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“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Matthew 3:4-6
John was an ordinary guy. He wore commoner’s clothes and ate desert forage–locusts and wild honey. While his father ministered in the temple, and these foods were in keeping with Jewish dietary law, John was introducing baptism in a whole new way.
The Pharisees of his day immersed themselves in water to remove ritual impurity [Matthew 15:2; John 2:6]. The Old Testament did in fact set this precedent, especially for priests [Leviticus 15, 16:4 & 24]. All Jews had to observe these ritual baths to be pure so that they could enter the temple and participate in its services during major festivals [Numbers 9:10; John 11:55; Acts 21:24-27]. But the Pharisees practiced regular immersion out of religiosity–following the rules to look good to men, rather than living from a heart for God.
John took baptism out of the temple. But just like the temple, people came from all over Israel to be ministered to. They came from Jerusalem where the temple was. From Judea, the whole region surrounding the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God. From the whole Jordan river region which extends north to south through the land of Israel.
John took baptism into the Jordan. This was the river that God parted so that the Hebrews could pass through on dry land and enter the Promised Land [Joshua 3-4]. A river analogous to the river of life that flows through the New Jerusalem in heaven [Revelation 22:1-2].
John baptized without priestly garments. But he led people to recognize and confess their sins to God. In effect, John launched the self-as-priest-without-need-of-a-Levitical-mediator ministry, preparing hearts for Jesus’ ministry, and people responded to it in droves!
And John baptized by immersion, which meant that a person’s whole body passed through the water. This is symbolic of the days of Noah. Before the flood, people did not confess their sins to God, many no longer even recognized right from wrong. Everyone just did as they saw fit. The floodwaters purified the world of the sin that had grown so rampant, wiping the proverbial slate clean for righteousness to start again.
Noah’s ark is an archetype for Jesus. By faith, Noah and his family were saved in the ark. By grace, we are saved through faith in Christ. When we confess our sins and are baptized, it should come from a heart to live for God. It should truly represent a change from living however we want to wiping our hearts clean, clothing us with Christ Himself, so that we can start anew and live righteously.
Have you confessed your sins to God? Have you been baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus? Is your faith purifying your heart?
“Today in the City of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12
From the Messianic prophecies, the Jews expected a conquering king to right their political wrongs. Someone to overthrow their Roman oppressors so that they could continue to live comfortably in their earthly home and traditions.
But God’s plan was so much bigger.
A tiny baby.
You see, He didn’t force Adam and Eve to obey Him. He gave them a choice and the understanding to make that choice [Genesis 2:9 & 16-17]. He wanted His Creation to love Him as He loved them–by their own free will.
When He saw it was time to send His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world as the Savior, God again wanted His Creation to choose to love Him. Israel wanted a conqueror, but God didn’t want to hold them at sword point and demand their belief. He didn’t want to coerce by fear, but to receive love in return for the love that He so freely gives.
So He sent a baby. The very image of irresistible love. He wanted us to see Him the same way that He sees each of us, and to desire to hold and cherish Him as He does us–by our own free will.
He could have sent that conqueror that we thought we needed and wanted. Though God would never break His promises, he could have just wiped out the whole world in another flood, showing mercy in His wrath by saving only the righteous.
But instead, He showed mercy mild–mercy in His love and grace to save the whole world through His son, the Christ child.
Today, as we remember the birth of Christ, will you receive His mercy mild?
“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth–to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” Revelation 14:6-7
In Revelation chapter 8, an eagle flew in midair pronouncing three woes to come. Here, the angel flying in midair proclaims the eternal gospel, literally glad tidings often translated as good news as the angel brought to the shepherds in the Christmas story [Luke 2:10].
This so-called good news, will not be good news at all to everyone living on the earth at this time, because it will mean that their time is up. They have no more opportunity to accept Jesus as Lord of their lives.
Good news is always double-edged though [Nahum 1:15]. For someone to celebrate a win in this life, someone else has to lose. For one candidate to be blessed with a new job, another candidate has to be rejected. For there to be a recipient of a life-saving transplant, a donor has to lose their life. And for the good news of Jesus’ victory over Satan to be completed and the faithful to go on to eternal life, all those who have chosen to follow Satan–that is everyone who has rejected God–have to go on to eternal damnation.
Make no mistake about this moment, it breaks God’s heart that any should choose to perish [2 Peter 3:9]. Even now He withholds His hand of judgment so that others can choose eternal life.
The angel commands everyone to fear God, but throughout scripture God, or His theophanies, command people, Do not fear. The fear of the Lord, however, is a right respect for who God is. It’s like, when you meet world leader, you recognize their position of authority and honor them accordingly. So with God, we are to reverence Him for who He is. Those who have rejected Him, in this moment, come to the place where they will bend their knee to Him fully understanding the error of their ways [Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10].
Worship Him, the angel says, acknowledge His true worth. Creator. Sustainer. Provider. God Almighty. There is none like Him.
The angel invokes the image of Creation through the heavens and the earth [Genesis 1:1] and the seas [Genesis 1:10 & 22]. And he invokes an image of the flood when the springs of the great deep burst forth [Genesis 7:11], an image equated to the lostness of sinful humankind [2 Peter 2:17] that only Jesus can set to right [Revelation 7:17].
Do you know people on the other side of the gospel’s razor edge? People who will pass to eternal damnation when you take your place in eternal life? Does your heart break for their salvation as God’s does? Share your hope with them and everyone you meet.
“Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring–those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Revelation 12:15-17
In the beginning, God’s spirit hovered a formless and void deep [Genesis 1: 2], the same waters that He separated and from which He called forth dry ground [Genesis 1:9-10]. About 2,000 years later God broke open the springs of the great deep and, working them together with the floodgates of heaven, flooded the whole earth [Genesis 7:11 & 19-20]. He pulled them back so that Noah and his family could begin again.
His word came through the prophet Jeremiah, tell Israel that they have forsaken Me, God, their source of living water [Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13]. Habakkuk was told that the knowledge of the glory of God would fill the earth as waters cover the sea [Habakkuk 2:14]. Jesus is living water [John 4:10-11].
As believers, we have streams of living water flowing from within us [John 7:38]. Ezekiel had a vision of a river flowing from the Temple [Ezekiel 47] that was so wide and so deep no man could swim it [Ezekiel 47:5]. Which, of course, was only a copy and a shadow of the river of life that will flow through the tree of life down the center street of the New Jerusalem in heaven [Revelation 22:1-2].
So of course Satan spews water to try to take out the woman. The devil tries to counterfeit everything that is God’s. But the earth, God’s physical creation, helps God’s chosen nation. To the point that Satan is, once again, furious and stomps off to war against the rest of humankind–well, those who have faith in God anyway. He doesn’t concern himself so much with those who already deny God’s existence or those who have walked away from their faith to pursue worldly pleasure. But if you believe there is a God and you live to honor and glorify Him, then you have a spiritual target on your back. That’s why Ephesians talks about donning the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground in your faith [Ephesians 6:13].
Do you feel attacked? If not, are you actively standing for and sharing your faith? If yes, are you daily donning your armor and taking up your cross to make the stand again and again?
“The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” Revelation 9:1-4
After the eagle interlude, angel number five takes a deep breath and blows his trumpet, adding to the earthly discord wreaked by the first four. At the blast of his horn, a single star–sometimes referring to angels in scripture [Job 38:7; Daniel 8:10; Revelation 1:20 & 12:4]–is given the key to the Abyss.
Used here, Abyss is a Greek term meaning very deep or bottomless. It was believed in ancient times to be a place beneath the earth’s surface where all demons were confined. The Hebrew word equivalent refers back to the deeps of the earliest recorded moments of the earth [Genesis 1:2] and the springs of the deep that loosed Noah’s flood [Genesis 7:11; Proverbs 8:28]. The legion of demons in Luke 8:31 begged Jesus not to send them into this Abyss.
This should be warning enough for Christians not to dabble in séances and other rites or activities that claim to call demons forth. Because it is not just a game, it opens up the deep and it opens up our spirit to the forces of darkness.
John records such vivid imagery of the opening of this Abyss. Smoke pouring out of a large furnace, like the chimney stacks of factories or nuclear plants that cloud the horizon for miles. Smoke enough to screen the sun and the entire sky like a stormy, black-clouded day. The eighth Exodus plague bursts back onto the scene with locusts pouring out of the smoke and raining onto every inch of earth [Exodus 10:1-20].
But this is not your ordinary locust. This is a supernatural hybrid of locust with scorpion power–aka venomous barbs–and the express mission of stinging people, rather than destroying the vegetation [as locusts normally do]. All people, that is, except for those sealed by God [Revelation 7:1-8].
Interestingly, these seals were initially given after the opening of the sixth of seven scroll seals [Revelation 6:1-8:5]. At the time, God expressly forbid the land and sea harming angel to touch anything until He sealed the foreheads of His people. Here in Revelation 9, we see that the locust-scorpion hybrids are commanded not to harm the land at all and not to touch anyone who has this seal. God’s mercies are at work.
Later on in the tribulation, Satan will counterfeit this seal with his own version–the mark of the beast [Revelation 13:16-17]. As Christians, we do not need to worry about whether or not we will relent and take this mark, because it is clear by this timeline that we will either have already been raptured or received God’s seal on our foreheads. And if we’ve been sealed by God, taking the mark will not be an option.
Do you worry about end times events? Study the Word to understand them better. Understanding can dispel many fears. Trusting God will quell them all. Do you trust Him as you love Him–with all your heart, and with all your strength and with all your mind?
“Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say, ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Revelation 4:9-11
Remember that there were no bold texts, italics or highlighters at the time of this writing, so repetition is emphasis in the Bible. The emphasis here is that God alone sits on the throne in heaven and that He is eternally existent. His living throne acknowledges this continually. As they do so the representatives of the Old and New Testament bodies of Christ alike prostrate themselves before the throne–a sign of submission–and worship–that is ascribe to God all that He alone is worthy of.
During this time of corporate worship, the elders also lay down their crowns. Here again, we are reminded that heaven will be filled with those who have been victorious in this life. That we who win the victor’s crowns [Revelation 2:10, 3:11]. A reminder that though we may store up such treasures in heaven [Matthew 6:20], our righteous response before our Creator will be to lay it all down at His feet, to recognize that He alone–the author of life who sent His Son to conquer death, hell and the grave [Revelation 1:18]–is worthy of the honor of our victory over life.
Notice the difference between the worship of the living creatures and that of the elders. The creatures proclaim God’s holiness–His moral righteousness and purity–His power over all, and His eternality.
While the elders worship from a more personal experience. They acknowledge God as their personal Lord and God.
They speak directly to Him–using the pronoun You–and tell Him that He is worthy to receive, that is for humans to relinquish back to Him all glory, and all honor, and all power that we tried in this life to assume ourselves. Finally we will recognize that these things are perfect in His hands alone and we will gladly submit to His authority in all.
Finally, they acknowledge that God created everything. Obviously leading up to the time of Noah, even though people may have understood that God was Creator, they didn’t find this fact worthy of respect and obedience. Then again after the flood, Nimrod incited the people not to just disrespect and disobey God, but to erase His existence from their minds altogether. But if we would just recognize God for who He truly is–Creator of all–then it would be hard to live our life for any other. Only those who, in this life, acknowledged the Godhead for who He truly is will be permitted to worship around His eternal throne [Psalm 1 & 15].
Do you acknowledge God with your life? Do your words and actions point to the truth of who He is?
“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars–I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the whole earth.” Revelation 3:9-10
These scriptures are in no way Jesus indictment against Jews. After all, the Israelites were God’s chosen people throughout the Old Testament. Rather, here Jesus is specifically referring to those Jews who denounced Christians to Roman officials. Remember that Christianity initially came out of Judaism and for a time the two of them coexisted, both teaching in the Jewish synagogues. But the sect converted some from Judaism, and brought in some God-fearing Gentiles as well as former pagan worshippers.
Judaism was protected under Roman rule. So when a few of the Jews decided they wanted to separate themselves from the followers of Christ, the Christians became dissenters to the Imperial cult, that is the practice of emperor worship. Not only did this noncompliance mean persecution, but all out prosecution by the Roman legal system.
Jesus encouraged His followers that one day, those who had denounced them would submit–falling at feet was a common Near East act of submission–and thereby acknowledge that Jesus loved the Christians. It’s an interesting assurance since Jesus Himself will be acknowledged as Lord by all [Philippians 2:10; Romans 14:11], then this group will also recognize the truth of the people they denounced. It should remind us of God’s right to avenge and His promise to repay [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19]. The Christians didn’t need to increase the strife of this life by futile retaliation. God would set all to right in due time.
Additionally, Jesus promised that since the Philadelphian Christians would be exempt from a worldwide trial of an undisclosed nature. We have to remember that the book of Revelation is largely prophetic–it records Jesus’ words for things to come. Some things, like the persecution that the churches would face in their culture, came to fruition within in a few decades after the letter circulated. Other things, such as this worldwide trial, have yet to come.
There are some who speculate perhaps this tribulation refers only to what the Christians experienced under the Roman Empire, but notice that this verse specifically says a worldwide trial. Worldwide as in a calamity like Noah’s flood. There have been many local trials of faith. But we have not, in human history since the flood, experienced a worldwide trial of faith.
Do you face persecution–whether great or small–for your faith? Are you enduring patiently, leaving vengeance to the Lord?