Matthew 14:1-12

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Matthew 14

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

There is a long, rich history of Christian preachers rebuking political leaders, oftentimes at great peril to themselves. For instance, John Chrysostom, one of the most famous preachers and Christian leaders of all Christian history, clashed with Eudoxia, the wife of the 4th century Emperor Arcadius.

Although an earnest Christian, she quarreled bitterly with John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople, who attacked her and the frivolity of her court in outspoken terms. In 404 she expelled him from his see and sent him into exile.[1]

Or consider John Knox, the great 16th century Protestant Reformer. Knox did not get along with Mary, Queen of Scots. They had numerous clashes and Knox more than once denounced her publicly from the pulpit. They once had a major clash because Knox was unhappy about the news of her forthcoming marriage.

The most dramatic interview between Mary and Knox took place on 24 June 1563.  Mary summoned Knox to Holyrood after hearing that he had been preaching against her proposed marriage to Don Carlos, the son of Philip II of Spain. Mary began by scolding Knox, then she burst into tears. “What have ye to do with my marriage?” she asked, and “What are ye within this commonwealth?” “A subject born within the same, Madam,” Knox replied. He noted that though he was not of noble birth, he had the same duty as any subject to warn of dangers to the realm. When Mary started to cry again, he said, “Madam, in God’s presence I speak: I never delighted in the weeping of any of God’s creatures; yea I can scarcely well abide the tears of my own boys whom my own hand corrects, much less can I rejoice in your Majesty’s weeping.” He added that he would rather endure her tears, however, than remain silent and “betray my Commonwealth”. At this, Mary ordered him out of the room.[2]

It can be a dangerous thing to challenge the behavior of rulers, yet it has been done! Most famously, John the Baptist did so. In one sense, he paid, of course, the greatest of prices. But it could also be said that he received one of the greatest honors as well.

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Revelation 17

Revelation

Revelation 17

1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” 6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. 7 But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” 15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”

Empires never last. World powers always fall. In his book, Revealed, John McCallum writes:

The Roman Empire lasted for centuries, but it didn’t last forever.

Hitler’s Third Reich was supposed to last a thousand years. It lasted about 12.

The Soviet Union was supposed to be a never-ending socialist utopia. It didn’t even make it 80 years.

And the list of empires that we must now speak of in the past tense is much longer than this. James Paul of the Global Policy Forum has put forward this list:

Ancient Period (BC)

Egyptian Empire (3100BC to 30 BC)
Norte Chico Empire (3000-1800 BC)
Indus Valley: Empires: Harappa and Mohenjo-Darro (2550-1550 BC)
Akkadian Empire (2500-2000 BC)
Babylonian Empire (1792-1595 BC)
Ancient Chinese Empires: Shang (1751-1111 BC), Chou (1000-800 BC), etc.
Hittite Empire (1500-1200 BC)
Assyrian Empire (1244-612 BC)
Persian Empires (550 BC to 637 AD) including Achemenid Empire (550-330 BC), Sassanian Empire (224 BC-651 AD)
Carthaginian Empire (ca. 475-146 BC)
Athenian Empire (461-440 BC, 362-355 BC)
Macedonian Empire (359-323 BC)
Roman Empire (264 BC to 476 AD)
Parthian Empire (247 BC- 224 AD)

Pre-Modern Period (to 1500)

African Empires: Ethiopian Empire (ca. 50-1974), Mali Empire (ca. 1210-1490), Songhai Empire (1468-1590), Fulani Empire (ca. 1800-1903)
Mesoamerican Empires esp. Maya Empire (ca. 300-900) Teotihuacan Empire (ca. 500-750), Aztec Empire (1325-ca. 1500)
Byzantine Empire (330-1453)
Andean Empires: Huari Empire (600-800); Inca Empire (1438-1525)
Chinese Pre-Modern Empires: including T’ang Dynasty (618-906), Sung Dynasty (906-1278)
Islamic Empires esp. Umayyid/Abbasid (661-1258), Almohad (1140-1250), Almoravid (1050-1140)
Carolingian Empire (ca. 700-810)
Bulgarian Empire (802-827, 1197-1241)
Southeast Asian Empires: Khmer Empire (877-1431), Burmese Empire (1057-1287)
Novogorod Empire (882-1054)
Medieval German Empire (962-1250)
Danish Empire (1014-1035)
Indian Empires, including Chola Empire (11th cent), Empire of Mahmud of Ghazni (998-1039 AD), Mughal Empire (1526-1805)
Mongol Empire (1206-1405)
Mamluk Empire (1250-1517)
Holy Roman Empire (1254-1835)
Habsburg Empire (1452-1806)
Ottoman Empire (1453-1923)

Modern Period (after 1500)

Portuguese Empire (ca. 1450-1975)
Spanish Empire (1492-1898)
Russian Empire/USSR (1552-1991)
Swedish Empire (1560-1660)
Dutch Empire (1660-1962)
British Empire (1607-ca. 1980)
French Empire (ca. 1611- ca. 1980)
Modern Chinese Empire: esp. Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Austrian/Austro-Hungarian Empire (ca. 1700-1918) [see also Habsburg Empire]
Brazilian Empire (1822-1889)
German Empire (1871-1918, 1939-1945)
Japanese Empire (1871-1945)
Italian Empire (1889-1942)[1]

There is one more entry in Paul’s list and it stops us in our tracks. It reads:

US Empire (1776-present)

Hear me and hear me well: on this side of heaven, the powers never last. Earthly powers are doomed to fall. This has been the case. This is the case. And according to Revelation 17 this will be the case.

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Revelation 15-16

Revelation

Revelation 15

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

Revelation 16

1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea. The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. 10 The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish 11 and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. 12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“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!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. 17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.

Is it possible that a human heart could become so hardened that even in hell it would refuse to repent? Is it possible that a human heart could become so hardened that even drowning in an ocean of divine wrath it would refuse to say, “I am sorry!”?

In January of 1994 Christian philosopher William Lane Craig debated philosopher Raymond D. Bradley at Simon Fraiser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on the question, “Can a loving God send people to hell?” At a certain point in the debate, William Lane Craig responded to the objection “that God is unjust because the punishment [i.e., hell] doesn’t fit the crime.” Craig’s response is fascinating.

But is the objection itself persuasive? I think not:

1) The objection equivocates between every sin which we commit and all the sins which we commit. We can agree that every individual sin which a person commits deserves only a finite punishment. But it doesn’t follow from this that all of a person’s sins taken together as a whole deserve only a finite punishment. If a person commits an infinite number of sins, then the sum total of all such sins deserves infinite punishment. Now, of course, nobody commits an infinite number of sins in the earthly life. But what about in the afterlife? Insofar as the inhabitants of hell continue to hate God and reject Him, they continue to sin and so accrue to themselves more guilt and more punishment. In a real sense, then, hell is self-perpetuating. In such a case, every sin has a finite punishment, but because sinning goes on forever, so does the punishment.

2) Why think that every sin does have only a finite punishment? We could agree that sins like theft, lying, adultery, and so forth, are only of finite consequence and so only deserve a finite punishment. But, in a sense, these sins are not what serves to separate someone from God. For Christ has died for those sins. The penalty for those sins has been paid. One has only to accept Christ as Savior to be completely free and clean of those sins. But the refusal to accept Christ and his sacrifice seems to be a sin of a different order altogether. For this sin decisively separates one from God and His salvation. To reject Christ is to reject God Himself. And this is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion and therefore deserves infinite punishment. We ought not, therefore, to think of hell primarily as punishment for the array of sins of finite consequence which we have committed, but as the just due for a sin of infinite consequence, namely the rejection of God Himself.

3) Finally, it’s possible that God would permit the damned to leave hell and go to heaven but that they freely refuse to do so. It is possible that persons in hell grow only more implacable in their hatred of God as time goes on. Rather than repent and ask God for forgiveness, they continue to curse Him and reject Him. God thus has no choice but to leave them where they are. In such a case, the door to hell is locked, as John Paul Sartre said, from the inside. The damned thus choose eternal separation from God. So, again, so as long as any of these scenarios is even possible, it invalidates the objection that God’s perfect justice is incompatible with everlasting separation from God.[1]

There is a lot to think about there, but the central point of Craig’s argument seems to be this: the objection to hell seems to depend upon the assumption that those in it are deeply repentant and want out, but we have no reason to think that those in it are deeply repentant, though they very likely do want out.

In other words, what if the great nightmare of hell is that its inhabitants’ hard-heartedness increases with their agony for all of eternity, thereby giving more and more justification for their being there? What if those who have utterly rejected the Lamb do nothing but grow in their hatred of the Lamb, thereby continuously increasing their sin?

If you think that such is not possible, I hope you will listen closely to Revelation15-16, for here we see a picture of (1) the outpouring of great wrath and (2) ever-increasing hostility toward God on the parts of those receiving the outpoured wrath. We will approach these chapters under two categories:

  • A Question in Song.
  • An Answer in Pain.

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Revelation 14:14-20

Revelation

Revelation 14:14-20

14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.

Some truly amazing artifacts from the ancient world have survived into the present day. Here is one in particular, an ancient sickle used for reaping grain.

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A sickle was a common tool spanning across numerous people groups in the ancient world. The sight of it would have meant something very clear to ancient people (as, indeed, it does to many modern people today!), namely that it was time for reaping, for gathering in the harvest. Leon Morris writes of Revelation 14 and its imagery of sickles and of harvest:

This vivid way of speaking about the end of the world would come home with great force in an age when people were more familiar with agricultural processes than they are now. The harvest is the climax.[1]

This is helpful: the harvest is the climax. The sickle and the harvest meant the end of something, the end of the season when the grain was ripe and it was time to harvest. It was a symbol, then, of both completion but also of perfect timing. The good farmer knew when it was time to reap the harvest.

So, too, the Lord God knows when it is time to reap the nations, when the end has come, when the great ingathering and casting out finally comes upon the earth.

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Revelation 14:1-13

Revelation

Revelation 14:1-13

1 Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” 12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 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!”

Andrew Peterson has written about two interesting marks that the great German composer Bach put on his musical compositions.

If you’re familiar with Bach, you may know that at the bottom of his manuscripts, he wrote the initials, “S. D. G.” Soli Deo Gloria, which means “glory to God alone.” What you may not know is that at the top of his manuscripts he wrote, “Jesu Juva,” which is Latin for “Jesus, help!”[1]

I was, in fact, unfamiliar with the “Jesu Juva,” the “Jesus, help,” at the top.

first

second

What interests me is the interplay between these two ideas: “Glory to God Alone!” and “Jesus help!” Bach seems to have meant that we do what we do for God’s glory and that, in doing it, we beseech the Lord Jesus for His help.

But is there another connection between divine glory and divine help? I think there is. I think we should have “Glory to God Alone!” and “Jesus help!” written across our lives because it is, in fact, God’s glory that is our help!

Put another way, what if God gives us glimpses of His glory to help us in our darkest moments? What if a vision of the glory of God is what we most need to see us through?

In fact, I would argue that Revelation 14:1-13 proves that point. Here, fast on the heels of the very frightening imagery of Revelation 13 with its unholy trinity and its dragon and its beasts, the scene shifts to the very opposite reality: a vision of the glory of the Lamb, of the victory of the Lamb, of the victory of the followers of the Lamb, and of glory.

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Matthew 13:47-52

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Matthew 13

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

I once heard of an elderly man and his grandson walking through an open air market. They passed a fish stall. The elderly man said, “Those fish are Baptist fish.” His grandson asked him how he knew. “Because,” he answered, “they spoil so quickly once you get them out of the water.”

Well now! That may be fair or unfair, I do not know. But this much is clear: Jesus did indeed liken the kingdom to a fishing net that had to be sorted through and sorted out. It is a fascinating image, and one with powerful implications for how we understand the Kingdom and the world.

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Revelation 13

Revelation

Revelation 13

1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. 11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

Artistic depictions of scenes from the book of Revelation are a mixed bag! Some are terrible. Some are good. All are usually a bit odd, as efforts to depict in pictorial form apocalyptic imagery must inevitably be! Revelation 13 positively begs for artistic depiction, given its vivid and detail imagery. Here is one such attempt from the past:

1

That is an interesting image, though, regrettably, it only includes two of the major players in the chapter. Here is another artistic effort that is about as good as any other. This is from a 1530 edition of the Luther Bible:

2

Here we see all of the major players from this amazing chapter:

  • Fire from the dragon.
  • The seven-headed beast coming out of the sea.
  • The lamb-like beast coming out of the earth.
  • The peoples of the earth.

As you can see, there is a lot going on in Revelation 13! Let us jump right in!

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Revelation 12

Revelation

Revelation 12

1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” 13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

William Blake’s paintings “The Great Red Dragon” and “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun” were painted from 1803 to 1805. They remain some of the most terrifying images of Satan ever produced. They are taken, largely, from Revelation 12, and from other images in the book of Revelation.

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Interestingly, Thomas Harris, the author of the terrifying novel, Silence of the Lambs, used Blake’s images of Satan as both the title of his first Hannibal Lecter book, Red Dragon, and as a key aspect of the plot of that novel.

In the novel, a killer named Francis Dolarhyde draws sadistic inspiration and power from Blake’s painting. He has the red dragon tattooed across his entire back. He seeks to become the red dragon in the story and to break free of his own terrible life. Most frightening of all, he seeks to live the life of the red dragon by murdering and inflicting pain on others. In a pivotal scene in the novel Red Dragon, Dolarhyde gets access to the painting in a museum and eats it. It is his ultimate act of identification with the dragon.

All of this is frightening and disturbing stuff. The images of Revelation 12 inspire the artist William Blake whose paintings in turn inspire, in Harris’ novel, the killer Francis Dolarhyde.

But can the inspiration go the other way? Can the images of Revelation 12 inspire us toward Jesus and away from the red dragon? Indeed they can. They must! And, if read properly, this is precisely what Revelation 12 will do!

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Revelation 11:15-19

Revelation

Revelation 11

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

Can we live without hope?

The great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis struggled to understand life and death and what awaits us after death. He had a respect for Christianity but ultimately his unorthodox views got him excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church.

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Tragically, Kazantzakis came to see hope as a negative thing. He wrote this about the meaning of life and how to live it:

We all ascend together, swept up by a mysterious and invisible urge. Where are we going? No one knows. Don’t ask, mount higher! Perhaps we are going nowhere, perhaps there is no one to pay us the rewarding wages of our lives. So much the better! For thus may we conquer the last, the greatest of all temptations—that of Hope.

Kazantzakis believe that man had certain duties in life. Kazantzakis’ first duty, in the words of John Messerly, is “to bravely accept our cognitive limitations” and the second is “to accept the heart’s anguish at being unable to find meaning in life.” But what of the third duty? Kazantzakis writes:

The moment is ripe: leave the heart and the mind behind you, go forward, take the third step. Free yourself from the simple complacency of the mind that thinks to put all things in order and hopes to subdue phenomena. Free yourself from the terror of the heart that seeks and hopes to find the essence of things. Conquer the last, the greatest temptation of all: Hope. This is the third duty.[1]

Kazantzakis’ most profound and tragic statement on hope came from his own hand but did not appear until after his death. I am talking about the inscription on his tombstone: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”[2]

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I am moved by the second statement: “I fear nothing.” I am inspired by the third statement: “I am free.” But I am positively chilled by the first statement: “I hope for nothing.” And what makes this first statement even sadder to me is that it is written on a tombstone that is itself standing beneath a cross.

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Why does this sadden me? Because the cross is humanities great hope! Because time and time and time again the Lord God in the scriptures and the Lord Jesus in the gospels and the witness of the New Testament at large offers us precisely this: hope. Hope! A reason not to despair. The certain knowledge that Jesus wins in the end and that all is not for nought.

I want to argue today that nowhere is the offer of hope more powerfully evident than in the book of Revelation. This will strike some as odd because they find Revelation frightening. I understand that. Parts of it are. But all throughout the book the Lord offers us time and time again the gift we most need: hope.

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