Apocalytpics Now, Part 2
In part 1 we saw that Apocalyptic Bible passages aren't just scary predictions of events far off in the future. They give us great insights into God and inspire us to live better lives with Him now. Apocalyptic passages speak of God's character and motives. They tell us about the behaviour He expects of us, and the consequences of our actions in response to His love and gracious offer of salvation. Apocalyptic passages reveal a lot about God's allies, enemies, mighty deeds and exhortations to action.
As promised, this article looks for insights from several apocalyptic passages. These include five from the Old Testament and five from the New Testament: Isaiah 24-27, Ezekiel 38-39, Daniel 7-12, Joel, Zechariah 12-14, Matthew 24 (cf. Mark 13, Luke 21), 2 Thessalonians 1:3-2:13, 2 Peter 2-3, Jude, and Revelation. I encourage you to read these and make your own observations in addition to this summary.
God and His Allies
God is Lord of hosts, Lord God almighty, Creator, Father, Master, keeper and protector of all His creatures. He is the only One, like no other. He is merciful yet holy. All the nations are to know him. He is the Ancient of Days whose appearance is white as snow and blazing. God is strong in carrying out His word yet gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He is zealous for His land and brings calamity for disobedience but He will relent if people repent. He is not slow about fulfilling His promise to consummate all things. He patiently waits for people to repent. He is Judge of all and refuge for His people.
Jesus Christ is the Son of Man, Prince of princes, Messiah, the one pierced, the Shepherd who lives forever with the Father. He is the Son of God and Saviour who comes with authority from the Father and has sat down on His throne. He is the first born from dead, the living One, who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. He is holy and true, the one who died and came to life again. He has the sharp two-edged sword. He is God, Lion of Judah, Root of David, the Lamb that was slain, Alpha, Omega, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. He is the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God. His Holy Spirit is God. Revelation emphasizes salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of the Lamb who is worthy of glory with the Father.
God's allies include his faithful thousands upon thousands who attend him, the saints of the Highest One, His holy ones. They appear in various forms like Daniel's "certain man" dressed in linen, appearing like lightening and sounding like a tumult. The Lord has His armies in heaven and on earth. God's elect and faithful servants work with Him. These include those who have survived persecution for His name. Some passages simply mention "others." God's people are a kingdom of priests. Twenty-four elders attend him. The bride of Christ includes the witnesses He redeemed from all nations.
Angels are common in apocalyptic visions. They are mighty and appear in many ways including flaming fire. Michael is the archangel, the great prince, and he has angels working with him. Revelation numbers the angels in various ways, including the seven. Other heavenly beings include the four living creatures and the woman clothed with the sun and crown of twelve stars and her son. God's allies are examples of faithfulness and obedience.
God's Apocalyptic Communications
God sends apocalyptic communication through visions, dreams, special messages and signs, notably the sign of the Son of Man and the breath of His mouth. Trumpets frequently sound to announce messages and cataclysmic events. There are unique elements: the fountain of David, swords, plagues, and cooking bowls. God speaks through angels and even a donkey. He addresses the churches by seven spirits and letters. Apocalyptic sounds include songs of praise, the song of Moses, many waters, thunder and voices from the throne. Seven is a common number and organizing principle in Revelation: seven spirits, seven churches, seven angels, seven plagues, seven peals of thunder, and seven bowls. God uses powerful creative media.
The recipients of God's apocalypses include their earthly authors, chosen disciples, Israel, the church and the world at large. The revelations impact their recipients directly such as Daniel's feelings of illness and John's posture of worship. Second Peter presents a good example from the Old Testament in Noah, the preacher of righteousness.
God's motives include reigning on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. He wants to vanquish pride and establish peace. He will punish the unrighteous and reward righteousness, a quality in harmony with his character. He is patient, wanting none to perish but all to come to repentance. His patience is salvation. He will bring about the consummation of all things and decide final eternal destinies. He will be glorified.
Biblical apocalypses describe the enemies of God. Authors give object lessons of their bad examples in vivid detail. They include nations and their inhabitants on earth, such as Moab, Gog, and Magog, and dramatic spiritual beings such the beasts of Revelation, Leviathan, the twisted serpent and the dragon who lives in the sea. Empires sweep over His people. Fallen baptized Christians become enemies of God according to 2 Peter 3. Other human enemies include mockers, untaught, unstable, unprincipled men, liars, idolaters, sorcerers and murderers. Daniel and Revelation describe enemy kings. Daniel, Matthew and Mark caution their readers about the abomination of desolation. False prophets usurp God's voice. These include false Christs, the man of lawlessness and son of destruction. Babylon the mother of harlots leads many astray. The most prominent enemy is Satan, the serpent of old, the devil.
God's enemies deny him, the Master, break his covenant, destroy, deceive with false signs and wonders, attempting to mislead his elect, make war on them, and shed righteous blood. They distort Scripture. While attempting to do "great things," they take pleasure in wickedness, commit immoral acts and entice others to do the same. They pollute and destroy the earth. Peter and Jude make object lessons of sinning angels, Sodom and Gomorrah, Balaam, Cain and the rebels of Korah.
Exhortations to Action
Apocalyptic passages contain exhortations to high ethical standards. Many center on God: glorify Him, fear Him, make peace with Him, be faithful to Him until death, confess His name, look to the One pierced, call on Him, worship Him, return to Him with a whole heart, believe Him, keep His and the Apostle's words, and grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ. Many passages call for repentance: turn from iniquity, weep, wail, return to your first love, be spotless and blameless. Preparation, perseverance, and waiting are important: be alert, stay awake, be steadfast, keep Jesus' deeds, hold fast to what you have. Apocalyptic ethics exhort individuals in relationship to others: gather God's people together, have mercy on those who doubt, save others, snatch them out of the fire. Apocalyptic exhortations are often hopeful: rejoice, be glad, be at perfect peace.
God's Actions and Consequences
God acts and does great things for His faithful and against His enemies. He is sovereign over the affairs of heaven and earth. While He is patient and just and exhorts people to obedience, God moves forward with purpose. Time has its consummation in eternity when opportunities for repentance end and final destinies emerge. Actions have consequences. Reaping follows sowing. God will bring an end to every disobedient idolatrous initiative, punish His enemies, and give relief to His people.
God will pour out His Spirit on all and empower believers. Jesus will return victorious over all His enemies and gather God's people to Him. They will shine brightly like stars. He sanctifies His people by His Spirit. They work with Him for His purposes in the strength He supplies. God burns up the earth and brings the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem. He brings an end to the pain and tears of His people and heals the nations. Ezekiel and Joel repeatedly express the ultimate purpose of God's actions: all will know that He is LORD. His faithful will walk with Him in His everlasting light and glory.
Heavenly and Earthly Spheres of Influence
Apocalyptic passages are conduits of communication between heavenly eternal and earthly temporal spheres. They address the fate of nations, kingdoms, and individuals alike on the basis of their response to God. Time is a critical dimension through which God works to fulfill his eternal purposes. Though only the Father knows the time of Jesus' return, each day for those living on earth is an opportunity to connect with the life of eternity. The final apocalypse reveals God's supremacy over the new heaven, new earth, new Jerusalem, the darkness of the abyss and the lake of fire.
Summary: Ongoing Applications of Apocalyptics Now
Apocalyptics focus on God through His revelation of Himself by a genre of writing that links the physical and spiritual realms. God's nature and power appear in His names, His voice and words, His commands and in His mighty deeds. His mercy and steadfast love motivate His desire to wait for all to come to repentance. He wants none to perish. This knowledge of God increases our devotion to Him and His mission.
The high calling of Apocalyptic ethics apply to all spheres of earth and heaven, time and eternity, including international politics. God promises closure to the problems that emerged at Creation and the Fall. Biblical apocalyptic writings have roots in real history that is moving forward to the point where God will resolve ongoing conflicts between cosmic forces and establish peace. Historical examples of the past are important: good and bad object lessons testify to God's power and the weakness of the disobedient and unfaithful. God speaks creatively using signs and symbols to simultaneously reveal and conceal as He sees fit.
Apocalyptic exhortations to repentance, faithfulness, steadfastness and love are general and yet yield principles that apply to all arenas of life. Evil will be present until the end so Christians must stay alert, discerning and vigilant. Apocalyptic ethics are corporate and individual for God's hosts in heaven and on earth. Christians live within two worlds, one visible, one invisible. Though in the minority now, they will partake in God's ultimate victory.
Actions have temporal and eternal consequences, life and death implications. People are accountable and will face a just God's judgment. Hope in God through crises and suffering leads to worshiping Him and rejoicing with Him eternally. The fulfillment of His will and salvation depend on the gospel, victory and reign of the Lamb, and the encouragement of the community of those He redeems. In two verses with apocalyptic overtones, Paul foretells that, "at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11). Similarly, Ezekiel writes more than twenty-five times that this motive of God will also find fulfillment: then "they will know that I am the LORD." .