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Archive for the ‘Prophecy’ Category

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As a Jamaican-born and British Commonwealth expatriate, I watched with the rest of the world the media frenzy over the birth of Will and Kate’s baby, George Alexander Louis, who became “His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge,” third in line to the British throne.

During this royal hubbub, I thought of another royal birth, that of Jesus of Nazareth.

While Prince George’s birth was announced and anticipated less that a year ago, the coming of a divine king who would save his people from their sin was prophesied over 300 times throughout the Old Testament and over 1,000 years before Jesus was born. And there are at least 50 New Testament verses that show how Jesus’ birth and life fulfilled these Old Testament prophecies.

Yet, despite over 1,000 years of advanced announcements, very few people were aware of Jesus when he finally arrived. There was no royal palace, no resplendently clad and beaming parents of worldly importance, no colorful military honor guard, no booming 21-cannon-salute, and no worldwide media gathering to capture the moment of this future king’s arrival in Bethlehem.

There was only the sudden and frightening appearance of a choir of angels to announce his birth to a few shepherds who then left their flock of sheep and ran to find this newborn king in—of all places—a stable.

Apart from three wise foreign dignitaries, few people recognized the royalty of this child or suspected the impact that he would have on his country over the next thirty years or how his life, death, resurrection, and teachings would influence and change peoples and cultures over the next two thousand years and beyond.

Today, many people do not recognize Jesus as their lord and king, but the Bible proclaims:

“God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19)

And the Bible ascribes the title of king not only to God, but to Jesus when he returns to set up his new Kingdom on a new earth:

“Glory and honor to God forever. He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God.” (1 Tim. 1:17)

“For at the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and almighty God, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” (1 Tim. 6:15)

“Together they [an alliance of evil world powers] will wage war against the Lamb [Jesus], but the Lamb will defeat them because he is Lord over all lords and King over all kings, and his people are the called and chosen and faithful ones . . . On his robe and thigh was written this title: King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev. 17:14; 19: 16)

If and when Prince George ascends the throne of England as king, he will also become the ceremonial head of the Church of England with the title, “Supreme Governor of the Church of England.”

It is my prayer that, far from being a ceremonial head, he will have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ and be numbered among the faithful ones of Christ’s people.

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All the above Bible references are from the New Living Translation, 1996.

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Recently I was watching MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on his show, The Last Word, when, in responding to a rival TV host who claimed that the Japanese earthquake and tsunami were evidence of the last days as depicted in the book of Revelation, he retorted, “The book of Revelation is a work of fiction that describes how a truly vicious God would bring about the end of the world. No half-smart religious person actually believes the book of Revelation anymore. Those people are certain that their God would never turn into a malicious torturer and mass murderer beyond Hitler’s wildest dreams.”

He went on to say that no “good and thoughtful Christian literally believes everything in the Bible,” citing such laws requiring the stoning to death of people who blasphemed the name of God, worked on the Sabbath, or disrespected a parent.

While there are many people who would express similar views, especially in a modern society that is becoming more secularized, there are also many “good and thoughtful Christians” on the right and the left who believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that Revelation has something relevant to say to us. I count myself among them.

As a “half-smart” person who has traveled the world, lived in several countries, am moderate in my political and religious views, and hold undergrad and graduates degrees from both private conservative and public liberal universities, I am a committed follower of Jesus Christ and a serious student of the Bible. So here are my thoughts on the book of Revelation and some of the issues Lawrence cited:

* Revelation is a book of prophecies that, like many prophecies throughout the Bible, predict events that occur both within a short time of the prediction, as well as in some unspecified time in the distant future. Chapters 1-3 contain prophetic messages of warning and hope to Christians in seven churches in Asia, who were being persecuted by Emperor Domitian around A.D. 90-95 because they refused to worship him as a god. Chapters 4-22 contain prophecies about events that are yet to come, warning Christians about being seduced by the world, and encouraging them to stand firm and strong in their faith as they endure persecution and hardships.

* Revelation was written in an apocalyptic literary style that used a kaleidoscope of dramatic and symbolic imagery to convey a message of hope to persecuted Christians. It was a coded message designed to not only confuse the Roman persecutors who might get hold of this document, but also to be understood by the persecuted Christians for whom it was intended.  And it applies to Christians facing persecution in present and future times and places. While I don’t interpret the strange and startling imagery of Revelation literally, I accept as truth the central messages or themes that the book conveys. These themes include:

+    God is sovereign and is the greatest power in the universe. Rulers, empires, and religions will come and go, but despite the prevalence of evil and injustice throughout the history of the world, God is in control and will ultimately wipe away the powers of darkness and evil and unite true believers in his eternal kingdom.

+    Christ will return as the triumphant Ruler. The message is that no one knows the time of his return, but he will return and establish an eternal kingdom of peace, goodness, and security.

+    God’s people must remain faithful and devoted solely to Jesus. Each generation faces the temptation to give its allegiance to false gods, individuals, things, ideologies, wealth, fame, and more, but the call to remain faithful and devoted solely to Jesus rings out more than ever to God’s people, no matter in what era or under what circumstances we might live.

+    There will be a final Day of Judgment when the purveyors of evil and injustice will be punished and faithful believers rewarded with eternal life in God’s kingdom. Jesus confirms this in other books of the Bible, such as Matthew 16:27 and 25: 31-46.

 

+    Hope–in a resurrection from death to eternal life. Revelation and other books of the Bible reflect this theme, notably I Thessalonians 4: 13-18, where the apostle Paul describes how, on the day of Christ’s return, God will raise to life every person who has ever died—some to eternal reward, others to eternal punishment.

+    Hope—in a new heaven and a new earth. This theme is also in 2 Peter 3: 7-13 which describes how the heavens and the earth will be consumed by fire on that day of judgment and a new heaven and new earth will be revealed.

 

As for Lawrence’s references to the punishment of stoning people to death for such acts as child sacrifice, adultery, disrespecting parents, and blaspheming (Leviticus 20; Deuteronomy 22 and 27), we have to put them in their historical context to understand why God would command such severe measures.

Briefly stated, they were part of the covenant laws that God gave to the Jews after he led them out of slavery in Egypt and establish them as his holy nation to be the source of truth and salvation to all the world.  He gave them moral, civil, and ceremonial laws by which to live as a holy people, set apart from the pagan nations around them, and stressed to them, “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Exodus 1-40; Leviticus1-27)

But the Jews failed to fulfill their calling as a holy nation, for they were constantly attracted to the lifestyles of surrounding pagan peoples, especially by the worship of fertility gods, temple prostitution, and loose morality. Time after time the Jews rebelled against the holy ways of God and followed the religions and lifestyles of their pagan neighbors, even practicing child sacrifice despite the eventual punishments that they would incur.

As Christians, we do not follow those laws that were meant for Jews going through a particular time in their history, because God has provided a new covenant of salvation for people of all nations and races to follow—a covenant of faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul, a devoted Jew and rabbi who persecuted Christians and watched as his people stoned Stephen to death for following Jesus Christ, saw the futility of the law after his own dramatic and powerful conversion to Jesus. Paul later wrote:

No one can be made right in God’s sight by doing what the law commands. For the more we know God’s law, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying it. (Romans 3:20)

Instead, Paul came to understand that God had provided a different way to please God:

We are made right in God’s sight when we trust Jesus to take away our sins. And we can all be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Jesus Christ, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us….Our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. (Romans 3:21-25a, 27b-28, New Living Translation)

And it is with faith that Christians must approach the book of Revelation, for it was Jesus Christ who gave John, the writer of Revelation, a prophetic vision of events that would happen to Christians in the seven churches of Asia in the first century and to the Christian believers throughout history. (Revelation 1:1-2)

One might argue that prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled are essentially fiction, and therefore Revelation must be considered fiction.

However, the Bible contains over 2,500 prophecies of which about 2000 have already been fulfilled (http://www.reasons.org/fulfilled-prophecy-evidence-reliability-bible), especially Old Testament prophecies predicting things about Jesus hundreds of years before he was born. The following two websites provide examples of Old Testament prophecies that came true in Jesus–http://www.askapastor.org/proph.html and http://www.biblestudy.org/prophecy/old-testament-prophecies-jesus-fulfilled.html.

With over 80% of biblical prophecies already fulfilled, and 20% yet to be fulfilled in the future, I encourage readers to look past the strange imagery of Revelation and see the essential messages of truths that will be revealed.

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“God blesses the one who reads this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to it and obey what it says. For the end is near when these things will happen” (Revelation. 1:3)

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