Invitation and Warning: Revelation 22:12-21

The End.

“Look, I am coming soon!” Jesus calls this down to his servant John, so that the message will get out and the followers of God will work towards their holy reward. (I imagine Jesus ascending back into Heaven as he says this) That promise – that Jesus is coming, and it is soon – think about it. I love that word – SOON – especially in this context. He’s coming soon, and two millennia later and still no Jesus, but my mother gave me a good way to think about that, she said, “It’s all just a blink of the eye when compared to eternity.” I countered with something snarky. “So then ten million years would be soon then, right? Then how about a trillion billion billion years?” She rolled her eyes. She may have thought that I had won the exchange in terms of wit, but she won by way of content. She was right – what were 2,000 years when compared to eternity? My heart squeezed, and I felt oxygen pouring out of my lungs. I closed my eyes, but that made it worse. No, no.

I didn’t want Jesus to come back. I wanted everything to stay exactly how it was.

“Outside are the dogs…” Do you know who the dogs are? Sorcerers and murderers. The sexually immoral and idol-worshippers. Liars. You, reading this, you may be a dog and think you are one of the saved. You may think you are saved, because you believe in God and accepted Jesus as your personal Savior, but how can you really be sure? Do you still lie? Have you ever done something outside of the Christian sexual norms? Do you continue to do those things? Where do you stand?

“Let the one who is thirsty come…” But there is hope, oh yes. See, hope approaches in times of desperation. To be thirsty is to be desperate, and it leaves you a choice. You can choose hope or fear. You can desire water and believe it will never come, or you can desire it and know it will come. God calls on us because we are in want – that’s always what I have been told. It made sense to me, and it still does. We live in an unpredictable world, where fear ebbs and flows and happiness drifts to and from us without any pattern. So why wouldn’t we just give it up to the unknown, throwing our hands in the air to say, yes, you can take this fear away from me? Jesus is our get out of jail free card. He makes the path so simple, and his offer is so pure.

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll.” But then there is disbelief. What if you don’t feel God? What if that which is innate within you feels completely antithetical to everything you just read? The believers tell you to change. Those in the middle tell you that you are fine – that you are saved and don’t even know it. The unbelievers think you are better off without all of it. So here is what is left. You have to close your eyes and just hope it comes to you. You have to believe that what you try to do is good enough. We won’t know until we close our eyes for good. You hold onto the hope that some of what you read matters, but some is negotiable. What if it is just as stringent as Paul says?

What do you believe?

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”

Amen.

 

The Plan: Revelation 20 – 22:11

Millennium of Peace. Satan’s Last Try. The Scales Are Weighed. New Heaven and New Earth. A Great City. Return to Eden. Do Not Hide These Words.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:4 (NIV)

The Tribulation is over. Now here is the rest of the plan:

For a thousand years, the fallen believers of the last days will be resurrected. Satan and the dragon will be locked in an abyss to await judgment. Then, they will be released and will gain troops for a massive battle. He will lose of course and into the lake of sulfur he will go. Then comes the judgment of the rest of humanity. Those with their names in the Book of Life will live – the rest will be thrown into the lake of sulfur, along with death and Hades.

Then, a new Heaven. Then, a new Earth.

Jerusalem and Eden will be renewed, forming a city 1,400 miles long on each end and walls 200 feet high. 12 gates with 12 fountains will face the four cardinal points. There will be no more death and no more darkness. There will also be no more temples or churches. Just God, shining brightly forever and ever.

2,000 pages for the first 4,000 years, and then a millennium (and eternity) packed into the final pages. They really packed in the plot near the end.

Revelation really ought to be read right along Genesis as both tonally match another. Both recount a specific set of events with broad strokes of religion splashed through. They are the introduction and the conclusion – the alpha and omega, if you will – and they compliment each other with surprisingly efficacy. A perfect world is created and then corrupted; the result is destroyed and then recreated. It is quite poetic – the resurrection indeed.

I think some read about all of this destruction of the old and the coming of the new age of Christ and… feel a sense of joy and hope. That has never been my reaction to all of this, because it always felt so counter-intuitive to everything I had ever been taught. As a child, most of my vacations were to camping sites, and so I grew a deep appreciation for the world around me. As an adult, I spend my time off traveling, particularly in my car. The message that the world is destined for destruction does not make me feel good. It fills me with fear.

Heaven is better though. I imagine that is the proper Christian response.

I suppose we will see someday.

Cheering at Destruction: Revelation 18 – 19

Babylon Destroyed, The Prostitute Destroyed. Angelic Celebration. The White Rider and His Victory. The Beast and the False Prophet into Hell.

“And again they shouted:
           ‘Hallelujah!
           The smoke from [Babylon] goes up for ever and ever.”
Revelation 19:3 (NIV)

If you like Michael Bay movies, then Revelation must be your biblical feast. I thought we left the torture porn back in the Old Testament, but here, John serves us a heap of destruction that makes for a fittingly eventful demise to our beloved planet.

The Bible has seen many heroic characters succeed and fail in their efforts, but a sense of justice has always pervaded. Jesus is the obvious example, but don’t forget about his the trailblazers that set the stage for vindicated martyrs. Take Job, who after decades of torture from the invisible Satan ended up more blessed for his pain. Then there is Samson, who was blinded and imprisoned, only to gain back his strength and destroy his enemies with the sacrifice of his life. I can’t think of a single example where the good guy truly “loses” and the enemy runs off into the sunset. Judas almost gets away with it, but then he hangs himself, enacting our revenge against himself. Nebuchadnezzar sort of gets away with his conquest of Judah and Israel, but it is all to set up the political atmosphere of the New Testament.

Revelation makes for a fascinating read, because we are the enemy of God. He delights in His holy revenge against us. It is still unclear to me whether or not believers will be “raptured” into Heaven before this all is meant to occur; Revelation makes no mention of an event like that. So let’s say that man is not raptured. That means that only 144,000 men (and yes, only men) will be admitted into Heaven throughout the Tribulation. Out of 8 billion, only .002% of us may be holy. Think about that.

And the rhetoric is brutal to us. We are told that only the “kings of the world” who commit great evil will mourn over the loss of Babylon – that city that represents all of us. At the same time, the angels in Heaven are rejoicing over it, claiming that the smoke from Babylon’s ruins will rise forever and ever amidst eternal joy.

I get it. This is all just emphasizing how God views us. We are His enemies. In order to accept the Christian doctrine, you must learn to live with the ambiguity about where you stand. Yes, God loves you, and you were made in His image. But also, yes, you are His enemy, just by your nature.

God loves us, but He hates our sin. Sound familiar?

The Prostitute of Mankind: Revelation 16 – 17

Very Unhappy Bowls. A Derelict Prostitute for the Devil.

                        “BABYLON THE GREAT
              THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES
     AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS ON EARTH.”
Revelation 17:5 (NIV)

John has mentioned quite a few mythical devils throughout his Revelation, and each is more grotesque than the one before. We have Satan – of course, he’s an obvious one. There isn’t much in the way of physical description, but we all have that same image – trident, horns, deep red body. Then we have a dragon with a whole bunch of heads trying to eat the baby of a pregnant woman. I’m not even sure what is going on there. Also, we mustn’t forget the two beasts responsible for global domination, which are amalgamations of strange bestial parts – dragons, bears, leopards, and lambs. I suppose one of these folks is going to be the Antichrist. We’ll have to see.

Finally, we come to the last beast in the group – known as “Babylon, the Prostitute on the Beast.” Her introduction is filled with sly riddles and metaphors. She lies by “many waters” (or: many men). She intoxicates the world with her adulteries (or: she has a siren’s call (that is also a metaphor)(she is very alluring)). She has a golden cup filled with her “adulterous things” (or: vibrator (that’s a joke)(she carries much guilt proudly)). The Lord has big plans for this woman. He imbues the beast and his fallen kings with the power to take her down, eat her flesh, and burn her remains. Even the beasts of mankind can be manipulated for God’s good purpose.

As it turns out, this prostitute is a reference to Babylon and its sure downfall.

We have two women so far in this testament. In Chapter 12, we have a beautiful woman clothed with the sun and moon who gives birth to an unknown child, and eventually, the angels whisk her off to Heaven for eternal protection. Then, we have a prostitute, the symbol of an entire city, tattooed with horrible blasphemy and committing acts of adultery.

I don’t like either of these portrayals, to be honest.

Come on, I have three entries left… I needed to fit in one last gender entry before I sail off into the wind.

I’m not sure if I have yet mentioned this, but I spent years as a ballroom dancer, trouncing around the country from one competition to another with my partner (female, dance). One of our teacher’s described ballroom dance as an artistic representation of the male-female courtship ritual – that the man asks for permission, and the woman, full of grace, accepts, and he leads them away. He was gay. I was queer. My partner was bisexual. But none of us felt offended by this, even given the old-school representations and gender roles.

Why not?

Because no one held onto ballroom dance as proof of the way we ought to treat gender relationships. Ballroom is entirely cultural, hearkening back to a time gone (or at least, a time with variants now). I find the gender roles of the Bible fascinating and even enlightening, floating us back to a specific culture with unique traditions. But I worry… That people read this and think of wayward women as prostitutes and holy women as needing the guidance of a man to get ahead. It works as artifact and fails as fact.

One last blog plea? Can’t we have the artifact, extract the important meaning, and leave the cultural bits behind?

Please?

One Last Swing: Revelation 14 – 15

The Lamb Leads the 144,000. Three Angels Praise God. Blood through the Winepress. The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath Prepared.

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.
Revelation 14:3 (NIV)

What does a Godly man look like? We are told often that we will know a man by his actions, that if he truly believes in God, then his behavior will change to line up with such a belief. Is he humble and patient? Does he love and encourage others? Is his faithful? How does he show it?

I almost wrote this opening with a gender-neutral word (alt: What does a Godly person look like?), but I figured it would open up another topic altogether. Is there a difference between how a man ought to act and how a woman should, in the eyes of God? I think it depends on the person you ask. Biblical literalists would say “Of course!” Modern apologists would counter, “Not so much in this day and age!”

Glad we had that argument. Can we move on now?

I am curious about these 144,000 redeemed souls. As a refresher, God selected 12,000 people from the 12 tribes of Israel to be saved during the Tribulation. They will incur tremendous hardship in the wake of all the destruction and overthrow, and they will be glorified in a special way upon the second coming of Christ. The rhetoric is clear here: these are “chosen” people. They are not the top 144,000 that made the cut. God pre-selected them for an important purpose. But how must one act in order to become one of these individuals?

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. No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. (14:4-5)

So, from this, we learned they…

…are men.
…are virgins.
…follow God.
…are honest.
…are blameless.

…oh, and they were “purchased” (read: predestined).

Now is this one of those sneaky metaphors or are we meant to take this all literally? Is a man so defiled when he has sex with a woman? Speaking of women… where are all of them? So, none of the 144,000 are women?

I asked a record 13 questions today, just in the course of a single page entry.

The number “13” may signify something, but I am too afraid to dig into it.

The Mark: Revelation 13

Two Beasts. The Mark to Buy and Sell.

“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.”
Revelation 13:18 (NIV)

I obsessed over the epigram verse for years of my adolescence. First, I liked numbers, and I had always wondered why 666 was considered to be so viciously evil. This passage does not really explain why 666 is the number. Like most biblical assertions, we are meant to just accept it and move on. Second, it related to the prophecy of the Beast, who would demand that all of mankind receive his “mark” – assumed by my young brain to be a tattoo of these numbers on the hand or the forehead.

Let me back up for a second. Revelation introduces two new characters to the Tribulation in the form of a pair of evil beasts. The Beast out of the Sea resembles a leopard with bear-like feet and a lion’s mouth. Its pride is only matched by its ambitions, for he takes over the world by spouting blasphemy against God.

Then, the Beast out of the Earth appears and makes his indwelling. He has horns like a lamb and the voice of a dragon, and he makes incredible, miraculous signs for the entire world. By making fire pour from the sky, he deceives everyone except for the 144,000 Christians left behind, and the world begins to worship him. Furthermore, he demands that everyone who wishes to buy or sell anything receive a mark on their forehead or hand. He promises to kill anyone who does not comply.

Now fast forward two millennia (after this was written) to my bedroom circa 2006. I had just witnessed a groundbreaking commercial from IBM featuring a shady looking fellow stuffing grocery items into his jacket. Security guards and employees look at him cross, and after he successfully escapes the building, he is finally approached. The approaching guard says, “Excuse me,” and hands the gentleman his receipt.

This is the future, the commercial seems to say. Check it out here:

The moment I saw this, I immediately wrote an email to my Christian schoolteachers and friends. I told them this was clear proof of the coming Rapture, as this little digital device was obviously a modern version of the Mark of the Beast. I finished the letter off by begging them all to pray and avoid the technology at all costs.

No one replied to the email. I felt embarrassed a week after writing it. But my thoughts on the commercial were shared by other believers. If you go to the youtube page for the video above, then you’ll see related videos about “666” and the Mark of the Beast. Also, the first comment is the exact passage I quoted above. This technology – first teased back in 2006 and now coming partly to fruition with RFID chips in our phones (which enable functions like ApplePay) – scares some people. But why?

I think most have had a moment where they have look around and thought, Yeah this is probably going to be the end of the world. I certainly would have believed that if I was alive during the Plague, the Crusades, either of the World Wars, and the Cold War. I often feel that way living in the age of terrorism. Our enemies are off the grid now. How are we to defeat such a slippery foe?

Will technology destroy us all? Probably not. Evil people with technology might do the trick.

But it won’t be from an RFID chip.

Picturing Eternity: Revelation 11 – 12

Two Badass Prophets. The Final Trumpet. A Baby Born for God. A Dragon Descends.

“I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11:3 (NIV)

On an over packed bookcase at the far end of my parent’s basement, there is a clean row of 12 books that fills an entire shelf on its own. As this is a Christian household, your guesses are immediately limited as to what these books are. Could it be 12 different versions of the Bible? That is certainly a possibility, but unfortunately, that is not the case here.

They are the 12 books in the Left Behind series.

For those of you who ignore the cultural zeitgeist, let me give you a quick summary. Left Behind (and its eleven sequels) recount the Christian Tribulation and the final seven years of human existence, beginning with the Rapture and ending with God’s appearance on Earth. They became enormously popular following their publication and have sold over 60 million copies worldwide. Movie adaptations were attempted, first with Kirk Cameron, and then most recently with Nicholas Cage, but they failed to garner the same interest. The latter example was universally panned by critics and moviegoers but played well with stoner crowds excited to see Nicholas Cage take on the end of the world.

My father, like many Christian parents at the time, devoured the books one after another, so he recommended I read them. I made it halfway through the fourth book before I quit. It had nothing to do with the writing, which was brisk and eventful (and violent… man those books were violent… but considering we’re halfway thru the book of Revelation and a third of everything and everyone has been destroyed, I guess it’s accurate to the source material). I put the fourth book down, because I could not cope with what was occurring within the pages. Literalizing the end of the world felt insurmountable to me and too actively engaged my anxiety. Nope, I was done, and I promise you, I will never go back.

I wrote earlier this week about some advice a therapist gave me. She told me to picture eternity in my mind in a literal way, and maybe that would help my anxiety. She said I should just think about it like I do with life right now. I’m just taking it one day at a time.

I still don’t like it.

Revelation amps up the action with these chapters. Two “witnesses” come down to Earth and prophecy for three and a half years. They are badass individuals – with fire pouring from their mouths and power to cause plagues on a whim. However, a beast comes from the abyss and kills them, but they are resurrected and torture all of humanity.

The seventh angel plays his trumpet. Thunder, lightning, hail, earthquake.

Then, a woman and a dragon get into a series of fights. She gives birth to a baby, who is immediately snatched up to God for safekeeping, and the woman is whisked off to a place in the wilderness, far away from the dragon. So the dragon goes off to Heaven to fight the angels, but Michael and his squad hurl it back down to the earth. The dragon trudges off to the woman, to kill her, but angels grab her and bring her to Heaven, thus leaving him to wage war against all the Christians on Earth.

Crazy stuff there.

Reading that, though, doesn’t give me any sort of anxiety. I think it is just so far removed from reality that it plays like some fantasy epic. But picturing it… actualizing it in real world terms? That is just a terrifying notion.

Does It Last? : Revelation 8:6 – 10

Six Plagues for Six Trumpets. A Secret. Eating the Little Scroll.

You do not want to be around when the angels play their trumpets.

The first trumpet burns up a third of the trees on Earth.
The second turns the sea to blood. A third of the sea creatures die (taking a third of the ships with them).
The third turns the river water bitter, poisoning many.
The fourth. The sun and the moon lose a third of their brightness.
The fifth. Demon locusts with human faces torture all but the 144,000 for five months.
The sixth is the worst. Mounted troops in the millions take over the world and kill – you guessed it – a third of the population.

The seventh angel waits to blow his trumpet. It will not be blown until God’s work is complete.

Okay, so, has all the pain and punishment stopped now? Come on… There are still 12 chapters to go. This is just the beginning of the Tribulation.

After this, an angel hands John a tiny little scroll and tells him:

“Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.”
Revelation 10:9b (NIV)

Out of all the plague and destruction, this verse stuck out to me the most. A scroll that is delicious when eaten but turns poisonous over time. What a fascinating idea.

It seems like an obvious parallel to the Garden of Eden (who knew the Bible had some clever bookend imagery?). A scroll contains words – knowledge – and while it may be sweet at first, it is ultimately unfulfilling. What matters to you? Do you wish to lose innocence and live in knowledge? It will turn sour over time. Like the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I don’t think the Bible wants us smart. I mean, it’s not equitable to being rich. The Bible hates rich people. I think we are allowed to be smart, but that’s not really a hope for us. No, the Bible wants us loyal. It wants us good.

It appears that goodness lasts forever and ever. But knowledge fades.

Which do you want?

Metaphors: Revelation 7 – 8:5

Jehovah’s Witnesses Got It Right. The Great Multitude. All Pain Will Cease. The Seventh Seal.

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation 7:17b (NIV)

I went through a phase around 8th grade where I obsessed over allegorical books. The vampire and zombie fads had not come to fruition, and the collective fanaticism over Pokemon had just subsided. Most guys my age moved on to sports, girls, and reality television. I turned to books. But not just any books. Allegories. Stories that appeared to be about one topic on the surface but turned out to have real life parallels to history. The best and most read example for 8th graders? Animal Farm. A bunch of animals stage an indigenous revolution to oust the humans from a farm, and the newly formed structure involves much of the same servitude as before, just with pigs in charge now. And the allegory? The Russian Revolution in the 1910s. And George Orwell made that metaphor clear without even one mention of the word “proletariat.” Go back and read the book if you haven’t. Don’t watch the movie. The movie is just awful. The book is fantastic.

There is a reason that middle school teachers across the country assign this book as required reading; it clearly demonstrates the ideas of metaphor and allegory to young audiences. And it is also entertaining. Pigs walking around on hind legs running a farm? Hilarious. Maybe just to me.

So are passages of the Bible clearly metaphorical, or are we meant to take every single word literally? Does the story of Creation refer to the Big Bang, serving as both a metaphor for that as well as the? Is it possible that Revelation is just a fever dream on the part of John’s, meant to show us the ultimate foolishness of our present behaviors?

Let’s see about the latter part.

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. (7:1)

Four angels descend onto Earth and block the “four winds” of the Earth until they cease. Then, 144,000 Christians have a mark placed on their forehead to protect them from much of the devastation that will occur. They are thus “sealed.” Then, a great multitude of people from all over the world bow down and worship God. Finally, the seventh seal is broken on the scroll, bringing forth dead silence in Heaven for about a half hour. Seven angels approach, each with a trumpet, and stand in wait to doll out the next round of plagues. To begin this process, an angel takes a golden censor, lights it on fire, and hurls it down to Earth. Then, the angels prepare to blow their horns…

That first verse alone screams “metaphor,” because well, there are no “four winds” of the Earth. My logical problem with Revelation – yes, I only have one – is that most non-Christians are at least partially aware of what it says. So let’s say that the Rapture happens (which is never said to occur in the Bible, by the way). How then are only 144,000 of the 5 billion left behind convinced by what the Revelation has to say about the matter? If a third of the world’s population disappeared overnight, and then all these weird plagues started happening, and the government issued a mark to buy or sell goods – I just find it surprising that only .02% of the people out there would put the pieces together.

So, it’s a metaphor. There.

The Four Horsemen: Revelation 5 – 6

Mourning for the Unopened Scroll. It Opens. Six Plagues.

I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
Revelation 6:2 (NIV)

This is the Book of Revelation, so things are about to turn really bad really quick, and I understand that. It is a difficult balancing act in these last two weeks. I earnestly want to report to you exactly what the Bible says – as a journalist – and I also want to relate to the material in an immediate fashion – like a creative writer. If memory serves me right, the rest of this book is downright bleak. Plagues, an antichrist, 1,000 years of torture. I have no desire to spend the last two weeks of this blog dredging out the most depressing crap from the Bible.

So I won’t. But tonight is the beginning of the destruction, so let me just go at it this once. Okay? I promise it won’t be like this for the rest.

Let’s start with the summary. John encounters a scroll that no one can open, and it makes him weep uncontrollably. But then, a lamb with seven eyes and seven horns takes the scroll (what is with all the eyes and the duplicates of sevens?), and in response, all the elders endow him with the ability to open the seals.

There are seven seals, and as each is opened, a new act of God appears on the fallen Earth. The first four reveal the four horsemen of the apocalypse, bringing conquest, death, and famine to everyone. The fifth seal brings a promise to those killed for God to wait just a little longer for their resurrection. The sixth causes a number of supernatural events: a massive earthquake, stars falling from the sky, and islands lifting up into the heavens.

As for the seventh? Well, the chapter cut off, so we will have to wait until tomorrow.

So there is my journalism for the day. But what about my creative writing? I only have one wonder about today’s reading.

What has humanity done to deserve such punishment?

Think about it. We have heard that sinners will burn forever in Hell. Inhabitants unlucky enough to be on Earth for the final days will be rocked with devastating natural disasters while horsemen roam the Earth, killing nearly everyone.

Paul was convinced that the end was happening within his lifetime, and now it is 2,000 years later. So, human beings were unbelievably horrible back then, just as they supposedly are today. Sure, we are selfish. Obviously, we act with malice at times. I don’t want to discredit the good in the world, even if the slacktivism greatly dilutes the ingenuity. But are things getting worse? At the time Paul wrote his letters, Christianity – like Rick Santorum – polled at a brisk 0.0% nationwide. Now, almost a third of the world identifies as Christian. Lobbing off a whole 90% of those as “unbelievers” in disguise and you will still have good numbers comparably.

So are we worse off than we were? Is that even the right question?

Is it passing gay marriage and allowing abortion to happen? Is it the creeping liberalism that has now seemingly taken over the country? Is God a Republican?

Tomorrow will be more uplifting, I promise. I think I can promise that.