REVELATION #35: THE CULTURE CLASH

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We have now come to the point when Western Culture is, in fact, incompatible with  Biblical Christianity. By using the image of the prostitute, John tells us that there is a certain kind of attraction toward ungodly culture. We are prone to be drawn into it. To remain Christian, and to pass on the Christian faith to future generations, we are going to have to live lives that are radically different in the eyes of our culture. We are going to have to be the church, no matter what it costs. John saw this inevitable clash of cultures in his time, and explains, for all time, the reasons behind it. 

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Download Revelation Part 35

Revelation #35. Revelation #17.

We have come to another one of those places in the book of Revelation that is just plain weird. However, I believe that we can make at least some kind of sense of this. In the first place, remember that we can use the chiastic structure of Revelation to help us. At the end of the third major section of Revelation (the trumpets), there was an interlude. The interlude at the end of section 3 was about the struggle for God’s Word to go forth. You might say it was from the perspective of the good guys, who had to suffer and even die; although, ultimately, they were vindicated.

We are now at the end of section 5 of Revelation (the bowls of wrath). This section is related to section 3 (the trumpets), and so, here too, we have an interlude. This interlude (chapters 17-18), coming after section 5, is from the perspective of the bad guys. Evil, corruption, and depravity appear to be winning. And yet, ultimately, they will be thoroughly judged and defeated.

The thought in the first interlude was that the witnesses to God’s truth would complete their mission. However, we did not see the final result back there in chapter eleven. The thought here, in the second interlude, completes the first: the judging of the evil powers of this world. God is wrapping things up, leaving nothing unfinished in his task of putting everything right.

There are many specifics in chapters 17 and 18. Whenever we feel that we are getting bogged down in the details of those things, we should return to the big picture; the ideas I have just expressed here.

Chapter 17 introduces us to the woman and the beast, and then “explains” them (if you can really call it an explanation). Like the first interlude, it is one of the more confusing passages in the most confusing book of the Bible. Let’s take this piece by piece:

1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the judgment of the notorious prostitute who sits on many waters. 2 The kings of the earth committed sexual immorality with her, and those who live on the earth became drunk on the wine of her sexual immorality.” 3 So he carried me away in the Spirit to a desert. I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and 10 horns. 4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She had a gold cup in her hand filled with everything vile and with the impurities of her prostitution. 5 On her forehead a cryptic name was written: BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE VILE THINGS OF THE EARTH. 6 Then I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the saints and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. (Revelation 17:1-6 HCSB)

This prostitute is not a literal person. She is a representation of all world empires, governments, and powers that seduce people away from God, and that persecute God’s people. Throughout the Bible, the practice of idolatry is often called a kind of spiritual adultery, or prostitution. So it is here. I believe she represents both the ongoing ungodly world powers, and also a particular empire or civilization that will be present at the very end of world history. The description of her shows that the civilizations she represents are wealthy and corrupt. She is named “Babylon” but again, I believe that is a “code word” for any civilization or empire that leads people away from the worship of the one true God, and which persecutes God’s people. The reason it is in a kind of “code” is because, unquestionably, at the time of John, it meant the Roman Empire: verse 18 says:

And the woman you saw is the great city that has an empire over the kings of the earth.

Also, by using a symbolic name, the Holy Spirit allows this to be applicable throughout world history, although, as I said, I think there will also be a particularly, “ultimate” version of Babylon during the last days before Jesus returns.

I want to point out something else that I believe is important. God’s people were represented by the picture of a woman, a mother, in chapter 12. Here, we have the devil’s counterpart: an adulterous, evil woman, a prostitute. The devil can only imitate and corrupt God’s creation. He has nothing new of his own. In God’s Kingdom, we have the bride of Christ, the mother of the Messiah. The devil’s imitation is a prostitute, a woman full of wickedness and evil.

The same is true of the beast. Jesus is “the one who is, who was and is to come.” In verse 8, the beast attempts to imitate Jesus, but fails. He is the one: “who was, is not, and will come again, only to be destroyed forever.”

Verses 7-17 attempt to explain the “secret meaning” of the woman and the beast. If you are like me, the explanation is worse the puzzle. Verses 9-14 speak of 18 different kings. Or maybe, it is only 12 kings, or possibly 11. Or, perhaps, it is speaking not of kings, but of kingdoms and empires. John says five kings have “fallen,” another one is, and another is yet to come. Many, many people get bogged down trying to figure out which rulers or empires John is prophesying about. Some say these are Roman emperors. Others connect them to various world powers from ancient Egypt all the way to the present. The problem is, neither one of those theories fits the actual facts of world history. I caution you not to get sucked into that sort of thinking. As I have said before, that sort of thinking creates a situation where the book of Revelation is only relevant to a few specific people at a few particular points in time. Instead of letting the text speak into our lives about how we live right now, we spend time trying to “solve the riddle,” as if the Bible is just an interesting puzzle.

So, if we aren’t meant to figure out who or what these rulers represent in history, what are we supposed to do with this text? I think we are meant to understand, in general, that throughout history there is a connection between evil, ungodly world empires (the Great Prostitute), and the underlying work of the devil (the heads and horns of the beast). That doesn’t seem like such a stretch when you think about the reigns of people like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, and Pol-Pot, along with ancients like Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun.

When it appears as if evil and ungodliness is running unchecked throughout the world, this text tells us that God knew these things would happen. He has a plan to deal with it. He isn’t shocked, surprised and wringing his hands. He will make everything right.

I think we are also meant to understand that the end of human history will be characterized by a particularly corrupt, wealthy, idolatrous empire.

Finally, we are to be encouraged by the fact that evil devours itself. Ultimately, the dark spiritual power of the beast will turn upon the corrupt, idolatrous world empire. Evil itself will be made to serve God’s purposes:

16 The 10 horns you saw, and the beast, will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, devour her flesh, and burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to carry out His plan by having one purpose and to give their kingdom to the beast until God’s words are accomplished.

Once more, the question is, where does this leave us? I believe that in the past 15 years, our culture has become far more anti-Christian than we realize. I am not talking about persecution. But the worldview that now dominates Western Culture is not only not Christian, but it is in true opposition to the Christian world view. I saw a TV episode the other night, in which the main plot had to do with sexual identity. I realized that it wasn’t just disagreeing with some of the particulars of  the Bible – it was an entirely different way of looking at what it means to be a human being, a way that flatly contradicts the Christian vision of humanity. I think that TV episode (which was 6 years old) is a reflection of what most of our culture already believes. According to it (and, I believe, our culture at large), your very identity is defined by whom you desire sexually. The greatest evil possible is to deny someone the opportunity to behave however they see fit, especially when it comes to sex. Self-denial, in the current world view, is not just difficult, it is tragically wrong; there is no place for it, not even as a way of loving another person self-sacrificially (that was one of the plot points of the episode). There is no greater authority than the desire of each individual to be whomever they want to be. That means, that no one, not even God, has the right to tell someone that anything they want is morally wrong, or even unhealthy. But Jesus calls us to surrender to his authority, and to deny ourselves, so that we can find true life:

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it (Matthew 16:24-25).

37 The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. 39 Anyone finding his life will lose it, and anyone losing his life because of Me will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39)

Suddenly, John’s picture of a great prostitute manipulating cultures seems uncomfortably close to home. John is saying that our culture is under the influence of evil, depraved spiritual power; he is using very lurid, picturesque imagery to do so. The cultures of the world are not neutral. They are influenced by the beast, which is to say, they are influenced by the devil and his demonic forces. The cultures of the world are captive to spiritual prostitution.

By using the image of the prostitute, John tells us that there is a certain kind of attraction toward ungodly culture. We are prone to be drawn into it.

John, in his vision, was shocked and astonished by this (v 7). I think most of us are, also. I believe the time has come for Christians to pay attention, and to see that our culture is neither good, nor morally neutral, but completely opposite to a Christian vision of humanity and God. Again, I do not meant that we are being persecuted. But I do mean that the world view of Western culture is antithetical to the Christian world view, and seeks to replace it. Practically speaking, we may have to change how we live in order to avoid getting sucked in. Author Rod Dreher, in The Benedict Option urges us to consider carefully how we live:

The time was coming… when men and women of virtue would understand that continued full participation in mainstream society was not possible for those who wanted to live a life of traditional virtue.

We would have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.

He points out not only cultural developments, but also legal decisions that have changed how the laws views Christian beliefs. Speaking of the Obergefell decision of the Supreme Court, he says:

Post-Obergefell, Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists.

He continues:

We are going to have to change our lives, and our approach to life, in radical ways. In short, we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs.

I agree, wholeheartedly. From now on, it is going to cost us to be Christian. I think we need to carefully examine the TV shows, movies and music that we consume. If we continue to absorb this anti-Christian worldview without thinking critically about what we watch and listen to, our beliefs will eventually conform to the culture, and be truly anti-Christian. We may have to limit the kind of things we watch, and the media we consume.

Some careers may no longer be appropriate for Christians. A year or two ago, a county clerk in Kentucky was jailed for not issuing a marriage license to a gay couple. In the eyes of the law, she was wrong. I think she was wrong to continue to be a county clerk with the beliefs that she holds, though I completely understand her position. I’m very sad that our culture has come to this, but I believe it has. I think that many Christians in various positions in government may need to consider resigning in order to remain true to their faith. Christians also may not be able to have other certain careers, because to do so would cause us to violate Christian ethics. The list of careers that violate our ethics is likely to grow in the coming years.

If we are to remain Christian, we are going to look radical to a culture that has radically changed in the past twenty years. John tells us that there is a spiritual reason for this, and also that God will eventually take steps to hold accountable the powers that are responsible.

Let the Spirit speak to you today.

SHARE THE BURDEN, LIGHTEN THE LOAD

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No one in the church needs to face their struggles alone. Is your marriage difficult? Let your brothers and sisters and Christ know. Give them the chance to pray for you and encourage you. Maybe your burden is a wayward child, or a dead-end job or a troubled friendship. Allow your fellow believers to fulfill the law of love, by sharing your burden.

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Galatians #23 . Chapter 6:1-5

Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2, HCSB)

With these verses, Paul gives some practical applications of what it means to walk by the Spirit. He mentions the case of someone caught in wrongdoing. “Caught” could mean that a person’s wrongdoing is discovered, or it could mean that the person was entrapped by sin; as in caught in a trap. I think the Greek favors the second meaning. I think common sense favors it as well. Otherwise, it sounds like, as long as you aren’t caught by other people, it’s OK to sin.

Paul says “you who are spiritual” should restore such a person. He’s just been talking about walking by the Spirit. I think he means, “You who are walking by the Spirit, help someone who is trapped in the ways of the flesh.”

By the way, I want to make this very clear. Our business in this case is with Christians who are in our own circle of friends, family and church. There’s no point in trying to get a stranger to shape up to your standards. And there is no point trying to get someone who is not a believer to stop sinning. Of course, in appropriate ways and moments, we should tell the truth about God and sin, but no one is going to shape up their behavior to conform to something they do not believe in the first place. With non-believers, we may need to talk about sin as we preach the gospel, but the message of the gospel is not “shape up.” It is: “You can’t shape up. You need Jesus for forgiveness and for transformation.”

Telling non-Christians to shape up and stop sinning is like telling people with the flu to stop having a fever. It is pointless, until the root problem has been addressed. Moreover, I am sure that most of them feel it is pointless also. Since they don’t share our core beliefs, it is unreasonable to expect them to live by our morality. With non-Christians, the first thing to talk about is who Jesus is. Lifestyle changes only come after they trust Jesus.

Paul, however, is talking about people that we personally know, and whom have put their trust in Jesus, and yet, fall back into sin. They haven’t abandoned their faith. There is war in their souls between the Spirit and the Flesh. Paul says we should help each other in this situation.

I hesitate to get more detailed, but I want us to have a defined idea of the kinds of situations Paul is talking about. First, I think Paul is implying that the Galatian leaders who were trying to lead the church astray were trapped in wrongdoing. Paul is saying, “restore them to the right faith.” So, some people are trapped by false teaching. Usually, some sort of straightforward conversation or intervention is needed to address the false teaching.

Second, I think Paul means this generally when someone in our church-family is trapped in sin. There are certain kinds of things I think of when I hear “trapped in sin.” Addictions and regular “binging” trap us. We keep on doing these things, and can’t seem to quit. I think this passage is applicable when Christians are caught by addictions and binging. Again, that is a situation where intervention is warranted. Another common sin-trap for Christians is an adulterous affair. That’s the kind of situation that often benefits from intervention by other mature Christians.

An additional kind of situation where we should get involved is when there is some kind of ongoing, major hypocrisy. Suppose you have a an elder or deacon, or some other sort of leader in the church. He professes faith in Jesus. He talks a great talk about Christianity and the Christian life. But then, you discover that he is dishonest in his business dealings, treats his employees poorly and shows no real evidence of his faith when he is not at church or around other members of the church. This is a big problem, because it means he is deceiving himself and others about his own standing with God, and what it means to follow Jesus.

These probably aren’t the only situations, but I won’t go on. The main thing, is that Paul is talking about serious situations, situations where either a Christian is following an ongoing pattern of the flesh, or a single failure that creates serious consequences (like adultery). I think especially if there is deception behind it (as there is in false teaching, addiction, adultery and major hypocrisy) it may be a situation that requires restoration.

Paul says that the Spirit-walking Christians should restore the person who was caught in sin; they should do it gently and they should do with humility, being aware that they are also susceptible to failing. I want to touch on each of these things.

The Greek word used for “restore” is the same word used of setting a broken bone, or putting a dislocated joint back in place. This is important, because it means our call is not just to tell people when they are wrong. It is to help them get rightly related to Jesus again. Paul does not have in mind that Christians should go around telling other Christians, “You’re sinning!” That may be required, if someone who claims to be a Christian doesn’t acknowledge their sin. But there is so much more to it than that. Paul says, there should be restoration.

Some churches do this with pastors who are caught in a serious sin. There might be a process that they go through. The sinning person needs to be repentant, to start with. He needs to submit to accountability. In other words, he needs to be willing for his life to be an open book, with no secrets. Those who are restoring him should have access to the details of his life, so they can know if he has truly turned away from the sin that caught him before. Part of the restoration, I think, should involve points along the way, where the person has opportunity to really feel and express that he has turned a corner. As the person proves trustworthy, there should be points along the way where greater trust is restored to him.

Paul says we should be gentle with each other as we do this. We aren’t meant to be watching over each other, so we can jump from around a corner and shout “Aha! Gotcha!” every time someone screws up. But when someone gets trapped in a sin or has been deceptive, we have their best interests at heart. We initiate restoration out of love and hope, not anger, frustration or the desire to put someone down. Matthew Henry wrote about these verse:

“[Jesus] bears with us under our weaknesses and follies, he is touched with a fellow-feeling of our infirmities; and therefore there is good reason why we should maintain the same temper towards one another.”

Paul also says that we should watch ourselves, so that we don’t caught in the same way. In other words, we maintain a healthy dose of humility. We don’t need to live in fear and self-doubt, but we should realize that no one is immune to temptation. We can look at the person whom needs restoration, and say, “There, but for the grace of God, am I.”

Paul adds this beautiful and significant thought:

Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2, HCSB)

In other words, no one in the church needs to face their struggles alone. Without a doubt Paul sees the struggle against sin, and the process of restoration as part of carrying each other’s burdens. I think it also goes beyond that. Is your marriage difficult? Let your brothers and sisters and Christ know. Give them the chance to pray for you and encourage you. Are you having financial troubles? Let your church family come alongside you with encouragement and prayer. Give them a chance to ask the Lord if they should give toward your need. Maybe your burden is a wayward child, or a dead-end job or a troubled friendship. Are you sick? James tells the sick person directly to ask for prayer.

Others cannot help you bear your burdens if you will not be honest and open about them. This too, requires humility and vulnerability. But think of it this way. Paul says right here that bearing each other’s burdens fulfills the law of Christ. It is the practical application of what Jesus meant when he said:

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, HCSB)

If we refuse to be humble and honest with each other about our struggles, we are denying each other the chance to practice love. Jesus’ call to love each other can’t be fulfilled without honesty and vulnerability.

For those of us in the Life Together Churches network, this is a tremendous affirmation of house churches and house church networks. It’s difficult to bear each other’s burdens if we only see our fellow-believers as we sit, facing the front on Sunday morning, and for ten minutes of coffee after the service. It can happen, but only really accidentally. If we bear one another’s burdens as a result of being in a choir, it is only accidental. The same is true of Sunday school, committee meetings and almost any program you care to name.

We need some context where we can get to know each other and be safe as we are humble and vulnerable. That is one reason that in our house churches we don’t share, outside the group, what other people say in the group, unless we have permission from them.

I’m not saying that house-church or cell-church is the only way to do things. I know many of you who read this are not part of a house church or cell church. But a committed, regular small group is a tremendously effective context for sharing our burdens with each other. Before I move on, I want to offer a quick reminder. When someone shares a burden in church (small group), it is easy to become a therapy group. But our groups are not for therapy. They are for Jesus. The thing to do when someone shares a burden is to turn to Jesus with them. That may mean sharing a scripture that comes to your mind, or a thought or picture that the Lord seemed to put in your head. It definitely means going to the Lord together in prayer, maybe laying hands on the person as you pray, to be Jesus’ hands, touching them. We don’t have the answers. Jesus does, and he is revealed in the bible and manifested in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul goes on:

For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else. For each person will have to carry his own load. (Galatians 6:3-5)

Once again, Paul is encouraging the Galatians (and us) to be humble. This reminds me of a verse from Romans:

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts. (Rom 12:3-6, HCSB)

Paul doesn’t want the business of restoration, and bearing each other’s burdens to become an opportunity for people to judge each other, or to boast. If someone has an affair and goes through restoration, it might be easy for a person who never failed in that way to feel superior. Paul says, it is not. You aren’t judged based on how someone else struggles. That means there is no place to feel that you are better than someone else. As it says elsewhere:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom 14:4, ESV2011)

We are called to share our struggles and bear each other’s burdens. At the same time, each person has his or her own relationship with Jesus. Our burdens can be shared. We must also take responsibility for ourselves. We can’t take spiritual responsibility for someone else, and others cannot do that for us. The sharing of burdens is not an excuse to give up responsibility, nor an opportunity to look down on others for how they struggle.

This passage gives us some tremendous helpful insight into how we interact in Christian community. Ask the Lord to make it real to you right now. Listen to what he has to say to you.