Every year millions of people in the Christian religion observe Lent. The word Lent is derived
from the Old English word “Lencten” which means Spring. The season of Lent begins forty days prior to Easter, not counting Sundays, and ends on Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. The fortydays are a reminder of the forty days Jesus was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and for the forty-day period believers often fast, or
abstain from certain foods, vices or activities (i.e. alcohol, smoking, chocolate, carbonated drinks, sweets, Social Media, etc.). It is intended as a time to spend reflecting on our human sinfulcondition, prayer and the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The forty days do not include Sundays as they are considered “mini-Easters” and are set aside
for joy and celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and not for abstaining and
fasting. As I stated already Lent ends on Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday (the night before Good Friday) but fasting and abstaining from certain foods or activities is still in effect through Good Friday and Saturday. The true celebration and breaking of fast happens on Easter morning when Jesus’ resurrection is observed and celebrated.
Today is Palm Sunday and this day is the beginning of what is called holy week. We will be looking at a few accounts in the Gospels that are referred as Jesus’ triumphal entry or more commonly known as Palm Sunday. This is one of a relatively few occurrences that is recorded in the life of Jesus in all four Gospel accounts. While all four are similar in subject there are some differences in the way the accounts are re-told. Today we will look at these accounts and see and celebrate the significance of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry.
John 12: 1 - 8
Six days before Passover Jesus goes to Lazarus’s house. This is the same man who Jesus resurrected from the dead. At his home a meal is prepared, and Jesus is anointed with very expensive perfume by Mary Magdalene. She uses her hair to wipe his feet. This is an act of worship on Mary’s part. In this act of worship, she is declaring the true value of Christ to her. This was a very costly act of worship. We are told that the cost of the perfume was a year’s wage. In this act Mary was declaring that there is nothing, absolutely nothing more valuable to her than Jesus.
Judas questions the “wastefulness” of this expensive oil. In reality, Judas had no care for the poor he was just a greedy thief. He tried to spiritualize his narrow sightedness by stating they could use the funds to give to the poor, but John tells us he had zero concern for the poor. Jesus rebukes Judas. He tells him to leave Mary alone because what she is doing is a good thing. There will always be opportunities to serve the poor and meet their needs, but what Mary is doing now super cedes the needs of the poor.
Mark 11:1 -11
After the meal Jesus prepares for his royal entry. Jesus and his Disciples went to Bethpage, which was near Bethany (approximately 2 miles east of Jerusalem) to the Mount of Olives. A great crowd of people followed him, and they were probably people making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. According to the historian Josephus, there was one Passover where over two million people participated in Jerusalem. We are not sure if this was the normal crowd or not, but there was certainly a large gathering of people present at this time.
Matthew 21:1 - 7
Once Jesus drew near the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples to go into town and get a colt/donkey and bring it to him. The Gospel of Matthew states that this all takes place to fulfill the words of the prophet Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This passage is believed to be a prophecy about the coming King of Zion or the Messiah. In the prophecy the people of Israel are told to rejoice and shout because the King is coming soon. They are called to rejoice because He is a righteous king who brings salvation. This king will be a gentle and humble king and it will be evident because he will be riding on a colt’s donkey. Jesus is the TRUE king, and He could have ridden in as a warrior on a war horse, but instead he came as the King of peace and humility.
Matthew 21:8 -11
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey the people began shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The word Hosanna in the Greek transliteration is “Save us!” Their shouts were an exclamation of exaltation, praise, and rulership. The praises of the people were reflected by the words of Psalm 118:25, 26 “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.” This Psalm is one of many Egyptian Hallel or praise psalms to remember God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. These Psalms were chanted, recited, and sung during Passover and other major festivals and feasts.
The people shouted and rejoiced and put their cloaks and palm branches on the ground for Jesus to walk on. This was a sign of honor and the palm branches symbolized victory. According to theologian N.T. Wright, “They waved branches they’d cut from the trees to make a celebratory procession for him. This carried royal implications. In the long folk memory of Jerusalem and its surrounding villages, stories were still told, and some of them by this stage were written down, about the famous Judas Maccabaeus who, 200 years before, had arrived in Jerusalem after conquering the pagan armies that had oppressed Israel. He, too, was welcomed into the city by a crowd waving palm branches. And he was the start of a royal dynasty that lasted for over a hundred years.”
According to the Gospel of Luke 19:39 – 40 the religious leaders approached Jesus and told him to rebuke his disciples.
“And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
The Pharisees knew Jesus was accepting the praise of the people as the Messiah. They would have opposed the excitement of the crowds cheering on Jesus and they absolutely did not want to see Jesus proclaimed as Messiah. They did not support the use of force unless the practice of their religion was directly involved, and they would have resisted anything that might intensify Roman intervention. There was no hope of calming the commotion by engaging the people, so they tell Jesus to quiet them down. Jesus responds by affirming that the shouting is inevitable. He says that if he were to silence them then the stones would cry out in praise to him. This was His time! This was a fore ordained moment in history. There was absolutely nothing that could silence the praise of the Messiah. It was foretold, it had to be. The Pharisee’s tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples, but Jesus rebukes the Pharisee’s for failing to see that this moment is a God ordained moment.
It is sad to see throughout the Bible how often the religiously pious miss out on or oppose those moments that God appointed. It is in these moments they are so objected to change or seeing the moment to be outside of their tradition that they convince themselves and try to convince others that God is not blessing the moment, when in fact the moment is the time that God is in fact blessing and ordaining. May we never be so blind or set in our ways and traditions that we too, miss out in the moments where God is moving, blessing, and ordaining.
Palm Sunday is a beautiful Segway into Holy week. Today, we proclaim with the people of Israel and say, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” We acknowledge and worship the true King of kings and Lord of Lords. But as we have looked at this account, we are left to answer a few questions and consider some truths regarding Jesus and Palm Sunday.
To be continued…
 Wright, N.T. (2004) Matthew For Everyone Part Two p. 67 Westminster John Knox Press
We all worry at some point in our lives. Maybe you are consumed with worry at this moment. So many of us are or have been affected (usually negatively) in some way or other by worry. Worry can be defined as giving way to anxiety or unease; to allow one's mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. Worry takes place in the mind and it is often based on real and present issues in our life. We worry about multiple things… finances, the future, life altering decisions, sickness, politics, religion, and so on. There have been times in my life where worry had consumed me that I was nearly paralyzed with fear. And let’s face it, worry is generally rooted in fear and anxiety. There were times in my life where I worried about finding a job when I was unemployed. I worried about making ends meet. I worried about my health. Worry, can take up so much of our mental energy and thoughts that sometimes we can feel paralyzed by fear and worry.
When I was a kid, I used to collect Mad Magazine. If you remember Mad Magazine was an American satire magazine that poked fun at politics, pop culture and many times was just plain stupid. The magazine had a mascot or fictitious cover boy named Alfred E. Neuman. He had a saying or slogan that said “What, Me Worry?” I think he was on to something because this slogan, I believe, was intended to have the nonchalant attitude of, “Forget about it! There’s nothing that’s going to get me down. I don’t care what you think or what I may be facing, I’m not going to concern myself with worry!” In some ways, this attitude reminds me of the Apostle Paul has a similar thought in writing to the Philippians as he continually goes back to this idea of not worrying and rejoicing.
Today we are going to conclude our series in Philippians as we will spend some time in chapter 4 and Paul’s truly concluding thoughts.
Philippians 4: 1 – 7
Vs 1 – 3: Chapter 4 begins with Paul dealing with first things first by mentioning two individuals in the church at Philippi who are apparently having a disagreement of sorts. We are not sure what the issue is, but it obviously is concerning enough for Paul to address them. These were women who worked with Paul at some point in his ministry and it is obvious these two women were believers in Jesus Christ, since their names were written in the book of life. However, Paul admonishes these two women to drop their differences and seek unity in the Lord. Which is always a good way to settle a conflict. He continues to encourage unity in the church in order for the church to stand in the difficult times that they will be facing.
Now, Paul comes back to his continual exhortation to rejoice once again! Rejoicing and joy is the common thread that is weaved throughout this letter. Yet, this time he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” The word “always” gives no exceptions to rejoicing regardless of circumstances. Paul is continuing to tell the Philippians to find their joy in the Lord rather than in the reality they are facing. I really, really think he is trying to tell the church and even us today something very important, because Paul says to “rejoice” and having “joy” about 16 times in Philippians. He writes that regardless of life circumstances…Rejoice! Why is Paul so determined for the people (and you and I for that matter) to rejoice? If things are not going our way and we are facing difficulties in life what can possibly trump our current difficult situations? The answer, we may rejoice, we will rejoice, we must rejoice because of what Christ has done. We rejoice in Him!
After Paul exhorts the church to rejoice in the Lord, he then reminds “The Lord is at hand” or the Lord is near, thus he encourages them, “do not be anxious about anything.” Anything??? ANYTHING! Instead of worrying and being anxious about the things that are overwhelming or looming over the Philippians, go to God in prayer. Paul says, “Let your requests be known to God.” This is another way of saying take your concerns to the foot of the cross and leave them there. Do not let your anxiety and worry consume you. Give it to Jesus and once you do, you will experience peace. Not your regular peace which generally refers to the absence of conflict, but the true peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Now, I realize it is not a logical peace. It doesn’t make any human sense because the issues that are causing distress are still in front of you, but when you give your worry and anxiety over to the Lord you gain a true and genuine sense of peace that is rooted in Jesus. When we experience this peace, it will guard our hearts and minds. This means that in those times when worry or anxiety pop back into our heads or our hearts we can be protected from worry because we are in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4: 8, 9
Finally! Here is that word again… But this time Paul means it. In response to all he has written Paul gives a practical suggestion in how we can find joy in turmoil and have peace instead of worry. Since worry is an issue of the mind, Paul is telling the Philippians that instead of focusing on that which is causing worry, they need to think on these things… whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. These whatever’s are to become the new reality. When you are at work, home, school, in the car, at church, etc. choose to think on these things or live in them. Paul calls his readers to essentially write these virtues into their lives by putting them into practice instead of worry and anxiety. There are so many things that can drag our minds and attitudes into dark places, but we cannot set our minds on those things, we must set our minds on God and trust that he can and will walk with us through our worry and anxiety, thus giving us the peace we long for.
Philippians 4: 10 - 13
As Paul concludes we need to be reminded again of the context of Paul’s situation in writing this letter. Paul is not vacationing on the beaches of Ostia near Rome, nor in a luxurious palace people waiting on his hand and feet, nor a comfortable home where he can relax and enjoy his time in Rome. No, Paul is writing from prison. He is in chains. His living situation is not the ideal setting for having a thankful or joyful attitude, but Paul again and again tells his readers to have joy and explains that he is filled with joy as well… regardless of his situation.
In fact, Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Paul admits that contentment was not something that came naturally, he had to learn to be content. He had to learn because he knew what it meant to have much and to have little. He had to learn because he knew what it meant to be respected and honored and to be low and humiliated. He had to learn because he knew what it meant to have an abundance of food and to have nothing and face hunger. He tells the Philippians I have learned that in any situation “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” We have all heard this verse. It may be your favorite verse. You may tell yourself this before you do something that you are scared to do. You may tell yourself this to psyche yourself up before a sporting event, musical concert, a speak, a test, you name it. We need to look at this verse in context. This is not intended to be a kitschy wall plaque to hang in a locker room or in your front hall. Nor is it a saying intended to cause you to look deep inside yourself and gather the faith you need to accomplish a difficult task. Of course, this verse does imply that you can do whatever you want to do, if you just put your mind to it. It is a truth of contentment. Paul is saying that in plenty in want he can do what God is calling him to do. Whatever comes Paul’s way, he has the strength to meet it. I like how R. Kent Hughes writes, “If he is brought low, he is a man in Christ; if he abounds, he is a man in Christ. In any and every circumstance he is a man of Christ he is content regardless of the situation.” So, the verse taken in context would say that if you are following Jesus’ call in your life, you are serving him faithfully in these tasks that he has called you to do, then you certainly can trust and believe that whatever God calls you to do, you can do it through Christ who strengthens you.
Now, as we conclude this chapter and this series, we can sum both up in the following truths and applications in our lives.
Chapter 12 is another break in the Apocalypse. Before John writes about the remaining plagues in Ch. 16 he turns to explain the primary cause of the violence that is about to break upon the church. This is the classic conflict between God and Satan which reports of the persecution the church is about to experience. The symbolism is heavy, and John is encouraging the believers to hold fast in the coming tribulation.
The stage is set for the final confrontation in the chapters to come.
Verses 1 - 6
Vs 1 – 2: A woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars. We will start with determining who the woman is not… She is not Mary the mother of Jesus. She represents the true messianic community, or it would not be a long stretch to understand he as the church.
“Clothed in the sun” – The world may despise the true Israel, but from God’s vantage point she is a radiant bride.
“The moon beneath her feet” speaks of dominion.
“The crown of twelve stars” represents royalty.
The woman is about to give birth to a child and “crying out in birth pangs” and this shows us that she is the true Israel in her pre-Messianic pain and anticipation.
Vs. 3: Another sign, this time it is a red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven Crowns. There is no doubt as to who the dragon is as we see him named in vs. 9, He is Satan AKA the Devil. Mention of dragons in the OT was common. They often referred metaphorically to Israel’s enemies. Thus, the red dragon in this chapter would be insinuated as the archenemy of God and His people. Red symbolizes the lethal personality of Satan. The seven crowns represent his universal power (7 is the number of completeness). The crowns are Satan’s audacious claim of royal power over the Messiah.
Vs 4 - 5: The dragon stands ready before the woman, so when the child is born, he can devour it. He is determined to devour the child, so he waits for his victim to be born. This describes the vicious opposition the Christ child faced in the early years of his life. It stars with King Herod’s desire and plot to destroy the Messiah and climaxes at the crucifixion.
However, the child was born and caught up to heaven. The noteworthy theme is that Satan’s plans were thwarted because of Jesus’ ministry, his death at the cross of Calvary, and concluded by his ascension and exaltation.
Vs 6: The woman flees to the wilderness. Fleeing is something the Israelites have historically resorted to. The Israelites fled from the Egyptians, Elijah fled the pursuit of Jezebel, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt in response to Herod’s decree. However, the intent of verse 6 is not to so much the church fleeing as a way of God sustaining her. Instead, the wilderness is often symbol of God’s divine provision and fellowship. It was in the wilderness where God spoke to Israel, protected her, and provided for her. Thus, this verse is intended to promise those facing martyrdom that God has prepared a place for spiritual protection for them and he will empower them to stand fast against the devil.
Verses 7 – 12
Vs 7 – 8: A war arises in heaven between Michael the Archangel and his angels and Satan and his angels. This is an all-out attempt on Satan to regain his position in the presence of God. The end result is Satan is cast down. Apparently up until this time Satan, in some respect has access to heaven. His defeat now forfeits his ability to access heaven. It is noteworthy to mention that it is Michael who wars against Satan and not Jesus. Satan and his angels are cast down to earth
Vs. 9: The great dragon is now identified as the devil and Satan. The word satan was not originally a proper name. Satan is the Adversary, the accuser, and deceiver.
Vs 10: The voice crying from heaven is most likely the collective voices of the twenty-four elders. They proclaim victory!
Vs 11: Satan is defeated by the archangel Michael, but he is also conquered by the faithful believers as well. Their victory lies in the blood of the lamb.
Vs 12: The heavens rejoice because of the victory of Jesus, but it is also a cause for woe upon the earth and sea. Satan’s time is short between the time of his defeat in heaven and the time for his final judgment. It is during this short time that he will launch an earthly attack on the church and the persecution that is forthcoming.
About seven or eight years ago, I was in a men’s morning Bible study and prayer group. Weekly, we would meet and discuss a Bible passage or read a book together and then share our thoughts, struggles and insights with each other and then end with prayer.
One morning one of the guys said, “I think we should all run a 5k together.” He proceeded to give his reasons as to why he thought we should do it. He said, “it will be fun” … “it will build comradery” … “it will be healthy” … blah, blah, blah.
The other guys nodded their heads in agreement and I heartily shook my head NO! I said, “This all sounds great and all, but I am not a runner! I have never run more than one country block in the past 20 plus years and quite frankly, I don’t plan on starting… So, I am out.” The man responded, “Before you say no, I know of a realistic and attainable running program called ‘From the Couch to 5k’ that I think might work for you. Would you at least consider it?” I thought for a moment and agreed to consider it.
He gave me the outline and as I read it, I thought, hmm I can do this. Yes, it was going to be a challenge and a huge commitment on my part, but I agreed to do it. So, I contacted another friend who was one of the local high school football coaches and I asked if I could join him in his morning workouts at the school workout room. He agreed. I started the program and after the first day I thought I was going to die. But I committed to staying the course. I determined that instead of thinking negatively towards running, I was now going to embrace it. Yes, it was hard work. It was not fun. I could have thought of 195 things that I would rather do on any given morning at 6 am other than running.
I started by run/walking 1 mile, then 1.25, then 1.5 and so on… after 4 months I was running 3 miles every other day. As time passed running became easier AND I was enjoying it. This did not entail that it was easy… No, it was tiresome, it was exhausting, it took discipline. There were times I ran, and I would be halfway into my run and I wanted to quit, turn around and go home. But I kept pressing forward and enduring to completion.
Finally, I was ready. That following summer I ran four 5ks. It was an accomplishment I would never have achieved had I not endured hardship and press forward. Unfortunately, over the years I have stopped running. I don’t have a good excuse other than I don’t have time, but really it is not a great excuse. I know that if I started back up again it wouldn’t take much time to get back to running 3 to 3 ½ miles. Some days I think I should start back up but then the memories flood back and I let my attitude defeat me, because I know running is hard and I don’t like hard. I prefer easy. Sitting home on the couch is much easier for me than running. It is tiresome, sweaty and I get thirsty, but in the long run (pun intended) pressing forward and shooting for a goal is the right thing to do.
This leads us into today’s message in Philippians 3 where Paul talks about doing the hard things to attain the prize. He equates the Christian life to pressing forward (like running) so we may receive the prize which is the upward call of Jesus Christ.
Rejoice in the Lord
Philippians 3:1 - 9
Vs 1: “Finally…” Some Pastors and bible readers get a little chuckle out of teaching Paul’s opening statement in chapter 3. It is similar to the story where a little boy who is in church says to his father, “What does the preacher mean when he says ‘finally’? To which his father muttered, “Absolutely nothing.” This is true with the Apostle Paul concluding by saying, “finally” and then continuing to write for two more chapters… I know… typical pastor.
He encourages his readers once again to “rejoice in the Lord.” He mentions that he does not grow tired of telling the Philippians this because the Lord himself is both the point and source of joy. There is safety in rejoicing. The joy of the Lord will keep us safe and guarded when our spiritual foes try to take us down and destroy us.
Vs 2: Paul abruptly turns from calling for joy to the Philippians to issuing a warning to certain people, most likely Jewish Christians who insisted Gentile Christians should observe and submit to the Mosaic law, including circumcision. According to former Pastor and commentator R. Kent Hughes, “Paul here engages in searing rhetoric with three alliterated insults that all begin with the letter kappa (k): ‘Look out for dogs’ (kunas), ‘Look out for evil doers’ (kakous ergatos), ‘Look out for those who mutilate the flesh’ (katatome).” But what is more than the alliteration is the ironic sarcasm that is meant to be insults to the Judaizers.
He starts by calling them “dogs”. Ancient Israelites did not have pets. In fact, dogs were considered scavengers who ate garbage, carcasses, and were despised street animals. Dogs were images for what was unclean. To call a person a dog was neither a compliment nor flattery. He warns the Philippians to stay away from Judaizers because they were dogs. Yes, this was intended to be an insult to them.
Next, he calls them “evildoers”, and this is a retort on the Judaizers because they claim to keep the law and thus do what is right in God’s eyes. Paul was literally saying they were not righteous, instead they were evildoers. The reality is that instead of their legalistic demands to keeping the law to make them more righteous, they were driving themselves away from righteousness
Lastly, he calls them mutilators of the flesh. This is a sarcastic wordplay on circumcision. For the Jew circumcision was the greatest source of pride and Paul is saying their circumcision is a mutilation of the flesh, thus showing them that they have no part in God’s people.
Vs 3: “For we are the real circumcision” Paul declares that those who worship by the Spirit of God are the true circumcised. He says those who rely on their circumcision for their righteousness are putting their confidence in the flesh and not in Jesus. If your boast is in Christ, your confidence cannot be in yourself. The Christian has no room to boast in his works of the flesh.
Vs 4 – 6: Paul now says that if our boast is in the works of the flesh then he has every reason to boast. He was…
Vs 7 – 9: “Whatever gain I had…” It did not matter what Paul thought he had gained from all of his righteousness because it was counted as loss. In fact, Paul counts everything that he considered useful and productive as rubbish, dung, or excrement. Everything he thought (before meeting Christ) that was drawing him closer to God was in fact keeping or pushing him from Christ.
In Paul’s economy everything was considered loss because in comparison to what he received from Christ; all of his human accomplishments were added up to a dung heap. However, his relationship with Christ was the greater investment. In reality there was no loss on Paul’s part. Everything he accomplished equaled nothing, and you cannot lose more than nothing. You can only gain when you have nothing at all. Paul’s gain was Christ and his righteousness. Paul went from giving up all HIS accomplishments (works and pride of the flesh) in exchange for righteousness from God that depends on faith.
Philippians 3:10 - 21
Vs 10 – 11: In gaining righteousness Paul’s desire is to know Jesus more and to know him in such a way that his life that would be identified with the Christ and that it would be radiated through his life. His desire is to…
Vs 12 – 21: Paul continues in humility to share that he is far from reaching the place he desires to be as a Christian. He admits he has not obtained the relationship he desires with Christ. He longed to know his savior more, and he longed to grow in Him. What we see in the first part of vs 12 is a type of holy discontent. Paul is not satisfied, he wants to know Jesus more and more, and this translates to a good thing. Paul’s holy discontent shows us that he has an active faith that is continually growing, and this is a blessing.
He then equates his journey to straining forward and pressing on toward the goal of the prize. He is not focusing on his past accomplishments. No, his journey is a forward moving journey like a marathon or race. He is so focused on the prize which is knowing Christ fully and experiencing perfect fellowship with him that no matter how difficult, exhausting, or tiresome this race is, he will keep pressing forward.
Vs 17: Paul invites his readers to join in imitating him by doing what he is doing. He is calling them to discipleship by saying, “Come, join me as we press on together in pursuing Christ.” Unfortunately, there are some who has taken the path of walking as enemies of Christ. They found the race is not worth running. They have chosen to invest in worldly affairs which leads to destruction and shame. But to those who pursue Jesus, we are citizens of heaven and we wait patiently for the day that we will become like Christ and we are transformed to our glorious bodies by the power of the Spirit.
So, FINALLY my dear friends how can we apply all this to us today individually and as a family of God? We can look at what I have just talked about and apply these three thoughts…
It is widely held that Revelation 11 is one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the letter. Much of the challenges faced is from the necessity of having to take a clear interpretation on the interpretation of Apocalyptic literature. Once again, the greatest obstacle is determining whether the interpretation should be interpreted…
Vs 1: John receives a measuring stick and is commanded to measure the temple of God, the altar, and them that worship within. This measuring is a symbolic way of declaring God’s preservation of it. This was saying the church (the people of God) will be secure (preserved) against spiritual danger. This was not intended to be protection again physical suffering or death though. God is going to give spiritual sanctuary to the faithful believers against the demonic attacks of the Antichrist.
Vs 2: The outside court would be the court of the Gentiles. One common belief is that this is symbolic of those members of the church who, like the followers of Jezebel (2:20) and Balaam (2:14) that were compromised with the world.
Another more probable interpretation is that the church is going to be given to persecution in the last days. thus, the distinction is a way of pointing up the limitations placed upon pagan hostility. This hostility may physically decimate the witnessing church (two witnesses), but it cannot touch its real source of life (witnesses raised to life). The church will be oppressed, but it will not be destroyed.
1260 days – is forty-two months, “a time, and times, and a half time.” This is a reference to the period of Jewish oppression under Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 – 164 BC. It became a symbol for a limited period of time during which evil will freely reign.
Vs 3 – 6: There are dozens of theories as to who the two witnesses are. However, there is little doubt that they are modeled after Moses and Elijah. They have power like Elijah, consuming enemies with fire and to stop the rain. They are like Moses as they can turn the waters to blood and smite the earth with plagues. Plus, it is a commonly held expectation that both Elijah and Moses would return before the end of the world (Mal. 4:5).
However, the question remains… who are the two witnesses and what do they symbolize in Revelation? It seems unlikely that the two are actual individuals but instead symbolize the witnessing church in the final days before the end. The reason the church is represented by two witnesses comes from the law of Deut. 19:13 which requires a second witness for sufficient testimony. Or it may derive from the two faithful churches mentioned in chapters 2 and 3 who were faithful unto death.
The period of their ministry is the same amount of time assigned to the trampling of the holy city 1,260 days. They are dressed in sackcloth which represents or symbolizes mourning and repentance.
“Two olive trees” and “two lampstands” references the vision recorded of Zechariah 4 indicates the plentifulness of oil and also connects the oil with the Spirit. In Revelation 1 we see the lampstands represents the church. Thus, the witnesses are collective rather than individual and they stand for the church, but since there are only two it is believed that only part of the church is meant.
The witnesses are protected by the supernatural powers for the full time they prophesy. Anyone who tries to harm them will be consumed by the fire that comes from their mouths. The word of the prophets can be like fire. The purpose of this imagery may be to express that during this time God’s servants have the same awesome resources available to them as did Moses and Elijah.
Vs 7 – 14: Once their ministry is fulfilled the witnesses are no longer protected from physical harm. The beast of the abyss declares war on them and emerges victorious. Since they are declaring war it further suggests that the two witnesses are a large group instead of two individuals. This is the last epic battle between the kingdoms of earth and the witnessing church.
The bodies are left unburied on the street of the great city. To be robbed of burial was a great act of disgrace.
“The great city” – Some believe it to be Jerusalem, but it is more commonly believed to be the city of Rome. Spiritually the city is “Sodom and Egypt” which refers to moral depravity and oppression and slavery. So, the great city in which the martyred church lies dead is the world under the wicked and oppressive sway of Antichrist. The dead bodies do not symbolize a spiritually dead church but shows the destiny of the faithful who have held to their convictions until the very end.
The bodies lay in the street for 3 ½ days and this results in a declaration of a holiday where gifts are exchanged and there is celebration from the nations, tribes, and tongues. The world has always shown hostility towards the message of God and the people rejoice because the world looks to have defeated the church.
The celebration is cut short after 3 ½ days when God breathes life into the lifeless witnesses, who proceed to stand on their feet. This results in great fear for the inhabitants of the world. What is interesting is that the death of the martyrs is not what caused great fear among the enemies of God, but it was the resurrection. The resurrection of the church is a sure indication that God possesses ultimate authority over life and death.
A voice from heaven summons the witnesses and they ascend to heaven. This victory of ascension is not a secret rapture, it is open and visible to all. As they are taken to heaven, a great earthquake destroys a portion of the city and 7,000 people are killed. The rest who are left living acknowledge God and his majesty.
Vs 15 – 19: One would expect the seventh trumpet to be followed by the third woe, but instead praise for the final triumph of the kingdom of God and his eternal reign is future and certain. The voices proclaiming praise represent all the hosts of heaven. The twenty-four elders fell on their faces and worshiped God by singing a hymn of thanksgiving.
In response to the hymn, we see the temple in heaven opened and the ark of the covenant was seen. This is not an earthy temple but is God’s temple in heaven. The ark is a symbol of showing God’s faithfulness in keeping and fulfilling his covenant promises. The flashes of lightning, thunder, earthquake and hail all represent God’s judgment.
We are relational beings. We flourish and persist on relationships. I think it is fair to say that nobody enjoys being alone. For this reason, God created Eve for Adam, because it was not good for him to be alone. This rings true throughout history, we need people. This church is a building filled with relational beings. There is a reason why we refer to the body of believers who worship together as A CHURCH FAMILY. We are a family and God deigned his church to exist as a family. Two the things that I love about the Church are the relationships and community that we build. We need to make it a mission to invest in building relationships with one another and in the community around us. Community and relationships are how the church began, thrived and survived throughout the centuries.
We see this in Philippians. Community was the key in building the foundational relationship between Paul and the Philippian church. If you recall, the purpose of this letter to the Philippians was because the Church heard Paul was in prison, they rallied together and sent a man named Epaphroditus to bring money, gifts and encouragement to Paul and assist him in prison.
Philippians 2:19 – 30
Vs. 19 – 24: Paul’s desire was to send Timothy to Philippi so that he would be cheered or encouraged by the good news of the church. He wants to send Timothy because he is proven and trustworthy to genuinely minister to them. Unlike others he is not self-serving, and he does not have any agenda other than that of Jesus Christ.
Vs 25 - 30: Paul is also sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi because during his travels he became sick and nearly died, but he was able to bring the gift to Paul. Unfortunately, Epaphroditus could not stay due to his illness, but he was able to give Paul an update on the church in Philippi and according to Paul’s tone in the letter it was a positive update, but he did mention some division that was happening. He was also able to minister to Paul in his illness. He became a brother, fellow worker, soldier, messenger, and minister.
Originally Paul was concerned the quarrels that had risen could taint their witness before the unbelievers in the city and his concern was that it would be difficult for the divided church to withstand the persecution that they continually experienced. Paul had a community that surrounded him in Philippi. Even though he was unable to physically be part of the church body, this community was extremely important to Paul. This church had invested in Paul, as he had invested in them. They lived together, even apart, to support, encourage, and challenge each other in faith.
Paul’s community consisted of many people, namely in today passage Epaphroditus and Timothy. These two helped foster and create a community where Paul could be encouraged during a difficult period of his life. Now, when people speak about community, they are generally talking about a group of people who live in the same area and may share a common background or shared interests. This type of community could be defined as a neighborhood.
Two types of neighborhoods
The importance of community:
A Gallop poll says, “Americans are among the loneliest people in the world.” Most of us live around a lot of people, we go to school with a lot of people, work with people and attend sporting events and concerts with a lot of people. “But having access to people is not the issue for us. So why are we lonely?”
We are a culture that craves relationships and yet many of us have very little, if any community to speak of. The sad thing is that so many of us crave community, yet we live in a society or culture that does not promote it. We are with people all day and then we come home and close the doors we lock out the rest of the world. We eat a dinner (maybe as a family or maybe not) sit and gaze at the TV, our phones or have other busy work and we distance ourselves from the many people who live around us or even with us.
This is evidenced in the homes we build. Look at newer homes, they are actually designed to be contrary to community even though many claim to be a community. We see these in these housing “communities”. There are thousands of homes in these gated communities designed to keep people out. Many homes have porches and the homeowners never go out and sit on them. They have yards and put fences around them to keep people out. Sometimes we say, “It’s for safety reasons”, but really, it’s because we want to shelter ourselves from the rest of our “community”.
Look at how homes were built in the 50s and 60s in comparison to today. They we were constructed with front porches, so when people took evening walks or drives, it was common to drop by and visit with your neighbors sitting on the porch. That rarely, if ever, happens today.
Even God understood our need for community. Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.” This is not just a verse to promote marriage. God understood that man cannot survive on his own. He needs fellowship, communion and community. Even Jesus created community around him. He had a community with his 12 disciples. Within that community He had an even closer community with James, John and Peter. He didn’t just have a group of guys following Him around as His entourage like you see movie stars and celebrities today. He had a group of followers with Him who were part of his community and they learned and lived life together. The same goes for the Apostle Paul. He had a community of friends whom he depended on and lived among because this was the way God designed the Church.
When we look at this group in this room, we have a community present. But the question is, “What kind of community do we have?” Are we a close-knit group of believers who have established community and are a spiritual family or are we a group of people who meet together every Sunday or maybe an occasional Sunday morning with very little interaction with one another outside of church? The question is how do we create community? Or can community even be created?
Pastor Andy Stanley has designed a model for creating community in his book CREATING COMMUNITY: FIVE KEYS TO BUILDING A SMALL GROUP COMMUNITY and I would like to share that with you. He describes community model as more of a setting than he does a program. In his book he uses the home as its focal point or example to show how community is built. He uses the examples of the “Foyer, Living Room and Kitchen” as his model.
The Foyer/Porch/Front door: This is typically the entry point into the home. Typically, guests enter the home through the foyer/porch or front door. We enter our home in at least two ways to enter.
In a ministry setting the foyer is equivalent to the entry way for guests. We want our guests to come in and visit with us, to feel welcomed and enter into an experience that will impact them positively in some way that they will want to come back. At Southside my hope is that we make a first impression that will encourage others to come back and worship with us again. Usually, a person will make the decision to return to a church within the first 10 minutes upon arrival at a church. Key factors include friendliness, style of worship music, and even the look, smell and character of the worship space… I know it’s not so spiritual huh? But this is not to say that the message is not important, I am just saying that the guest has usually made up their mind before they even get to the message.
The Living Room: The living room is designed for people to become better acquainted.
From a ministry standpoint I would say our living room is the fellowship before and after worship as it is intended for connecting. I love it when people stay around and fellowship after worship. I even love the time we spend together before church begins. I love seeing fellowship happen after Life groups conclude. I love seeing people standing around talking to one another. I love when a guest comes to visit and immediately some of you go up to the guest(s) and welcome them and introduce yourself to them. The living room is where relationships are made, and we become better acquainted with one another and grow closer to one another.
The Kitchen Table: This is where life’s most meaningful conversations take place. It is the place where we share our experiences, discuss important issues and enjoy our meals. The kitchen table is where close friends begin to feel more like family.
I know today’s message doesn’t look like the typical sermon I usually preach. I consider this more of a topical and practical message that will help us all better understand the importance of establishing and building community within the church. I mentioned at the beginning of the message that Paul was a man of relationships and community. He needed the church, as we see in the text today that he needed the Philippians. The same goes for us… We need one another in order to make it in this world today. God has established this small church smack dab in the middle of this community so we can bring his message of hope and salvation to the neighborhood, but that message cannot be fully heard until we are established as a body of believers who are welcoming, friendly, and in love with our Savior. It is like any relationship, we must build a trusting and inviting relationship with our neighborhood so that they will be willing to respond by coming when we invite them. Once we invite our neighbors, friends, and family in we need to be sure that we, like the Philippians are able to love, care for, and support those who come looking for something that only
Vs 13 - 14: This is the altar before God where the souls of those slain for the word of God spoken of in Chapter 6. Altars in Jewish tradition had four horns, one protruding from each of its upper corners, and such altars were also known among Greeks. The voice that speaks is either the voice of the angel or the voices of the martyrs. If the voice of the martyrs, then it would be the prayers of the saints praying for vindication. More probable it is the voice of the angel who serves before the altar because the voice is singular.
The four angels are bound/restrained, so it is believed that they are demonic. The Euphrates marks the boundary between Israel and her enemies.
Vs 15 – 16: These angels are set free and their purpose is to kill 1/3 of humanity. Remember under the fourth seal a fourth of humanity is killed. The onslaught is focused on those who reside on earth and is designated towards those who live in enmity towards God.
There is a set time and place prepared for these angels and this is that moment. At this precise moment that God in his sovereignty has decreed, these angels are released to kill humanity. This demonic Cavalry is incalculably large. The only reason we know there are 200,000,000 in this cavalcade because John heard the number spoken.
Vs 17 – 19: Those who rode these demonic horses wore breastplates of red, blue, and yellow to match the colors of fire, smoke, and brimstone. Now, the riders do not play any part in killing humanity, the death is brought by the horses. John intentionally describes the horses as horrific and terrible creatures. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of the horse is the face of the lion, because lions symbolize demolition and brutality. These horses in John’s vision resemble mythical beings from Greco-Roman tradition such as the “raging Chimera.” It was “in front a lion, in back a serpent, and in the middle a goat, breathing out the force of blazing fire”
From their mouths proceeds three plagues fire, smoke, and sulfur. The fire burns, and the smoke, and sulfur kill by asphyxiation. Their power of death comes from their mouths and in their tails. Like the tails of the locusts in the previous vision, which inflicted torment like a scorpion’s sting, the tails of the demonic cavalry threaten to harm like snakes.
Vs 20 – 21: Those who were spared from this horrific death, however, did not repent, nor did they stop worshiping demons and idols. This shows that once the heart grows cold and hostile toward God, not even the remote possibility of a horrific death will lead them to repentance, instead they dug their heals in and started worshiping the demons and forces that bring their destruction.
Chapter 10: Interlude
Vs 1: From the beginning of chapter 4 John is taken to heaven. Now in Chapter 10 John is back on earth because he sees the angel descending from the heavens. This angel in Revelation refer to strong ones. He is coming directly from the presence of Od
Clouds were said to accompany the coming of God and the Son of Man or human figure who receives dominion over the world. A cloud suggests divine presence.
His legs appeared as pillars of fire could recall the pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day found in Exodus that gave guidance and protection to the Israelites in the desert. And the rainbow which signifies the reminder to God of his promise to Noah.
Some believe this angel could be Jesus since his appearance is similar to the vision of him in Revelation, and because the lion would indicate that he is the lion of the tribe of Judah. However, this is rejected by most because in Apocalyptic literature Jesus never appears as an angel. So, when John speaks of “another” angel or a “powerful” angel, these angels are not Christ. The angel in Rev 10:1 has an exalted appearance because he mediates divine revelation
Vs 2 – 4: The angel has a little scroll/book in his hand, and he placed his right foot on the sea and the left one on the land. Such a sight would show the mere colossal size of the angel or it could symbolize his authority over the earth. He calls out with a loud voice, like a roaring lion. The angel’s voice is more promising than threatening because it interrupts the movement toward increasingly destructive judgments.
Seven thunders - These thunders are interpreted in two ways the first one is most probable.
When the seven thunders spoke, apparently John has been writing and documenting all that has happened, since he was told to write down all that he saw. However, when he went to write down what the voices spoke, he is immediately is told not to write them. He is told to seal up what was said, and this simply means, do not disclose the contents to anyone. What was said was not to be spoken or known to the churches.
Vs 5 – 7: In the OT when one raised their hands it was in response to oath taking. So, the angel is making an oath by swearing to him who lives forever that there is no more delay. According to Mounce “Apocalyptic thought has always been concerned with the question, How long until the end?” The answer from the angel is, “There will be no more delay.” This would come good news for the martyrs under the altar who have asked the question. Now, nothing stands in the way of this final dramatic conclusion to the end of human history and the judgment of God to be complete. From this point forward God will not give opportunity for men to repent, the final confrontation between God and Satan is about to begin. The restraint has been removed, and as we will see soon, the Antichrist will be revealed
The mystery of God – Mysteries were also important in apocalyptic literature because mysteries were secrets preserved in heaven and revealed to apocalyptic writers. The mystery revealed is that the kingdom of the world was now becoming the kingdom of God, the rewarding of the righteous, and the final defeat of evil.
Vs 8 – 11: John is told to take the scroll from the angel who is on the land and sea and when he gets it, he is commanded to take the scroll and eat it. The scroll was sweet like honey in taste but made his stomach bitter. This could mean the message is sweet in that it speaks of the advent of God’s kingdom, but it is bitter in that the completion of God’s designs includes the observation and anguish of his people.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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