Welcome to Bible Bum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives. The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version. At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture. To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.
Questions & Observations
Q. Rob, this is still John’s vision, but we have no idea if this is how the end of days will actually be, right? And, what about those who see a white light when they are passing, but then come back to earth? The Bible doesn’t seem to address that.
A. The rest of Revelation after John is told to enter the door is his vision, so yes, this remains a record of what he is seeing. There are many who see Revelation as some sort of code to be deciphered that would give Christians an “insider” knowledge about what will happen in the last days — which no one even knows when that will be, let alone how it will unfold — but I do not buy that. People who make such claims don’t really understand the genre of the writing: it was written in code, not for people living centuries later, but for the original audience, persecuted Christians in the seven churches of the first few chapters and beyond. That it has any benefit to us is, in my mind, incidental to John — though I freely offer that the Spirit desired this book to be for our benefit as well. But I simply do not think you can “unravel” the code and be given special information: God simply does not work that way with any part of the Bible — the message is always clear and up front. Hidden knowledge is not part of Christianity — all the “cards” are on the table. The Bible does not address the near death experiences you are describing, probably because there was no such thing as “near death” in ancient times: you were either dead or alive.
Q. (15:7): There a lot of dishes used in the Bible that hold important things. Here we have bowls holding plagues, cups that runneth over, and I remember the Tabernacle had some holy dishes, right? Is that for a reason?
A. I don’t think there is anything special about the use of dishes or cups, they are simply delivery devices for liquids, and there’s just no other way to do that. Though some of the dishes represent powerful images, such as wrath or healing, the dishes are not the important part of the image: it is what they contain that matters.
Q. (16:4): And here is the blood again. Blood signifies cleansing of sins. Here it is more of a payback?
A. The plague of blood serves two purposes: it harkens back to the first plague of Egypt, in which the Nile was turned to blood thanks to Moses’ staff. But the other purpose for this punishment is described in verses 5 and 6: the blood is a “punishment fits the crime” plague for shedding the blood of those faithful to God.
Q. (16:11): After all of that wrath, the people still refuse to acknowledge God. They don’t know God so they don’t know they’ve sinned? And, they are still being called to repent to God and they are still refusing. Would you say there hearts are hardened? It doesn’t say anything about that here and why would God harden them because he did this in the past to magnify evil showing the Israelites His power. These people sound so wicked that their hearts could not be softened ever. Anyway, just curious.
A. This vision is black and white, like a lot of John’s writings: there is no one who crosses to the other side during this torment: no one repents, and confesses the evil of their ways. For the Christians who suffered under persecution and likely lost their possessions, if not their lives to the whims of evil men who placed themselves as enemy’s of God’s church, however, this is a just punishment. It is only a vision after all, but one with a clear purpose: to remind the faithful what they are fighting for and what happens if they are victorious. Those who persevere through this tribulation — and do keep in mind that in more than 60 countries around the world RIGHT NOW, the tribulation goes on to this day! — they will be rewarded and see those who have punished them punished.
I won’t lie to you, there is an element of blood lust in this that I’m not completely comfortable with, but we must not forget that God does not wink at sin, and some of the greatest sins are to persecute and kill those who are on the side of God. Personally, I would desire for God to extend grace, but in this vision at least, the time of grace has passed. Victory is coming for those who remained faithful!
Q. (17:15-18): I don’t understand the dynamic between the beasts and the prostitute. They are enemies here, but I thought they were on the same Team Evil.
A. This is a complex analogy. The woman/prostitute is Rome, not the actual city of Babylon, which has long been known as the city on seven hills. The vision of the kings/crowns on the beast is clear enough, and the beast in this analogy is the Antichrist, the great enemy of God. It appears that the beast will come to rule over the woman (that is, rule Rome, at least symbolically), and that is why there is animosity between them. This makes the 8th king (verse 11) the ruler, but they will turn on the “woman” for reasons that I don’t really know. It appears that even among “team evil,” there is division. The ultimate point John is making is that Rome has become a prostitute of all kinds of things that are evil in God’s sight, and that many rulers, merchants, and sailors have “slept” with her in order to gain wealth. Since the woman will die, it will be bad for all those who “sleep” with her.
Q. (18:10): The prostitute is the city of Babylon, right? It sounds like the NT’s version of Sodom and Gomorra. I would think that Babylon is metaphorical for all who fall prey to the temptations of this world.
A. It’s Rome, as I discussed above, but the rest of what you write has it exactly. Rome is powerful, which is why she is so tempting for those who desire power or control, but in the end, she will die (the Roman Empire will fall) and God still remains.