Friday, June 23, 2017

All Power

In the last few years, as I’ve grown in appreciation for biblical theology, I’ve delighted in spending time in Bible studies showing people themes that span the Book cover-to-cover. A few months ago I was teaching through Revelation 21-22, and a sister asked about a number in Revelation. I am of the conviction (based on the verb σημαίνω – the verb form of the noun “sign” - in 1:1, along with the genre of the book) that everything is symbolic in the Revelation, even the numbers. Her question started that group on a different study.

We recently looked at the number 10. It excited me, so I thought I’d share it with you.

On the first page of the Book, we find the number 10. Okay, you have to count to see it, but it’s there. The most profound thing that happens on the first page is that God speaks and the result is everything that is not God: creation. Yes, “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them” (Exodus 20:11; 31:17), but He spoke 10 times in the act of creating all things.

“…God said…” (1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26,28,29).

This speech of God is Personal. It is the eternal Word of God, Who is God the Son. By Him, in this ten-fold speaking, all things were created (John 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16,17; Hebrews 1:1-3). This is power.

In the creation of a covenant people, He also spoke 10 words (Exodus 20:1-17//Deuteronomy 5:6-21). This is authority.

The number 10 shows up a lot when God shows His power on behalf of His people for His ultimate glory.

10 nations promised to be erased in judgment from the Promised Land (Genesis 15:19-21).

10 plagues to humble mighty Egypt for the display of God’s power before the nations.

The tithe itself shows God’s authority and power. The 10% wasn’t what alone belonged to God; it all belonged to Him, for the worshiper would have nothing if it weren’t for God’s gracious provision. The 10% was a confession that God owned it all.[1]

Solomon, in building a Temple to give God glory, incorporates the number 10 into the furniture. What was single in the Tabernacle is 10 and 102 in the Temple. Solomon’s Temple had “ten basins,” “ten golden lampstands,” “ten tables,” and “one hundred golden bowls” (2 Chronicles 4:6-8).

If the number 10 shows God’s power and authority in the world, then we should expect the adversary to counterfeit the number 10 in futile opposition to that governing. And we do.

Israel rebels 10 times against the Lord in the wilderness after the Exodus (Numbers 14:22).

In Daniel 7, the prophet sees a vision of four beasts (empires).[2] The fourth beast has “ten horns” 7:7,20,24), which are “ten kings” (7:24) in this particular empire.[3] This 10 is counterfeit, in opposition to the true King (7:25).

This number of rebellion is woven into the Revelation.
“…another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems” (12:3).
“…I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names” (13:1).
“…I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns…” (17:3).
“…the angel said to me, ‘Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns’” (17:7).
“The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour…the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire” (17:12,16).

We see a significant number involving 103: 144,000 being 122x103. 12 represents the fullness of God’s covenant people (from the 12 tribes of Israel to the 12 apostles of Christ), and this use of 10 meaning a large number; 144,000, then, showing us the full number of God’s people from all time.

In the rest of the Bible, the number 1,000 is used to portray largeness, whether a long period of time (Deuteronomy 7:9; 1 Chronicles 16:15; Psalm 84:10; 90:4; 105:8; Ecclesiastes 6:6), a large number of people (Judges 15:16; 1 Samuel 18:13; 1 Kings 11:3; Isaiah 60:22), or “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10).

The most-discussed 103 is the millennium of Revelation 20:1-10 (specifically, vss. 2-7). Interpreters search the Bible looking for a use of the number 1,000 that is relevant to the context of Revelation 20:2-7, and come short with anything convincing (in my estimation). When we look at the number 10, however, and its use throughout the Bible to describe authority, I think we arrive at the right self-interpreting key from Scripture (the best interpretation is when we let Scripture interpret itself).

If, in Daniel and in the Revelation, the “10 horns” represent earthly power wielded by the “beast,” the 103 reminds us that Jesus’ authority is exponentially greater. And we need this reminder. The millennium (103) is about the heavenly reign of saints with Christ over all (vss. 4,6):
“Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’” (Matthew 28:18).
“He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25).
“…the Father of glory…raised [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:17-21).

Worldly powers may say boastful words, display their might, and oppress the people of God, but Christ is actually in power over all of them; His power is conclusive, ultimate, and final.

May we rest in this, Church.

[1] This tithe is seen in Revelation 11:13. The city that should have belonged 100% to God had become “Sodom,” a city enslaved to the devil – the place where Jesus was crucified (11:8). God took a tithe as a reminder.
[2] Assyria, Babylon, Mede-Persian, and Rome.
[3] The “ten” of the last kingdom is also seen in the toes of the statue in Daniel 2:40-43. I interpret these ten to be the Roman emperors between the founding of the Roman Empire and the destruction of Jerusalem. The ten horns/Roman emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero (the “beast from the sea”), Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus (the one who destroyed Jerusalem).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

No One Will Be Able to Buy or to Sell, Except...

“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six” (Revelation 13:11-18).

I love the last book of the Bible – “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). In recent years, however, I have come to the conclusion that teaching it belongs in the small group setting, and then with people who’ve been sitting under my teaching for some time. Outside of that context, it’s too easy to be misunderstood or get bogged down in fruitless arguments. Still, I do love teaching this blessed book, and, because of that, feel compelled to write down a few thoughts on a single phrase found near the middle of it.

I don’t want to talk about the “beast…out of the earth,” “image of the beast,” the “mark,” or “the number of the beast,” though I certainly have an interpretation of this chapter. Can we look at the single phrase emboldened above without getting lost in those other items for a moment?

“…no one will be able to buy or to sell…”

The glorified Jesus, through His Spirit, spoke of His knowledge of the believers in Smyrna, which included their “tribulation and…poverty” (2:9). Financial difficulty, it would seem, it a natural (though malevolent) part of persecution for the covenant people of God in Christ.

We read about the Tennes family in the headlines, farmers who’ve sold at East Lansing’s farmers’ market for years – until recently. Because (on their farm twenty miles away outside the boundaries of East Lansing) they refuse to allow same-sex wedding ceremonies, they are not allowed to participate in the farmer’s market. They are, of course, just the latest business to be barred access from the economic system because of their non-conformity with what seems to be the official religion of the land (an assertion I make because of both law and culture). This farming family joins a growing list of florists, bakers, photographers, and even a pizza parlor.

(And don’t forget the Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s attempt to force the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ to conform its bathrooms to the new gender regulations last year).

(Or the CEO of Mozilla, who, three years ago, had to step down because of a personal donation he made to an organization which supported traditional marriage. A personal donation.)

(I’m sure I’m forgetting some other examples.)

Regardless of how you interpret Revelation 13, we need to see (at the least) a strong parallel in principle between what we read in verse 17 and what seems to be a growing reality in the United States of America (and the world, for that matter).

I’m going to leave this here before I get further into Revelation interpretation and the observation I’m trying to make gets obscured – an observation that does not speak to an absolute interpretation of 13:17, but merely hopes to note the ominous parallel with our current situation as believers in the world and the trajectory of things from here.

“…no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name…”

"Whose likeness and inscription is this?" (Matthew 22:20//Mark 12:16//Luke 20:24).
For the sake of the global propagation of the “glorious Gospel of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11), which is the “Gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4), may God grant that the U.S.A. return to being a land of freedom, for His name’s sake and His glory alone.