Don’t Go to Sleep

Discussion Guide for Revelation 16

Just this morning I have been listening to a new song from my favorite Christian hip-hop artist. He very straightforwardly makes his view known in calling out other Christian hip-hop artists for de-emphasizing the Gospel as they have gained a wider audience and acceptance in the pop culture of America. Many of these artists state that they have been fulfilling a call to take Gospel themes to a wider audience in the hopes of influencing non-believers toward the Gospel. Shai Linne’s critique is that you have shied away from the preaching of the Gospel if anything in your message is emphasized more than the Gospel.

What strikes me about this discussion, which takes place in public through the media of YouTube and Twitter, is that it is a discussion as old as the church itself. How can the church be a lampstand pointing the world to Christ while not standing in unity with a world that is in full-on rebellion against its Creator.

The rules for engagement are very seldom black-and-white. We must be students of the Word as well as students of the culture so that we can effectively know which elements of the culture to embrace and which elements from which to remain separated. We then have to understand the best way to communicate our separation so that people can see us pointing them to Jesus.

I am very encouraged to see this age-old dialogue taking place in the realm of Christian hip-hop. But, you don’t have to be a hip-hop fan to understand that the issue in the dialogue is the same exhortation that John gives in Revelation 16:15.

STAY AWAKE! THIS WORLD IS CURSED BY GOD BEYOND IMAGINATION. BE VIGILANT IN POINTING A LOST WORLD TO CHRIST LEST YOU BE DECEIVED INTO BELIEVING YOU ARE PART OF THIS WORLD.

I don’t know how to deal with seven bowls of wrath in Revelation 16 and not feel anything other than terror at the extent of the wrath of God. If you didn’t listen to Steven Lawson’s sermon on the wrath of God last week, I highly recommend it for getting a sense of how completely consistent these bowls are with the nature of the Person of God.

One important thing to note is that the bowls of wrath are not God’s discipline. We often encounter limited aspects of the judgment of God in our own lives in order for God to call us to repentance and to live in glad submission to Him. None of this is happening in Revelation 16. Those who already belong to Christ rejoice at his justice. Those who are experiencing the full brunt of His wrath are further hardened in their opposition.

This pretty well illustrates the two camps into which all of humanity fall both now and into eternity: one camp is indwelled with hearts of worship toward the God of justice while the other camp rages against His wrath or attempts to conquer it without acknowledging its justice. These realities will be the difference between eternal heaven and eternal hell. Doug Wilson ascribes two statements to atheists: “There is no God; and I hate him.”

Bowls 1-4 are biological and ecological disasters poured out on the earth in measures never seen. Judging by the responses of people today to natural disasters we can surmise what their responses will be to the bowl wraths.

As Christians, we understand that God in creation gave man and woman a place of dominion over the earth to care for it. Creation is not God, Man is not God. Man’s job is to follow God’s design for the earth and to trust that he will provide for mankind the same way that He provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

The modern environmental movement has taken some dark twists that place man as the ultimate arbiter for the success or failure of the environment and place the environment as the ultimate reality rather than God. This is philosophically nothing more than old-school pantheism (think Greek mythology or Hinduism). It’s easy to imagine people vainly calling on the EPA for salvation rather than the God who is the source of the bowl judgments.

Bowls 4-7 represent God’s wrath attacking the very institutions of human political power. Much more will be said in the coming weeks about the fall of Babylon. This city has been the representative for the sinful pride of human civilization unified in defiance of God since the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Just as God brought the civilization of Babel down to spectacular chaos, so will he suddenly and spectacularly lay low the unified forces of the world’s superpowers that are arrayed against Him.

As with all of the Book of Revelation, this is not simply a story to sit back and enjoy. This unveiling is a message to spur the Church on to greater faithfulness to Christ. The exhortation in verse 15 is to tell us there is a blessing in staying awake and ready for action in the midst of a cosmic battle between God and the pride of mankind.

It’s very easy for us in the church to look around at the sinful aspects of the system of the World and believe that we are part of that system. There is a clear line drawn in the sand and the people of God are called to stand firmly on His side, which is the side of justice.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you struggle with being a witness to the world while remaining separate from the world?
  • How do you recognize the difference between God’s punitive judgment and his disciplinary judgment?
  • Why do you think repentance does not result from the bowl judgments?
  • Do recent disasters make people think about the bowl judgments?
  • What does it mean to fall asleep spiritually?
  • Why is spiritual sleep such an easy trap?
  • How are some of these bowl judgments reflected in the world today?
  • How will these judgments be worse in the future?
  • Do you grieve over the condition of the lost world?

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Justice

Justice rightly consumes a lot of the public discussion of our current events. Everybody claims to long for justice, to be on the side of justice, and to be working to bring justice to every corner of the earth. But, despite all of this attention and clamoring, injustice abounds.

Everybody claims to long for justice, to be on the side of justice, and to be working to bring justice to every corner of the earth. But, despite all of this attention and clamoring, injustice abounds.We don’t have to look very far to see things in our own community that make our blood boil.

We don’t have to look very far to see things in our own community that make our blood boil.Children go hungry while their parents buy drugs.

  • Children go hungry while their parents buy drugs.
  • Rich people get away with crimes while poor people get convicted.
  • Hard-working people get taxed while lazy people get a free ride.
  • Underprivileged kids get a subpar education while kids with the right last name get away with cheating.
  • Racial discrimination is allowed to continue.
  • Honest people get punished while liars go free.
  • Millions of innocent babies are aborted.
  • Good people meet tragedy while evil people prosper.

I don’t bring this up to suggest that America is somehow a cesspool of injustice. In fact, I believe this is probably the one place in the history of the world that has come closest to achieving justice for all types of people.

The fact that we still see so much injustice in the justest place on earth should tell us something about the extent to which justice has been perverted by man’s sinful condition.The feelings we have about injustice are no different than others throughout the history of the world. The justice of God is a central concern in Scripture because there is no other place that people have been able to find it.

The feelings we have about injustice are no different than others throughout the history of the world. The justice of God is a central concern in Scripture because there is no other place that people have been able to find it.Take, for example, the way that Christians have historically justified war. In two thousand years of Christian theology, there are some generally accepted principles that must be followed for a Christian to believe that a war is just:

Take, for example, the way that Christians have historically justified war. In two thousand years of Christian theology, there are some generally accepted principles that must be followed for a Christian to believe that a war is just: It’s a last resort

  1. It’s the last resort
  2. It’s waged by a legitimate civil authority
  3. It’s for a just cause
  4. There is a probability of success
  5. The war is waged to establish peace
  6. Only the amount of violence necessary to succeed should be used
  7. Civilians must be distinguished from military forces.

War is horrible and has never accomplished lasting peace because it has been imperfectly executed by sinful individuals, even as they have sometimes pursued right aims. In two thousand years, there has never been a war in which these principles were perfectly followed. When God makes war, he will completely and totally accomplish justice on the earth.

What are we speaking about when we try to conceptualize a God who pours out violent wrath in perfect justice? It is certainly not something that can be replicated. While Satan has been enraged to War against Christ’s church, his violence cannot compare with God’s wrath because God’s wrath is perfect, just, and holy. God’s wrath cannot be withstood as we continue to unfold the rest of the book of Revelation. There is much more to say about the just wrath of God, and the Bible certainly says much more than we are comfortable with in our modern American mindset.

Steven Lawson of Ligonier Ministries recently released a sermon summarizing the Biblical concept of the wrath of God. I highly commend it to you in preparation for this discussion. http://renewingyourmind.org/2017/09/01/the-wrath-of-god

Revelation 15 is giving John an introduction to the total unrelenting wrath that will be poured out on unredeemed humanity from God’s indignation against all injustice. The song of deliverance in Revelation 15 is only made possible because God is a perfectly just judge. God’s people have conquered the beast because God does not allow his kids to be chased forever. As God delivered his children from the injustice of Pharaoh through plagues and the hand of Moses, so the church will be ultimately delivered through the hand of Jesus and the plagues about to be poured out on the earth.

God’s wrath highlights his perfect justice, which makes our deliverance sparkle with an even greater luster for worship.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you noticed non-Christians longing for God’s justice?
  • How does the idea of God’s justice make you feel?
  • How does the idea of God’s wrath make you feel?
  • What are some ways that Christians work for justice in the world today?
  • Why is it good for Christians to serve as civil authorities (police, military, judges, elected officials)?
  • When is it permissible for a Christian to participate in war?
  • Why does war never bring about perfect justice?
  • What will be different about God accomplishing justice through wrath?
  • How does God’s justice highlight the cross?

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The Harvest

Discussion Guide for Revelation 14

In Revelation 14 we see the reappearance of the 144,000 sealed saints from Revelation 7.

We must remember that Revelation is not a chronology, but a picture meant to strengthen the church to endure. Therefore, when we see images from prior scenes repeated we need to immediately be drawn to the underlying truth which is necessary for our encouragement in the faith. It is so necessary that the Holy Spirit through John saw fit to underline it for us in the text of Revelation.

I do not hold to the common assertion that the 144,000 are necessarily post-Rapture Jewish believers. Nothing in the text of Revelation 14 indicates this. This is especially true if we do not hold Revelation to be a rigid chronology of future events.

The 144,000 is probably not even meant to be taken as a literal number. Remember that numbers have symbolic meaning in Revelation. 144,000 is 12 x 12 x 1,000, which represents the total number of God’s people.

Twelve is the number of the people of God. In the Old Testament, there were twelve tribes of Israel. In the New Testament, there are twelve apostles.

These 144,000 represent the multitude of God’s elect who have been redeemed to live a pure life in the midst of a world that is totally opposed to the Lordship of Christ. My interpretation is that we who are in Christ today should count ourselves among the 144,000.

Redeemed Christ-followers have a night and day contrast with the rest of those on planet earth who are marked with the number of man. While the rest of the world has followed the beast and engaged in sexual immorality (v.8), the 144,000 have kept themselves chaste.

Sexual immorality is a common sin used in the Bible as a representative for all sorts of idolatry. The way we treat our sexuality says everything about the reverence we have for God, who created us as sexual beings. The sexual intimacy of a husband and wife within the covenant of marriage is God’s right and proper plan for sex.

While the rest of the world worships the beast, the 144,000 sing a new song (v.2). While the rest of the world follows after the lies of the beast, the 144,000 go forward as the firstfruits of God’s first harvest (v. 4-5).

This means that they are the ones who proclaim the Gospel to a condemned world and that God uses their preaching to redeem many from the clutch of the beast. Even if it costs the 144,000 their lives, the effort will reap a harvest of even greater eternal value.

The first harvest of grain ought to call our attention to John 4:35. In the sovereignty of God’s plan, there is a full number of elect who will be redeemed from the earth by grace through faith.

Our proclaiming the Gospel is part of God’s plan to bring about the coming of Christ. When you share your faith at home, at school, and at work you are part of coming harvest of Jesus.

The second harvest comes about in Rev. 14:17-20. This is a harvest of judgement upon the earth.

One important aspect to note is that it is a harvest of the grapes of wrath that have already been planted by the world and its system.

Have you ever heard the saying “he who lives by the sword will die by the sword?” Hosea prophesied of those

who “sow the wind and reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). This is a pretty good summary of what the judgement of God will look like.

All of the vileness of sinful hearts, self-worship, immorality, and violence will be harvested, poured into a vat, and then spewed out over the earth in the same measure that the earth has been a party to it.

There is no such thing as undeserved judgement when it comes to God. Those who do not submit themselves to the umbrella of Christ’s mercy will reap the full natural consequences and judgement for the sin in which they have participated.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel that you relate to the 144,000?
  • What role does worship play in the life of the redeemed?
  • Do we play too great or too small of an emphasis on worship in our own lives?
  • Why is the sexual purity of the 144,000 such a big deal?
  • Why does the beast use sex to lead hearts into idolatry?
  • Do you ever get discouraged into wondering if living a pure life and proclaiming the Gospel is worth the effort?
  • Does this text encourage you?
  • How does the angels’ message of judgement fly in the face of much preaching today?
  • Do you think it is valid to say that the second harvest of the grapes of wrath are the deeds of the wicked being poured back on the wicked?
  • How do you see this playing out in the world today?

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The Great Counterfeiter

Discussion Guide for Revelation 13

“Falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after it…” – Jonathan Swift

There is one important truth that defines the Book of Revelation: God is victorious in the end. The reason we must keep this in mind is that Satan is the great father of lies and his falsehoods seem to carry the day for a very long time.

This should come as no surprise to anyone acquainted with humanity.

  • Marriages are wrecked by total breakdowns of trust.
  • Employers cannot give their employees the benefit of the doubt.
  • Investors lose their life savings to banking schemes and credit ratings that were built on lies.
  • Parents have to discipline children who can tell a lie as easily as they tell the truth.
  • Teachers have to remind students not to trust all the information they read on the internet.
  • Voters try to make important decisions without the ability to trust much of what they read or see in the media.

We don’t have to look very far to see the effects of the reign of Satan in the world around us.

People replace the truth and goodness of following Christ with the false experiences of Satan. The specifics of what Satan offers will follow in weeks to come. But, the focus of Revelation 13 is to identify the source of all of falsehood and counterfeiting in the world.

Sinful man will always be willing to pursue an idolatry that imitates God but doesn’t demand the absolute allegiance that God demands.

We need to note that Satan is ultimately trying to offer an alternative to God. He will never be successful in this mission because there is only one God with ultimate sovereignty and majesty.

Satan will, however, be successful in deceiving men. This is possible because men, blinded and cursed by sin, do not have the desire or the ability to know or understand the true God. Wherever there is an absence of the knowledge of God, it will always be replaced with an idol.

The idolatry in Revelation 13 even goes so far as to counterfeit the Son and the Holy Spirit. Satan will mimic the cross and resurrection of Christ and mimic the supernatural acts of the Holy Spirit.

We live in a day and age where many Christians are deceived into thinking that because something is spiritual or supernatural then it must be from God. We must be careful to also understand that Satan is a spiritual being who has the ability to do great signs and wonders in the spiritual world. Only knowing and trusting God for who He truly is (having one’s name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life) and pursuing Him daily can offer protection from being deceived into worshipping idols.

One way that we can identify the beast is that he is at war with the church (those who confess Jesus as Lord). He will use the economic systems of the day to exert pressure on faithful Christians to either renounce Jesus or be killed. But rest assured, all who truly belong to Christ will persevere in the faith, even if it costs them their lives.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you noticed that people are far more willing to follow a lie than the truth? Why do you think that is? Does Revelation 13 give clues to explain why that is the case?
  • What clues from the text lead you to see that Satan is trying to offer an alternative to God?
  • Why is the world so willing to accept Satan’s alternative?
  • How do you understand the mark of the Beast? (use sermon notes)
  • Does being a follower of Jesus bring us closer to the world economic system or drive us away from it?
  • How can we be faithful followers of Jesus while working in a fallen world economic system?
  • How can the believers in Revelation 13 trust in God for sustenance instead of the beast, given that they are shut out of the economic system?

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The Woman & The Dragon

Revelation 12 Discussion Guide

Genesis 3:15 is a key Old Testament text that gives the backdrop to Revelation. You may be familiar with Genesis 3:15 and the term protoevangelium. This means the first good news. When Adam and Eve gave in to the temptation of the serpent and were first placed under the curse of sin, God in the midst of their cursing also proclaimed their ultimate redemption.

“I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.”

The serpent and his offspring are the kingdom and works of Satan. The kingdom of Satan proves to be a counterfeit (later sermons will explore that), but that does not mean that Satan’s kingdom does not have real destructive consequences for the world today.

The offspring of the woman is the only one to have no earthly father: Jesus Christ. Though Satan may seem to be in a position to destroy Jesus and render mankind hopelessly lost, the best he can do is to bruise his heel. Just when Satan seems destined to win, Jesus’ victory destroys Satan and his work.

Revelation 12 is best understood as yet another telling of the glorious cosmic story of the redemption of God’s people. David Platt puts the Good News of Revelation 12 beautifully:

“The Birth of Christ on that day in Bethlehem inaugurated the death of this ancient serpent, just as it had been promised back in Genesis 3. The birth of Christ declared the death of the ancient serpent; the death of Christ defanged the adversary.”1

Psalm 2 is the other OT text that provides context for Revelation 12. The kings of the earth are an evil world system that rages in opposition to the righteous system of the reign of God. The messianic Davidic Son of Yahweh will be sent to subdue the kings of the earth with a rod of iron.

Despite Satan’s guaranteed and looming defeat, James Hamilton likens his reign on the earth to the violent destruction of a rabid animal. The animal’s death is sealed, but he walks about temporarily to cause death and carnage. We learn many things about the nature and character of Satan from Revelation 12.

  • He has no standing with God (v. 8).
  • He is the deceiver of the whole world (v.9).
  • He is the accuser of the saints of God (v.10).
  • He hates the divine miracle of birth. He hates babies.

Satan’s inability to conquer the Messiah causes him to rage against all the God declares as “Mine.” Genocide and racism against entire groups of people and persecution of the church give testimony to the tremendous power that Satan has to accomplish the destruction of men on the earth. Many theologians have noted the particular Satanic influence that has resulted at various times in history in people embracing the evil of infanticide. I don’t believe it is a stretch today to ascribe the same demonic influence to the movement has resulted in millions upon millions of babies aborted in the womb every year throughout the world. I believe we can only make sense of white supremacy and every other form of racial hatred by seeing it as the work of Satan to destroy what God has made and called “good.”

  • He will not give up without a fight (v.17).
  • God demonstrates his sovereignty over the earth when he causes the earth itself to thwart the destructive plans of the devil (vv. 13-17).

Discussion Questions

  • Where do you see Genesis 3:15 and Psalm 2 in the text of Revelation 12? Do you think it is legitimate to view Revelation 12 as a retelling of those texts?
  • How is the influence of Satan present in the evils of abortion, infanticide, racism, and genocide?
  • How can we speak the Gospel of Jesus to fight against those evil world systems?
  • How do you see the truths about Satan in Revelation 12 present in your daily life?
  • Why is Jesus such a threat to Satan?
  • Why does Satan turn to attacking the people of God?
  • How have you seen God save his people from the attacks of Satan?

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The Two Witnesses

The Two Witnesses: Revelation 11

This chapter gets us back into a part of Revelation where people have very different ideas about how the details of the chapter should be interpreted. Some people want to take the subject matter and say it refers to literal times, places, and individuals. Others are more comfortable making the subject matter symbolic of the church throughout the period of time between Christ’s ascension and second coming.

This is where we have to be focused on keeping the point of Revelation as the point of our study, because it would be very easy to focus on debates about details that don’t actually have any bearing on the point of the chapter.

In interpreting this passage, it is helpful to remember that Revelation is a book to the church about our role in the establishment of Christ’s kingdom. God’s plan for the world is not the re-establishment of an old order. His plan for this world is a new covenant with a new people who serve Jesus as king. Everything the church does in the world is to bear witness to the glory of God.

In interpreting Revelation, we must take care to recognize that this is a unique word through John to the church. It is therefore not entirely dependent on what was revealed to Israel through the Old Testament prophets. At the same time, when the imagery employed in Revelation 11 so closely echoes the imagery of Zechariah, we should make a note, even if the meaning of Revelation 11 differs from the meaning of Zechariah. The measuring of the temple has an echo of the man measuring the temple in Zechariah 2. The two witnesses echo the imagery in Zechariah 4. The powers possessed by the witnesses are reminiscent of the powers possessed by Moses and Elijah. Many commentators connect the reference of forty-two months and 1260 days to be one half of the seventieth week in Daniel.

I will be the first to admit that putting all of this together with everything recorded in the Old Testament is far above my paygrade. While there is nothing wrong with engaging in divine speculation, we need to first focus on the truths for the church that are made obvious in this passage.

God has miraculously preserved the church as his witness in every corner of the world. The Spirit of God is the secret to the church’s perseverance through the most difficult suffering and assault on its faith. Even at times when persecution would seem to kill the church, it continually rises up as a faithful witness to Christ.

When Jesus said “the gates of hell cannot prevail” against the church he really meant it! There will come a time when the church seems to be dead. Rest assured that the death of the church is but an illusion.

Discussion Questions

  • What clues in Revelation 11:1-14 and other passages would lead you to identify the temple and the two witnesses with the church?
  • Why is the church known for its witness?
  • Where do the witnesses get their authority?
  • Why do you think that God protects his witnesses through part of the time and not through other the other times?
  • Why does the world hate the witnesses?
  • Can the church ever be defeated? Why or why not?
  • What aspects of the kingdom of God is the seventh trumpet pointing us toward?
  • Is it comforting to you that God’s wrath will fall on His enemies?

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Eat the Scroll!

Discussion Guide for Revelation 10

Revelation 10 primarily teaches us about the Word of God.

Our understanding of God, salvation, the church, ourselves, relationships, and life itself hinges on how we read the Bible. There are several teachings about the Bible that we affirm at Venture that would be helpful to review in a discussion about the Word of God.

The Bible is the Word of God

The fallacy of liberal post-enlightenment Christianity says that the Bible contains the Word of God or that it becomes the Word of God as it is read.

Many will object that Scripture itself calls Jesus the Word of God made flesh (John 1). Jesus himself answers this objection in John 5:39 saying that the Scriptures themselves testify of Him.

We honor the Bible as God’s testimony and revelation of Himself to us. This is fundamental to everything else we believe and practice as a church. Priority is placed on the teaching of the Bible in public worship and in Life Groups because it is God’s Word.

We believe that Bible is faithful and perfect in all of its words because they are the very words of God.

The Bible is Authoritative

The common mood of today is to read the Bible and then decide whether we like it or not.

Americans tend to focus on the passages of Scripture that make us feel good and then ignore or reject those passages with which we disagree.

This buffet mentality works fine if you think the Bible merely contains the Word of God. The parts we like must be from God and the distasteful parts must have been added by human authors.

Passages such as Revelation 10 should cause us fear in taking such an attitude.

If the angel carrying the scroll is God’s representative with authority over dry land and sea, then it should go without saying that the scroll, as God’s Word also has authority over us.

We don’t judge God’s Word. God’s Word judges us.

The scroll is sweet to the taste and bitter to the stomach. This is an apt description of the delights and harshness of God’s Word.

The Bible is Meant to Be Read!

The churchy term for this is called the perspicuity of Scripture. In other words, the Bible can be plainly understood by an average reader.

William Tyndale was arguably the most influential translator of the Bible into English. He is famous for debating the stuffy-headed church scholars of his day who wanted to keep the Bible out of the hands of common people.

In those days, the clergy were not doing a good job of teaching the Bible to people. But, they didn’t want the people to read the Bible for themselves, either.

In a moment of rage, Tyndale decried “If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

Tyndale spent most of his adult life on the run from the King of England. He is also credited with creating the modern English language (pre-Shakespeare) Bible. All of this so that average, ordinary people could read the Bible for themselves.

We don’t need special glasses and seer stones to discern God’s Word. This is how the Latter Day Saints claim the Book of Mormon was translated into something readable from an unreadable heavenly language.

In fact, we don’t even need a seminary degree to understand God’s Word.

Through careful reading, prayer, attention to context and common sense every person can gain a plain understanding of the meaning of Scripture. Advanced education is a great asset, but every person capable of reading can understand the Bible for themselves.

The Bible is complete in what it teaches.

God’s Word is perfect. If we can trust that God tells us everything we need to know then we don’t have to fret that God withholds from us exactly what John heard in the thunder.

Our faith can be OK with some of the mysteries of God because we trust that He has perfectly revealed everything we need to know in order to live in covenant with Him.

We can ask tough questions of God, but we should be able to accept that some mysteries will be become plain to us only in some future age. What we are told about God is enough to keep us occupied in pursuing Him for the rest of our lives.

It’s comforting to know that Scripture is a well that never runs dry. BTW, the churchy term for this is the sufficiency of Scripture.

I often have a difficult time applying this to my own life. Believing that God’s Word is enough presents a real test of my faith.

We often see this in the realm of counseling. When someone has a problem in their life, turning to Scripture is often a last resort. They ask family, doctors, therapists, friends, co-workers, and, yes, even their pastor, for advice long before they ask God to give them advice from His Word.

Even pastors often send people to a secular therapist before letting the Word of God sink in and make changes in the life of the one seeking counsel.

I’m not saying that God never provides help through means other than Scripture, but we ought to go to Scripture first and let it guide us to other means of help He may send.

His Word is sufficient for everything that we face.

So, how should we read Scripture?

Read Together

Bible reading is traditionally a community activity. Meditation is typically done in private and reading in public.

As we study through Revelation, you may have noticed that Austin has made a point to give the reading of the text a more prominent place in our worship gathering. This is to reflect the view of Scripture held by the apostles.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read Scripture in private. You must absolutely read on your own, too. But don’t neglect the power of hearing the Word of God together in your church, life group, community of friends or your family.

I remember visiting my great-grandparents in Iowa every summer. The most important part of their day was reading through the Bible together.

My great-grandfather was a gruff old man, even after he became a Christian. I’m sure the habit of Bible reading helped create a fruitful marriage that lasted about 65 years. Reading together has the ability to strengthen any relationship.

Pray Over the Scripture

Ask God to help you understand what you’re reading. Ask Him to make His Word a reality in your life moving forward.

Meditate

Most of us have a hard time with this part. Meditation is especially difficult to our ADD world. But it is absolutely necessary to gain anything more than a surface understanding of God.

  • Study the background of Scripture.
  • Ask yourself and your friends questions about what you just read.
  • Memorize verses.
  • Go to a quiet place and give yourself time to reflect on what you just read.

This is all part of “reading” God’s Word.

Live it Out

Finally, live out God’s Word in your community. The book of James is very clear that all knowledge of God is useless if it makes no difference in how you live.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the greatest difficulties you have with the Bible?
  • How have you found the Bible to be pleasant? How have you found it to be bitter?
  • Do you find it difficult to talk about the Bible to other people? Why?
  • Describe a time when you didn’t want to let the Bible be authoritative? How did that situation resolve itself?
  • How can you make reading the Bible corporately a bigger part of your life?
  • How do you meditate on the Bible?
  • Give an example of how the Bible has changed your life in the last week?

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The Seven Trumpets

Discussion Guide for Revelation 8-9

The theme of judgement continues in Revelation 8 and 9. This awful visitation of death and destruction is popularly what the world thinks of first as the Apocalypse (the Greek form of Revelation).

The 1950’s movie, The Seventh Seal, gets rave reviews from many film buffs (myself included). This Swedish Cold War era film depicts the black plague of the Middle Ages as the type of cataclysm described when the seventh seal is opened in Revelation.
The plot of the movie involves a knight returning from the carnage of the Crusades to find rampant disease being inflicted on his homeland by personified character named Death. He famously challenges Death to a game of chess, determined to outwit him to save himself and his loved ones.

The bubonic plague wiped out about one third of the population of Europe during some of its worst outbreaks. It’s no wonder that this type of historical event draws attention to the judgments described in Revelation 8-9.

Disease, war, and environmental catastrophe on this scale have happened before and will happen again. This is what makes the seventh seal such a terrifying part of the book of Revelation. It represents just one aspect of God’s judgment of sin on the earth, particularly the sin of idolatry that led them to murder God’s children.

The silence that precedes the unleashing of this judgment builds suspense and indicates something awful is about to occur. Every great Western movie has this scene of silence before the big shootout.

If you want to drive yourself positively bonkers try to figure out what each of the trumpets refers to that might exist in the world of 2017. This is an impossible task.

We need to make sure the actual message of Revelation is the one we are receiving. John is giving us every indication he can use to say that the judgment of God is brutal, horrifying, and imminent.

Everything that sustains quality of life on the earth is being attacked. For an ancient agrarian culture, there was nothing as swift and terrifying as an army of locusts coming to devour the crops they needed to live on for the next year. And these are locusts on steroids. They will not only cause hunger, but will inflict so much pain that people wish they could die.

When I hear Biblical phrases about people wishing to die I immediately think about the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain which leads people to commit suicide. We should in no way ascribe to a theology that says suicide is an unpardonable sin that automatically sends people to hell. But, I believe many of the factors that go into suicide give us a glimpse of what hell must feel like.

These locusts are hellish creatures under the command of the king of hell, Apollyon.

It’s interesting and encouraging that the worst hell has to offer can only affect those whom God has permitted. The sealed saints of God cannot be harmed by hell. Jesus has already promised in the Gospels that the gates of hell cannot prevail against his church.

The worst aspect of hell is the pure, unmitigated wrath that does not make anyone want to repent. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man asks Abraham if he can warn his brothers to repent of their ways so that they do not end up in hell.

The response he gets is shocking. “Even if someone rises from the dead they will not repent.” (Luke 16:31)

The lesson to be learned is that repentance is a gift of God and should be accepted today. If a person is not convinced by the Word of God and the resurrection of Christ that he should repent of his sins and trust God for salvation, then hell itself will have no redeeming effect.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you find to be the most terrifying parts of Revelation 8-9? Why?
  • Does this passage give you greater understanding of the ways that sin leads to death on the earth?
  • Do you think hell exists in some aspects of life today?
  • Do you think that things will get worse before Jesus sets them straight?
  • How is this passage a call to repentance?
  • How is this passage an encouragement to the saints?
  • Do you have someone close who you may believe is in danger of the fury of hell being unleashed?
  • What about that person’s life concerns you so much?
  • How can you pray for that person and lovingly give him/her God’s call to repent today?

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Revelation 7 Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide for Revelation 7

Revelation 7 begins the third scene of John’s vision.

This is also the part of the book that begins to create controversy based upon whether a modern reader identifies as dispensational, historic premillennial, amillennial, or postmillennial (not to mention the thousands of variances of opinions found within each of those broad categories of thinking).

I’d highly encourage you to review the Glossary of Terms provided at the beginning of our series on Revelation.

Begin to think through the categories that theologians use when studying this section of Revelation. Let’s add a couple of new terms that may also help as you discuss Revelation 7.

The Divine Passive

This is a very difficult aspect of God for many of us to understand.

When you have a small group conversation and get people to tell the stories of their lives you will often find some deep and intense spiritual struggles with how a sovereignly powerful God can allow bad things (the reign of sin) to occur.

Harmful things happen that affect us, our families, our friends, our nation, and the environment. The clear teaching of the Bible, and Revelation in particular, is that God is ultimately in control over these harmful forces. Nevertheless, we cannot blame God for sin or conclude that the reign of sin in the world means that the world is outside of his control.

God is removed from blame for evil even though he can and will ultimately prevail over it. Furthermore, we know that God uses bad things to execute his divine judgment over the world.

Revelation 7:1-3 shows us that the only reason worse things don’t happen more often is because God sometimes exercises grace in preventing them.

The greatest degree of His grace is displayed to the elect, those who are saved and sealed by the blood of Christ from Revelation 7:3-14. Their rescue means that they are to ultimately be brought through tribulation that will destroy everyone and everything else.

The 144,000

This section of Revelation 7 might be one of the most hotly debated in the whole Bible.

Every Bible teacher has an opinion on who the 144,000 are. Danny Akin1 lists 4 of the most prominent opinions given by orthodox Christians and non-Christian cults.

Jehovah’s Witnesses who will reign in heaven (BTW, there are now far more than 144,000 people in this cult)

People who faithfully keep the Sabbath

The church of every age, tribe, tongue, and nation represented as a military census of the “new Israel” who all are sealed by and serve Jesus Christ

Jewish believers sealed for service during the Great Tribulation

Options 1 & 2 are espoused by cults that are prominent in America. Options 3 & 4 are common among evangelical Christians.

In our preaching and teaching at Venture we are assuming option 3, but humbly recognize that there are wise Bible teachers we respect and look up to who adhere to Option 4. Austin has put some great discussion of the 144,000 in his study helps on daretoventure.org.

The actual number in Revelation 7:4-8 is not the point of Revelation 7. Salvation is the point.

Whether the 144,000 are Jewish Christians or a mixed multitude of Christians, the point of the passage is that we who have dipped our robes in the blood of the Lamb are saved and sealed from the reign of sin all the way until the consummation of Christ’s kingdom.

We are the 144,000 and we will be preserved in faith until the end.

Great Tribulation

Many identify the period in Revelation 7:14 with the 70th week in Daniel 9:24-27. Dispensational teachers will say that this is a period of intense persecution immediately before the return of Christ.

I would claim that the Great Tribulation speaks of the entire age of the church, from Jesus’ ascension to his return. Persecution and tribulation has been a constant and intensifying force throughout the history of the church.

We should all be humble in our opinions and acknowledge that we might not have this precisely figured out.

Discussion Questions:

  • Do you struggle with God allowing personal, national, or environmental disasters to occur?
  • How do you explain disasters?
  • Have you had personal experiences where you can see God saving you from some of the worst effects of sin in the world around you?
  • What have learned from the sermon and study of Revelation 7 that has given you a different perspective of the 144,000 and the “Great Tribulation?”
  • How does being one of those sealed for salvation allow you to worship God with a heart of glad submission?
  • How does worship of Revelation 7:9-17 give you encouragement in the midst of the situation you are in today?

Feel free to email jonathan.pugh@daretoventure.org if you have any pressing questions that you would like to discuss.

Related:

The Curse of Sin: 6 Seals

Discussion Guide for Revelation 6

This third scene from the Book of Revelation begins one that has proven to be powerful in pop culture. Movies from Tombstone to Pale Rider, multiple comic books, and musicians from Metallica to Johnny Cash have been quick to adopt some of the imagery from Revelation 6.

There seems to be universal acknowledgement that the chapter is giving us symbolic imagery to help us to make sense of the many cataclysmic events that have defined the human experience throughout the history of the world.

My mind was taken to the opening of these six seals as I read this week about events that took place in the Great Rift Valley of Africa 150 years ago.

The native population and the environment in that beautiful corner of the world was being decimated year after year by the Arab slave trade, the European ivory trade, and natural disasters that resulted in famine. In one case a group of slave traders burst into a peaceful and functioning market town to murder over 400 women and children in retaliation for the disobedience of a single captured slave.

If we had lived through this traumatic time we would have thought it to be nothing less than “apocalyptic.” The English explorer who observed and recorded them, David Livingstone, could describe them as nothing less than the rampant reign of sin on the earth driven by human lust for power, disregard for the sanctity of life, and natural disaster.

The four horsemen of Revelation 6 are reminiscent of the horses in the book of Zechariah. Those horses are agents of God sent to “patrol the earth.”

The interesting thing to remember is that the curses of sin are unleashed by God Himself. God is judging sin and part of his judgement is that He has cursed the very earth on which we live. All of the horrible things that happen throughout all of history on every corner of the globe can be attributed to the curse of sin.

  • What do the 4 horsemen of the first 4 seals represent?
  • Where do you see the curse of sin being worked out in the news this week?
  • Where do you see the curse of sin being worked out in your own life and in the lives of those around you?
  • Knowing that sin in the world is responsible for those things, how does that cause you to respond differently to those situations in light of the Gospel?

The fifth seal is different.

We are introduced in this vision to saints who have been martyred for their faith. The cry out to God for vengeance and vindication, and what they receive are white robes and a two-fold promise:

  1. There will be more martyrs.
  2. Vengeance is coming, so you can rest.

This seal tells us that martyrdom and suffering for faith has been a constant thread throughout the history of the church. It also tells us that God does not forget about those who are persecuted.

  • What do the white robes represent?
  • How can a persecuted Christian find rest?
  • Why do you think that God has not yet avenged the death of martyrs on the earth?

The sixth seal is classic apocalyptic language. See this article from the American Bible Society if you have not previously read about the common themes of apocalyptic literature.

Notable places where you will find similar imagery are in Joel 3:15, Matthew 24-25 (and corresponding texts), Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah.

This is not literally speaking of the destruction of the earth, but is rather saying that some hugely significant event is about to take place. The church is being told that she is on the cusp of a great historical moment. We will find this great moment as we continue forward in the book of Revelation.

It’s almost as if God is telling the martyrs “hold on a minute longer, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

  • What is building your sense of anticipation in this text?
  • How could the curse of sin on the world be worse than it is already?
  • Do you see God’s grace at work in the midst of sin-induced suffering?
  • How do you see the Gospel at work in suffering?

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