called Full Rip 9.0 by Sandi Doughton about the next big Cascadia earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. This book lays out the evidence from the past and the prediction for the future of a magnitude 9.0 or greater earthquake that will occur on the plate tectonic subduction zone referred to as the Cascadia subduction zone.

The earthquake being described here apparently occurs in place called Armageddon, presumably a geographic location on earth. I am not sure where this place is, but it seems likely that it would be located somewhere in the Middle East, perhaps modern day Iraq or Israel. The city that is impacted by this colossal quake is described as a “great city” and the “the city of the nations”. The main headquarters of the United Nations is currently physically located in New York City in the United States, although the offices are on land which is described as international territory. New York city would certainly qualify as a “Great City” and a “city of nations”. I am not suggesting that Armageddon will be located in New York I just find the way it is described as somewhat dissonant with current cities in the middle east.

The place of Armageddon is also described as “Babylon the Great”. This could be a geographic reference to the historic city of Babylon which was often described as both great and a place of many nations. Babylon is no longer a modern city, but its ruins apparently lie south of Baghdad in Iraq, also the location of the late Saddam Hussein’s summer palace. This part of the description would certainly argue for the middle east location for Armageddon.

Iraq is no stranger to earthquakes, on November 12, 2017 a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck near the city of Ḩalabjah, As Sulaymānīyah, Iraq killing 630 people and injuring thousands. The earthquake described here is considerably more powerful than the 2017 earthquake, but from a geologic perspective this location could certainly have larger earthquakes. I am not sure what is meant by “every island fled away”. I suppose this could be describing changes in land elevation, subsidence and uplift, which could result in islands being converted to uplands. The description of “disappearing mountains” is more difficult to explain from a physical perspective. Certainly large changes in land surface can and do occur during earthquakes, but entire mountains rarely go missing. Whatever the cause and the impacts they sound dire and deadly for those who will experience them.

As if the earth shaking and rearrangement are not enough the earthquake will apparently be followed by some truly horrendous hailstones weighing 100 pounds. According the website largest.org the largest hailstones ever recorded were around 2 pounds. This is a far cry from 100 pounds. I cannot even imagine the terror that would strike in people to have hailstones that weighed as much as a small person falling randomly out of the sky. This would make some of Hollywood’s attempts at disaster movies look tame by comparison. The response of the people experiencing this wrath is telling “they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.” My sense is that even at this late date if the people were to repent and turn back to God He would receive them, they have only words of cursing for God rather than repentance.

I am struggling to find an application here other than that these revelation wrath passages all remind us that soul size matters and we neglect to learn our soul songs to God at our peril.

Prayer: God help us to focus on what matters so we can avoid the type of wrath being described here.

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Stay Awake

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” – Revelation 16:12‭-‬15

The sixth of the seven angels arrives with a bowl that is poured out on the great river Euphrates. The Euphrates river is one of the four rivers flowing out of the garden of Eden. The pouting out of this bowl results in something odd – the water in the river dries up. This is apparently to prepare the way for the “kings from the east”. I am not sure what that means. The only reference that I can think of about “kings from the east” is the ones that came to visit the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1). I suppose in some time-bending way there could be a connection. I do not know.

Then comes some odd impure spirits that look like frogs. These frogs emerge from the mouth of the dragon which is also the beast and the false prophet. Well I confess this is some really confusing metaphysical mystery here. Why frogs? Why out of the mouth of the beast? Perhaps this is a stretch but frogs are amphibians that can live in both land and water what if these creatures are spiritual “amphibians” are able to span the spiritual and secular worlds. These creatures are apparently equally comfortable in the spiritual and secular worlds.

These “frogs” are apparently demonic spirits that are able to perform signs and convince kings that they are someone to be followed into battle on their side in the great war of the worlds to come on the “great day of the Lord Almighty”. Someone comes like a thief. It is not clear who this someone is unless it is referring to these impure spirits trying to convince kings to join the conflict with God in their side. Those that resist this temptation to treasonous turning away from God are those that “stay awake and remain clothed”. I assume this means those who want to avoid being on the “wrong side” of the coming conflict must remain awake – keep from falling spiritually asleep.

I am not sure what to make of the last bit about remaining clothed. Clothing is a tradition we have adopted to cover our bodies. Different cultures have different practices when it comes to clothing. Those in the tropics tend to wear considerably less clothing than those in the northern climates. I am not sure if there is any deeper meaning here. Certainly when we are finished with life in this land of oblivion we will be stripped down to the soul and spiritually naked in the eyes of God. So I am not sure what it means to remain clothed so as not to go naked and shamefully exposed. This seems like a murky metaphor to be sure. Perhaps this passage will become more clear further down the river. At the moment it is shrouded in clouds. The only things that seems clear is that we need to stay awake.

Prayer: God help us to be clothed with your glory and confident in our place at Your side in the conflict to come.

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Blood to Drink

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.” The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died. The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: “You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were; for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” – Revelation 16:1‭-‬6

The first few of seven bowls of wrath are on tap for today’s passage. These bowls contain all manner of chaos and calamity. The first bowl contains something that causes festering sores on those “who had accepted the mark of the beast and worshiped its image”. This sounds very unpleasant. It sounds like this bowl of wrath contains some sort of plague, harmful radiation, or perhaps some sort of chemical or contaminant in the atmosphere. This first bowl makes something go wrong with the world and the way it operates that in turn impacts the humans living there. Whatever the reason it does not sound like a pleasant time to be on earth.

The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea “it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died.” The description of this second bowl of wrath contains an interesting detail. The sea is turned into something akin to “dead person’s blood” What is unique about the blood of a dead person – there is no life in it. The “life ” in the blood of a living person is oxygen. Bodies of water like lakes and seas also require oxygen to live. This property of water is called dissolved oxygen and levels too low can cause anoxic conditions deadly to aquatic organisms.

The Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans. There are frequent news stories about a “dead zone” at this location. The dead zone is due to the excess nutrients and organic matter in the Mississippi River. Whatever this second angel is releasing it creates a “dead zone” in the entire ocean system. The most likely way for this to happen, from a scientific perspective, would be something raining out of the atmosphere. This could cause an algal bloom. Some algae is actually red in color like those that create “red tides”. I am not saying that this wrath is not a supernatural judgement from God, but it certainly could happen within the natural laws that God created.

Another way for widespread ocean death would be a rain of radioactive fallout which could kill all the creatures in the seas. The third angel focuses wrath on the rivers and springs and they also “became blood”. This is truly a global breakdown of the ecologic and hydrologic functions of the earth, both of which keep us humans alive.

Then comes this interesting angel described as “the angel in charge of the waters”. I do not remember reading about this angel or the idea that angels could be in charge of earthly events before anywhere in the bible. The idea that there is an angel in charge of waters is somewhat confusing. How does God, the Father of the rain fit in here? Perhaps these angels have been given dominion by God over these things only during the end times being described here. I do not know.

In the end these judgments are deemed “just” because “they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets”. This is the consequence for these people marked with the beast and choosing to worship his image. I am not sure if there will be any opportunity for these people to choose differently at this point. It may be too late. The mark of the beast may be indelible. My sense is that God gives us every opportunity to follow the Lamb for our journey home to the undiscovered country. Those who do not end up there have chosen their own way.

Prayer: God help us to choose to follow the Lamb as we go about our journey here on earth so that we can avoid the wrath to come for those who choose not to follow You.

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Soul Songs and Glass Seas

I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed. And I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” – Revelation 15:1‭-‬4

I am not sure I would describe seven Angels with plagues as marvelous, but I suppose the fact that this is the last “wrath” could be seen as marvelous.  The author sees in this vision not only plague-wielding angels but something rather mystical and mysterious, “a sea of glass”.  It is not clear if this description is meant to convey a perfectly still body of water or literally a sea of molten silica, also know as glass.  It seems it is the latter as this “sea” is also described as “glowing with fire”.

I have seen glass blowers several times in my life.  I am always amazed by the transformation from red hot blobs of molten glass to intricate and beautiful creations in the hands of a skilled glass blower.  Standing beside this molten mare (sea in Latin) are “those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name.” This sounds like those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life – those who follow the lamb, the way of Christ.

I am not sure what they are doing next to this glass sea, but they apparently have harps given to them by God.  They are singing the song of Moses and the Lamb.  The original song of Moses showed up way back in Exodus 15:1-11.  Moses sang it after successfully parting, and crossing, the Red Sea.  His song was also a celebration of the escape from bondage in Egypt.  These souls have also escaped bondage, but in their case it is their bondage to the material earth,

The meaning of the song of the Lamb is less clear and concrete, but I think it is probably the new song that is woven through both the old and new testaments. In Psalm 33:1-11 the “new song” contains this phrase “the earth is full of his unfailing love”.  Despite all the material messiness of this world God’s love is there for those who have eyes to see it. 

The new song that these victorious followers of the way, here at the end of all earthly things, are is their soul song.  It is a song that their soul has learned through a lifetime of “singing” lessons.  A celebration of God’s love and His sacrifice so we can be free of the bondage of oblivion.

The essence of their soul song, and our soul song, is recounted in the last part of the passage, “Great and marvelous are your deeds…Just and true are your ways…you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”  This is the essence of the gospel.  We must accept the sacrifice that Jesus “revealed” on the cross and be willing to acknowledge that this act changed everything, This act bought for us a place beside the glass sea described in this passage.

The take home message for me here is that we should be always seeking to become better singers of our soul song.  The soul song that connects us to God through His son Jesus.  This song is not something that we learn once, it is a song that we are learning continuously as we follow God wherever He leads us. In words from the song of Moses in Exodus 33.

Who among the gods
is like you, LORD?
Who is like you—
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
working wonders?

Prayer: God help us to learn our soul song so that we can sing it to You daily, and for eternity when that time comes.

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Sickles and Saviors

I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. – Revelation 14:14‭-‬20

A crown and a sickle. Not something I can picture Jesus carrying along the lake near Galilee. Perhaps this reference to the “son of man” is not referring to Jesus. I do not know. The next sentence, “then another angel came out of the temple”, seems to suggest this “son of man” is an angel rather than the Son of God. This angel bearing the sickle is also seated on a cloud. I assume this is figurative language intended to describe something this is perhaps indescribable.

The second angel tells the first angel on the cloud to get to work with his sickle “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” It seems to me that “harvest” referred to here could have a metaphorical meanings and could be interpreted in a physical sense or a spiritual sense.

If it is a physical description this would be describing a great massacre of humans or perhaps even the earth itself in the form chaos and calamities, similar to those described earlier in Revelation. If this is a metaphysical massacre then it represents a spiritual sifting similar to what Jesus described when He referred to the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:32). I suppose these two ways of viewing “the harvest” would are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps the “sickle” impacts both the secular and the spiritual.

The angel with the “sharp” sickle is then directed to harvest “the grapes” from the “Earth’s vine”. I interpret “sharp” to mean discerning – able to discern subtle differences between souls and people. The essence of grapes, their juice, is of course used to make wine. Through the process of growing vines, harvest, and fermentation, God turns water into wine. The harvested grapes in this passage meet a crushing end in the winepress of God’s wrath. It is a little unclear who these “grapes” represent. Hopefully they are those not that do not belong to the Lamb.

The unfortunate grapes that are crushed by God’s winepress are reduced to blood “blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.”. This is a very horrific image. Blood as high as horses for flowing for over 180 miles. What could this be describing or trying to convey? Seen through a literal lens perhaps it could be describing a disaster that impacts a 200 mile radius such as a volcanic eruption, mudflow, or meteor impact.

Taken in a spiritual sense perhaps this squeezing of souls is the antithesis of our souls finding a unique place in the spiritual sea with God in Heaven. If we are not with God perhaps in the end our souls merely mix with a myriad of others in a spiritual soup in which we lose all identity and individuality. This is the certainly the opposite of the intimate and personal relationship promised by Jesus.

This is a confusing passage to be sure. I am not sure what the take home here is other than that we should figure out how not to become like the grapes, crushed in God’s winepress. This involves following the Lamb and never stopping seeking God.

Prayer: God help us to follow You so that when the harvest comes we can be with You.

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Eternal Gospel

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” A second angel followed and said, “ ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.” A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus. – Revelation 14:6‭-‬12

A flying angel with an eternal gospel, what a way to begin a passage. What would be the meaning of “eternal gospel”? I suppose a literal translation would be something like good news without end. Something or Someone that brings good news and has no beginning and no end. Sounds like Jesus the Lamb of God who we are called to follow. What does it mean to follow Him and God?

According to the passage it means to “Fear God and give him glory”. I am not sure fearing God is the same as fearing things of this earth. We often fear what we do not know or understand which I suppose could apply to God. God is both unknowable and the most knowable of all things – at the same time. Both the Lion and the Lamb at the same time.

We are to worship the One who made “the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” God made everything that we can see and know. He is the Spring of Living Water from which we can all be refreshed and our thirst satisfied. God has given us the freedom to choose to drink of other springs and to satisfy our thirst with things other than Him.

This drinking of “other wines” is what results of choosing a path that leads away from God rather than toward him. Those who choose this perilous path are marked by the “the beast” and are in some sense owned by him. I do not know what the “mark on their forehead or on their hand: will be but there are plenty of marks in our current culture that could qualify.

Whatever this “mark” will be it will be a outward expression of an inward commitment to follow someone or something other than God. There are many ways that we follow images and gods other than God. This could take the form of social media “influencers” or being a person who influences others.

Who we choose to “follow” determines our destination. Follow God and we ultimately end up crossing the river that know one can cross to the undiscovered country. Follow the beast and his worldly wiles and we remain cave dwellers in this land of oblivion forever. The eternal “good news” is that God has sent the Lamb. As long as we accept His sacrifice of love and bare His mark on our souls we are home already.

Prayer: God help us to bare Your mark on our souls and accept our future with You as good news.

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Follow the Lamb

Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. – Revelation 14:1‭-‬5

The Lamb of God is the star of today’s passage and He has a backup choir of 144,000 “who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” He is also joined by a sound from Heaven like a roar of rushing waters and a peal of thunder. God’s presence or “voice” has often been described as sounding like rushing waters. The visions of Ezekiel were especially rich with this sort of water imagery. As we will see the “rushing waters” are really a metaphor for God and His plan for our faithful following.

I am not sure if the sound of harpists was coming from the 144,000, God’s presence, or some other host of angels. I would not normally associate the sound of a harp with either rushing waters or thunder. A gentle waterfall perhaps, but the sort of rushing waters that cascade over Niagara Falls not so much. Whoever was playing the harps was also singing a “new song”. Apparently no one can learn the “new song” except the 144,000, perhaps they are accompanied by the harps as they sing. I do not know.

This idea of a “new song” has come up before in my float through the bible. One of the clearest references is from Psalm 33:1-11 where it says “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” The God of the Psalms is the same as the God here who is listening to the new song being sung by these faithful followers that have been redeemed by the Lamb.

The ones who learn and sing the new song are those “follow the Lamb wherever he goes”. What does this mean? Perhaps on the simplest level it means always considering what would Jesus do (WWJD). Of course this is easy to place on a bracelet and wear around, but much harder in practice. Where did Jesus go when He walked the earth and where does He go now? I think He fundamentally seeks out those who are in need of healing and spiritual feeding whether they know it or not. He does this through the active participation of His followers and the Holy Spirit.

The faithful followers described here were purchased by the Lamb, “They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb”. This “purchase” took place over 2000 years ago on the cross, but also in a time-bending way it is taking place in the present and in the future – at the same time. I have been struggling with my secular synapses to think of something in my experience that is even remotely like this. The closest thing I can come up with, and it is far from a perfect simile, is, of course, water.

Water molecules within the hydrologic cycle are constantly being transformed from one form to another. The same water molecules that we are drinking in our glass of water today may have emerged from a sweat gland on the arm of an Egyptian Pharaoh. Kind of a gross to imagine, but true none the less. Seen from the perspective of the water molecule “life” might seem linear. It is a cloud, then a rain drop, spends some time making its way through pores in the ground, then it joins a raging river, and finally rejoins the ocean from which it came. Along the way it might be part of the blood in a lion or the hair or a bear.

Seen from an external perspective, perhaps one like God possesses, the rain drop is really part of a dance of other molecules in motion that are part of a plan and process created by the Logos that is from God, and is in a sense God Himself. This motion is far from meaningless as Ecclesiastes would posit. This “flow” of temporal events, that we perceive and experience as linear, is in fact quite non-linear from God’s perspective. We are all raindrops on our way somewhere, God has just given us free-will to choose if we will follow the Lamb or seek our own “sea”.

Prayer: God give us the wisdom and boldness to follow the Lamb wherever, and whenever, He may lead us.

Posted in Christianity, Death and Dying, Discipleship, eternal life, Faith, Following God, Free Will, God's Love for Us, Heaven, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Nature, Revelation | Tagged | 7 Comments

Patient Endurance

The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. Whoever has ears, let them hear. “If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed.” This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people. – Revelation 13:1‭-‬10

The dragon, aka Satan, is spreading mishap and mayhem in today’s passage. This time he has help from a “beast” with “ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.” This “beast” is clearly outside of our common experience and the author can only compare it to creatures here on earth like a leopard, a bear, or a lion. This may be because the appearance of this beast was beyond the ability of the author to describe in earthly terms. My sense is that this “beast” is in fact a spiritual entity, or entities, that may inhabit and earthly vessel, but their spiritual form is on some level indescribable.

This is born out by the next part of the passage when one of the beast’s heads is described as having “had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast.” Now it is possible that the “beast” is otherworldly in appearance and the people follow it anyway, but the sense I get is that the outer appearance of this “beast” is human and looks like any other person except for this mysterious head wound that has been healed. The spiritual appearance of this beast is what is unlike other humans, but that is only visible to those with spiritual eyes to see this beast’s true form. This beast was apparently a gifted orator, he was given proud words and blasphemed against God for 42 months. I am not sure why the time is specific as it was in yesterday’s passage about spiritual skirmishes.

The beast was also apparently given great power over earthly events, “It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation”. This is interesting and also disturbing. From an earthly perspective this beast is given the ability to conquer God’s holy people. This means to me that the earthly vessels in which our souls reside will be subject to some of the mayhem that the beast is engaging in on earth. There will be impacts to our secular existence, but that need not impact our eternal souls. It sounds like it will be difficult to avoid the reign of this terrestrial tyrant “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast”.

Those that have prepared their metaphysical muscles, and remain faithful amidst this spiritual squall, will be fine, but “all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” will not be so fortunate. The tricky part of this passage comes near the end when it says “If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed.” I take this to mean that God’s people will be subject to persecution and even death at this time. Their souls are secure but from on earthly perspective it will look like they are lost and God has forgotten them. Just like it probably appeared to the followers of Jesus He was crucified, but only those followers who stopped seeking failed to find Jesus after He was crucified and resurrected.

This sounds like a disheartening and discouraging time for God followers. It will seem from an earthly perspective that Satan has won this battle. The author acknowledges that this will be hard and “calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people.” There will be many that want to give up and transfer their allegiance to “the beast”. I am sure He will be only to happy to accept it and perhaps even provide earthly rewards for those that denounce the Lamb. It will take great spiritual maturity and muscles gained through hard seeking to survive this ontological onslaught.

So what is the take home message from this tale of trials and testing? We had better pay attention to the strength of our souls rather than focus on the health and comfort of our bodies. As I reflected a few days ago, we do not have a soul, we are a soul, we have a body. Better to tend to our soul than our body.

Prayer: God help us to attend to the strength of our souls just as often as we care for comfort of our bodies.

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Spiritual Skirmishes

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman clothed with the sun
by William Blake (1805 – 1810)

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.”And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. – Revelation 12:1-‬17

This passage begins with fantastic imagery of a woman with child and a red dragon. It is not so clear who the pregnant woman is in this story, unless it is referring in some time-bending way to Mary who gave birth to Jesus. More on this later… This woman is described as being “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” She gives birth to a male child that is/was immediately taken up into Heaven to reside next to God. The woman is/was sent into the wilderness on earth for a strangely specific 1,260 days, roughly 3.5 years. This event triggers some sort of spiritual skirmish between the powers of darkness and God’s angels and followers.

The war of the worlds, which has up to this point been taking place on earth. It is about to expand into the heavens. I assume this means in the spiritual realm, but that is unclear. It involves Michael and his angels fighting what is described as a dragon and his angels. It turns out this dragon is actually the “ancient serpent” also called the devil or Satan. There seems to be some sort of “time bending” going here. I am somewhat confused by the timing and events. It is not clear to me if this passage is describing a past event that resulted in Satan taking over the earth or if this is a future battle. Perhaps both? Maybe this in another example of the author attempting to describe the indescribable. Events that take place in the spiritual realm that are potentially outside of our linear time domain. I do not know.

God shows up with “the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah”. God’s triumphs over the accuser that rules the earth, Satan, the “accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night”. God ultimately is triumphant over him “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”. Jesus’ love for us, including His sacrifice and resurrection, combined with the witness of faithful followers, have resulted in the defeat of the accuser. This is the essence of the Gospel as shared by Jesus and His disciples. He came to provide forgiveness and grace for all of us through His blood and sacrifice. Those who choose to accept this forgiveness and grace are participating in the overthrow of Satan in their lives, and in some sense Satan’s exile from the earth. It is not clear if this exile is from the physical earth or the spiritual space where our souls reside.

The followers being referred to here were attending to the care and feeding of their souls rather than their earthly vessels “they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death”. They were frequent visitors to God’s gym to bulk up their souls so they would be ready for this challenge. Their choices to accept the blood of the Lamb and attend to their eternal souls on earth have prepared them to be present in Heaven. Satan on the other hand is angry and taking it out on the earth and those still dwelling there “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

Satan pursues the woman who has given birth to a male child in the beginning of the passage and she is given eagles wings and hidden from him on earth. Satan pursues her and spews forth water like a river out of his mouth “to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent.” Water, the substance that Jesus used to refer to Himself (Living Water), is being used by Satan to overtake and harm the woman. Fortunately God is bigger than Satan and his plans. God uses the earth to foil Satan’s plan “the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth”. This is a fantastic and complex vision which I am sure holds meaning that I am missing. Many deep pools and undercurrents here that one could spend many days exploring, but alas I need to head on down river so I will be content to look back and wonder.

In the end the Dragon, Satan, gives up his single-minded pursuit of the woman and “went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.” This part of the passage almost sounds like the woman is the mother of many like Eve is described in Genesis. The temporal tapestry presented here is very confusing. So many questions. Who is the woman? Who is the male child? How do these events relate to Jesus and His arrival as a Godly condensate on earth? Is this passage describing a past, present, or future set of events? Reading a passage like this makes me feel like a land dweller reading a sea creature’s stories. I feel like my material mind has no context or container for these metaphysical mysteries.

Prayer: God help us to understand, or at least accept, the mysteries of the metaphysical until the time when our souls can see and understand them.

Posted in Angels, Christianity, Conflict, Death and Dying, Discipleship, eternal life, Following God, Forgiveness, God's Love for Us, Jesus, Messiah, Prophecy, Redemption, Revelation, Satan, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged | 2 Comments