Hope in the dark – can you read the signs?
As we begin this week’s readings, we need to remember that the book of Revelation is a big picture – a grand vision vision – so we need to keep stepping back to see the big picture to understand each of the smaller pieces, stories and images. So here’s a few things to remember:
- This was a vision of hope for those struggling to persevere in their faith under heavy persecution
- The vision tells the story of the past, the present and the future, the repeated themes of which are: God’s goodness, the world’s brokenness and evil, the victorious death and resurrection of Jesus, and the eventual final victory of Jesus
- The vision goes from bad to worse, culminating in final judgement and final restoration. Translation: Yes it’s bad, it might even get worse, but hang on – God isn’t going to forget you or let evil go or fail to reward those who persevere.
This week’s readings place us in the point of the story that both looks back and looks ahead. It reminds us that all of the evil and darkness in this world is a result of our broken state as people, but also as a result of the Devil who is the enemy of God as his people. It reminds us that God has conquered through Jesus, and God will conquer through Jesus. Here’s a short but very helpful video to remind of you of this and set the stage for what you will read this week:
Day 1 – The battle with the Dragon (i.e. some things never change)
Read: Revelation 12:1–9 (NIV)
1 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. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 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. 9 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.
This passage is where our weekly teaching camped out (listen here if you missed it). Dave pointed out that this vision of the Dragon is a reminder of the fact that there is an age-old enemy of God (Satan, the Devil). Since the beginning of time he has been waging war against God and trying to disrupt and destroy God’s plans and God’s people. The vivid imagery of the dragon waiting to devour the baby (who will be King) is meant to tell a story that repeats throughout Biblical history. He came as a serpent to tempt Adam and Eve, (temporarily) destroying God’s good creation and God’s plans for His people. He continues to wage war against Israel, God’s chosen people, leading them into sin and rebellion again and again, so that they failed to truly follow and love God. He tried to destroy Jesus himself, born to a woman (see the story of King Herod killing all the Hebrew children under 2 in an attempt to kill Jesus), and he is still trying to destroy God’s people living in Rome (through the cruel Emperor Domitian). This isn’t new. But God’s Son, Jesus is on the throne, and God’s people (like the woman) are being protected.
- Take a few moments to quiet your heart in the presence of the God who protects you and watches over you.
- Confess any ways that you have minimized (ignored, downplayed) the work of the Devil in the world or in your life.
- Confess any ways that you have given the Devil too much credit – either by fearing him or believing that he and his work in the world cannot be stopped.
Christmas is approaching. It is the time we celebrate that the child is the King; the baby defeated the dragon; God’s plans that seem too late in arriving and too small when they do arrive, have and will eventually overcome the great dragon.
Praise Jesus for His victory over sin and death and Satan.
Pray for you and those around you to remember that the evil we see around and the Evil one behind it will eventually be conquered.
Pray for the light of the world, Jesus, to bring a new sense of Hope and Victory in this upcoming Christmas season.
Day 2 – The subtle (and unseen) battle we fight
Revelation 12:10–17 (NIV)
10 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. 11 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. 12 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.” 13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 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. 15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17 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.
The vision of the dragon and his war against God and God’s people reminds us not just about history but also about the present. Because he was defeated by the cross and the empty grave, this passage says he is enraged, and continues to wage war against us. We are still in a battle against the dragon.
However, Dave reminded us that though the image of the Dragon is vivid and ghastly, the Devil’s actual work is subtle, subversive and deceptive. It’s hard to see, but is no less powerful. It is a work of words – lies, deception, accusations and slander. We need God’s help to see it and fight back.
Take 2 minutes to slow down your breathing, quiet your noisy thoughts, and turn your attention to the presence of God, all around you.
Pray this prayer of preparation: Jesus, thank you that you have defeated Satan. I do not need to be afraid of him. Thank you that you have given me the Holy Spirit, to lead me into all truth. Help me now to see the ways the Devil has been waging war against me and our church, and arm me with Truth to defeat him, even today.
Ask the Spirit of God to reveal any ways the Devil has been:
- Tempting you to believe lies about yourself, about God, or about those around you
- Tempting you to make choices that will hurt yourself, others, or take you further away from God
- Slandering you by tearing you down – destructive thoughts about yourself or about what God thinks about you
- Accusing you of your past sins – thoughts, behaviors and attitudes. If anything comes to mind that you need to confess, do it gladly and freely before a God who gave His life up for you and died to forgive you of those very things. If anything comes up that you have already confessed:
Picture yourself holding those things in your hands. Now picture Jesus coming towards you, taking them out of your hands and nailing them to his own empty cross. Now picture Jesus standing in front of you, sheltering you and protecting you from the enemy so you can’t see him accusing you and you can’t hear him accusing you.
Now ask Jesus to remind you of the truth – about how much he loves you, how uniquely and wonderfully you have been made, how faithful is work, his love, his forgiveness and his power is on your behalf.
Day 3 – Beastly Power
Revelation 13:1–10 (NIV)
1 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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 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?” 5 The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. 7 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. 8 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. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear. 10 “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.
The beasts in Revelation represent the earthly powers and systems that the Devil inspires and empowers to do his work. Behind every beast is the dragon. New beasts, same dragon. For the people of God, it was Babylon, then Persia, then Greece and now Rome. And each system and beastly ruler wants the same thing: worship
For most people, worshipping the beast and the dragon is not about making idols that look like beasts or actually bowing down to Satan. We worship the beast (the systems and rulers) by buying into their ideas and values. And what are those ideas and values? Though the beasts and empires have changed throughout the centuries, their values have not: Wealth, Power, Fame, Beauty. These are the things we are told are most important, to be sought after, striven for – to sacrifice our time, energy, relationships and money to get (this is what it means to worship them).
The readers of Revelation are being warned not to think that these values are worthy of worship; not to buy into the lies that Satan tells us about our need for Wealth, Power, Fame & Beauty. Instead of being “filled with wonder” at what the world around us says is beautiful and important and worthy of our devotion, we are meant to see the world through JEsus’ perspective, and to be filled with wonder at Him and his way of life.
Take a moment to examine your thoughts and actions over the past 24 hours. In what ways, if any, have you spent too much time pursuing wealth, power, fame or beauty? Is your current level of sadness or happiness tied to one of these things?
Ask Jesus to free you from the grip of these “beasts” and instead to give you a love for Him.
As you think about the day ahead, ask Jesus to show you opportunities to serve and love Him and others, and to make that your goal and desire for your life this day.
Day 4 – The beast of “more”
Read: Revelation 13:11–18 (NIV)
11 Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.
This is perhaps one of the most referenced sections of Revelation (even in pop culture). the mark of the beast!!!! What is it? what is 666? As the video above explained, the most probable/simple explanation is that it is a reference to Nero (one of the previous roman emperors). But the greater significance is the idea of being marked by the beast, as it relates to buying and selling. The forehead and the wrist is where Jewish people were told centuries earlier to put God’s words. Again, the idea is that God and his ways, his love and commitment to them, their belonging to Him as beloved children was meant to be written on them so that they wouldn’t forget. It wasn’t a literal thing; it was a way of saying, “Don’t ever forget who I am, who you are; that you are loved, that you belong to me and that you live life based on those two truths”. So here the Christians in Rome are being told not to sell out to the economic beast of Rome. Life would be better, richer, more prosperous for them if they would only just do as the Romans do, forget insisting that Jesus was Lord. Then they could keep their jobs, their homes and their well being.
But the vision reminds them – the economic promise of Rome is a lie; it’s a beast that will enslave you.
Our present world is not like theirs, in many ways. But the beast of “more” is certainly still ruling 21st century Western Culture. The point is that if you give in to the promise of wealth, the desire for accumulation, to buy in to the next thing (the false promises that “more” and “Next” will finally make us happy), it will rule and destroy you. And nothing less than the evil one Himself is behind it all anyway.
Instead we are invited to be people who generously give our money and ourselves away. We know that “more” and “next” are false promises. We fight the beast through generosity and contentment.
Questions to reflect on:
- In what ways have I let the pursuit of money and possessions occupy my time?
- In what ways am I believing that “more” or “next” will make me happy?
- What can I give to/away to help fight the “beast” in my life?
Pray: Jesus, free me from the love of money, things, what’s new, what’s next, what’s more. Help me realize the riches I have in knowing you, loving & serving you, and help me find joy in loving & serving others.
Day 5 – Stay True
Read: Revelation 14:1–13 (NIV)
1 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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 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. 5 No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. 6 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. 7 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.” 8 A second angel followed and said, “ ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.” 9 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, 10 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. 11 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.” 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus. 13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
There are many strange references and images in this particular passage. We don’t have the time (and I don’t have the knowledge) to get into all the meaning behind them. Suffice it to say, this passage is a culminating summary of the fact that this beastly empire (and every beastly empire) will eventually fall for good. God’s faithful judgment and vindication will eventually come. The faithful will receive their reward for perseverance. Every evil deed will be seen and judged justly, and every act of love, sacrifice and devotion to and for God will be rewarded.
We live in world and a time of instant gratification. 30-day fixes. 7-steps to a better ___. Same day delivery. Binge watch. Download now. Some of these are benign and delightful conveniences of a tech-driven time in history. But they feed into an ageless problem for the people of God: we have a hard time trusting and waiting for God to fulfill his promises.
We want to see prayers answered now. Revelation says that they aren’t answered yet, but they are acknowledged (like incense in heaven, directly before the throne of God) now. God will answer.
We want to see evil judged. Revelation says that this is not a time of judgement, but it is coming eventually. Completely.
We want to see the rewards of being faithful now. Revelation says that the Faithful and all their faithful deeds are always in full view of God. And they will be rewarded eventually.
For now, we wait. We trust. We remind ourselves of our Faithful and True God.
For now, we fix our eyes on Jesus, whose death and resurrection are a call to a way of life that dies now, and gains later.
- What things are hard for you to wait for or sacrifice at the present time?
- What rewards are you longing for God to give you?
- What characteristics of God do you need to be most reminded of right now?
Pray: Jesus, help me to fix my eyes on you. Help me endure my suffering and waiting, just as you endured the cross. Help me have faith in the God who raised you from the dead, knowing that there will be a resurrection and reward coming that will blow me away. Help me be joyful in sacrificing time, money, unfulfilled desires and longings, knowing that God sees and rewards everything done in His name. Amen.