April 30, 2012

Can't See The Forest For The Trees

“Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises. He boasts about the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD. In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. His ways are always prosperous; your laws are rejected by him; he sneers at all his enemies. He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.” He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.” His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue. He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent. His eyes watch in secret for his victims; like a lion in cover he lies in wait. He lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, “God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees.” Psalm 10:1-11

The first and last sentences here basically states that God will inevitably hide His face from His enemies, from the wicked. From those that boast of their desires, they are greedy and prideful. Wicked men do not seek the Lord , His statues and the true meaning of His statutes, commandments and Word are rejected by the enemies of God. They assume nothing will ever come of their actions no matter what they do...so they pursue their evils.

Why did Isaiah say this in Isaiah 45:15? : “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel.” It was because, by the time of Isaiah, God had turned away from Israel. His glory had long since departed from the land.

The question I pose is this. Has God made Himself conspicuously absent from your life? If He has, have you stopped to ask yourself why He may have done so?

After David’s great sin with Bathsheba, what does he say in Psalm 51:11?

“Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” Psalm 51:11

So God has been noticeably absent for a sustained period now in your life? If He has, I again pose the same question, have you stopped to ask yourself why He may have done so?

Yet if we trust in Him and find refuge in Him and His Word what does the Bible say?

“Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings” Psalm 17:8

“You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; you surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

Why is the Lord, David’s hiding place? What does Psalm 32 say before we reach verse 7?

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.

“Let everyone who is godly pray to You”. This is a call to seek God. To seek God why?...To repent of our sin and find a correct standing before God by acknowledging our sin to God…in short, to repent and believe.

So you say God has left you high n’ dry recently? Have you truly soul-searched and asked Him why? Have you really talked to Him at all?

I think you may already know the answer having read this…

Sometimes, depending on the nature of our relationship with God, God Himself is the worst bad news we could receive or the best good news depending on whether He is present or not (or why He is absent/present). If God is immutable and unchanging, the thing in a relationship with Him that has changed…is you. If He is now absent, it is quite possible you are not on solid ground, therefore the way He reveals Himself to you (or doesn’t, if He is absent) may be indicative of your relationship with Him…as we have already read, God hides His face from His enemies.

So, I ask again, when we are tormented in our suffering and God is clearly absent, is there a reason for this? Is He really absent…or is He overtly present in our suffering? Is He so close that we do not recognize His presence or is He manifest in a form we were not expecting Him to be in…like the trial itself?
The truth is we cannot know the true reasons God often does things both in our lives and other’s lives.  Our feeble attempts to charge the gates of Heaven and demand an answer in petulance is foolhardy if not outright stupid and arrogant. It is imprudent even if we might be suffering and dying in horrible pain. This is why we have been given the Gospel. He already gave us our answer long ago. Our answer was a promise fulfilled in a wooden cruciform, an empty tomb and a dead body that was resurrected. This is all the answer we will ever need. In this answer we have the ultimate end in mind which is death (an excruciatingly painful one I might add), and it is conquered. There is no greater enemy to be conquered.

The truth is he may very well have hidden His face from you and that is part of the punishment or chastisement. The reality is that He might be right there in the suffering…you just haven’t recognized Him. God didn’t save Daniel from the lion’s den, He saved Daniel in the lion’s den. The questions you should then be asking are these:

Has God made Himself conspicuously absent from your life? If He has, have you stopped to ask yourself why He may have done so? Is it because you have made yourself His enemy or is He so close you cannot see the forest for the trees? Have you been abandoned and given over to your sins or is He chastising those He loves?

It is better to always play it safe with your relationship with God. Your opinions and emotions when not firmly anchored to God’s Word is a guide to go astray especially in times of trial and suffering. To assume God is near you because you think you “feel” Him is dangerous. What does the Bible say? It's about what the Bible says, not what you feel. Your feelings are subject to the Fall. Seek God and know that He is God. If your relationship with Him is correct and secure, you destination will not be like the trial you are going through. If your relationship is wrong, you destination will be worse than the trial you are now suffering through. It is better to start from the end with the end in mind, which is Jesus Christ and eternal salvation, them work backwards from Him to where we are standing in the fire. This way we can find our way out since the path has already been found and back-traced from the point of salvation. We also do not need to blindly grope down a bunch of dead ends only to find there is no other way out without Him. Its like trying to find your way out of the woods without a compass or map.


On the flip side of this, it might be that things are just not occurring in the timing and the manner that you prefer. We saw evidence of this with Jesus and the raising of Lazarus. What was said during this? John 11:4 tells us right off the bat that Jesus informed them, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Did in anyone really hear Jesus say this or if they did, did they understand? Probably not. Here we see God incarnate telling people exactly what was going to occur and what is the response? My guess by their action was incredulity. They may have thought Jesus was being callous or heartless for not rushing to save Lazarus. Jesus does not rush to Lazarus' side, he actually "stayed where He was for two more days." He did it on purpose and they didn't understand why. Frankly, when He does it to us....neither do we. If people can't figure out God's timing and reasoning for things when he is not visible to us, this episode doesn't bode well for people understanding His motives or timing when He is there present incarnate either. Long story short...whether visible or not, humans are not really good at determining God's reasons and timing for things...even when He explicitly told them why He was doing something as in John 11:4.

In this episode with Lazarus what we learn is that it required that Lazarus actually die for something greater to occur. The story of Lazarus wasn't really a story about Lazarus at all...it was a story about the glory of God and the omnipotence and sovereignty of God. From a human perspective it looked like letting Lazarus die was a mean hateful thing to do...but then how would God have been magnified by his resurrection from the dead had Lazarus not been dead first? God was not being mean and heartless here...if anything...just the opposite.

Do we do this? Because God doesn't react or act in the manner we expect or when we expect do we automatically assume He doesn't care. He is mean? If the story of Lazarus' resurrection tells us anything it tells us God does things to maximize love, maximize effect, purpose and His glory and He does it in His perfect timing.

Trust me folks God is indeed loving. People's perceptions of God and myopic view of Him and His capability is at fault here. The usual argument when things get tough or people begin to suffer or believe there is an absence of God is that they don't deserve  to suffer. We are all sinners and we are lucky God doesn't vaporize us on the spot. If He actually gave us what we deserved we would all be human shaped cinders. 

That being said another argument is that God is either all-loving and incapable of changing bad things (which limits His omnipotence and sovereignty) or he is perfectly capable of changing it and is unwilling, therefore unloving (which limits His omnibenevolence). Again, we can point human fingers squarely at human shortsightedness and ignorance of the far-reaching plans of God. In mankind's blind spirituality and fumbling for an answer, we assume its either one thing or the other with God. 

Sadly, God has even answered this  accusation thousands of years ago, we are just too dull of hearing and perception.

Isaiah 59:1-2 “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear."

It isn't God, it is us...again. He can do all but it is our sin that separates us from what is possible.

What we learn all the time with God both in the Bible and in our lives is that you better not hedge Him in as there is always the third option (or fourth or fifth)...and He often utilizes them. He does so not to prove man wrong but to eventually bring his plans to fruition and to....well what did Jesus say?

"...it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it."

If we understand this we will then see the forest and the trees. Not only that, we'll be able to see all the way to the horizon and see the far-reaching implications because those that seek God and His will, will find what they are searching for. Bono and U2 may not have been able to find what they were looking for--but we can. How do we know this? Because one of the first places we are to look for Him is in Scripture and what does Scripture say?

Proverbs 8:17 “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”

Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  

April 28, 2012

Offending Man or Offending God: Joel Osteen & The Mormons

The following post was based on a series of Facebook correspondences whereby I rebuked Joel Osteen’s unbiblical and heretical statements about Mormons and Christian’s being “brothers in Christ”. 

Anyone that understands theology proper from the Bible and the tenants of Mormonism know this couldn’t be farther from the truth of Scripture. At it's core this post is about the absurdity of Joel Osteen’s comment on Mormonism and Christianity but what it turns out to be is what a proper Scriptural response is to these types of ridiculously unbiblical statements.

In a nutshell Joel Osteen made the following unbiblical statement:

“When I hear Mitt Romney say that he believes that Jesus is the Son of God–that he’s the Christ, raised from the dead, that he’s his Savior–that’s good enough for me. [...] Mormonism is a little different, but I still see them as brothers in Christ.” ~Joel Osteen

What Joel either fails to understand or fails to state is that Mormons and Joel may see Mormons and Christians as "brothers in Christ"  but Christ Himself doesn't nor does any other Bible literate Christian that understands Christ as their Messiah as part of the Triune Godhead. By making this statement he is clearly showing he does not even understand the basic tenants of the Christian faith (or is deliberately denying them) nor does he understand Mormonism. Never mind that Mormons don't believe in the deity of Christ either. The Christian God is Triune and Jesus is Deity. Mormon's do not believe this. What's worse is that Mormons teach that man can become God, and that God was once a man. So at the very core of Mormon faith is the belief that man can become god(s). This could be the severest form of idolatry, placing one's self in God's place. In our culture of acceptance and inclusion these comments of mine appear to come off for some as unbending and confrontational. So be it, on these core tenants of faith there is no room for "conversation" on how people feel. You either believe the core tenants or you do not. If I actually got into the minutiae and nuances of this religion it would actually become rather embarrassing and I chose not to rake Mormons over the coals. I wish only to expose the lunacy and heretical nature Joel Osteen's statement. Whatever God Mormons believe in, it is not the one described in the Bible. Joel should be ashamed to call himself a pastor.

Having posted this as a post to Facebook with a rebuke (which is biblical), it thereby set off a series of discussions that basically allude to the fact I shouldn't rebuke Joel publicly or should've done so in a more low-key manner so not to bring shame to my testimony or to the Body of Christ by being aggressive and confrontational. I have since deleted the series of posts so not to incriminate the person(s) of which I refer. I must state as a preface that I am in no way attempting to mortify and embarrass this person by bring the correspondence up in this light on my blog. Frankly, the exchange I had exposed an even bigger issue within the evangelical church…even bigger than that of Joel’s dopey, uneducated and unbiblical comment. As such, it needs to be addressed. Please understand I am trying to reiterate as faithfully as possible the crux, intents and principles of the people involved without maligning. I love all my Christian brethren and for this reason I will drag the waters to bring truth to the surface.

In short I was told that by confronting Osteen  publicly and rebuking him, I am compromising my testimony by being “confrontational” with the man and his statement. I was told that I would be better off delivering statements as I did "in love" rather than in a "mean-spirited" nature.

I disagree vehemently and wholeheartedly. Firstly, I am dealing with Joel O and others like him in love when I correct them and these comments were not mean-spirited. To say they were mean-spirited is to make a subjective critique on my motives and this assumes they know my motive and it assumes I was being malicious...which I wasn't. When someone espouses an unbiblical view publicly, it needs to be rebuked the same way. Had Osteen done this faux-pas privately, so too would’ve been my rebuke via Matthew 18. He created this debacle in public. Silently going about trying to correct this type of error is not what the first letter to Timothy says about the rebuke of an elder. Unfortunately, Joel and people like him are viewed as elders or in a position of leadership in a church so they must be dealt with in said manner no matter how much I can prove through Scripture he is not worthy of that honor (1 Timothy 5:17). So what does 1 Timothy tell us to do if an elder is out of line and has been told about his errant statements before?

“But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. 1 Timothy 5:20

In the case of an elder which is a repeat offender, we are to “Reprove before everyone” – “ἐνώπιον πάντων ἔλεγχε” or literally “in view of all” either “admonish” or “rebuke, reprove”. We are to publicly admonish or rebuke…there is nothing subtle or non-confrontational about this statement from the Apostle Paul.

To even more soundly trounce Joel's comments by Scripture itself I offer Paul's letter to Titus concerning rebuking error. Here Paul is telling Titus to deal with Cretan false teachers in a sharp and critical manner. They were to  deal incisively with the danger, like a surgeon cutting away cancerous tissue. This is a direct reference to false teachers.

Titus 1:10-14 “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth."

I will tell you right off the bat that I do not subscribe to the “peace at all cost”, seeker-sensitive approach of many evangelical churches. I align myself first, to the teachings of Scripture, and secondarily to that of mostly sound teaching from those of the Reformed theological vein. I am not prone to heavy worldly/cultural application as it detracts from the Scripture that is being taught. As I have heard it said of people like John MacArthur-it is also said of me, “You need to be more lively, you're kind of boring at times because your always talking about the Bible and quoting it. Why don’t you talk about yourself more so people will understand it better?” Whaaaat?

I will submit to sitting under another’s teaching as long as it is sound Biblically and theologically. There are fewer and fewer of those around and the number dwindles by the day. That being said…the overwhelming majority of evangelical churches have become acutely seeker-sensitive often times to the point of watering down the Gospel to non-existence. Mind you...I will sit in a seeker-sensitive church but only if the teaching is sound theologically. The Message of the Bible is the Gospel. Period. It is an offense to Jew and Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Loose this from your church and you will loose my family and I also.

1 Corinthians 1:20-25~ “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

I have had these types of conversations in the past with pastors, elders, laity and other Christians as I preach and teach in multiple locations…. There is a point in time to have a conversation with people like Joel Osteen and his ilk and there is not. He has been openly told of his heresy in the past and chooses to continue to pursue the errant path. Sadly, I believe that he truly believes what he is saying. This is the problem with not reading or educating yourself in Scripture. You eventually run rogue of it as Joel has done this week. Sadder still is that he holds sway over many people when he says false things and he does so in a public manner. So too needs to be the rebuke so people are not misled.

Joel has theology of no absolute truth. He is of the “new breed” that wants “inclusiveness” and interfaith-ecumenicalism at all cost, even forsaking the tenants of our faith. No absolute truth breeds a theology of no belief or no accountability. No accountability means no one’s at fault, no fault-no blame, no blame, no sin---therefore no need for redemption, etc. We then enter the area where people will argue with you over the idea of substitutional atonement and so on. Any “Christian” that says Mormon’s are “brothers in Christ” has lost his mind…or is not Christian. Our postmodern culture thrives on the fact that too few are willing to step forward and tell truth of the Bible. Yes, love is in the Bible…but never at the cost of the Gospel. I challenge anyone to refute that point.

Sadly, every time I try to teach with the authority of Scripture by Scripture and through Scripture with any kind of certainty and fortitude it is immediately perceived as being harsh or prideful. Obedience is not zealous legalism. Scripture by its own nature is authoritative (and sometimes harsh to a sinners ears).

God gave and still gives His disciples power and authority through Scripture, we need only take hold of it and use it. What did Luke 9 say? It says: δύναμιν καὶ ἐξουσίαν – “power and authority” to cast out demons, to heal and to do what? It says....εὐαγγελιζόμενοι “preaching the the Good News”. What does it say in Luke 10? It says “authority” [ἐξουσίαν] to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy"

If I do not convey this power and authority intrinsic to the Word, I have not done my job as a teacher or preacher.

Although many will construe a desire to preach authoritatively from Scripture as harsh, I am only projecting the idea and intent of the words. What I have been convinced of is people are not getting the full impact of Scripture as they cold (both good: Love, and bad: Wrath) because modern Christians in general are worried way too much about offending man rather than God. What you can also be assured of is that I am becoming extremely weary of defending a biblical position of truth because I speak strictly from a position of authority from Scripture only to me told I am wrong (even though Scripture tells me I am right). By letting Scripture defend itself ....it is routinely viewed as being cold or mean-spirited. I wrestled with this for 2 years and this is the conclusion and the tact I have chosen. Even if it means being alienated and misunderstood.

Therefore Joel's inability to clearly state a position, or have him state and errant one, makes him poison to the Christian faith and creates disciples that are twice as messed up as he is (twice the son of hell). Please note this following rebuke from Jesus. It was public and confrontational.

Matthew 23:1-15 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.  “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’  “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.  The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”

Very public, not subtle and delivered in love by the Son of God.

I have 4100 friends attached to my Facebook account because I purposely use my account to evanglize people, some of which are Mormon and followers of Joel Osteen. Generally, I have taken a hands-off policy when it comes to people like Osteen and Benny Hinn, but this incident is damning for people that end up believing it. They need truth, not watered down theology or conversation that makes them "feel good". People certainly do not need empty "feel good" statements from religious motivational speakers that convey no truth. Only later to realize they are being led down the primrose path to Hell. Too often in our culture, straight-forward facts from the Bible that people do not like to hear has had them accuse people (including me) of being unloving, uncaring, damaging to the image of Christ and so on, all the while letting the true offender run rampant over the body because what he says "sounds right" to them and "is pleasing to hear" which makes them feel good.

My question is this: What is more damaging to the Body of Christ? The fact that Osteen is lying to them or me telling the truth directly from the Scripture?

We are fallen sinners and we need to know the exact remedy of that sin. It is Christ. Otherwise we will have the wrath of God befall us. Ask most people what they are being saved from and many will not even be able to tell you. They will say the Devil and be totally wrong. They will say sin and only be half right. We are being saved from the wrath of an Almighty God. That should scare people but it doesn’t. Why? Because we have become nearly Universalist in our idea of salvation and that is why people like Rob Bell caused so much chaos in the faith last year. He gave up on the doctrine of Hell and said eventually everyone is saved by Jesus’ love (Andy's paraphrase). That is certifiable nonsense and patently false. Condemnation is eternal. Bell is another example of a self-proclaimed “non-theologian” making theological statements…and they are absurdly wrong. The problem is that they are taken serious because they come from people that come off as moderately intelligent and abundantly skilled in rhetoric. They can say things really well and look smart saying them but they are totally in error, devoid of substance and running totally rogue of the Lord (1 Corinthians 1-4). If you love the Lord...you obey his commandments! (John 14:15).

There are specific avenues outlined to attain that Salvation and atonement for sin. A Mormon clearly has the wrong path. To have other Christians allow this statement to fly unfettered and then "stand me down" for rebuking such an unbiblical presupposition is more damaging than the damage they claim my rebuke causes. It shows disparity and disunity between the two conflict and lets the heretic and false teacher walk free…laughing all the way to the bank and leading more and more people astray. People need to actually read and understood how Jesus dealt with heretical teachers of His day in instances such as this. He was indeed confrontational and He used quite a bit of Scripture to validate His points. Please read Matthew 23 above and Luke 6 below…

Luke 6:1-5 “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

The Pharisees went to the disciples and criticized them for not following the "tradition of the elders" (which was essentially a false religion) on the Sabbath. Did the disciples defend themselves here…or did Jesus come in aggressively from outside this conversation and rebuke these errant religious “leaders”?

Matthew 23 and Luke 6 is how Jesus dealt with heresies, religious “leaders” and culture in error. He did so unflappably, confrontationally and in a soundly Scriptural manner. So should we. We are to engage the culture, not conform to it in an effort to save them. Man is to conform to Scripture, not the other way around.

The idea that we are to be avoiding conflict at all cost has been at the expense of charlatans like Osteen gaining ground that educated Christians wouldn’t have allowed him to gain had they known the truth. The idea that good abiding Christians in Christ are to be doormats to bad theology is not biblical. We are to defend our faith against heresy and have a ready defense when questioned (or worse, when attacked). This idea pervades 1 & 2 Peter, 1-3 John and Jude. Books that were written during a phase of increased persecution of the brethren...often times...from directly within.

1 Peter 3:15-16 “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

The most gentle and truthful way to rebuke someone is by and through Scripture as all true Christians will acknowledge its authority and that...

2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."

The very reason the likes of Joel O. has such a huge following is because few actually know the truth, nor do they preach it because they don't understand Scripture. Another reason is because the church at large has acquiesced to the culture to the point of accepting things like homosexuality into leadership even within some conservative circles. This is reprehensible and failure to lead and teach truth because we are afraid to tell the truth. We need to speak truth with conviction and authority, just as Jesus clearly did. I fear we in evangelical Christianity have become spineless teaching truth. Truth is to convict us. To quote Rob Bell loosely and ironicly: Truth Wins. The Truth of the Gospel. Love is the fruit of the Spirit but it is the Truth of the Gospel that saves us. If we're not saved there will little fruit anyway. The Gospel and the truth it reveals to us convicts us to repent because we are shamed of our sin and wish to rid ourselves of it. This needs to come from the authority of Scripture. Scripture shines lights in dark places. Places wicked and sinful people wish not to have light shined because it exposes their sin for what it is…an affront and offense to God.

The bottom-line is this: We have become more afraid of offending people by teaching truth than we are of offending God by not teaching truth and watering down the Gospel.

This just shows me that people do not truly understand God’s wrath that awaits the unsaved sinner. I believe that even true believers that call themselves Christian are under a heavy obligation to explain the wrath of God to people, not just His love. Otherwise we fail in the Great Commission.

Matthew 28:19-20 “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We are to teach people in the world everything He taught us, not just the parts about Heaven, God’s love and His blessing but also: Hell, eternal punishment and the unsavory stuff too. If not we only tell half the story. Half the story is no story at all. We are to obey all of it, not some.

I subscribed for years to the "don't hurt anyone's feelings" mantra of modern evangelicalism until recently. There is a point where conversation needs to end and condemnation begins. Jesus did not have conversations with unbiblical entrenched Pharisees, Sadducee and Scribes that made clearly unbiblical statements in public, he gave condemnation. Conversely, I do not judge these people like Osteen, I measure them against the standard of Scripture and they fall woefully short.

At some point we stop helping people when we allow them to follow people like Osteen without exposing him for the pied piper he is. We need to tell people the truth and to repent of their ways and if they don’t listen we sweep the dust from our feet and move on. If they teach heresies we rebuke and correct them as I did.

To help someone and expect them to change is proper, to help them and not expect a change is to be an enabler of sin. We are not “loving” people by allowing them to be confused by people that are teaching falsely. In reality, we’re actually hating them. As I said in my Facebook post, “If I hated you I would lie to you but because I love you and want to see you saved, I tell you the truth!"

I will not enable a man (therefore his followers) who is recycling centuries old heresies, I rebuke them just as Jesus Christ and Church Fathers did, just as Scripture tells me to. Some of whom were disemboweled, hung, beheaded, burnt at the stake ….and some of whom…were even crucified.

More here on Al Mohler's Site: Does Joel Osteen Not Know, or Does He Not Care?
A rebuke from John MacArthur in 2010 here: A True Knowledge of the True God
John Piper talking about false teachers: Watch Out for Those Who Lead You Astray 

April 27, 2012

Revealing Christ In The Old Testament IV: God's Way or The Highway


Among many other things, in Numbers 21 we see in particular the foreshadowing or the typology of the Son of Man who will come and be " lifted up" in the narrative of the bronze snake (John 3:14,15)

"They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived." ~ Numbers 21:4-9

Here we see an image of God laying down a stipulation for salvation or saving of a life. Do what you have been told in obedience and belief...and you shall live. If not, you will die. The people doing this was thereby an expression of their faith. To look upon the snake as God said to be healed was to act in faith on something God had commanded. The bronze serpent was God's way. It was a call to faith in God and to the way of healing He established. His way or the highway. He said it would happen and they believed. Just as God said that a Messiah would come to restore the Kingdom... and He did. We then see a furtherance of this idea elaborated on in John 3, all of which points definitively and unquestionably to Jesus Christ.

You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:10-15

If we look back to the very first mention of the serpent in the Bible we gain context to understanding this passage. We understand that in Adam sin entered the world and all are fallen.

"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned-To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come." Romans 5:12-14

Usually the sight of a snake on a pole would be abhorrent to the Jewish mindset but I guess when it is the only thing that is going to save you, your personal qualms dissolve rather quickly. This image of the snake obviously conjures up the unsavory aspects of Genesis 3 and the Fall of man mitigated by the "serpent who was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made." In the case of the Bronze serpent though, it meant lifting up the symbol of the very thing that was killing them. This imagery is not too far removed from the truth of Christ when we realize that the judgment for sin is death. Death instituted by the Fall. The Fall thereby instituted by God who implemented it as judgment for man's rebellion against God. Yet God offers Himself to save them, the very One that instituted death into the Creation as the Curse. Geez!!!, you'd think this was planned...

Jesus (through John) also used this vivid image to teach us what the death of Christ really means. God took the hated symbol of Roman torture and oppression (the cross) and turned it into the means of our salvation. So that, ...everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” ~John 3:15. Just like the Jews may have been revolted by the idea of a serpent as salvation, so too a crucified Messiah hanging on a cross/tree. Come to think of it, the cross is repulsive to most that do not understand its significance, but to those that are being saved it is the power of God.

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree." ~Galatians 3:13

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. ~ 1 Corinthians 1:18-24

"So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me."  ~John 8:28

In Numbers 20 we see the narrative of Moses speaking to and striking the rocks. The Israelite community had arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There was no water for the community, and the people gathered in antagonize Moses and Aaron. It was here in Tent of Meeting that the glory of the LORD appeared to them and they were told by the Lord to (v.8)“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” As we know the story goes, Moses is petulant and in anger strikes the rock. This in turn prevents Him from entering the promise land. A message about punishment for disobedience. (v.12)..."the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

What we really see though that points us to Christ is what?

Jesus Christ is constantly referred to as a rock or the Rock throughout scripture. The Apostle Paul said the Rock from which Israel drank was most certainly Christ. The Rock represented Jesus and the eternal life through faith in the truth about Him which flows from Him like life-giving water or "Living Water" (John 4:10-14).

"For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert" ~1 Corinthians 10:1-5

Striking the Rock is a shadow of Christ suffering and afflict for the disobedience of us as sinners even as we are believers, just as Moses being a believer also disobeys and strikes the Rock. This is all over Isaiah 53. It is quixotically, the very Law that is given to Moses on Sinai that Jesus must abrogate or fulfill to gain atonement for our sins (Hebrews 12). If we actually drink the "living water" we are actually taking in or imbibing of the Gospel or the work Christ did on our behalf on the Cross. Through this we gain salvation. The imagery of speaking to the rock is that of a relationship where one can approach or request that which is live saving. We need only speak to Christ and ask Him to forgive us and believe what He has already said and done. We need not beat it out of Him...as this has already been done.

The very thing that should been another step in Moses journey then becomes the stumbling block to his access to the Promised Land. Just as Jesus was to the Jews as stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:23, " but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" and of course as Peter said in 1 Peter 2:8, " and "...a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

We have been given the proper path and method for gaining our salvation. Taking away from it or adding to it constitutes disobedience. Too much disobedience or habitual disobedience may very well be an indicator that you are not even in the Faith. It is God's way or the highway.

Lastly I will mention Numbers 11 (Deuteronomy 8) and the Manna from heaven. This does not need an elaborate explanation but it warrants mentioning here. Manna was suppose to have been the perfect food from Heaven. Food given to a million plus people wanting a desert wilderness bereft of sustenance. Just as the world is sinful and bereft of righteousness that will allow them to enter Heaven/Promised Land. God keeps these people alive that are sure to die in a rather unique and miraculous fashion. He sends a food called manna. Numbers 11:7-8 states that, "The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil.”

The life-sustaining manna was a picture of Jesus. But as with everything else that foreshadows Jesus, it is no substitute for the real thing. So...enter Jesus and the 6th chapter of John's Gospel.

"So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ " Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. ~John 6:30-35

Jesus leaves no equivocation and makes it perfectly clear that he is the real bread from heaven, the real satisfaction for his people, He is the real sustenance...not just of their bodies, but of their souls. Furthermore we see Jesus follow up these statements with the following:

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. John 6:53-59

Other things that should be noted of Moses in comparison to Christ is the comparison / contrast of obedience. Moses was better than most but he was still a man and therefore a given to a fallen nature, we see that in his inability to enter the promised land because of disobedience. Another thing that should be noted is that more often than not Moses surrendered and submitted to God's will. We also see hints of Christ in the cities of refuge

April 25, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy L: A Women, A Red Dragon, A Male Child, A War & An Aftermath-Part II

[Continued from Part I]
So…the woman flees from the dragon after the deliverance of her son. She flees so that the dragon will not annihilate her. She escapes into the wilderness for protection because “there she has a place prepared by God”, “derived from God.” She will have not only protection but also “nourishment,” which enables her to continue to exist. This protection and assistance lasts for “twelve hundred and sixty days.” This is the same period as in 11:2–3, where for that length of time God protects the church as his invisible, inviolable temple and gives it power to witness despite ongoing persecution (Revelation 11:1–6). God gives his heavenly aid to the church (community of faith) throughout its existence on earth, since the earth is the sphere of the dragon’s activities after his heavenly eviction. The protection and nourishment given in Revelation12:6 assures the continued existence of God’s worshiping community on earth and enables it to function as a witness

Verse 7 develops Daniel’s heavenly imagery of the battle of Michael and the Son of man against the wicked angels of Persia and Greece (Dan. 10:13, 21; cf. Dan. 10:16). If you remember in Daniel, Michael is closely associated with the Son of man, and both are set forth as heavenly representatives of Israel (Daniel 12:1; 8:11, 7:13–27). Therefore they are identified as fighting together for Israel against the forces of evil, just as in Daniel 10:20–21. Michael helps this “son of man” fight against malevolent angelic forces. On the basis of this evidence, a plausible conclusion is that Michael is a heavenly representative. But now Christ conducts warfare on the new Israel’s behalf on earth, whereas Michael fights in the heavenly sphere. Consequently, verse 7 explains the heavenly counterpart to Christ’s victory at the cross and resurrection. Michael’s actions on behalf of true Israel must be linked to Daniel 12:1, which predicts that he will “stand up” in the latter-day tribulation to defend them from destruction.

Since Revelation 11:7 has already alluded to Dan. 7:21, and 13:7 will make the same allusion, both verses referring to the beast’s attacks against the saints. Here the language of Dan. 7:21 is applied to the defeat of the dragon. The heavenly struggle of Revelation 12:7 depicts the beginning of the earthly and celestial battle predicted by Daniel for the last days (Dan. 7:21; 8:10; 12:1).

If this is therefore a parallel with Daniel, then the woman, the dragon, the serpent, the wilderness, the wings of the eagle, and other descriptions throughout chapter12 are clearly symbolic. If we then scrutinize the rest of chapter 12 what we see in clarity is the way in which the devil was defeated by Christ’s resurrection. “A place was not found any more in heaven” for the devil and his angels and the divine hosts throw the dragon and his angels from heaven to the earth. The picture of the devil being thrown down indicates that in some way he is being punished by means of his own sin, since he unjustly “threw the stars onto the earth” (v 4). He is called the “ancient serpent,” which identifies him as the diabolical character of Gen. 3:1.

"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.' " Revelation 12:10-12

The meaning of Christ’s ascension and the devil’s expulsion from heaven (verses 3–9) is now explained to be the long-awaited inauguration of the prophesied messianic kingdom (Psalm 2 and Daniel 2: “ Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah ”. This statement is a development of the already-and-not-yet formulas of the kingdom throughout the New Testament. This means that verse 10 does not merely anticipate the future kingdom, but celebrates the fact that the kingdom has begun immediately following Christ’s death and resurrection. The second part of v 10 elaborates on how the kingdom has begun, specifically on what it means that Christ’s death and resurrection have resulted in Satan’s expulsion from heaven. The death and resurrection of Christ have banished the devil from this privilege formerly granted him by God, because Christ’s death was the penalty that God exacted for the sins of all those who were saved by faith. The sinless Christ vicariously took on himself the wrath threatening saints, so that they might be delivered from the final wrath to come. Therefore, the devil no longer had any basis for his accusations against the saints, since the penalty that they deserved and that he pleaded for had at last been exacted in Christ’s death.

Romans 3:21–26 contains a similar idea: God delayed the penalty that OT saints deserved until its execution in Jesus’ death, so that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1) and “no one can bring a charge against God’s elect,” not even “angels, principalities or powers” (Rom. 8:33–34, 38). This is precisely what Rev. 12:11 means when it says “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb”.

The victory won through Christ’s blood must be the basis, not only for the saints’ earthly victory, but also for Michael’s triumph in heaven. It is in verse 11 that we see the summarization of the entire chapter. It is to assure those who meet satanic evil on earth realize that it is really a defeated power, however contrary it might seem to human perception at the point of contaxt with it no matter how negative the experience.”

It is the old adage: Satan only attacks and wages war against believer’s bodies because he knows the overall war for their souls is over and he has lost to Christ. The theme is that the suffering of Christians is a sign, not of Satan’s victory, but of the saints’ victory over Satan because of their belief in the triumph of the cross…

"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 12:13-17

Verse 13 picks up where both v 6 and v 12 left off. Verse 6 had narrated the saintly community fleeing into a place of divine refuge, and there was no explicit comment about the dragon’s persecution of that community. Verse 12 explains that the dragon was enraged over losing his heavenly office as a result of his inability to thwart the birth of Christ and especially Christ’s ultimate enthronement. Verse 13 now gives full expression or full range to his anger by pursuing or persecuting the saints (it can be interpreted both ways). Satan now directs his efforts of harassment and oppression full-on against God’s people even more. This bastard pulls out all the stops at this point. His rage is on full display. The object of his malicious intent is “the woman who bore the male child.” It is the woman’s identification with the “male child” that Has the dragon to persecute her.

This appears to be the Church or the community of Faith.

This quite possibly could refer to the early Jewish Christian church. Verse14 now reiterates the crux of verse 6: “it was given to the woman … that she should fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time, times and half a time (or 3 ½ years). The Woman’s exodus/pilgrimage is to find safeguard from the menacing “presence of the serpent.” The allusion to the period of tribulation of 3 ½ years…is again from Daniel. The image of the woman flying with “the two wings of a great eagle into the wilderness” recalls Old Testament pictures from Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:10-12.

The nourishment mentioned is the sustaining presence of God himself among his people. His presence assures and strengthens them in the midst of persecution and suffering. The devil’s persecution of the faith community is represented by the picture of the serpent casting water from his mouth in order to sweep away the woman with a flood in verse 15. This does not refer to any literal flood but figurative, as are

The metaphor of an overflowing flood can have at least three ideas in the Old Testament:

  1. An army spreading out to conquer a country (Dan. 11:10, 22, 26, 40), sometimes as an indication of divine judgment (Isaiah 8:7–8; 17:12–13; Hosea 5:10; Micah 1:4; Nahum 1:8)
  2. A general reference to divine judgment (Psalms 32:6; 90:5)
  3. The persecution of God’s people by enemies from whom God delivers them (2 Samuel 22:5; Psalms 18:4; 46:3; 66:12
  4. The last idea seems to be clearly in mind here in Revelation 12.
The earth swallowing the flood is a further allusion to the exodus and Israel’s wilderness experience. “The earth swallowed” the Egyptians when they pursued Israel through the Red Sea in Exodus 15:12.

Although the dragon is enraged because his efforts to destroy the church have been thwarted the fool does not cease his attempts to exterminate God’s people. In the end he loses but he doesn’t care, he’s taking out as many as he can as he goes. Verse17 may best be taken as a repetitive summary of verse 13-16 for repetitive effect. To me the most reasonable view is that the woman in verse 6 and 13–16 depicts the suffering of the “archetype” church from the heavenly perspective, and v17 depicts suffering from the perspective of “the people of God on earth.”  This cannot be ruled out considering there is parallel warfare going on in the beginning in terms of heaven and earth, Michael and the Son of Man, etc. This therefore needs to be taken as a contrast between the whole heavenly church and the whole earthly church.

Accordingly, verses 6, 13–17 could be portraying Satan as beginning his  attack against the church in the church’s early stages (early church persecution) in order to destroy it quickly and continuing the attack as long as the church exists.

The description of the seed as “those who keep the commandments of God and who hold the testimony of Jesus” is open-ended and points to an inclusion of Jews and Gentiles. The simplest explanation to the description here probably suggests how all the earthly church throughout the ages withstands the devil’s attacks. 

Those that remain obedient and persevere until the end are rewarded by the Lord. Period. Again we see the premise that believers will need to endure tribulation and/or suffering.

April 24, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy XLIX: A Women, A Red Dragon, A Male Child, A War & An Aftermath-Part I

Revelation 12 is the center and the key to the entire book of Revelation. Revelation has a chiastic structure format and chapter 12 is the center of the "X" of the chiastic shape. The chapter begins a new series of visions, which end at Revelation 15:4. We see seven sections or “signs”.

The conflict of the serpent with the woman and her seed (Chapter12)
The persecution by the beast from the sea (13:1–10)
The persecution by the beast from the land (13:11–18)
The Lamb and the 144,000 standing on Mount Zion (14:1–5)
The proclamation of the gospel and of judgment by three angels (14:6–13)
The Son of man’s harvest of the earth (14:14–20)
The saints’ victory over the sea beast and their victory song (15:2–4).

Many divide chapter 12 into different visions. But it should be seen as one vision with various parts and an interpretation of the vision in the middle (vv 10–12) because the whole chapter has only one introductory vision formula, v. 3 together with v 1 " sign appeared in heaven". Chapter 12 goes into the deeper dimension of the spiritual conflict  between the church and the world, which has been developed progressively in chapters1–11.

In the seven letters to the churches the conflict as one in which Christians are tempted to compromise in various ways, primarily affecting them spiritually. These temptations arise from both outside and inside the church, just as they do today. In each subsequent visions John's Revelation depicts in increasing intensity the spiritual sources of the conflict. In the seven seals we see pronounced spiritual forces of evil are  unleashed against believer and unbeliever alike
by the cherubim, in accordance with the command of the resurrected Christ. One would ask why believers? I say because the affects of tribulation serve to steel the believers where as they afflict and harden the unbeliever. Even so it seems as though God’s people will be protected spiritually through the woes, which for true Christians serve as or reflect the idea of a Refiner's Fire.

Chapters12–22 now tell the same story as chapters1–11 but explain in greater detail what chapters1–11 only introduce. Starting in chapter 12 we see the true depth of Satan's hand in the unfolding revelation. Satan in chapter 12 is the nefarious initiator of the trials and persecutions of the saints. Jerk. It is he unleashes the “beast” and the “false prophet.” The  whore Babylon is also his servant. The devil is not autonomous. He and his agents can only persecute saints within divinely prescribed time periods. The devil is actually enraged and attacks Christians because
his decisive defeat has already been set in motion by Christ’s resurrection, and his time of his demonic activity is now to be severely curtailed and inevitably ended for good. The purpose of this chapter is that its Christian readers must release that behind their earthly persecutors stand extremely powerful forces of spiritual evil, led by the devil himself. We battle against powers and principalities (Ephesians 6:12). Satan is a defeated foe and the battle has already been won. We need only get to the end to attain what has already been won by Christ for us. Salvation. Satan will do all the damage he can, but he cannot ultimately prevail over the church. If people being persecuted now cave in they will be doing so directly to Satan.

Just as John retells the conflict of the earlier chapters from the deeper spiritual perspective, so he starts the story again from the perspective of time. He begins from the time immediately before Christ’s birth and narrates up through Christ’s birth and resurrection and to the destiny of Christ’s followers in the subsequent age (v 5–6, 11–17). Most of the portrait in chapter 12 depicts the destiny of believers during the church age.

“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. 8 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.” Revelation 12:1-9

John then sees “a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”  This imagery like much in Revelation draws on the Old Testament, therefore, the imagery of Rev. 12:1 seems to emphasize the faithfulness of the woman Israel, which cannot be corrupted during her wilderness wandering in the last days, which is portrayed in verse 6, 13–17. The twelve stars represent the twelve tribes of Israel and may connote Israel’s priestly character (cf. 1:6; 5:10). The crown the woman wears is best defined from within the Apocalypse itself. The brightness of her appearance reflects the powerful and pure sunlight arising from God’s and Christ’s glorious image (Revelation 10:1; 21:23; 22:5. The female image also seems related to the city of Zion and carries with it the imagery or the “the bride, the wife of the Lamb”

Many, many Catholic commentators have written a large body of work claiming or arguing that the heavenly woman symbolizes Mary, the mother of Jesus. This clearly cannot be because the primary focus here is not on an individual but on the community of faith within which the messianic line ultimately yielded a kingly offspring. Close…but no cigar. Furthermore, the woman’s time in the wilderness is the time of Israel’s tribulation prophesied by Daniel. To me this goes way beyond anything that could have been said about Mary and her children. The woman’s birth pangs represent the persecution of the covenant community and the messianic line during Old Testament times and the Inter-testamental period leading up to Christ’s birth, especially the period of Antiochus Epiphanes. The suffering alluded to is not primarily that of Christ, since it is the woman who suffers and not the Child. To me the woman’s labor also partly represents the imminent, agonizing expectation of the Messiah’s birth and assumption of kingship, which is about to take place within the OT community of faith.

 “Another sign appeared in the heaven,” namely “a great red dragon.” The dragon had “seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.” I believe what we are seeing Old Testament imagery used to describe this monster and it all appears to point to evil kingdoms who persecute God’s people. Often the wicked kingdom of Egypt is portrayed by this emblem. God is spoken of as defeating the Pharaoh as a sea dragon at the exodus deliverance and at later points in Egypt’s history. The dragon of Rev. 12:3 also has his home in the sea. This seems to link it with Daniel 7:7, 24, which also came from the sea. This seem to make more sense because in Old Testament identifications of the dragon, the dragon here is to be identified with an evil kingdom A later proper understanding of the “beast” in Revelation 13:1–7 also bears this out.

The “seven diadems” on the dragon’s seven heads point further to an earthly king or kings, yet the “dragon” is more than a mere metaphor for an evil kingdom. It appears to represent the devil himself as the representative head of evil kingdoms. Satan is clearly the force behind the wicked kingdoms who persecute God’s people. He always has been and always will be until he is put out of commission. As such, this identity shows that Satan performs his oppressive will against the church and world through his kingly representatives on earth. It will be an earthly tyrant pulling off all these demonic shenanigans.

The red color connotes the tyrannical, warlike or murderous character of the dragon as it is similar to the scarlet color of the whore and the beast which links it directly with “the woman drunk with the blood of the saints.” Additionally, the red horse of Revelation 6:4 is also an obvious figure of tyranny and is linked with the blood of saints in Revelation 6:9–10. The picture of the dragon’s tail sweeping away a third of the stars and casting them to the earth is taken from the end-time enemy of God and His people in Daniel 8:10, “It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them.” Considering the churches are alluded to as seven stars in the Lord’s right hand it is probably referring to the church at large.

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