Reading and studying Revelation, especially during a heated presidential election and in the middle of an election year across our nation, has really been challenging to me. From a historical perspective, there is a clear movement away from the influences of culture as perpetuated by the governing authorities. Through the imagery of the “beast” who are empowered by the “Great Red Dragon” we should read and see an attitude toward all things Roman and thus be cognizant of the dangers that threaten the church through all oppressive ideas, structures, and actions.
Of course, the book of Revelation is also clear that churches should not at all participate in the oppression that Rome represents. In the opening chapters, Jesus is seen speaking to churches who have given into the pressures and have begun to put hope into economic securities, easily acceptable teachings regarding sexual practices, and syncretism of the Roman way of life and the Christian way of life. Revelation uses strong imagery of churches that are acting in such unfaithful ways when it calls them “lukewarm” and Jesus is seen as one standing outside and knocking at the door of the church. So, why such a strong contrast between the empire and the church?
Because people have died. One of the most blaring differences between the original recipients of Revelation and those I am teaching on Sunday mornings (including me) is the situation in which we read and study this communication from God. It is a difference of comfort; for the first recipients of the book there was very little acceptance and some marginalizing consequences for those who would choose to live for God because it was regarded as an assault against the throne and the government of Rome. This played out in the social, religious, and economic aspects of Roman culture. From a social perspective, Christians were at best seen as a threat to the peace and stability of Rome and thus shunned and marginalized. From a religious perspective, Christians did not worship the gods of Rome nor the emperor; and thus, were seen as the mysterious other group that are weird and propose a threat. From an economic perspective, this mistrust lead to many Christians not finding employment and losing business opportunities. In the end…this marginalization and oppression led to an attitude in which killing Christians could be seen as a noble act and a protective service for Rome.
Therefore, we have the pictures of God’s judgment like we have in Revelation 14. It is gruesome, but I understand that if God is going to save a people who is dying, suffering, hurting, losing, and crying to God for help; then part of that salvation is throwing down the oppressor and proving that this people, God’s people, have done nothing wrong in their allegiance to God.
I am afraid, however, that as we sit together in peace and prosperity, in our buildings designated for the worship of God through Jesus christ, in our pews or pillowed attachable seats, and read from our gold-tipped pages the word of God…that the action of God in coming to the aid of these Christians might be somewhat offensive to us. We have been persuaded to get along with everyone, to be quiet about our faith, and to figure out a way to blend culture and religion together in a peaceful compromise.
After all, we have heard it taught and preached and repeated and used by everyone and put on signs that God is LOVE. I agree that God is a loving and merciful God…but some situations call for a “consuming fire” type of God, a wrathful and angry God, a God that declares, “vengeance is mine, I will repay…” type of God. God loves the world..yes! And God loves his people, those who serve and worship Jesus Christ as Lord and King…yes! Now, I love my wife and I happen to love other women as well, like my good friends and family. What happens if someone I love started oppressing my wife whom I also love? What should my response be? Umm…I choose my wife! God chooses his church!
God has poured out his love into this world by providing his Son Jesus and by giving it the church, God’s people. That church is called the bride of Christ in the book of Revelation. It is the bride that the world has abused and hurt and disregarded…and God (along with Jesus) comes to the aid of the church. While I do believe God calls us to be peacemakers, to love our neighbors, and to live a quiet life from which others can learn…Let us also make no mistake that God’s judgment is real and it is awful. Those who want to hurt the church and lead people astray will be thrown down, and I just really hope that if you are a Christian that doesn’t offend you. If so, maybe, just maybe, we should think about just how comfortable our life is and if that comfort is an obstacle to being a faithful witness for God.
A friend and mentor of mine, Dave Bland, reflected on the scene in Revelation 12 where a great red dragon tries to devour the baby of the pregnant woman. The issue for Dave and for us is whether we truly acknowledge the presence and existence of evil in our world and how Satan impacts us, influences us, and even interacts with us.
Our culture refuses to believe in the reality of evil in the world. Often, we simply deny Satan’s existence and relegate him to an archaic religious or Christian tradition. Some see him as an outdated idea, an unrealistic figure, and a figment of our creative imagination. The devil’s cleverest trick, however, is to convince people he does not exist.
Many see Satan, or the Devil, as a playful figure. He is confined to the nether worlds. He is a guy that is easily spotted because he's in this red suit with a pitchfork in his hands and he has horns (especially during Halloween). Satan is nothing more than a cartoonish boogeyman. We lightheartedly sing: "If the devil doesn't like it, he can sit on a tack.” And we jokingly say on occasion when we do something ornery, "The devil made me do it." We associate mischievousness with Satan. We have difficulty taking Satan seriously.
Additionally, sometimes people simply psychologize Satan. Evil is associated with our mental or emotional ailments. Evil is within not without. Evil is confined to human imperfections and mistakes. While it is true that sin resides within us as humans, evil is not confined to the human mind. That too makes Satan anemic. He’s nothing more than a personal or mental problem.
But for those who do acknowledge the existence of Satan, and by extension evil, we still carry some problematic misunderstandings about Satan. To start, some believe that God and Satan have the equal amount of power. So it becomes a back and forth ongoing battle between them, like the Greek myths of the gods battling one another. But Satan, though powerful, is not a god. He does not have the power God possesses.
For others, even Christians, the reality of Satan’s power strikes fear in their hearts. They live out their Christian lives in constant fear of being assaulted by these demonic powers. A popular novel some years back was This Present Darkness (1986) by Frank Peretti. Peretti presents the reality of demons in the world and their constant assault on Christians. It is good in that he portrays the reality of these evil powers in our world. But it is wrong in depicting Christians as always looking over their shoulder, living in constant fear as if we're on a tight rope ready to fall at any moment if we let our guard down. But Christians do not live life in and out of fear. We do not obsess about devils and demons. Christians live their lives with confidence and with joy. Our lives are not characterized by perpetual fear.
Sometimes we connect Satan, and evil, to stereotypes so we can project demonic qualities onto others we don’t like or we project evil on another ethnic group and call them Satan. That enables us to confine Satan to our stereotypes. The result is twofold: (1) it results in horrendous injustices to others, (2) it does not take Satan seriously.
Lastly, A misunderstanding of Satan can lead us away from taking responsibilities for our own sins and misbehaviors. When confronted by God in the garden, Eve said, “The serpent tricked me” pointing the blame to someone else. She was simply a victim of someone’s trickery. If Satan is the cause then we don’t need to change. We excuse behavior with the old “The Devil made me do it,” and give ourselves a free pass on sin.
So, are the advantages of believing in Satan? Sure, I believe there are advantages like causing us to realize that evil is not to be taken lightly. It is a powerful force in the world. Second, evil is more than individual acts of wrongdoing. Evil is not just within the human being. Evil has a life of its own. It affects institutions, organizations, and nations. This is part of the difficulty in trying to correct social injustices. Evil doesn’t reside in the individual alone. It is part of a larger social, political, and religious system. Lastly, Let me remind you of Eph. 6:12: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”
Revelation 12 ends with the dragon, that is Satan the embodiment of evil, leaving to wage war with those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus (could be seen as the church). In what ways can we encourage each other as Satan wages this war? Should we be surprised when we face persecution or hardship? How can we keep holding to the commandments of God when faced by Satan’s persecution within the institutions, organizations, and nations (not to mention the personal stuff)?
Jeremiah proclaims something thought provoking when he wrote:
17:14 O Lord, if you heal me, I will be truly healed;
if you save me, I will be truly saved.
My praises are for you alone!
What does it mean to be Truly Healed? Truly Saved?
Are there imposters that are not actually “true?”
Do you know anyone who says that their current relationship is their salvation or healing? I know a few persons who thought that this “one” was all they needed to get over their past and live the happiness that God always wanted them to have. Suspiciously, the same routines, habits, and hurtful language seems to resurface over time in their relationship and often, but not always, a person is left with more hurt and more wounded than before. Relationships don’t truly save and they don’t truly heal.
Do you know of anyone who has an addiction and that is their salvation from their life and the drugs and alcohol seem to heal their deep hurts? I know a few person who thought that the bottle contains a magical formula of happiness and once taken, they are free to live the life they desire to have. Sure, there are community meetings about the effects of marijuana, heroine, cocaine, prescription meds, and alcohol; but there is a clear distinction between those persons and me! Until there isn’t. Drug use causes long term health problems, brain function issues, and isolates persons from those who love them. Drugs and Alcohol don’t truly save and they don’t truly heal.
Do you know of anyone who loves work, maybe a little too much? I know a few persons like that and they are 100% dedicated to their job. Now, let’s be clear that I am for taking a job seriously and striving for excellence in our work. However, the attitude and belief that my job is my escape from poverty and my salvation from meaninglessness places the employment we enjoy far above the other things/people in our lives that give us meaning and provide a richness to our lives. Work is talked about, thought about, obsessed over, and prioritized at the top. Tragically, companies often do not share our loyalty, bosses can see us as threats to their positions, and how dare we even begin to view a life of retirement…NO! Our jobs don’t truly save and they don’t truly heal.
If you, O Lord, Heal me…If you, O Lord Save me…
There is a fundamental difference in the healing and salvation of God. God does not just heal and save us from something, but God also saves and heals us to something. I am reminded of a college student who had cancer as a child, and St. Jude Hospital was her salvation because she was healed from her cancer. So, her life of cancer camps, chemo treatments, and long stays in the hospital turned back into normal life…school, homework, graduation and then college where I met her. She struggled. She struggled with seeking attention because she went from the very special child to just another student. She shared with me in private conversation that many of the friends she made in cancer camps had died and so she struggled with survivor remorse. You see, at the end of her journey of healing and salvation was…well, normalcy.
God’s healing and salvation does not end in normalcy. The Bible refers to those who are saved and healed as “children of God,” “masterpiece,” “saints,” “citizens of heaven,” “brothers and sisters,” “priesthood,” and “bride of Christ.” We are healed and saved TO participate in the Kingdom of God…the reign of Jesus Christ, which goes beyond this life into eternal life, and peers above the structure of this world into the spiritual world of heaven. So, with this as a background, we should be able to understand what it means to be TRULY healed and TRULY saved.
Jeremiah 17:5-10 is a good reminder in the middle of a heated election season. But it is also good to think about when we have a relationship that we just can’t “live without” or when our faith heavily relies on a particular church leader that seems to “do no wrong” in our eyes. May this be both a warning to be heeded and an encouragement to be lived.
5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.
7 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.
9 “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.”
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things…included yours…including mine. More than the media can search, deeper than the secrets that come out at inopportune times, the Lord searches our hearts and gives the due reward. No, not the victory in an election or first prize at the popularity contest, but true justice from the holy God and the timing, I assume, is also up to God who never seems to operate fast enough for us but always when it is needed. It’s not about having a “good heart” but making God our hope and confidence in full view of our not-so-innocent heart!
And in times of moral “drought” or seasons of pressure filled “heat” I pray that my roots are reaching deep into the water where God has planted me along the riverbank. I pray our leaves stay green (no reference to third parties here) and that we never stop producing fruit for the Kingdom of God. I pray that when God looks down on me, God sees someone that trusts Him over and above all other opportunities to trust.
My wife is an optometrist, and I know how much she loves helping people see clearly. She went on a few mission trips to Africa where she witnesses people being able to see nature, family, and friends for the very first time. I’m sure it’s an awesome experience to help and then witness those folks who get things put into perspective for them for the very first time.
Well, I’m in a different type of work, but I also try to help people see things clearly. And, on occasion, I get the front row seat to someone who has been refocused and view things from a different perspective as well. The main difference between what I do and what my wife does is found in this verse below:
2 Corinthians 4:16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
Yes, I’m the guy that tries to persuade you to set your eyes on something that cannot be seen…when I ask 1 or 2…3 or 4…there may not be anything reflected in your eyes, but I assure you there is indeed something upon which to focus. Sometimes I wish I could just refract the eyes myself, like my wife does, and then write the prescription so that everyone I visit with and talk to would be able to see clearly. But, even in her line of work, the right pair of glasses need to be worn and not lost. Contact lenses need to be taken care of and properly inserted to do what they are intended to do.
Life has troubles, it has pains and hurts. We suffer from all sorts of things and get bombarded about other things. Athletes get older, beauty fades, skin sags, hair disappears, minds wonder, and life has a way of taking its toll on us. But let me help out by giving you an eye exam…because I am interested in improving your vision. You see, all of those things are meant to fade away and go away, but there are things that last forever. We need to fix our gaze on these things. So, take off that old pair of glasses and let me put some new ones on ya!!
So, what is going to last forever?
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.