The Lamb is the Lord, part 3: Truths for our Journey

Three foundational truths

We begin our journey through the Book of Revelation.

Every hiker who sets out on a trek must be properly equipped. They need warm, weatherproof clothes, sturdy comfortable boots, adequate food and drink, and a compass. Without these, they face disaster.

In a similar way, the first chapter of Revelation equips us for our journey through this book, and for our journey through life. It does so by giving us three foundational truths:

 Who God is. We’re given the most amazing depiction of the Triune God. It especially focuses on Jesus Christ―for example, the magnificent vision of Him in 1:12-16.

 What God does. We see all that God in Christ has done for us, all He’s doing for us now, and the glorious destiny He has in store for us.

 Who we are. We see our new identity in Christ.

These are foundational truths. Accordingly, we see them right here in the first chapter of the book. God wants these truths to sink deep into our minds and hearts. They’ll strengthen us to endure tribulation and trial. They’ll shield us from Satan’s lies. They’ll protect us from compromise with the world around us.

Who God is

In 1:4-5, we read, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”

And in 1:8 we read, “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”

Here in these verses we see who the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are:

 God the Father is described as “him who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4 repeated in 1:8). This echoes what we read in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’. . . . ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I AM has sent me to you.”’” Through this Name “I AM” God revealed Himself as the living, personal God Who is present with His people and actively working to save and bless them. We might translate this Name “I am He Who is here for you”. He is with us, watching over us, enabling us to stand firm for Him through all the tribulation and trials we may experience in this world. Notice, too, that it says, not “. . . who will be” as we might have expected, but “. . . who is to come”. Here is the heartbeat of Revelation: God is coming! He’s bringing His plan of redemption to completion. He will come to save and to judge.

 And God is “the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8). Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet; omega is the last. God was before all things, and He created all things. He governs all history, and He’ll complete His wonderful plan of redemption for us and our world―as we see in Revelation 21:1-22:5.

 The Holy Spirit is referred to as “the seven spirits who are before” God’s throne. This phrase “the seven spirits” can also be translated as “the sevenfold Spirit”. The number ‘seven’ is a symbol of completion or perfection. And it seems to focus specially on what God is doing in this world (we’ll see why this is later in this series). All that we see God doing here in the Book of Revelation―redeeming His people and restoring His creation―is through the Holy Spirit.

 Jesus is ”the faithful witness” (picking up the theme of witness, which we mentioned earlier).

 And Jesus is “the firstborn of the dead” (1:5): He’s the first to rise from the dead (see also Acts 26:23 and Colossians 1:18). His resurrection demonstrates His complete victory over Satan and all the forces of evil, and over death. And we’re assured of our own victory. Later in the book, we’ll read about God’s people suffering, even being killed. But death is no defeat for us. Jesus’s resurrection guarantees that we will be resurrected from death (1 Corinthians 15:20)!

 Finally, Jesus is “the ruler of kings on earth” (1:5). Jesus is the Lord. That’s the key message of the whole book, as we’ll see.

What God does

In 1:5 we read that Jesus “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood“. On the Cross, Jesus endured the penalty for our sins. Our penalty is paid; and God has forgiven us! And Jesus has released us from bondage to sin; we believers are no longer slaves to sin.

And Jesus has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:6). One commentator translates this as: “he has made us sharers in his royal rule, and priests to minister to His God and Father”.[1]

Who we are

As ”sharers in” Jesus’s “royal rule”, and as “priests”, Jesus has given us a completely new identity.

 As priests, we worship and serve Him.

 And we share in His royal dominion. Christ is seated “in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, . . . .” (Ephesians 1:20-21, see also 1 Peter 3:22). We’re seated there with Him (Ephesians 2:6). So we share His dominion. As we read Revelation, we’ll see God’s people suffering, even being killed. But, in fact, we share His dominion over all the forces of evil that seek to harm and kill us! We need to remember this as we continue reading through this book.

A vision of Jesus

John writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, . . . .’” (1:10-11). He turns to see whose voice it is. He sees Jesus.

John was one of Jesus’s disciples. He saw a foretaste of Jesus’s glory at His transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8 and parallels). And he saw the resurrected Lord. But now he sees Jesus as he had never seen Him before. He sees Jesus in all His exalted glory. John tells us: “I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’” (1:12–18).

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended to His Father in Heaven. He’s now seated at His Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33)―the place of supreme authority. That’s how we see Jesus in this vision.

This is the very first vision we see in Revelation. Before anything else we read in this book, Jesus wants us to see Himself as He is. He wants us to see Him in His exalted glory at His Father’s right hand. Everything else we read in Revelation needs to be read in the light of this glorious vision of Christ.

Jesus appears to John here in symbolic form. The vision doesn’t reveal what He literally looks like; it reveals His identity and His character.

What does this vision show us about Jesus? We see Him here both in His divinity and His humanity. We see Him here as the Divine Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. And at the same time, we see Him here as a Man―the Messiah who came to save God’s people, to judge and destroy evil, and to establish God’s Kingdom.

It’s important to realise that Jesus, the Son of God, is still incarnate. He became incarnate at His conception in Mary’s body. He’ll remain incarnate for all eternity. Jesus Christ is, and will always be, fully Human and fully Divine. What an amazing truth: God has united Himself to our human race for ever in the Person of Jesus Christ!

Most aspects of this vision of Jesus reflect Old Testament visions of God as recorded in Ezekiel 1:25-28 and Daniel 7:9-10, of the pre-incarnate Christ in Daniel 7:13-14, and of what was likely the pre-incarnate Christ in Daniel 10:5-6.

 Jesus is “one like a son of man” (1:13). This echoes Ezekiel 1:26, Daniel 7:13 and 10:5. In Daniel 7:13-14 we read: “behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, . . . .” The “one like a son of man” is a human. But He’s not simply a man. He’s the true Man―the perfect Man, the Man who is worthy to receive “dominion and glory and a kingdom”.[2] At His ascension He received everlasting dominion over all people. And He comes “with the clouds of heaven”, which symbolise the presence and power of God. The Man Jesus Christ is also divine.

 Jesus is “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest” (1:13). This reflects Daniel 10:5. These garments may well be priestly attire. The High Priest wore a robe (Exodus 28:31–35). And Jesus is among “seven golden lampstands” (1:12-13); lampstands were part of the furnishings of the Tabernacle and Temple. They were tended by the priests. So it seems we’re seeing Jesus as our great High Priest, tending the lampstands―in other words, tending His churches. Long robes and sashes across the chest were also worn by dignitaries and rulers. Perhaps these garments picture Jesus as our great High Priest and also as our King.

 “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow” (1:14). This links back to the vision of God that Daniel saw. The hair of “the Ancient of Days” was ”like pure wool” (Daniel 7:9). Jesus’s hair is described in the same way as that of “the Ancient of Days”, who is the Father. John sees Jesus, the divine Son of God, sharing one of the attributes of the Father. The white colour of His hair suggests purity. It also suggests someone of great age―and hence great wisdom and dignity.

 Jesus’s “eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” (1:14-15). This description reflects Ezekiel 1:27-28, Daniel 7:9-10 and 10:6. The image of the burning eyes shows Jesus’s divine insight. But, this also includes His judgment. His “feet” of “burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” symbolise Christ’s mighty strength and His purity.

 Jesus’s “voice was like the roar of many waters” (1:15). This reflects Ezekiel 1:23 and Daniel 10:6. It pictures the awesome power of His voice.

 Jesus holds “seven stars” in His right hand (1:16). In Revelation 1:20, we learn that “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches”. We’ll explore who these angels are later in this series.

 From Jesus’s mouth “came a sharp two-edged sword” (1:16; it also echoes Isaiah 49:2). This image pictures Jesus’s word. His word is like a sharp sword: by His word He pronounces and carries out righteous judgment on the nations (19:15), and on false teaching and immorality within His churches (2:12,16).

 Jesus’s “face was like the sun shining in full strength” (1:16). This reflects Ezekiel 1:27-28, and Daniel 10:6, and pictures the glory of our exalted Lord. The image recalls Jesus’s transfiguration, when “his face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). In Isaiah 60:19 we read, “The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” Again, an Old Testament image of God is applied to the exalted Christ. And in 21:23 we read that New Jerusalem “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23, see also 22:5).

John falls “at his feet as though dead” (1:17). But Jesus lays His right hand on him and says, “Fear not” . Then He says: “I am the first and the last . . . .” (1:17). Christ is the One through Whom all things are created (Hebrews 1:2) and Who is sovereign over history. He says that He’s ”the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (1:18). He’s our Resurrected Lord who lives for ever.

And Jesus tells John, “I have the keys of Death and Hades” (1:18). ‘Hades’ is the realm of the dead. Christ has “the keys” over Death and Hades. In other words, He has power and authority over death.

In the next part, we’ll begin looking at Jesus’s messages to the seven churches of Asia in 2:1-3:22.

FOOTNOTES [1] Quoted from The Revelation of Saint John (Black’s New Testament Commentary), by Ian Boxall, page 33. Published jointly by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, Massachusetts, and Continuum International Publishing Group, London, England, in 2006. [2] See The Preacher’s Commentary: Daniel, by Sinclair B. Ferguson, pages 144-145. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, in 1988.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2023 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture citations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition) Copyright ©1979,1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.

The Lamb is the Lord, part 2: Cosmic War

Into the Jaws of Death—U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire from Wikipedia

Into the Jaws of Death—U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire. A landing craft from the USS ‘Samuel Chase’ disembarks troops of the U.S. Army’s First Division at Omaha Beach, Normandy, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

In this part, we’ll look at the basic theme of Revelation. What is Revelation all about?

War in Heaven and on Earth

What is Revelation fundamentally about? To answer this question, let’s go to one of the key scenes in the book. In 12:7-11 we read this: “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. 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. 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.”

Note these phrases: “war arose in heaven”; and “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” . The book of Revelation is about a war. There’s a spiritual battle raging in the Universe. Revelation is a war drama.

Our Commander’s call to courage

In times of war, great leaders will address their people or their troops to inspire them and strengthen their resolve for the conflict. An outstanding example is General Bernard Montgomery’s address to his officers the day after taking command of the British Eighth Army in North Africa in 1942. He said, “Here we will stand and fight; there will be no further withdrawal. . . . . Our mandate from the Prime Minister is to destroy the Axis forces in North Africa; . . . . It can be done, and it will be done: beyond any possibility of doubt. . . . . I ask you to give me your confidence and to have faith that what I have said will come to pass.”[1]. Montgomery’s Chief of Staff reported, “The effect of his address was electric―it was terrific. And we all went to bed that night with a new hope in our hearts, and a great confidence in the future of our Army.”[2].

In the Book of Revelation, our Commander-in-Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ, addresses His troops―that’s us! He’s showing us the spiritual battle we’re involved in. He’s showing us who our enemies are, and how they operate. He’s showing us how to fight, and how to overcome our enemies. He assures us of victory. And He captivates our hearts and minds with the final glory that will follow.

The flashpoint of conflict

Revelation is a war drama. That war began a very long time ago.

The very first enemy of God was Satan. It seems that Satan was once a very powerful angel who lived in Heaven. He was originally perfect and sinless. But there came a time when he became proud―so proud, in fact, that he wanted to be like God Himself. That was the moment when evil entered God’s creation. That was the moment when this war began.

God threw Satan out of Heaven. It seems that other angels joined his rebellion. They, too, were thrown out of Heaven. Satan set up his headquarters in another spiritual realm. With him are the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” that Paul writes about in Ephesians 6:12.

The battle for planet Earth

In the first two chapters of Genesis we read how God created the heavens and the Earth. He filled Earth with all kinds of living things. And He created the first human, Adam. God “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden” (Genesis 2:15). God put Adam in the garden. And He made Eve from Adam’s side.

And so we find God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (as Genesis 3:8 suggests). And as the human race multiplied and filled the Earth, God wanted the Garden of Eden’s boundaries to be extended until the whole Earth was a paradise. God wanted the whole Earth to be His paradise where He lived among His people.

Satan, it seems, had tried to be like God in Heaven. We can assume that Satan now saw his chance to do on Earth what he’d failed to do in Heaven―to be like God. He wanted to seize control of planet Earth. He wanted humans to worship and serve him rather than God. So he hatched a plan.

In Genesis 3:1 we read that the snake “was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made” . This was no ordinary snake. It may have been Satan’s messenger. Or it may have been Satan himself in disguise.

The snake tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. And so we read that Eve “ate, and . . . also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).

How did the snake persuade Adam and Eve to disobey God? It did this by deceiving them.

 It made them think wrongly about God―that His word couldn’t be trusted, that He didn’t love them, that He didn’t want the very best for them.

 And it made Adam and Eve think wrongly about themselves. Now they believed that they could do without God and decide for themselves how to live.

It was through believing these lies―this false teaching―that sin entered this world.

Satan deceived Adam and Eve. He is “the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). Where in the Bible do we see Satan’s deceptive activity most graphically? Right here in the Book of Revelation.

A shattered world

Adam and Eve rebelled against God. That had catastrophic consequences on them and on this world. Sin and evil has devastated our human race and the natural world. Earth is still a wonderful place, full of beauty. But it’s also spoiled. It’s spoiled in so many different ways.

One of them is this: Satan gained power over our human race. The apostle John tells us that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 NIV). We see this so clearly in Revelation.

Satan’s plan succeeded―or so it seemed. He did indeed gain control over this world. But we need to remember this: Satan rules human society only by God’s permission and only within God’s limits. We see this very clearly in Revelation, too.

The Snake-Crusher

God cursed the snake. And He said to it: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers” (Genesis 3:15).

From that moment there would be war between Satan and Eve, and between their offspring―between people who follow Satan and people who follow God.

But then we read this: “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The offspring of the woman would crush Satan’s head. A descendant of Eve would crush Satan and defeat him.

So from now on, through the Bible, we see conflict. And from now on, too, we’re looking for the descendant of Eve who would crush Satan.

The moment arrived when this descendant was born. Paul tells us “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus is the Offspring of the woman. He crushed Satan’s head on the Cross. And He rose from death and ascended into heaven. He’s now enthroned at God’s right hand, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, . . . .” (Ephesians 1:20-21).

Endgame

God is now carrying out the final phase of His plan of salvation. And He’s enlisted us, His people, in His final ‘push’ to victory. Through His Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered people, God is advancing His Kingdom across the globe. God’s people are plundering Satan’s domain and making disciples in every nation.

But that advance is being stoutly resisted by Satan and the forces of evil. They’re fighting a desperate rearguard action. Victory has already been won. Jesus won it on the Cross. But we’re still at war. Every Christian―in fact, every human―is involved in this war. None of us can avoid it.

But we need to remember that this war is not between evenly-matched opponents―not in the slightest. Satan and his forces have power only by God’s permission and within God’s limits. God is always in full control.

The warriors

Who are the warriors in this great battle?

 The great Warrior of Revelation is the Triune God―Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God’s holy angels are also involved. And, of course, we believers are involved.

 Warring against God and His forces are Satan and his forces. Paul catalogues Satan’s spiritual forces in Ephesians 6. He writes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). But though we don’t fight against “flesh and blood”, Satan and his spiritual forces can and do operate through people. In other words, we never fight against forces that are merely “flesh and blood”, merely human. And so, in Revelation we meet people under Satan’s domination. They’re described as ”all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave” , who are “marked on the right hand or the forehead” with the “mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (13:16–17). We’ll look at this mark in session 5.

Warfare and worship

Satan wants to be treated like God here on Earth. He wants to be worshipped instead of God. And so, at its heart, the battle is about worship. Who will be worshipped and served here on Earth? Will people worship God? Or will they worship Satan and the forces of evil? One writer says, “In this war there are two sides. You are either for God or against him. You either serve God, or in one way or another you will be found worshiping Satan and his bestial agents . . . . Thus Revelation implicitly issues a challenge like Joshua: ‘choose this day whom you will serve’ (Joshua 24:15).”[3]

And this must surely explain why we see so much worship in Revelation. We see those who worship God and the Lamb: there are seven scenes of heavenly worship in Revelation (4:8-11, 5:8-14, 7:9-12, 11:16-18, 14:1-3, 15:2-4, 19:1-8). And we see those who worship the dragon and its beast (13:4-5,8,11-12). In fact, the word ‘worship’ occurs 22 times (in the ESV)―that’s more than in any other New Testament book.

To worship God is an act of war. When we worship God, and when we declare Jesus to be Lord, we wage war on Satan.

The weapons of war

How does Satan attack us? What are his weapons?

 Firstly, he tries to deceive us. Satan “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), “the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). Paul speaks of “the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Right at the beginning, he deceived Eve with his craftiness (2 Corinthians 11:3).

 Secondly, he attacks us through persecution and the fear of persecution. Such persecution may not be just physical. It may be verbal, psychological, and emotional.

What are our weapons against Satan and his forces?

 Firstly, God’s people conquer Satan “by the blood of the Lamb” (12:11). Jesus suffered the penalty for our sins. And God has credited us with Jesus’s perfect righteousness. Satan can no longer accuse us before God.

 Secondly, we also overcome Satan and all his forces by the truth. Right at the beginning, Satan spoke lies. And it was through believing those lies that sin entered this world. And so we defeat Satan’s lies with the truth. We can think of the war with Satan as taking place in a lawcourt. Satan and his forces are in the dock. Witnesses have been called, questioned and cross-examined. Jesus Christ Himself is “the faithful and true witness” (3:14)―a witness to God’s character, to the way of salvation, to the coming judgment. John “bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (1:2). You and I are witnesses. All God’s people are witnesses. And so ‘witness’ is a key theme in Revelation, as we’ll see.

 Thirdly, God’s people are to resist the seductions of this world. John urges us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15).

 Finally, God’s people respond to persecution by staying faithful to God even through suffering and even, if need be, to death. Jesus said to the suffering church in Smyrna, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10).

In the next part, we’ll set off on our journey through Revelation. We’ll see three fundamental truths that will equip us as we travel through this book.

FOOTNOTES [1]Quoted from Speech to 8th Army upon assuming command Published online here, accessed 17 September 2021. [2] Quoted from Destiny in the Desert: the Road to El Alamein―the Battle that Turned the Tide by Jonathan Dimbleby (page not known). First published in Great Britain by Profile Books Ltd., London, in 2012. Accessed on Google Books on 2 June 2022. [3] Quoted from The Returning King: a Guide to the Book of Revelation, by Vern Sheridan Poythress, page 23. Published by P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, in 2000. Published online here, accessed on 14 July 2021.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2023 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture citations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition) Copyright ©1979,1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.

The Lamb is the Lord: a journey through the Book of Revelation

In the book of Revelation, God draws aside the curtains on the stage of history. Through the captivating power of drama and imagery, Jesus shows us what’s really going on here on Earth, and where human history is heading. Revelation gathers up the key themes that run through the Bible and weaves them into the glorious climax of God’s redemptive plan for us and for this world.

This post is the first of a series that will take you through this final book of the Bible. We’ll explore it’s key themes, its storyline, its symbolism and imagery. And we’ll see what God is saying to us believers through this book as we follow Jesus day by day.

This series of posts is an edited version of seven talks given at a local church. For each of these talks, a brief illustrated introduction and a longer illustrated study were handed out to the participants. These will also be uploaded onto the website as downloadable PDFs.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The year is probably around 90-95AD. The emperor Domitian rules the Roman Empire. That mighty empire is almost at its greatest power and extent, ruling from Spain and Portugal to the Middle East, from Britain to North Africa.

At this moment in history, Almighty God speaks―not to the leaders of that proud empire―but to an old man in exile on a little Mediterranean island. That man is John the Apostle. He’s probably in his 80s, and almost certainly the only one of Jesus’s 12 disciples still alive. John writes, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9).

John continues: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.’” (1:10-11).

And what John writes to these seven churches―the book of Revelation―has come to you by special guaranteed delivery from the Lord God Almighty in Heaven. God gave it to Jesus Christ. Jesus, in turn, sent His angel, who made it known to John (1:1). John wrote it, and a courier carried his manuscript to each of seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. That manuscript was copied and recopied, gathered with other God-breathed manuscripts into the Bible, and has now―in translated and printed form―found its way into your home and hand. You now read what John wrote over 19 centuries ago.

John begins: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, . . . .” (1:1). The Greek word for ”revelation” is apocalupsis. Our word ‘apocalyptic’ comes from that word. We use ‘apocalyptic’ to mean something that’s catastrophic, an overwhelming disaster. But the Greek word means something rather different. It means ‘an uncovering’, ‘an unveiling’. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is unveiling things to us.

Earthrise from Wikipedia, image by NASA

Earthrise: a photograph taken by Apollo 8 crewmember Bill Anders on December 24, 1968.

There’s a famous photograph entitled ‘Earthrise’. It was taken on the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon in 1968. The astronauts on this mission were the very first humans who saw Earth as viewed from the Moon. It gave them―and us―a completely new perspective on our planet. Likewise, in Revelation, God gives us a new perspective on this world, and all that’s going on in it. He’s giving us His heavenly perspective.

Things that must soon take place

Revelation is “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” (1:1). The book reveals what’s happening in the final period of human history, and where history is heading.

The Bible calls this final period of history the “last days”. When are these last days? The book of Hebrews tells us. It begins: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, . . . .” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The last days began with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. We’re now in the last days! In fact, John wrote, “Children, it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). We’re living in the last hour! John wrote these words in the first century AD. This last hour began many centuries ago!

These last days will end when Jesus returns. Jesus Himself tells us: “He who testifies to these things says, ’Surely I am coming soon.’” (22:20). John responds with eager anticipation: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20). We all echo that cry: Come Lord Jesus!

An enigmatic book

In Revelation, there are many things that seem rather puzzling. For example:

 Who or what are the four horsemen of the apocalypse (6:1-8)?

 What’s “the mark of the beast” (for example, 16:2, 19:20)?

 Where and when is the battle of Armageddon (16:16)?

 When are the “thousand years” (20:2-7), also called the Millennium?

 Revelation is full of numbers―especially the number seven. For example, there’s the famous number “666” (13:18). What do all these numbers mean?

Firstly, we need to keep in mind that Revelation wasn’t written to theologians. It was written to ordinary men and women, many of whom had little or no education. Our Lord didn’t write the book to mystify us. He wrote it so we could understand it![1]

Seeing the wood from the trees

So how do we interpret these things? We need to start with the big picture, not the details.

What’s the most famous painting in the world? I think most people would agree that it’s the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s a portrait of an Italian noblewoman called Lisa del Giocondo.

Image from Wikipedia.

Mona Lisa: a portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519).

Imagine you’re visiting the Louvre Museum. You’ve never seen the Mona Lisa before. You go to the room where it’s displayed. And there it is! The most famous painting in the world!

As you look at this painting, you’ll see that the background to the portrait is a landscape. In that landscape there’s a bridge over a river. It’s just to the right of the lady’s shoulder.

Suppose you focus on this bridge. You think to yourself, “Why did Leonardo include that bridge?”, “Why did he place it in that position?”, “Does this bridge symbolise something?”, “And, if so, what does it symbolise?”

But if you get preoccupied about details like this, you’ll miss the big picture. You’ll fail to really appreciate the main thing―the portrait of the noblewoman, and the remarkable way that Leonardo portrays her.

And that’s how it is with Revelation. If we start by puzzling over the details, we’ll be in danger of missing its key messages. For example, in 13:1-2 we read about a frightening beast which has “ten horns and seven heads” . If we begin by trying to work out why it’s got ten horns (and not, say, five) and seven heads (and not, say, four) then we’ll be in danger of missing the main thing this beast is showing us.

But if we begin just by reading through Revelation and getting engrossed in the story, then the details will begin to become clear. For example, we’ll begin to see what this beast really represents. Then we’ll be better able to explore what the ten horns and seven heads mean.

God’s cosmic drama

Reading Revelation is like watching a play at a theatre. The curtain rises. We see angels and living beings full of eyes. Catastrophes and judgments sweep the Earth. Menacing monsters appear before us. We read of a great final battle at a place called Armageddon. A drunken prostitute parades before us, riding a many-headed scarlet beast. And at the end, there’s a city like an enormous cube―a city that is, in fact, a bride!

And as each scene is played out on the stage, we find ourselves absorbed in all that’s going on. We’re awestruck by the glory and majesty of God on His throne, and of Jesus the Lamb. We’re thrilled when we see the saints rejoicing and triumphant in glory. We’re shaken by the great judgments that sweep the earth. We’re shocked and appalled by the sight of the dragon and the beast.

But we’re not merely spectators in the audience, watching the drama on the stage. We’re actually on the stage! We’re actors, each playing our God-appointed role.

God’s picture book

Revelation is full of imagery and symbolism. But Revelation isn’t the only place in the Bible where we find this. For example: David tells God, ”in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge” (Psalm 57:1). Jesus used lots of imagery in His teaching. He tells us that He is “the bread of life” (John 6:35, 48), “the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5), “the good shepherd” (John 10:11,14), “the true vine” (John 15:1).

Why does the Bible use imagery?

 Firstly, as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Each image and symbol in the Bible contains a wealth of meaning. You couldn’t fully explain all this truth in just words―only images can fully convey all the truth God wants to teach us.

 Secondly, imagery seizes our attention, stirs our imagination and rouses our emotions. It drives truth home to us in a way that we don’t easily forget.

So how can we understand and interpret all the imagery and symbolism in Revelation? One key is this: more than any other New Testament book, we need to read Revelation with our Old Testament open beside us.

Revelation constantly alludes back to the Old Testament. In its 405 verses there are (according to one estimate) “something like 676 allusions” [2]. The books most frequently alluded to are Isaiah, Psalms, Ezekiel, Daniel and Exodus. So the better we know the Old Testament, the better we’ll be able to understand Revelation.

Here’s an example. In chapters 13 and 17, a terrifying beast appears. In 13:1-2―as we mentioned earlier―we see a frightening beast which has “ten horns and seven heads”. The beast of chapter 17 is doubtless the same beast. We read this: “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.”

Where in the Old Testament do we read about beasts like this? They remind us of beasts that the prophet Daniel saw. In Daniel 3:3-7 we read, “four great beasts came up out of the sea, . . . . The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. . . . . And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. . . . . I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, . . . . After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.” These four beasts represent four world empires―probably the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires.

In Revelation, John sees these four beasts combined into one horrific monster. The Book of Daniel helps us to identify what this beast represents. It pictures a combination of different world empires. In fact, it seems to picture all the world empires that have been dominated by Satan―in other words, every godless power that has strutted the stage of world history.

Scene changes

Revelation isn’t organised systematically. It isn’t a college textbook. It’s not a timetable of the last days. As we said earlier, it’s like a drama.

 Revelation isn’t arranged in a strict chronological sequence. Sometimes we skip forward in time and then back again. We’re probably familiar with this kind of thing in movies. These may include ‘flashbacks’―scenes that interrupt the chronological flow of the movie because they portray events occurring earlier in time. Revelation does the same kind of thing. We see flashbacks―scenes that take us back in time to earlier events. But we also see ’flashforwards’―scenes that take us forward to events in the future.

 Revelation alternates between scenes of what’s happening on Earth and scenes of what’s happening in heaven.

In the next part, we’ll try to answer these questions: What is Revelation basically all about? What’s it’s main storyline?

FOOTNOTES [1] Adapted from Blessed: Experiencing the Promise of the Book of Revelation, by Nancy Guthrie, page 12. Published by Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, in 2022. [2] The figure is quoted in Revelation (Tyndale New Testament Commentary), by Ian Paul, page 39. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, and Inter-Varsity Press, London, England, in 2018.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2023 Robert Gordon Betts All Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Christmas briefing

Image © Lumo Project through Free Bible Images All rights reserved

At this Christmas season, I thought it might be helpful to gather together four previously published posts relevant to Jesus’s birth.

Why was Jesus’ birth announced to shepherds?

Have you ever wondered why Jesus’ birth was announced to shepherds? In his commentary on Luke’s Gospel, I. Howard Marshall writes, “the motif that God reveals the birth of the Saviour to ordinary, lowly people, is undoubtedly present.” God’s angelic army announced the Saviour’s birth to humble shepherds, not to those of wealth and status. But there are two other possible reasons why shepherds were privileged with the news of the Saviour’s birth. Read the whole article HERE.

The Christmas army of angels

In his book, ‘A Not-So-Silent Night: the Unheard story of Christmas and Why It Matters’ Verlyn D. Verbrugge writes, “One of the most familiar elements of the Christmas story in Luke 2 is the appearance of the angel to the shepherds. That angel was soon joined by a “great company of the heavenly host . . . praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2.13– 14 NIV). . . . . The word that Luke uses for “host” is the Greek word ‘stratia’, a word that in classical Greek almost invariably denotes an army or a company of soldiers. On occasion the word could be used as an alternate for the Greek word ‘strateia’, which denotes a military expedition. In either case, the word has strong military connotations.” But why is this military connation significant? Read the whole article HERE.

’Once more: Jesus was not born in a stable’ by Ian Paul

Dr. Ian Paul writes, “. . . Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case. So where has the idea come from?” Dr Paul tells us why oxen and asses are traditionally placed in the nativity scene. He explains the meanings of the Greek word in Luke 2.7 that’s translated “inn” in the ESV and the King James Version (but translated “guest room” in the NIV). And he takes us back to the first-century setting of the narrative, including the culture of the time and the actual design of Palestinian homes. Dr Paul draws on resources by other writers and provides links to two sermons, one by himself, another by Stephen Kuhrt, that retell the Christmas story in way that is faithful to its first-century Palestinian background. Read the whole article HERE.

’4 reasons to preach the genealogies at Christmas (really!)’ by David Thommen

Have you ever studied – or preached on – one of Jesus’ genealogies? David Thommen has. He writes, “I will never forget the zeal, the excitement, and the anticipation of my first Christmas sermon. . . . . . . . I wanted to preach something that I had never heard from the pulpit for Christmas, or any other time for that matter. . . . . When one of my elders asked me what I would be preaching on, I confidently proclaimed: “The genealogy from Matthew 1”. His response was different than I expected. “Why would you do that? You never preach the genealogies.” Convinced that all Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3.16-17), I soldiered forward undeterred. I pondered, in light of the rather unexpected response, why does the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew matter to the Christian at Christmas?” He shows us four reasons why it matters. Read the whole article HERE.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (apart from those in direct quotations) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent’ by John Piper

Here is a series of daily readings for Advent from the pen of John Piper. His book of readings, entitled The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, is available for free download in PDF format HERE. This book can also be purchased in paperback, kindle and audiobook format from Amazon (a link is provided alongside the download button), or from other retailers.

In the preface to this book, John Piper writes: “I have called Christmas—and this little book—“the dawning of indestructible joy” because the joy Jesus was bringing into the world was like no other kind in history. Once we have it, it cannot be destroyed. Jesus said, “No one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).

The joy that Jesus came to bring is from outside this world. It is the very joy that Jesus himself has in God the Father—which he has had from all eternity and will have forever. There is no greater joy than the joy that God has in God, because God is the greatest object of joy, and God has the greatest powers to enjoy.

Jesus said, “I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). His joy was the very joy of God. He promises to put that in us. That is what the Holy Spirit does. He pours out the love of God in our hearts (Rom. 5:5), and with it the joy of God in God. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy . . .” (Gal. 5:22). This is “great joy.” And it cannot be taken away. It is indestructible.

Ah, but it can go to sleep. That’s why Peter says, “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Pet. 1:13). Yes. It is very right. Because, oh, how wrong, how sad, when we stand before great wonders and feel nothing. It is right, therefore, that he write and I write to awaken and stir up our affections for the greatest wonder of all: the arrival and the work and the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in this world.”

John Piper is teacher and founder of DesiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. He is the author of more than 50 books.

Quotation taken from The dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent by John Piper, © 2014, pp. 8-9. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org. (Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. 2011 Text Edition. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘Genesis 24 and God’s plan for the world’ by David Schrock

camel train, Middle East, Palestine, Egypt, Abraham, Genesis 24, Isaac

Image from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs online catalog.

“And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” . . . . ”Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor.” (Genesis 24.2-4,10). An old photograph (taken between 1934 and 1939) showing a camel caravan in the Middle East.

Genesis 24 tells how Abraham found a wife for his son Isaac. It’s the longest chapter in the Book of Genesis. David Schrock explains this story and explores its importance in the Bible storyline. He writes, “. . . the longest narrative event in Genesis is a love story, one that seems Dickens-like in its profusion of extraneous information. Certainly, as the promises of God are given to Abraham and his offspring, the marriage of his son is no small matter. Yet, it seems as though the account of the servant traveling back to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac is prolix detour from the rest of Genesis. . . . . So why the long drama of finding Isaac a wife? My answer is that this story reflects God’s story for the world, and the long-time-in-coming union between God’s beloved son with his bride. Let’s consider.”

After showing us how Genesis should be read in the context of the whole Bible story, he comments, ”. . . we have reason to read Genesis 24 as a narrative meant to point to Christ, just as the firstborn son of Abraham points to Christ (cf. Romans 8.31–32). We should likewise see the account of Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage as patterned after the original marriage and foreshadowing a greater marriage—after all, this is the mystery marriage, that every husband and wife are types of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5.22–33). Last, we should consider how Moses intended to tell the history of Isaac and Rebekah and perhaps something else—namely another rehearsal of the exodus event he had experienced with Israel. . . . . With these ‘reading requirements’ in place, what do we find in Genesis 24?”

Dr Schrock details how the story in Genesis 24 foreshadows how God will bring a bride to His Son. He concludes, “Incredibly, Genesis 24 is not the longest chapter in Genesis by accident. It is a pure and holy story of covenant marriage, set against all the other debauched stories of sexual immorality in Genesis. And . . . it teaches us how to look at the entire world with hope in Christ and the marriage he offers to those who forsake their fathers and join themselves to God’s Son. . . . . It surely should encourage us as we the bride serve our Master and call others to come to him!”

Read the whole article HERE.

CREDITS Scripture citations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

‘The four seeds of Abraham: natural, national, Christ and “in Christ”‘ by David Schrock

“And [the LORD] brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15.5–6).

David Schrock writes, “. . . it is vital to see how God’s earlier revelation prepares the way for his later purposes. Sometimes this is called an ‘eschatological’ reading of Scripture. That may sound complicated, but it’s not. Eschatology means ‘the study of last things’ (eschatos = last), and most of the time people immediately jump to what they perceive are the ‘last things’ in the Bible. However, if we consider that God stands outside of time and created all things for the purpose putting them under his Son’s feet (see Ephesians 1:10), then we must read the Bible as one unified-but-unfolding plan of redemption. In this way, eschatology doesn’t begin in Revelation, or Daniel, or Zechariah, it begins in Genesis. And from Genesis to Revelation, God is working all things for the purposes of his people—the offspring of Abraham. But who is/are Abraham’s offspring?”

Dr. Schrock explains who the four seeds of Abraham are, and places them in the developing storyline of the Bible. He concludes, “. . . ultimately, it is the third and fourth seeds that are most important. To be sure, the second seed takes up most of the pages in Scripture, but that second seed was always chosen for the purpose of the third seed. And nestled within the second seed, even before the coming of the third, was the fourth. . . . . Keep your eyes on the storyline of Scripture, and watch how the historical figures in the Old Testament bear witness to the coming Christ. In Scripture, all things are directed towards him, and thus only as we place faith in him, do God’s people find their blessing, as children of Abraham. This is how the Scripture explain God’s purposes in time, just as Paul puts in Galatians 3.23–29. . . . . Indeed, as we read Scripture may we learn how to tell the time. And most important for setting our watches is learning to see how God is at work over the different covenants of Scripture.”

Read the whole article HERE.

CREDITS All Scripture citations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Christmas army of angels

Image © Lumo Project through Free Bible Images All rights reserved

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2.8–14).

In his book, A Not-So-Silent Night: the Unheard Story of Christmas and Why It Matters, Verlyn D. Verbrugge writes, “One of the most familiar elements of the Christmas story in Luke 2 is the appearance of the angel to the shepherds. That angel was soon joined by a “great company of the heavenly host . . . praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2.13– 14 NIV). I doubt if there is anyone who does not envision this scene as a huge company of angels dressed in choir robes, perhaps complete with sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses, singing praise to the newborn king . . . . . . . . I, too, have always had this picture in my mind. . . . . But . . . I decided to revisit this passage in Luke 2, reading it in the Greek New Testament to see if there was something I may have missed. In doing so, I discovered something I had never realized before and something that is rarely mentioned and never discussed in detail in commentaries on Luke. This passage fits in with one of the two main themes I have been exploring in this book, namely, that Christmas is the beginning of war. Where is the military imagery in Luke 2:13? Listen carefully: The word that Luke uses for “host” is the Greek word stratia, a word that in classical Greek almost invariably denotes an army or a company of soldiers. On occasion the word could be used as an alternate for the Greek word strateia, which denotes a military expedition. In either case, the word has strong military connotations. . . . . What the NIV translates as “heavenly host,” Luke Timothy Johnson translates as “the heavenly army.” Christopher Evans refers to the “angels as the divine soldiery,” and F. L. Godet calls them a “troop of angels.” The NRSV has a footnote by the word “host” and indicates that in Greek this word means “army.” . . . . Most commentators, however, understand this word as a large choir.”

Dr. Verbrugge asks, ”How does this military imagery, then, intersect with the Christmas story? He explains, “In chapter 2 we discussed the evidence in the Bible that Christmas was the beginning of a celestial war. Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil, and Satan reciprocated by trying to destroy Jesus. . . . . . . . Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, he had numerous encounters with demons, the cohorts of Satan.  . . . .  Our Savior openly admitted that he had always had a spiritual army at his disposal: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26.53).  . . . . It seems to me that those legions of angels who were ready to do the bidding of Jesus in Matthew 26 are identical to the multitude of the heavenly host, the stratia, that is out on the fields of Bethlehem. In other words, the song that these heavenly angels sing, . . . is not sung first and foremost by a heavenly choir, though I don’t doubt for a minute that they were trained in music as well as in military procedures. It is sung by legions of heavenly soldiers whose Commander in Chief has just been born, and they know that full-fledged war is just ahead of them.”

Verbrugge’s explanation throws a floodlight onto this heavenly encounter that Luke narrates. The appearance of this army of angels signals that a war – whose field of conflict embraced both heaven and earth – was entering its decisive phase. Christ’s nativity was the prelude to the great climactic battle in the war against Satan, the battle that took place on the cross, in which Satan was defeated, in which Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Colossian 2.15).

That war against Satan began in heaven, when Satan first rebelled against God. Other angels joined Satan’s rebellion. From that time, Satan and his evil forces have opposed God and every angel and human loyal to Him. This cosmic conflict is central to the Bible story.

When Adam and Eve, too – tempted by the serpent – rebelled against God, the theatre of war now extended to planet Earth. After Adam and Eve’s sin, God cursed Satan. He said to him: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3.15). There would be conflict between Satan and Eve. And there would be conflict between their offspring – between people who follow Satan and God’s people. But, one day, a single offspring descended from Eve would – though suffering fearfully in the process – defeat Satan, and deal with all the consequences of sin. In Vaughan Robert’s words, “The rest of the Bible can be seen as a ‘search for the serpent-crusher”.

From the moment of the Fall, through century after century, God prepared the stage of history for the coming of the Serpent-Crusher. Alec Motyer comments that the Old Testament “is, in many ways, a book standing on tiptoe, straining forward into the future.” As we travel through the Old Testament God fills out the details of this Man Who would defeat Satan and rescue and restore mankind and the whole creation. So, after many centuries, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, . . . .” (Galatians 4.4). Just as angels “shouted for joy” at Earth’s creation (Job 38.7), now they celebrate our Saviour’s birth (Luke 2.13-14). God’s heavenly host rejoice every time Satan’s dark dominion is pushed back – and Jesus’s birth heralded Satan’s total defeat. No wonder they rejoiced!

Details of Dr. Verbrugge’s book A Not-So-Silent Night: the Unheard story of Christmas and Why It Matters are available HERE.

CREDITS Text copyright © 2018 Robert Gordon Betts Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (other than those in quotations from other authors) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.

‘Preaching Christ from the Old Testament’ by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Image from Lightstock

Dr Sinclair B. Ferguson asks, “. . . how do we legitimately preach the text of the Old Testament as those who stand on this side of Pentecost? What difference does it make to expound Genesis or Psalms as believers in Jesus Christ? Or, to put it in a more graphic way, how can we reconstruct the principles of Jesus’ conversation in Luke 24.25-27,45, and learn to follow his example of showing how all the Scriptures point to him so that hearts are ‘strangely warmed’ and begin to burn? . . . . Yet we must also preach the Scriptures without denuding them of the genuine historical events they record and the reality of the personal experiences they describe or to which they were originally addressed. How, then, do we preach Christ, and him crucified without leapfrogging over these historical realities as though the Old Testament Scriptures had no real significance for their own historical context?”

He explains, “. . . there are . . . very important principles that help us to develop Christ-centred expository skills. As we work with them, and as they percolate through our thinking and our approach to the Bible, they will help us develop the instinct to point people to Christ from the Old Testament Scriptures. The most general principle is one for which we might coin the expression fillfulment. Christ fulfils or ‘fills full’ the Old Testament. He came ‘not to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfil them’ (Matthew 5.17). As Christians standing within the light of New Testament revelation and looking back on the Old Testament, Christ himself acts as a hermeneutical prism. Looking back through him, we see the white light of the unity of the truth of Jesus Christ broken down into its constituent colours in the pages of the Old Testament. Then, looking forwards we see how the multi-coloured strands of Old Testament revelation converge in him.  . . . . We want to develop an instinct to preach Christ. This is the general principle. But it can be broken down into at least four subordinate principles . . . .”

Dr Ferguson then explains these four principles. In his conclusion, he comments, “These are general principles; they do not constitute a simple formula, an elixir to be sprinkled on our sermons to transform them into the preaching of Christ. There is no formula that will do that. . . . . But as we come to know the Scriptures more intimately, as we see these patterns deeply embedded in the Bible, and—just as crucially—as we come to know Christ himself more intimately and to love him better, we shall surely develop the instinct to reason, explain and prove from all the Scriptures the riches of grace which are proclaimed in Jesus, the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”

Dr Ferguson’s article is instructive and stimulating, and worth taking time to read and to digest – and to apply.

It’s available in 10 parts from website of The Proclamation Trust. For part 1, click HERE; for part 2, click HERE; for part 3, click HERE; for part 4, click HERE; for part 5, click HERE; for part 6, click HERE; for part 7, click HERE; for part 8, click HERE; for part 9, click HERE; and for part 10, click HERE.

An earlier version of this article is available as a single webpage HERE (the online version in 10 parts available above is a later edited version).

New series of videos: ‘The Journey’. Video 10: ‘Immanuel, God With Us’

The Journey is a series of 16 videos (of around 25-30 minutes each) that will take us through the Bible story. The YouTube video above is number 10 in this series. Entitled Immanuel, God With Us, it begins the New Testament story by looking at Jesus’s birth and life, and His ministry and teaching until He enters Jerusalem shortly before His crucifixion. And we’ll see how each of the four Gospels gives us a unique view of Jesus’s life and character and ministry.

This video series can be used for group study (in fact, it’s currently being used in the author’s home church in the United Kingdom for group study). Each video is accompanied by a two-page Leader’s Guide, in PDF format. These give a few questions for group discussion, and provide guidance for the leader in helping the group to answer the questions. Click on the PDF icon below to download this.

The next video in this series will cover Jesus’s trials and crucifixion, and His resurrection and ascension into Heaven. It will be uploaded on Thursday 23rd March. As we approach Good Friday and Easter, these two videos, and their accompanying Leaders’ Guides, might provide a suitable study for your church or Bible study group at this season when we remember Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

The writer Dorothy Sayers pronounced the Christian faith to be “the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man . . .” It’s helpful to step back and view this drama in one great panorama – a kind of large-scale map from Genesis to journey’s end in glory.

This series of videos (supplemented with the written studies entitled The Big Journey provided on this website) aims to be that map. It’s a panorama of the Bible narrative from creation through redemption to new creation. We explore the Old Testament story, Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, and the story of the Church from the Day of Pentecost to the present day. Finally, we’ll look at what happens at the end of this age, Jesus’s Second Coming, and the New Heaven and Earth. In particular, we’ll see how Jesus’s life, death, resurrection and ascension is the focus of all history, and the key to God’s plan for us and our world.

Along the way, the series introduces some of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith at appropriate points in the narrative (for example, the Incarnation is explained in the video above, which tells about Jesus’ birth and life).