Three Views on The Book of Revelation

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ImageThe book of Revelation has been the source of much biblical debate. Even among Christians, it is difficult to come to an agreement about certain issues concerning this apocalyptic book of the Bible. Written toward the end of the first century AD by John the apostle, Revelation is the last book of the Bible and reveals events yet to come culminating in the return of Christ. The first three chapters aren’t so difficult to interpret. They are comprised of seven straightforward messages from Christ to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Chapters four through twenty-two, however, are a different matter altogether. There are three major positions where interpretation of this book is concerned. I will briefly outline each of them.

The preterist position, also known as the contemporary historical position, sees the events of the book of Revelation as historical events that occurred in the first century AD. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the fall of Rome, and the Roman persecution of Christians are important components in this view and are seen as the subject of much of the destructive prophecies in Revelation.

The idealist position is a timeless, symbolic approach to the book of Revelation. This view says that the visions in Revelation do not depict actual events that happen in a specific place or time, but portrays symbolically the timeless, spiritual battle between good and evil. This battle culminates in the defeat of Satan and the victory of Christ. This view interprets the 1,000 years in 20:2-7 as symbolic of the spiritual reign of believers with Christ.

The futurist approach maintains that the events of chapters 4-22 of Revelation depict future events. This view interprets the 1,000 years in 20:2-7 as a literal period of time in the future. This is consistent with the book’s claim to foretell future events (1:19). There are very many varying interpretations even among futurists, but all agree that the events contained in John’s visions are to be fulfilled in the future. I plan to talk more about the various futurist views in a later post.

This leaves us asking “which view is correct?” A preterist approach would only be beneficial when studying church history or the persecution of the first century church. It would yield little benefit to today’s readers. The idealist position has some merit, but vastly ignores the plainly indicated future nature of the prophecies. The visions of Revelation are meant to be understood as specific prophecies fulfilled in space and time.

The futurist position is the only position that fairly understands and interprets the text along with other prophetic passages in the Bible and is the only one to provide real spiritual merit for the believer. The futurist position allows the book of Revelation to be applicable to believers of any era and gives great hope that Christ will overcome all the power of Satan. While there are many different futurist interpretations of Revelation, and I cannot discuss them here in detail, this perspective is the best and most natural understanding of the book in my evaluation.

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Haggai: A Message of Hope

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            Haggai brings a welcome message of hope during a time of judgment and despair. The timing of his prophecy is clearly established in his writings (1:1; 2:1; 2:10; 2:20), and took place in the year 520 BC. Haggai had probably returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and about 50,000 other Israelites eighteen years earlier (538 BC) when King Cyrus of Persia made the proclamation that the Jews could return to their homeland. The temple had not been rebuilt in Haggai’s day, and the prevailing opinion was that it was not time to rebuild it. God called Haggai and his contemporary, Zechariah, to tell the Israelites that it was time and they should rebuild the temple. The temple was finished four years later in 516 BC.
            The Jews had begun to rebuild the temple in 536 BC, but abandoned the work because of opposition from enemies. Sixteen years later, Haggai’s prophecy rebukes the Israelites’ disobedience. Haggai brings his message to Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest, the civil and spiritual leaders of the people. Haggai tells them that God says it is wrong for the people to live in beautiful homes paneled with cedar while God’s house lies in ruins (1:4). God further states that the reason the people had been experiencing economic and agricultural difficulty is because of their failure to build the temple (vs. 5-11). God says that the only way to end their problems is by obeying Him and building the temple. In the words of Jesus, they needed to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). Twenty-three days later, the people respond with obedience and begin building again (vs. 12-15).
            As the people began to rebuild the temple, it became apparent to those who remembered Solomon’s temple that this one was inferior in comparison (2:3). Solomon’s temple was a magnificent building furnished with precious metals, cedar, and hewn stone. Haggai comforts the people, telling them that the Lord is with them now just as He was during the Exodus (vs. 4, 5). God wants his people to celebrate His presence among them rather than focus on their lack of wealth. After all, God is the possessor of all things, including the wealth of the nations (vs. 8).
            Haggai’s message then turns to the future. God promises that he will “shake the heavens and the earth” and “all nations (vs. 6, 7)” and “overturn royal thrones and destroy the power of the Gentile kingdom” (vs. 22). This prophecy looks forward to the Day of the Lord when God judges creation and conquers the nations (Luke 21:25-27; Joel 2:30-32). God says that after this series of events, He will fill the temple with wealth and the final glory of the temple will be greater than the first (vs. 8, 9). God always saves the best for last, and this is true with this passage.
The prophecy ends with God’s election of Zerubbabel as His servant. God says he will be like His signet ring; an emblem of royal power and authority. Zerubbabel was a descendant of David, and was the legal heir to the throne. The Davidic dynasty had continued unbroken until the Babylonian exile where it ended with Jehoiachin (Jeremiah 22:24). God chose to reestablish the royal lineage with Zerubbabel and it would continue through the silent years until it ended with Christ (Matt. 1:12-16).
Israel was living in the aftermath of the exile in Babylon and they were only a remnant of the nation they had been. However, God promised them a new temple, His presence, victory over their enemies, and the coming of the Messiah. Haggai’s message is simple; God offers us a future, even in the midst of judgment. It is not time to give up; it is time to repent, rebuild and receive God’s promises.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 22, 2013.

Obadiah: A Message of God’s Justice

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       The book of Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament, consisting of twenty-one verses. The book supplies no information of the author other than his name. We know that Obadiah was a prophet of God about the time of Judah’s destruction by the Babylonians and he prophesied against the Edomites. Obadiah’s prophecy, therefore, occurred after Judah’s captivity in 586 BC and before Edom’s demise in 500 BC. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:9), the brother of Jacob. Although the Edomites were Israel’s enemies, they were also their distant relatives. Obadiah’s prophecy foretells of Edom’s destruction because of their wicked treatment of Israel during the Babylonian overthrow of Judah.

 
 
      Edom’s capital city, Petra, was located in mountainous terrain and was an impregnable natural fortress. The city was surrounded by deep gorges and enormous mountain peaks. God promised to destroy the Edomites despite their false sense of security (vs. 3, 4). God further declares that Edom will be betrayed by all of her allies and pillaged until there is nothing left (vs. 5-7). Obadiah says that this judgment is deserved because of Edom’s wicked treatment of Israel that began during the wilderness travels under Moses (Num. 20:14-21) and reached their a climax during the recent Babylonian invasion of Judah.
      God gives four different charges against the Edomites: they refused to help Judah during the attack of the Babylonians, they rejoiced at Judah’s demise, they plundered Jerusalem, and they captured and sold as slaves those who fled from the attack (vs. 11-14). By refusing to help Judah in their time of trouble, Edom was considered by God to be just as guilty as Babylon (vs. 11).  Edom had shown no mercy to Judah, and would receive no mercy from God. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13).
      God’s judgment on Edom is a preview of God’s judgment on all nations during the Day of the Lord (vs. 15). God says that He will cause them to “drink continually” until they are “as though they had never been.” This refers to the cup of God’s wrath, which Jeremiah spoke of, “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and make all the nations I am sending you to, drink from it.” (Jeremiah 25:15). Judah had tasted this cup for a time (Isaiah 21:22-23), but now Edom would drink from it until they were destroyed as will all nations and individuals who sin against God.
Obadiah’s message ends with a promise of future blessing. Obadiah prophesies that Israel will be victorious over Edom (vs. 17-18), and will reclaim their land according to the God-given boundaries (vs. 19-20). The only time in Israel’s history that they possessed all the land promised them was under the reign of David and Solomon, but God says they will possess it again. Obadiah’s last words leave us with a promise of the land being governed under the rule of Yahweh (vs. 21). God is reminding Israel, Edom, and all the nations of the world that they will one day become “the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15).
We live in a fallen world that is temporarily under the control of Satan and it often seems that there is no justice when wicked nations and individuals go unpunished. God allowed the Edomites to persecute Israel for centuries, but the time of their judgment was certain as is the judgment of all nations. In the midst of all the global turmoil and injustice, God promises a day when “He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24). The Day of the Lord will bring God’s perfect justice to a world that desperately needs it.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 15, 2013.

Habakkuk: A Message of Faith

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Habakkuk is a unique prophet with an equally unique message. Rather than speaking to the people for God, Habakkuk speaks to God on behalf of the people. Habakkuk lived in a day when Judah was following her wicked rulers and living in rebellion against God. The king of Judah during Habakkuk’s ministry was most likely Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim is characterized as a bloody and wicked king consumed with the expansion of his own kingdom (Jeremiah 22:13-19). The apparent injustice of the day caused Habakkuk to struggle with questions of God’s holiness and sovereignty and Habakkuk comes to God for answers. This dialogue between the prophet and God makes up the majority of the book. Habakkuk is a good example of how we should wrestle with the hard questions where God is concerned.


In Habakkuk’s first prayer, he asks God why He doesn’t do something about the wickedness of Judah (1:2-4). God responds by telling the prophet that He will use the Babylonians to destroy Judah (vs. 5-7). God often utilizes ungodly people and nations as instruments of His will (Romans 9:14-24). Habakkuk prays a second time and questions God’s choice of the Babylonians since they were more wicked than Judah (1:12-17). It seemed that God was passing over Babylon’s sins in order to punish Judah. After his prayer, Habakkuk resigns himself to wait on an answer from God (2:1) which God then supplies. God says that in time He will also punish Babylon for their sins as well (2:8). God’s promise of judgment assures us that although God may delay judgment for a time, He will not allow sin to go unpunished forever.

God then gives Habakkuk three assurances to give him a divine perspective on the situation. First, God tells Habakkuk that “The just shall live by faith” (2:4). Even though we don’t always understand situations around us, we are called to have faith in God. Second, God tells Habakkuk that “the earth shall be filled with God’s glory” (vs. 14). Although wickedness is rampant in the world now, God promises a day to come when all wicked nations and individuals will be judged and the curse of sin is forever lifted (Romans 8:20-21). Third and finally, God reminds Habakkuk that “The Lord is in His holy temple” (vs. 20). Although wicked Jehoiakim may sit on the throne in Jerusalem, Yahweh our God sits on the throne in Heaven. God is not dead, but He is alive and sovereign over the affairs of men.
After receiving God’s answer, Habakkuk recognizes God as the righteous judge of the nations (3:2, 12-13) and ends with a song of praise to God (3:16-19). Although the news of God’s judgment was overwhelming and fearsome, Habakkuk could have peace because God would cause him to “rest in the day of trouble” (3:16). Habakkuk realizes that he may suffer as a result of God’s judgment but declares that he will rejoice in God no matter the circumstances that surround him (vs.17-18). Habakkuk ends his song with an assurance that God will provide grace to the righteous in difficult times (vs. 19). As the deer scales the heights of the mountains without slipping, God will cause Habakkuk to endure the difficulties that would come with the Babylonian overthrow of Judah. 
It is normal for our faith to be challenged during adversity. Many times we struggle to reconcile our beliefs with our experiences. We should learn from Habakkuk that it is good for us to bring our questions and struggles to God in prayer and seek the answers that only He can give. We also need to learn to trust God’s sovereignty and submit to God’s plan even if it brings hardship to us. Only then can we find joy and strength to endure and overcome in the midst of difficulty.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 8, 2013.

Nahum: A Message of God’s Judgment

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            It seems that everyone knows the story of Jonah. He disobeyed God’s call, was swallowed by a whale, and then preached to Nineveh and they repented. The story of Nineveh doesn’t end with Jonah, though. Nahum gives us the rest of the story about Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria. Nahum prophesied approximately 150 years after Jonah preached to Nineveh. Although Nineveh had repented under Jonah’s preaching, they had become very powerful and very wicked by the time of Nahum. The Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC and had been oppressing the southern kingdom of Judah. God graciously gave them the opportunity to repent through the preaching of Jonah, but their repentance was short-lived and it is now time for judgment.
           
         In chapter one, God declares His judgment on Assyria. It is important to understand that the term “Nineveh” is used to refer to the entire Assyrian nation since Nineveh is the capital city. Why must God judge Assyria? The same reason He judges any nation or people; God is righteous. We know that God is willing to judge the Assyrians because of His jealous and avenging nature (vs. 2). Verse 3-5 illustrate God’s awesome power and tell us that He is capable of judging the Assyrians. Not only is God willing and able, but God is also ready to judge the Assyrians because Nahum states that His wrath is about to be poured out (vs. 6). In all this, however, God gives Judah reason to rejoice because He is about to punish one of her greatest enemies (vs. 15).
           
       In chapter two, God describes His coming judgment on Assyria. The nation would fall in 612 B.C. under the army of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, but Nahum foretells the event in vivid detail (vs. 1-7). Nineveh was situated near the Tigris River and two other smaller rivers and there were dams built to minimize seasonal flooding. Verse 6 suggests that the Babylonians opened these dams to flood the city and destroy the walls. Verses 8-10 foretell the plundering of Nineveh. Assyria had plundered many other nations, but now the Babylonians would loot the city of Nineveh. Verses 11-13 predict the total desolation of Nineveh. Assyria is about to receive the same destruction they have caused to others; an example of the principle Jesus would teach centuries later, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:2).
           
          Chapter three shows us why Assyria deserved judgment from God. Assyria was a cruel nation that profited from the massacre of other nations (vs. 1-3) and was characterized by moral and spiritual depravity (vs. 4-7). Pagan idolatry and immorality were rampant in Assyria. God then declares that Nineveh will be like Thebes (or No-Amon), a fortified Egyptian city that Assyria had captured (vs. 8-10). If God could allow the Assyrians to capture Thebes, He can cause the Babylonians to destroy Nineveh. Verse 19 states that all that hear of Assyria’s destruction shall “clap their hands” for joy when they hear of the righteous judgment of God.

The book of Nahum bears a message of condemnation for those who disobey God and a message of consolation for those who obey Him. God must judge the wicked because of His righteousness, because of human wickedness, and for the relief of the afflicted. It was in this type of situation that Abraham rhetorically asked, “Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). We can be comforted knowing that the righteousness of God will not permit tyranny and oppression forever. Assyria is just one historical example of God’s judgment on a wicked nation. Eventually, God will bring true justice to every wicked empire, nation, city, and individual. 

This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 2, 2013.