God’s Sabbath

‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’ ~ Mark 2:27

Jesus completes this statement by adding, ‘Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:28). Of the Ten Commandments God gave to the Israelites, the fourth was; ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work’ (Exodus 20:8). God continues to explain that, ‘For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy’ (v11). God resting from work does not mean that He was tired because, ‘The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom’ (Isaiah 40:28). It simply means that God ceased from work on the seventh day because He ‘saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31). In other words, God’s work was perfection and nothing more could be added, and so He rested. He ceased from creation.

The Israelites however could only enter the rest of God through work. After the Fall of the first man, all mankind was separated from God, and the only way they could approach God was by offering sacrifices to atone for their sins. This was work. Continually, the Israelites had to offer sacrifices for purification and atonement for any and every sin committed. It was to the extent that, ‘If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s command, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty. When they become aware of the sin they committed, the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the Tent of Meeting’ (Leviticus 4:13). This was the only way that the God could ‘dwell among the Israelites and be their God’ (Exodus 29:45), because ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ (Hebrews 9:22). And so approaching a Holy God meant that they had to atone for each and every sin, every time, or else they would die, because ‘The soul who sins is the one who will die’ (Ezekiel 18:20).

So the Israelites knew what work was, making the Sabbath highly regarded. In fact, anyone who did not observe the Sabbath, ‘The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp’ (Numbers 15:35). God’s unwavering command that they do no physical work on the Sabbath (both man and beast), was to give them a foretaste of what rest was. God instructs, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so that you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy’ (Exodus 31:13). God says my Sabbaths, meaning that He only can provide rest to mankind, and that the rest the Israelites were enjoying once a week was a sign of a better rest to come – not just in the literal sense, but more so in the spiritual sense. God says, ‘The sorrows for the appointed feasts I will remove from you; they are a burden and a reproach to you’ (Zephaniah 3:18).

When that time finally came because Perfection, the Seventh Day, arrived, many Jews still did not cease from their labour. Jesus, ‘the author and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2), died for our sins once and for all. This means ‘we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (10:v10). ‘And where these have been forgiven, there is no more sacrifice for sin’ (v18). Perfection is decreed, and so rest is decreed. Man ceases from work, because God Himself made it possible for all mankind to enter rest. It is God’s Sabbath, God’s rest that we enter into. This Sabbath is not a once a week observation. It is not even a day of the week. It is a condition, a constant spiritual reality. However, the religious leaders could not grasp this, and so when they saw Jesus and His disciples picking corn on the Sabbath, they remarked, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ (Mark 2:24). Even when Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath, they used that as a basis of plotting against Him. But Jesus asks, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ (3:v4). Jesus who achieved perfection and rest for mankind was hinting that He is Lord of the Sabbath, and even says it plainly. In other words, the focus should be on Him and not on a certain day, because He Himself is rest. He is the Sabbath. In fact, He says, ‘Come to me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). Yes, ‘ye shall find rest for your souls’ (v29) in Jesus, not on a certain day.

‘One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind’ (Romans 14:5). Paul was alluding that accepting Jesus is the bottom line for all Christian activities, and so whether one considers the Sabbath a Monday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, it does not matter. Because if one has accepted Christ, they are already in God’s Sabbath, God’s rest, and so, ‘He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord’ (v6). The only error lies in inverting the sequence – when one uses a day as means to wear themselves out in order to get right with God. Such should instead of accept Jesus and His rest, and merely set aside time for assembling in worship be it on a Sunday, Friday, Saturday, or Wednesday. ‘Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however is found in Christ’ (Colossians 2:16-17). Christ, the Sabbath, is not only holy, but makes those who observe Him holy.

For Christians who have entered into God’s rest through Christ Jesus, every day is a Sabbath, ‘as long as it is called Today’ (Hebrews 3:13). Those who refuse to accept Jesus and so do not ‘make every effort to enter that rest’ (4:v11), are defying God’s command. And the same way the Sabbath-breaker had to be put to death, those who refuse Jesus and so fail to enter into His rest are condemned to eternal death. ‘Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it’ (v1). So, for those who believe in Jesus, He ‘made known to them your holy Sabbath’ (Nehemiah 9:14). He made known Himself. And so anyone who believes in Jesus enters rest and escapes God’s wrath, because ‘they were presented before the Lord and have become holy’ (Numbers 16:38). Presenting ourselves wholly to Jesus everyday is not work. It is rest, for it entails sitting by Jesus’ feet and listening to Him, the Word. Jesus tells Martha who was up and about instead of staying by His feet like Mary did, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’ (Luke 10:41-42).

God’s Idea

God has an idea about everything. This includes each of our lives; how we are supposed to live, and even where we are supposed to live. It is no wonder He created the earth and stationed mankind there. God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’ (Genesis 1:26). Each and every life was God’s idea that came to pass, because when God has an idea, He always executes it. ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (v27). Not only our lives are God’s idea, even gender is. God’s ideas are perfect and just, because He Himself is ‘a God of truth who does no wrong, just and right is he’ (Deuteronomy 32:4), and so all His ideas MUST come to fruition. Unlike we humans who have a myriad of ideas but discard some along the way based on our knowledge and experience (whether right or wrong), God lets ‘none of his words fall to the ground’ (1 Samuel 3:19). He says, ‘Surely, as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand’ (Isaiah 14:24).

In a tragic turn, mankind more often than not reject God’s ideas. Solomon observes, ‘This only have I found; God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes’ (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Truly, mankind has sought to change their likeness by genetic modification, technological alteration, and artificial add-ons. In fact, mankind has also introduced other genders other than the two God instituted- male and female. As if that is not enough, some humans have rejected God altogether and turned to gods of their own making, and to the devil. God marvels at this and says, ‘They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal – something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind’ (Jeremiah 19:5). In this present age, however, many ideas that are contrary to God’s originate in depraved minds and catch on like wildfire. Ideas on abortion, fornication (in the name of ‘safe sex’), gender alterations, same sex marriages, and use of drugs in the name of spiritual awakening or medical use are being vehemently advocated for. Unfortunately, many people are blindly following the mass mentality, even though such ideas are contrary to God’s ideas- as east is far from the west. ‘You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’? Can the pot say of the potter, ‘He knows nothing‘?’ (Isaiah 29:16). And so, ‘Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker . . . Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to his mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’ (45:v9,10).

The first institution that was God’s idea, and which humans have done a good job of massacring, butchering, and defiling, is marriage. It was God Himself who said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (Genesis 2:18). And since God’s ideas MUST come to pass, ‘Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man’ (v22). Before the man even saw the woman, God had already created her for him. God’s idea and intention for marriage has since been defiled and inverted. Polygamy, adultery, and same sex marriages are condoned in the name of man’s genetic wiring and changing times. However, when God establishes something, it cannot be moved. Just like, ‘He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved’ (Psalm 104:5), and so His ideas and the blueprint of marriage can never be moved. Paul writes, ‘Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed undefiled, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral’ (Hebrews 13:4).

When we go against God’s ideas, and instead follow our own ideas, it is our ideas that suffer because God’s ideas MUST stand, for ‘His ways are everlasting’ (Habakkuk 3:6). In fact, ‘The counsel of the Lord stands firm forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generation’ (Psalm 33:11). Whenever we try to impose our ideas which are contrary to God’s, then we ‘plot in vain’ (2:v1) and ‘The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them’ (v4). God then ‘foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples’ (33:v10). So, when we go against God’s ideas which should form the blueprint of our conduct, then it is us who suffer. For instance, when it comes to marriage, Jesus says, ‘Therefore what God has joined, let no man separate’ (Matthew 19:6). But when the Pharisees asked why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus replies and says, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning’ (v8). Since divorce was not God’s idea, because wrong marriages are not God’s idea, then those who divorce suffer, and not the marriage institution itself which is God’s idea. Jesus says, ‘I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery’ (v9).

The ills in the world are because many have decided to go against God’s idea concerning every sphere of life. We have created a chaotic world because men have refused to be heads in their families or misused their role and abused women, women have sought to become like men, children have disobeyed parents, some have refused to work, preferring to steal or extort, leaders have become greedy for gain and corrupt, and lawless laws have been passed. These and other evils antagonize God’s idea. But because God’s ideas MUST stand, then it is us that bear the consequences. Even when it comes to our individual lives, God has an idea of what He wants us to become and how He wants us to live. God says, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart’ (Jeremiah 1:5). God’s first idea for our lives is that we ought to worship Him for we should ‘Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his, we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise’ (Psalm 100:3-4).

Each time we go against God’s idea be it collectively as a society, or in our personal lives, then it is we that suffer losses. Even in the smallest of matters concerning our lives, God has an idea of how we should go about it. Even when God’s ideas seem unclear to us, and sometimes even gruelling, God reminds us that ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’ (Isaiah 55:8). Going with God’s idea even when we don’t seem to understand or it doesn’t seem favourable to our usual inclinations, is always best, because ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death’ (Proverbs 14:12). Those who oppose God’s idea in their lives, or in the lives of others go against God Himself. When Korah and his followers opposed Moses, Moses tells them that ‘the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea’ (Numbers 16:28). Since God’s idea HAD to stand, ‘the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions’ (v32). In essence, God’s ideas always swallow up man’s ideas – whether we like it or not.

‘For he spoke, and it was done; he commanded and it stood firm’ ~ Psalm 33:9

‘So shall my word that goes out from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but shall accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’ ~ Isaiah 55:11

‘Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass’ ~ 2 Kings 19:25

‘Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, ‘Who sees us? Who will know?’ ~ Isaiah 29:15

The Seven-fold Spirit of God

In the beginning, ‘the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters’ (Genesis 1:2). After the creation of man, He resided and moved in man. But after the Fall, God’s Spirit manifested through Prophets and His servants. Select people were given the Spirit, but only in a certain form to complete a particular task. For Bezalel, the Lord ‘filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and in understanding and in knowledge, and in all kinds of workmanship’ (Exodus 31:3). For Othniel, ‘the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war’ (Judges 3:10). For Samson, a Nazarite, ‘the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in might so that he tore him (a young lion) apart with his bare hands’ (14:v6). God’s Spirit gave Solomon ‘a wise and an understanding heart’ (1 Kings 3:12).

While the Spirit of God would come upon men and women God set apart and used for a certain task, for Jesus, ‘the Spirit came down from heaven as a dove and remain(ed) on him’ (John 1:32). Not only did the Spirit of God remain on Jesus, but manifested Himself in all completeness. All seven manifestations of the Spirit were exhibited in Jesus. Isaiah prophesies of the Christ, ‘The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord’ (Isaiah 11:2). Isaiah describes six manifestations of the Spirit that Jesus exuded. The seventh manifestation is the Spirit of prophecy, ‘for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (Revelation 19:10).

People that God used in the past only exuded some manifestations of God’s Spirit. For Kings like Solomon and other leaders, it was that of wisdom and counsel, for workers of the temple, it was that of knowledge and understanding, for mighty men of valour like David, it was that of might. For prophets, it was that of prophecy, and for righteous men like Enoch, it was the fear of the Lord. However, for Jesus, the fullness of God was and is in Him, and so manifests the seven-fold spirit of God. Jesus fulfills the words of Prophet Isaiah and says, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lords favour’ (Luke 4:18-19).

Jesus does not only have the Spirit, but is also the custodian. Jesus is described as ‘him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars’ (Revelation 3:1). He also is said to be among the ‘seven golden lampstands’ (1:v12). Lampstands are symbolic of God’s Spirit. When Zechariah saw ‘a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the light’ (Zachariah 4:2), he asks the angel what they symbolize. The angel answers, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty’ (v6). Interestingly, Jesus describes all those who believe in Him as ‘light of the world’ (Matthew 5:14) that needs to shine, and proceeds to say that ‘neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl’ (v15). Here, Jesus introduces that His very Spirit is transferrable to anyone who believes in Him.

Jesus again hints this while speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well telling her, ‘whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:14). Again, while teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles He says, ‘Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water’ (7:v38). Jesus shows the fluid nature of the Spirit in that it is transferrable. Before His death, Jesus speaks more plainly about the Spirit, and actually gives Him names saying, ‘But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you’ (14:v26). Jesus then gives a condition, ‘Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’ (16:v7). Jesus also introduces the personality of the Spirit by referring to ‘He’, denoting His liveliness and headship. Jesus also refers to God’s Spirit as the ‘Spirit of truth’ (v12) which ‘will guide you into all truth’ (v13).

All those who believe in Jesus are baptised with the Holy Spirit because ‘the man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptise with the Holy Spirit’ (1:v33). Right before His ascension, Jesus tells His disciples, ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 1:4-5). Jesus then proceeds to summarize the nature of the Spirit, ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you’ (v8). Jesus did not only promise part of the manifestations of the Spirit, but His totality, His power. No wonder He says, ‘I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father (and will send the Holy Spirit to operate in you like it did in me)’ (John 14:12).

The first evidence that the Spirit of God has dawned on someone is the speaking in other tongues. When the first Christians were worshipping on the Day of Pentecost, ‘suddenly a sound like of a rushing mighty wind came from heaven and filled the whole house’ (Acts 2:2). That was God’s Spirit. Then ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them’ (v4). This is because the Holy Spirit is a ‘seal’ and a ‘guarantee’ (Ephesians 1:13,14) to distinguish all those that belong to God. Jesus says, ‘the world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and is in you’ (John 14:17). Therefore, once a person believes in Jesus and eventually receives the Holy Spirit, the manifestations of God’s seven-fold Spirit eventually start to unravel, because they are all interrelated. The deeper we grow our roots into Jesus, the more the Spirit manifests.

Not only did the Holy Spirit rest on the apostles and leaders of the early church, He also rested on Believers- as it does today. So that ‘If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God’ (1 Peter 4:11). While Paul was in Caesarea ‘and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied’ (Acts 21:8-9). In other words, one does not have to be a prophet or apostle to manifest the workings of God’s Spirit. A Believer who grows into the knowledge and fullness of God can operate in the seven-fold Spirit of God. In the same way Christ carried the ‘fullness of the Godhead bodily’ (Colossians 2:9), so can we carry the fullness of Christ. The Holy Spirit is also still transferable because ‘when Paul placed his hands on them (twelve disciples of John), the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied’ (19:v6). The same way Elisha asked Elijah ‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit’ (2 Kings 2:9) before he was taken up to heaven, so can we inherit the Holy Spirit from Christ. However, one should not allow anyone to lay hands on them as the Spirit is not confined to physical contact. In fact, Paul urges, ‘Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands’ (1 Timothy 5:22).

The same way that the Spirit manifests Himself, He can also be quenched. Jesus tells the Church in Ephesus, ‘You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove the lampstand from its place’ (Revelation 2:4-5). In other words, complacency, sin, and not continually being rooted in Christ by feeding the Spirit on His Word and prayer may cause our lampstand, God’s Spirit, to be taken away. Paul admonishes, ‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption’ (Ephesians 4:30). Elsewhere, he again says, ‘Do not put out the Spirit’s fire’ (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Just as ‘The lamps on the pure gold lampstand before the Lord must be tended continually’ (Leviticus 24:4), so must we tend and rend our inner man continually to the Holy Spirit to effectively operate in His seven-fold manifestations.

Manna from Heaven & Water from a Rock: The Word and the Spirit

‘In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from a rock’ ~ Nehemiah 9:15

When the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land, they needed food and water to keep alive. So God tells Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day’ (Exodus 16:4). ‘The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey’ (v31). When they arrived in the Desert called Sin and demanded for water to quench their thirst, God instructs Moses, ‘I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink’ (17:v6). Moses then ‘called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the Lord saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’ (v7). Throughout their journey, the Israelites ‘ate till they had more than enough, for he (God) had given them what they craved’ (Psalm 78:29). In fact, ‘For forty years you (God) sustained them in the desert; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen’ (Nehemiah 9:21).

Fast forward centuries later after emerging from the desert and into the Promised Land, and out of the Promised Land into captivity, and out of captivity into Roman rule, descendants of the Israelites are assembled around a Man named Jesus Christ. This Man says, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread of heaven, but is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’ (John 6:33). The crowd then ask Jesus to given them this bread, thinking that some kind of manna will be rained down, as in the times of their forefathers. But Jesus makes a startling declaration, ‘I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world’ (v48-51).

When Jesus declared that is He the Bread from heaven, better than manna, and urged people to ‘feed on me’ (v57), many took it literally and thought He alluded to cannibalism. They did not decipher that Jesus was speaking figuratively, and so grumbled saying, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ (v60). And ‘From this time many of his disciples (not the Twelve) turned back and no longer followed him’ (v65). They failed to remember the song Moses was taught by God that passed along generations which said, ‘Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants’ (Deuteronomy 32:2). Sure enough, Jesus, the Word of God, descended from heaven. For ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1:1).

So in essence, feeding on Jesus means feasting on His Word, on Him, heeding to what He says because ‘They are not just idle words for you – they are your life’ (Deuteronomy 32:47). Just like man cannot do without food, we cannot do without the Bread of Life because, ‘man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord’ (8:v3). In fact, Jesus says, ‘The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life’ (John 6:63), because He Himself is spirit and is life. He is the Bread of Life and the Word of God that all who partake of live and enter into the Promised Land, into eternity. However, the Israelites just like their forefathers did not understand what Jesus meant. For their forefathers in the desert did not quite understand the bread which they ate and so named it ‘Manna’ (Exodus 16:31) which means What is it?  And for Jesus, they similarly asked, Who is this?

As if this revelation was not shocking enough, Jesus declares that ‘he who believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6:35). He proceeds with His appalling illustration and says, ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink’ (v54-55). Again, Jesus says, ‘If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive’ (7:v37-39).  When Jesus had turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana, many were only amazed at the miracle but did not consider its significance. Besides used for drinking, water was significant to the Jews for purification purposes. By turning water into wine, Jesus not only declares that His Spirit purifies, but also refreshes. So when His mother had told Him that wine had ran out at the wedding, Jesus said to her, ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come’ (2:v4). Jesus was alluding to the fact that He was yet to be glorified and so the Holy Spirit was yet to be given. But seeing that no one realized this, He proceeded to change the water into wine – the first miracle He performed.

Presently, some misunderstand this miracle and use it to justify alcohol consumption. Yet, the Bible states, ‘Do not get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18). Paul uses wine and the Holy Spirit to draw sharp contrasts between them by their end goal. The effect of the Holy Spirit can make one refreshed and upbeat, like alcohol (even more), but unlike the Holy Spirit which draws us to God, wine leads to debauchery. God says, ‘Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks’ (Isaiah 5:22). The Bible also lists ‘drunkards’ (1 Corinthians 6:10) among those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God.  This is because, one who believes in Jesus becomes ‘a kingdom and priests to serve his God’ (Revelation 1:6), and since we are a ‘royal priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:9), it is ‘not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights’ (Proverbs 31:4-5). When one is filled by God’s Spirit, they will find no need for alcohol which only multiplies sorrows. ‘Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine’ (23:v29-30).

Since the Bible at no point contradicts itself, Jesus would not have changed water into an alcoholic drink, then later deny drunkards entrance into His Kingdom. For when He changed water into wine, those who drank it symbolized the drinking of His blood. His blood which had to be shed so that we can have eternal life through His Holy Spirit, which purifies and refreshes. Jesus says, ‘But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor (Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’ (John 16:7). In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is symbolized as water, oil, and as wine, a ‘wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread (the Word) that sustains his heart’ (Psalm 104:15). Paul summarizes to say of the Israelites in the desert, ‘They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:3-4).

‘They feast in abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is a fountain of life; in your light we see light’ ~ Psalm 36:8-9

‘Taste and see that the Lord is good: Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him’ ~ Psalm 34:8

‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?’ ~ Isaiah 55:1-2

The River and Tree of Life

‘There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the Holy Place where the Most High dwells’ ~ Psalm 46:4

One of John’s vision of the New Heaven and Earth given to him by Jesus Christ concerns the River of Life. John writes, ‘And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city’ (Revelation 22:1-2). This river of life has God as its Source, and waters the tree of life so that ‘On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations’ (v2). This tree of life watered by the river of life was also found in the Garden of Eden. ‘In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Genesis 2:9). In addition, ‘A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters’ (v10). God then commanded man that; ‘you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’ (v17). Mankind ate of it, and surely, he experienced death.

There was no command restricting the first man not to eat from the tree of life, but because of man’s sin and spiritual separation from God (death), the tree of life was also restricted from mankind. And so, ‘After he (God) drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way of the tree of life’ (3:v24). Since the tree of life as John describes was for the healing of nations, mankind could not have healing from sin, since access to the tree was denied. And denied it was for many centuries so that God says, ‘Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing. There is no one to plead your cause, no remedy for your sore, no healing for you’ (Jeremiah 30:12-13). Mankind’s wound and injury remained, until Jesus was revealed and says, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he was anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’ (Luke 4:18-19).

‘Come, and let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, and he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind us’ (Hosea 6:1). This is an open call, and whoever chooses to turn to Jesus will be healed. Just like mankind chose to eat of the forbidden fruit, so are we given a choice to accept restoration from the tree of life Himself. Jesus says, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener’ (John 15:1). In fact, Jesus is the ‘shoot . . . from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit’ (Isaiah 11:1). He even says of Himself, ‘I am the Root and Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star’ (Revelation 22:16). So, Jesus being the Root to the tree of life declares, ‘No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me’ (John 15:4). And so, ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be a tree planted by the water that sends out its root by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit’ (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

Jesus, the Root to the tree of life, is also the Source of the river of life that nourishes it. He says, ‘Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life’ (John 4:14). Jesus our Root not only makes us bear fruit by giving us access to the tree of life, but also gives us His very life – His Spirit. His Spirit not only sustains us in this life, but also grants us access to eternity, because ‘no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit’ (3:v5). And so, anyone who believes in Jesus, ‘out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water (by this he meant the Spirit)’ (7:v38-39). The level by which we grow in Christ determines the depth at which we can be in this river of life, God’s Spirit. When Ezekiel was led to a river flowing from the temple, at first the water was ankle deep, then knee deep, and then up to the waist. The further he went, he eventually noticed that ‘I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in – a river that no one could cross’ (Ezekiel 47:5). This shows that God ‘gives the Spirit without limit’ (John 3:34), and so it is up to one to determine the depths at which they want to reach.

A tree cannot grow in two places. Where its roots are, determines its growth. A tree in parched land does not fare well like a tree next to a river. Likewise, we cannot bear fruit in other sources besides the true Source, Jesus Christ. David writes, ‘Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers’ (Psalm 1:1-3). The more we remain in the Source, our flesh increasingly gets overshadowed by the Spirit, because ‘this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live’ (Ezekiel 47:9). Where the river flows, Ezekiel also notices that, ‘Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing’ (v12). In essence, when we abide in Christ, we take up His nature, becoming trees stemming from Him.

‘Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life’ ~ John 6:61-63

The New Jerusalem

At the time when ‘heaven and earth will pass away’ (Matthew 24:35), a new heaven and earth will be created. John sees in a vision and writes, ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea’ (Revelation 21:1). John proceeds to describe the vision saying, ‘I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’ (v2). The new earth is figuratively called the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, or the City of God. The earthly Jerusalem, the City of David, initially belonged to the Jebusites who underestimated David’s strength saying to him, ‘You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off’ (2 Samuel 5:6). ‘Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David . . . David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David . . .’ (v7,9).

What made earthly Jerusalem remarkable was not only that a powerful King ruled from there, but that God dwelt there. This happened when ‘David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing’ (6:v12). The ark of God was ‘called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark’ (v2). In other words, the ark of God which carried the Word of the Testimony, the Name of God, meant that God’s presence and glory was there- for where the ark was, God was. When David brought the ark to Jerusalem, the City was known as God’s dwelling-place, thus distinguishing it from other cities. The Sons of Korah sing concerning Jerusalem saying, ‘the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day’ (Psalm 46:4-5).

Concerning the New Jerusalem, John hears a loud voice from the heavenly throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’ (Revelation 21:3). When the ark of God was in the City of David, God gave David ‘rest from all his enemies around him’ (2 Samuel 7:1). Similarly, in the New Jerusalem, God ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:4). All what we know in the current world system in regard to time, emotions, aging, and death will be done away with. Paul says, ‘Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality’ (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

Earthly Jerusalem was fortified so that unrestricted persons could not access. David ‘built up the area around it, from the supporting terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful because the Lord Almighty was with him’ (2 Samuel 5:9-10). David fortified Jerusalem to ensure that his power remained intact, and to shield the people from attacks. In the same way, those who will be granted access into the New Jerusalem are only those who clothe themselves with the imperishable and with immortality. In other words, for those who ‘clothe(d) yourselves with the Lord Jesus’ (Romans 13:14). Those who ‘do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature’ (v14), but instead grow in their spiritual life by faith in Christ Jesus during their only life here on earth.

John observes those excluded from the New Jerusalem were, ‘the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death’ (Revelation 21:8). It is only by repenting and turning to Jesus while living this one and only earthly life can one escape the second death. For in the New Jerusalem, ‘Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life’ (v27).

The splendour and magnificence of earthly Jerusalem cannot be compared to that of the New Jerusalem which ‘shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel . . . The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass’ (v11-12,21). John continues to describe that ‘The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp’ (v23). Since God will dwell among the people, John says; ‘I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple’ (v22). In other words, we will have direct access to God so that, ‘On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it’ (v25). So, the bottom line in the New Jerusalem, as God says is, ‘I am making everything new!’ (v5).

‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it’ ~ Matthew 7:13-14

‘Jesus answered, ‘Verily, verily, I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again’ ~ John 3:5-7

‘Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city’ ~ Revelation 22:14

The Man of Lawlessness

A mystery inscribed in the Book of Truth is the Man of Lawlessness, also known as the Man of Sin. He is also referred to by other terms throughout the Bible. Jesus first reveals this mystery when He tells Daniel, ‘Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth: and there is none that holds with me in these things except Michael, your prince’ (Daniel 10:20-21). Years later while in the world, Jesus also tells His disciples something similar saying, ‘I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me’ (John 14:30). In the Book of Daniel, the prince of this world is referred to as the Prince of Persia, which symbolises the devil. When Jesus appeared to Daniel with an answer to his prayer, He explains why He took long saying, ‘But the prince of the Persian Kingdom resisted me twenty-one days’ (Daniel 10:13). The devil is also known as the ‘prince of the power of the air’ (Ephesians 2:2), who tries to hinder answered prayers from reaching God’s people-  but to no avail. When Jesus then appears to Daniel, He tells him, ‘Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision concerns a time yet to come’ (Daniel 10:14).

Jesus reveals two things: that He ‘will return to fight against the prince of Persia (the devil)’ (v20), and that when He goes, ‘the Prince of Greece will come’ (v20). The first part of the Prophecy is fulfilled as Jesus was revealed to the world in the flesh, died, and resurrected defeating the power of the devil- sin and death. ‘And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’ (Colossians 2:15). The second part of the prophecy is yet to be fulfilled as it ‘concerns the appointed time of the end’ (Daniel 8:19). The Prince of Greece also alludes to the Man of Lawlessness who will be revealed. Previously, God reveals the Man of Lawlessness to Daniel as a ‘beast . . . and had ten horns’ (7:v8) in a dream, and as ‘a goat with prominent horns between his eyes’ (8:v5) in a vision. God repeatedly speaking of the Man of Lawlessness in different forms hints that it is important that Believers should be aware of.

In both representations, the Man of Lawlessness is said to utter blasphemy. When Daniel saw the beast, he records that it ‘had a mouth that spoke boastfully’ (7:v8). The interpretation of the dream also notes that the beast ‘will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set time and the laws’ (v25). In the vision, the Man of Lawlessness is presented as a goat who ‘cast down the truth to the ground’ (8:v12). The interpretation of the vision by angel Gabriel also notes that the goat from the Kingdom of Greece will ’through his policy cause deceit to prosper and will consider himself superior, and by peace shall destroy many’ (v25). ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace’ (Jeremiah 6:14)

After the dream and vision, Jesus then appears to Daniel to personally explain to him the mystery of the Man of Lawlessness. He first talks of the rebellious events that will happen among and between nations before the Man of Lawlessness will be revealed- using an allegory of the Kings of the South and the North. The Man of Lawlessness is then described as the King who exalts himself. Jesus explains to Daniel, ‘The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place’ (Daniel 11:36). Paul also talks that the end will not yet come until the Man of Lawlessness is revealed. He writes, ‘Do not let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the Man of Lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction’ (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Paul continues and says, ‘He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God’ (v4).

The Man of Lawlessness will have diverse strength and power, hence Daniel saw the beast and goat with many horns (horn symbolizes strength). Already, some of the representations of his power are manifest in the world. It is only when the Man of Lawlessness uses his last power – that of defaming God, exalting himself to be God, and persecuting those who do not worship him, that the end is near. Paul says, ‘For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming’ (v7-8). The Man of Lawlessness is a product of Satan as John notes that, ‘The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority’ (Revelation 13:2). Paul also notes that, ‘The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing’ (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).

Surprisingly, the coming of the Man of Lawlessness will not be resisted by many who will be living on the earth at that time. John seeing the vision of the Man of Lawlessness as a beast says that men ‘worshipped the beast and asked, ‘Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?’’ (Revelation 13:4). Even though the beast ‘opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling-place and those who live in heaven’ (v6), many will pay him homage. In fact, ‘All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ (v8). Paul openly states, ‘They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they should believe a lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness’ (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).

‘See, I have told you ahead of time’ ~ Jesus ChristMatthew 24:25

The Two Witnesses

During the Beast reign, or the abomination that causes desolation of the Holy place, Two Witness will appear. John in his vision sees Jesus telling him of the mystery; ‘I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth’ (Revelation 11:3). Although prophesies spoken by people is not novel, during the reign of the Beast system, any utterance of God will be forbidden and censored. Regardless of the situation, these Two Witnesses will dare to speak words of God, because they will be given divine power, which trails boldness along. Jesus further explains to John, ‘These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth’ (v4).

These are the same olive trees that Zechariah sees and writes, ‘I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to it. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left’ (Zechariah 4:2-3). When Zechariah asks the angel what they symbolize, the angel simply responds, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty’ (v6). In the same way, the angel explaining to Daniel of his vision concerning the end times says that though the Beast will reign for a time, ‘Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power’ (Daniel 8:25). The Two Witness will thus be able to speak up because they do not come in their own power, but power from God. The Two Witnesses, the two olive trees, are before the lampstand, and so can speak God’s Word boldly. And ‘If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die’ (Revelation 11:6).

Besides being divinely protected, the Two Witness will be given two powers. ‘These men have powers to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have the power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they will’ (v6). It is not a coincidence that these Two Witnesses embody what two great prophets did. God tells Moses, ‘See, I have made you like God before Pharaoh’ (Exodus 7:1), and gives him ability to ‘strike the water of the Nile and it will be changed into blood’ (v17). Moses also is given power to perform eight other plagues. Elijah on the other hand decreed that, ‘there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word’ (1 Kings 17:1), and it was so. Moses and Elijah are the two major prophets in Biblical accounts, and it is no wonder that during the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw ‘Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus’ (Matthew 17:3). Jesus in His glorified state was specifically speaking to these two prophets, meaning they were before God’s heavenly throne.

Both the Prophet Moses and Elijah did their wonders at a time when evil had reached its brim. The rulers (Pharaoh and Ahab) of the land were wicked, ruthless, and hard-hearted towards the things of God. In the same way, the Two Witnesses will come at a time of the Beast system, when evil has reigned in the world. They will perform the same signs Moses and Elijah did, because God will give them power to speak His Word. ‘Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them’ (Revelation 11:7). God will allow the Two Witness to be slain and ‘Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified’ (v8). Their death will usher in the complete authority of the beast system on earth, as many will be given over to delusion and accord awe to the Beast who killed them. ‘For three and a half days, men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on earth’ (v9-10).

These Two Witnesses, though speaking God’s Word, will be perceived as a threat, because at that time, the Word of the Lord will be offensive to many. The Word of the Lord will be a torment, just like it was to Pharaoh who said to Moses, ‘Clearly you are bent on evil . . . Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die’ (Exodus 10:10,28). Or like Ahab who asked Elijah, ‘So you have found me my enemy!’ (1 Kings 21:20). Like the two Prophets, the Two Witnesses will be loathed by the inhabitants of the earth who will rejoice in their death. ‘But after three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here’. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on’ (Revelation 11:11-12). In the same way, Moses and Elijah were taken up by the Lord. When Moses died, God ‘buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is’ (Deuteronomy 34:6). While for Elijah, ‘suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them (Elijah and Elisha), and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind’ (2 Kings 2:11). The Two Witnesses also seem to remind the inhabitants of the earth about Jesus Christ one last time, for He was persecuted, died, and raised to life on the Third Day.

When the Two Witnesses are taken up to heaven, ‘At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven’ (Revelation 11:13). John explains, ‘The second woe has passed, the third woe is coming quickly’ (v14). The next woe will be the seventh and final trumpet that will be sounded so that, ‘God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and earthquake and a great hailstorm’ (v19).

‘Behold, I come quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book’ ~ Revelation 22:7

The Beast, its Image and its Number

While the Book of Revelation is a prophetic book (as all other Books in the Bible), it also takes time to revisit the birth of Jesus Christ. John sees a vision of ‘a woman clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head’ (Revelation 12:1). The appearance of the woman symbolizes that she was carrying the glory of God. ‘She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth’ (v2). Then, ‘an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads’ (v3) ‘stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he may devour her child the moment it was born’ (v5). His plan failed and the woman ‘gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne’ (v5). This vision that John sees describes the birth of Christ, which was foretold before the foundation of the world. He then sees the war in heaven whereby Satan, the dragon, ‘was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him’ (v9). Satan was already too late in his mission because, ‘Now have come salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ’ (v10).

However, this spiritual truth remained hidden from the inhabitants of the earth, until Christ was revealed. And so it was declared, ‘woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short’ (v12). The dragon who ‘was enraged at the woman . . . went off to make war against the rest of her offspring – those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus’ (v17). This is in alignment to what God later decreed to Satan who manifested as the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel’ (Genesis 3:15). And so a war ensued, and still ensues, between Satan and the human race. However, Jesus crushed Satan’s head by subduing his authority, so that those who believe in Him, ‘overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death’ (Revelation 12:11). While many Believers acknowledge the blood of the Lamb and speak out their testimonies, Jesus also reminds that the final straw that breaks Satan’s back, is willingness not to shrink from death. Because in the last days, death would come to the Saints – and not the natural kind.

John sees in a vision that in the latter days, Satan, the dragon will reveal himself as a beast. He ‘saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name’ (13:v1). In other words, Satan, the dragon will manifest himself in different ways, but all will be contrary to God’s ways and laws, that is why each of his head (powers) had a blasphemous name. ‘The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority’ (v2). This goes against spiritual ‘logic’, because Satan is using the last of his powers to take many under his control. Jesus says, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?’ (Matthew 12:25-26). Satan’s kingdom can never stand because it is already divided. Jesus, in defeating the power of sin and death – the major power the devil held, crushed his head. So, John in the vision notes, ‘One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed’ (Revelation 13:3).

The beast, a product of Satan and his divided kingdom, was ‘given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies’ (v5), and ‘was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them’ (v7). Already, the workings of the beast are evident as many are delusional and utter words against God. The media, Internet, movies, songs, and other communication channels constantly outpour blasphemies, which now is normal. The power of the beast to make war against the saints is also closing in. In fact, Christians in some parts of the world are killed because of their faith. However, in the last days, this will be normalized and will be practised not in some parts of the world, but in all the nations of the earth. Because the beast, Satan, ‘was given to authority over every tribe, people, language and nation’ (v7). Christians will go into captivity and be killed by the sword. Paul even reminds us that, ‘In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood’ (Hebrews 12:4). Thus, the beast, will use death to make people denounce their faith, in hopes that many will believe the lie and forget Jesus’ words; ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both the soul and body in hell’ (Matthew 10:28). The beast will be given full reign in the world for a period of time, and will try to make many trade their faith in Jesus, for their lives. Those who remember that Jesus defeated death will not prefer their lives, but hold on to their faith. And so, ‘This calls for faithful endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints’ (Revelation 13:10).

Satan’s twisted and divided kingdom is evident, because yet another beast will be revealed. The beast, however, will come as a façade, ‘for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14). John in a vision sees the devil symbolised as a beast which ‘had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon’ (Revelation 13:11). Unlike the first beast which made war against Believers, the second beast ‘performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven in full view of men’ (v13). Jesus warns of this manifestation of the beast, of Satan, saying, ‘For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible’ (Matthew 24:24). These false prophets ‘come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves’ (7:v15). Hence, the beast appeared like a lamb but spoke like a dragon. But many will ignore that what they say, is not in full alignment with Scripture, because of the deception of the outward signs and wonders displayed.

Soon, the beast will reveal his true colours- his very image, as ‘he ordered them to set up an image in honour of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed’ (Revelation 13:14-15). Using another tactic of the image of the beast and the miracles performed, Satan will still use threat of death as the end goal. The first beast given life will ‘also force everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name’ (v16-17). Right hand symbolizes ability, and forehead openness to receive God’s Word. So everyone will be forced to worship the beast, or their abilities and livelihoods will be taken away, and God’s Word will be muted. No wonder Jesus says, ‘See I have told you ahead of time’ (Matthew 24:25), because only by His Word, will one endure when such perilous times occur.

John concludes by saying, ‘This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666’ (Revelation 13:18). Many have taken great pains to actually calculate the number of the beast and drawn many conclusions, without a consensus to what this actually means. However, the beast which had seven heads, only six were operative, as one was already crushed, as predicted in Genesis, and fulfilled at the coming of Christ. The six heads symbolise the six-fold tactics that the beast will impose in the world. The six tactics are man’s number, or rather the world systems and policies set in place that Satan will use to replicate and enforce his authority on earth, hence 666. Wisdom will be of use, for it helps one see in advance the workings of the beast (which have already began) in order to better ready themselves. Jesus says, ‘Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door’ (Matthew 24:32-33). Preparation can be done by study of Scripture and being rooted in Jesus, as those who do not know will be taken by surprise, because the beast rule ushers in the coming of Christ. ‘And they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man’ (Matthew 24:39).

The Paradox of Power and Persecution

‘Save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God’ ~ Matthew 27:40

The crucified Christ who once said that, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25), is dying on a cross. He appears powerless- mocked, insulted, beaten, disfigured, stripped, and nailed to a cross. Jesus seems powerless, and the people that demanded His death so powerful, because Pilate ‘surrendered Jesus to their will’ (Luke 23:25). When they saw the One who displayed great power and miracles in their towns, utterly powerless on a cross, they ‘sneered at him’ (v35). Some said, ‘He saved others, but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe’ (Mark 15:31-32). As they watched, Jesus ‘bowed his head and gave up his spirit’ (John 19:30).

Jesus seems to have given in to His persecutors. However, the joke was on them. Jesus Himself had said beforehand that, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed on the third day to be raised to life’ (Luke 9:22). ‘But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born’ (Matthew 26:24). An all-powerful God having to be persecuted, does not fit into the world’s shallow box- because it defies logic. But Jesus says, ‘Did not Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ (v26). Some, however, may ask, if Christ is God and is ‘from above’ (John 8:23), why did He have to suffer to enter into His own glory, which He came from? Why leave His glory in the first place? Jesus answers, ‘unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds’ (12:v23). In essence, God wanted many to share in His glory, and so in His love, He died to raise us up with Him.

Only by relinquishing His power and accepting persecution, Jesus not only takes back His power, but expends it to anyone who believes in Him. He says, ‘I lay down my life- only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again’ (10:v17-18). When Pilate asserted his power over Jesus saying, ‘Don’t you realize that I have power to either to free you or to crucify you?’ (19:v10), Jesus responded, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above’(v11). This shows that persecution was merely a conduit for Christ’s glorious power to be manifested all the more, but some still ‘do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish’ (11:v50). Because through agony, persecution, pain, and death, power is birthed and multiplied. ‘So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me’’ (8:v28).

This paradox of power and persecution is not just unique to the grain that fell first, but must also be partaken by the seeds. Jesus says, ‘A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household?’ (Matthew 10:24-25). So, when the risen Christ commissioned Paul, He said of him, ‘This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’ (Acts 9:15-16). In his ministry, Paul himself testifies, ‘I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying the gospel of God’s grace’ (20:v23-24).

In the same way, Jesus tells those who follow Him that, ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you’ (Acts 1:8), but also forewarns that ‘All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved’ (Matthew 10:22). This is quite a paradox! Cognizant of this, we should consider our life in this mortal body worth nothing, for ‘whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will keep it’ (16:v25). In following the narrow path, Paul observes that, ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body’ (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

When our we are weak, then the Holy Spirit reveals His power in us. ‘For when I am weak, then I am strong’ (12:v10). This a mystery. A spiritual paradox of power and persecution. For ‘as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord’ (5:v6). Those who evade partaking of persecution and pain (within and without) in the name of Christ, are also forfeiting power, for God’s, ‘power is made perfect in weakness’ (12:v8), and ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:10). And so, the paradox remains; ‘The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body’ (1 Corinthians 15:42). ‘For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power’ (4:v20).

‘He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve him’ ~ 2 Corinthians 13:3-4

Here is a trust worthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him’ ~ 2 Timothy 2:11

‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what we see is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18