The 7 Blessings of the Apocalypse

Seven is an important number in the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. For “seven” represents perfection and completion since God took seven days to complete creation. Revelation has seven blessings or beatitudes that appear scattered throughout the book. Most who are familiar with the word “beatitude” connect the word to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-11). But you’ll see beatitudes throughout the pages of the Bible. A beatitude is simply God announcing His people are blessed or happy. It’s the declaration by God that none other than God Himself will place His hand of blessing upon your life. Here are the seven beatitudes for your study with minimal comment.

1. You’re blessed by reading and obeying the book of Revelation: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3).

2. You’re blessed when you die trusting in Jesus Christ: And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13).

3. You’re blessed when you are prepared for Christ’s Return: “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (Revelation 16:15).

4. You’re blessed to spend eternity with Jesus Christ: And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God” (Revelation 19:9)

5. You’re blessed to avoid the misery of the second path (hell): “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6).

6. You’re blessed to obey the words of Revelation: “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7).

7. You’re blessed to experience Christ’s forgiveness for your sins: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates”  (Revelation 22:14).

Programming Note: I’ll be teaching the book of Revelation beginning in September 3 on Wednesday nights as a part of our Connect Classes.

Why Christmas? Jesus Came for War

Christmas is about war. Christmas is a declaration of war from the throne room of heaven. For it is God’s pronouncement of war on Satan Himself. Christmas is about Satan’s destruction. We often think of Christmas in terms of peace. Yet, Christmas is war. Jesus Himself tells us:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

That God came to pronounce war is good news for us. For His coming is for Satan’s destruction. For you to experience the fullest meaning of Christmas, you must discover God is at war.

Who is Satan?

There exists a good deal of skepticism about the existence of Satan himself in our day. As recently as October, 2013, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia revealed he believed in a literal Satan to the surprise of many. Yet, those who take the Bible seriously must also take Satan seriously.

Satan goes by many different names in the Bible: Satan (which means adversary), the devil (accuser), Abaddon (destroyer), the dragon (Revelation 12:3-4), “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and Beelzebub (meaning lord of the dwelling) among others (Matthew 12:23). We learn of numerous instances of demon possession when we read the gospels.

Satan’s Origins

When God created the world, the Bible says, He “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 3:1). This means that that even the angelic world did not have evil angels at that time. But by the time of Genesis 3, we find that Satan, in the form of a serpent, was tempting Eve to sin (Genesis 3:1-5). Therefore, sometime between the events of Genesis 1:31 and Genesis 3:1, there must have been a rebellion in the angelic world with many angels turning against God and becoming evil. The reason why Satan is considered an angel is because of the words of Jesus who said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Satan was the first sinner and every sinner today, without Christ, is his child.

Yet, when Satan rebelled and convinced all of humanity to join Him, there was no trip to the emergency room in Heaven. Why? The Bible does not set Satan up as a kind of anti-God who stands over against God as His equal but polar opposite. Satan does not have equal power to God. He is presented throughout Scripture as a highly superior, spiritually intelligent being, who chose to set himself up as a rival ruler of the universe. Yet, Satan is not a match to God Himself — Satan is not God’s equal.

So why does God keep Satan around? Why doesn’t God destroy the devil? In the end, God will terminate Satan’s existence. One day, God will pick Satan up as if by the nape of his neck and will drop him into eternity’s trash can (Revelation 20:10). Until then, God uses Satan for His greater purposes. It’s not that God is toying with Satan or with humanity. Instead, God chooses to use Satan for a greater good. And while we often question the evil and pain of our day, we trust in God’s good wisdom.

Christmas: A Foray into Satan’s Territory

The Apostle John tells us why the first Christmas occurred. He tells why the shepherds scurried to find the baby Jesus so many years ago:

“You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” ( 1 John 3:5).

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b).

While North Korea and South Korea famously stand in détente over the 38th parallel, God moves forward boldly through the manger of Bethlehem. He marshals His only Son against the forces of evil. God will not sit idly by doing nothing while children are abused, the weak are sexual exploited, and the corrupt rulers of the world pervert justice to their own ends. As a response to all that is wrong in the world, Jesus declares war on Satan. Christmas is a cause of celebration for the elimination of sin. Christmas is a cause of celebration for the elimination of Satan. This is why Christ really appeared.

Satan Knew 

Satan understood that Christmas meant war. Indeed, the entry of Jesus Christ into human affairs was viewed by the Evil One as bold and brazen attempt against all of his interests. The battle between Satan and God is all over the pages of our New Testament. Shortly after Jesus appeared in Bethlehem, Satan inspired Herod into a fury (Matthew 2:16-18). In order to eliminate the baby Jesus, Herod had all the male children under the age of two killed in Bethlehem. Later, while Jesus is fasting, Satan tempts Jesus on at least three occasions (Luke 4:1-13). At other times throughout Jesus’ public ministry, demons recognize His true identity when even His followers failed to do so (Luke 4:31-37). Satan understood the true meaning of Christmas.

The War is Personal

But the war is also personal. For Christ came to destroy the evil in you as well as the evil in the world. The starting point to becoming a Christ-follower is to admit that there is something inside of you that must be destroyed. The evil in you is just as deadly as the evil outside of you. Christmas means that Christ came to destroy sin everywhere. Jesus came not to destroy you but the evil in you. He comes to change you and to give you a fresh start. Christmas is marvelous because of Christ’s work in you.

Again, Christmas is about war. Christmas is a declaration of war from the throne room of heaven. For it is God’s pronouncement of war on Satan Himself. Join me in celebrating Christmas for the elimination of sin. Join me in celebrate Christmas for the elimination of Satan. This is why Christ really appeared and I am forever grateful.

Programming Note: I am thankful for the ministry of Pastor John Piper. His message on 1 John 3:1-10 served as a catalyst for my ideas.

The Ten Commandments: Three Reasons Why They Remain Important

In a brief series of ten articles over the next month, I want to explore the significance of the Ten Commandments. My aim is to show their value for our lives today throughout the series.

The Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, even at 3000 years old, serve as the backbone to our moral, religious, and legal thought. When Moses walked down from Mount Sinai among the Hebrew people, little did he know that the two tablets he held in his hands would have such widespread influence across both time and space. Despite the distance between their introduction and today, these “ten words” represent a treasure of insight and wisdom.

The Bible tells us that Moses brought these two tablets down from the Mountain called Sinai and placed them in what the Hebrews called the Ark of the Covenant. This golden box was kept at the center of Israel’s Temple in Jerusalem in order to signify that God’s law was to be at the center of the people’s existence. In addition, it is important to consider that these ten laws were written by the very finger of God Himself to speak of their enduring value and permanence to every culture (Exodus 31:18). Again, God Himself wrote and spoke these words.

In light of their importance and in anticipation for my series to come, here are three reasons the Ten Commandments are important, even today.

1. They communicate the character of God. You get a sense of the value of the Ten Commandments when you understand they are repeated numerous times throughout the pages of the Bible. The prophets Jeremiah, Hosea, and Ezekiel all repeat aspects of them even though they lived centuries after God spoke these words to Moses. Even more importantly, Jesus Himself tells us that not one iota of the Ten Commandments will be relaxed until the end of time (Matthew 5:17-20). Each of these important religious figures point to the Ten Commandments as valuable in understanding the nature of God Himself throughout time.

You can better understand God’s character through the Decalogue when you consider where the laws were first given. Exodus 19:7-25 describes the scene vividly. In the wilderness of Sinai, we are told the whole mountain was ablaze with fire as God showed the greatness of the Lawgiver, and not simply, His law. It is significant to understand that God chose not to reveal the Ten Commandments with the sweet sound of a harp and the song of angels, but rather with thick clouds and lightening. All of this reinforced the fierce power and splendor of His nature. The mountain itself began to shake while the dreadful scene was completed by the sound of a loud trumpet blast (Exodus 19:19). God told Moses to prepare to meet Him for a full three days before they came near the mountain. Even more significantly, the people were forbidden to touch the mountain as a line was drawn around its foot (Exodus 19:22). No wonder scripture rhetorically asks, “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?”

The setting of Sinai is intentionally designed to cause us to feel the force of God’s law on us. The law thunders over and inside us. Much later, the prophet Habakkuk speaks about his experience in meeting God as a time when his body trembled, his lips quivers, and legs gave away from beneath his body (Habakkuk 3:16). This is God’s intention in giving the law for He wants us to see His moral perfection through these ten words. God’s law is an excessively bright light designed to search our inmost thoughts. While the thought isn’t popular in contemporary American culture, God designed the setting of Sinai as the place where all humans abandon any hope of being accepted by God through their efforts. God’s law is designed to tear any such hope to pieces (Hebrews 4:12-13).  More than anything, we should sense that it is no trifle thing to stand before the face of a holy God.

2. They show you need a mediator. The frightening scene of thunder, smoke, and flashes of lightning surrounding the giving of the Ten Commandments caused the people to be afraid and call for their leader, Moses. Their response is recorded: “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). The people were terrified by the very presence of God, and they cried out in fear like a child afraid of the dark. Instinctively, the Bible tells us that people are consistently afraid when they approach the God of the Bible. Like entering shark-infested waters, people understand they need the protection of something larger than themselves. They need a mediator.

A mediator is another word for a go-between or a peacemaker. As Moses was the mediator of the Israelites (Exodus 33:12), we have an even better one in Jesus. The Bible says these words, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” (1 Timothy 2:5). Those who love Christ and express faith in His death on the cross for our sins, have a go-between (Romans 5:1). The Ten Commandments are God’s rules, or His yardstick. When we understand the Ten Commandments are God’s standard for each one of our lives, we grasp just how wrong our lives are. We realize we need someone to stand in our place. Jesus is that go-between (2 Corinthians 5:21).

3. They show you God’s grace. Long before God laid the law, God worked to free His people from Egyptian slavery. Remember, the Hebrew people were mistreated and abused while they worked as slaves for the people Egypt. The law was given after God set His people free. The commandments follow God’s act of undeserved deliverance. Salvation has always come by God’s grace. The law is not God’s capricious desire to kill happiness all over the earth. The law is instead an act of God’s gracious love and mercy on behalf of His people. God delivers us and then He instructs us. God delivers His people so that they may encounter Him and enjoy His presence (Exodus 5:1).

 

Programming Note: I will post on the Ten Commandments each Tuesday and Friday morning for the next five weeks.