I saw a huge army on horseback marching across a plain. Each of the horses was white with a golden mane, and each rider was clad in golden armor, and they carried banners of gold and red, and everything shone in the light that emanated from a cloud above them, a light as bright as the sun. They approached a fortified city, but I could see a breach in the wall.
Then the Lord said to me, “Who will stand in the breach on behalf of your people?”
I replied, “I will.”
But he said to me, “You are but one man, a single grain of yeast in a barrel of flour which cannot leaven the whole. It will require a multitude.”
This word came to me:
This is my case against you, says the Lord: The virgin has become a prostitute, lying with anyone who will pay. You lie even with Satan himself, and store your treasure in vaults of concrete and steel! You worship wealth, and the cause of the poor does not come before you. The cause of the alien does not come before you. Though you speak my name with your lips, your heart belongs to another.
This is my case against you, says the Lord: You worship idols! Idols of gold, and of steel, and of concrete. Idols of destruction and vengeance. You say “In God we trust,” but you trust no one, not even each other. Your hearts are hard, and your minds think only of comfort and pleasure.
I have spared you the rod, says the Lord, because you are my chosen people. I have called you by name, but you have not answered. You have not walked in my ways. Now I can spare the rod no longer. Indeed, you will be disciplined with a rod of iron. Your enemies will surround you, and they will bring pain to you and your children, but they will not be the cause of your destruction. No, I, the Lord, will send fire and flood upon you. Your fields will lie desolate, your cities in ruins. Then you will know that your idols cannot help you. Wealth will not save you, nor will weapons.
In that day, says the Lord, you will look to the sky and pray, but I will not answer you. In that day, you will be broken as a pot is smashed upon the ground. In that day, you will see no hope. In that day the first shall be made last, and the greatest shall become the least.
But this I promise: when you have been purged with fire and cleansed with water, when you have paid your debt and changed your ways, when your hearts once again turn to me with sincerity, then I will hear your cries.
Can the prostitute again become a virgin? Can the one who created the universe not make new what has been soiled? I tell you, in those days you will say to me, “We have sinned, have mercy!” And I will have mercy, for you will not be entirely destroyed.
There will be a new Eden, a garden I shall plant in your midst, and you shall dwell there in peace all your days. You shall dwell with my Spirit in your hearts, and your eyes will no longer lust after idols. Neither gold nor steel nor concrete will turn you from my path.
In those days, the forests shall blossom and the plains shall bear fruit, and children shall play and sing with joy, for they shall know me in their hearts. In those days, there will be no poor among you, neither shall any seek to be rich, for your hearts shall seek justice and your hands will lift up one another, and your voices will praise the Lord, and joy shall fill the land. Then you will be the light I have called you to be, a light that shines to the world, for I will illumine you with the light of my Spirit, which will shine for all to see.
Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times
nor ever will be in ages to come.
Before them fire devours,
behind them a flame blazes.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
behind them, a desert waste—
nothing escapes them. (Joel 2:1a-3)
I had a vision yesterday. First, I saw a wave moving across the land, shaped like one of those tubular waves that surfers love. It was not made of water. It was made of locusts, and fire followed it. Then I saw fireworks in the sky, and the Lord said, “See, I am going to do a new thing.”
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:28-32)
The first part has already happened at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has been poured out, and that will not be undone. Prophesy and visions have returned to the people of the Lord. But the second part has not yet happened. We live in the times between the inauguration and the fulfillment.
So are my visions of locusts an indication that the end is upon us? Probably not. God still works in human history in the lives of nations and people.
It should be clear to all of us that we live in a nation that fails to live up to God’s commandments. We worship wealth (You shall worship no other Gods but me). We reward the accumulation of wealth (Ah, you who add field to field…). Our system seeks the lowest possible wages to make the products we use (Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts). We wear $200 jeans made by folks who make two dollars a day (The laborer is worthy of his wage). We use cell phones and laptops made with cobalt mined by children as young as 5 years old (Children are a heritage from the Lord). We blame the poor for being poor (Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy). We burn the earth’s resources like there’s no tomorrow (For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children), and we think nothing of it (Your wrath has come, and the time for… destroying those who destroy the earth).
In past visions, God has told me that any parent, when words fail, will find other ways to discipline their wayward children. We are his wayward children. We have failed to heed his word. We have great potential to do good in the world, but we consistently fall short.
Bear fruit worthy of repentance. (Mt 3:8)
Where is our fruit? We export weapons. We resist helping refugees. We resist anything that infringes on our fossil fuel addiction.
Where is our fruit? Suicides are up 200%. Overdoses are up almost 300%. Mass shootings are up. Antidepressant use is up. Does this sound like a nation that takes joy in the Lord?
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:15-17)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Look at your way of life. How much has it changed since you professed your faith? Does your way of living cause others to look at you strangely? If not, maybe you should look again.
It’s never too late to change. One of the consistent patterns in God’s prophecy is this: warning, punishment, forgiveness, and redemption. The sooner we repent, the less punishment we receive.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. (Jonah 3:10)
But those who are stubborn receive the full wrath of the Lord.
Now I will shortly pour out My wrath on you and spend My anger against you; judge you according to your ways and bring on you all your abominations. (Ezekiel 7:8)
We’re stubborn. We don’t even like to admit that we have sinned. So let us contemplate John’s words:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
Reflect. Confess. Repent.
It’s not too late.
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12
I was sitting in class one day listening to a lecture. Suddenly, I saw a vivid image of Jesus’s side as he hung on the Cross, at the moment before he was pierced by the spear. At the same time, I heard a cacophony of voices chanting, “Where are your works? Where are your works?” It grew louder until I couldn’t hear what my professor was saying. This went on for about five minutes before it began to fade. But the image reappeared to me several times throughout the day.
Modern Christians are skeptical of works, and rightly so. In the 1200 years following Constantine, works were sometimes viewed as the means of salvation. They aren’t. The Bible clearly tells us that we are saved through grace. Surely any evangelical Christian can quote this verse:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Yet for some reason, many tend to ignore the following verse:
For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:10)
The presence of grace does not negate works, it makes them inevitable. How do we miss that? In our skepticism of works, we discount the words of James, the brother of the Lord:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith [alone] save you? (James 2:14)
Martin Luther seems to have found a conflict between Paul and James. (He preferred Paul.) I don’t see any conflict at all. If we have received grace, if we have received faith, we will do works–not to become saved, but because we are saved.
What were the works that Jesus did, which he tells us we will do more of? He welcomed sinners and outcasts. He fed the poor, healed the sick, and challenged traditional authority. He prophesied, cast out demons, and performed miracles. He warned the rich about the dangers of wealth. He reminded his listeners that they were sinners, that they (in Paul’s words) fell short of the glory of God.
And he gave his life to save others.
Look around at the Church today. Do you wonder, as the voices caused me to do, “Where are your works?”
I look at my own life, and I wonder, “Where are your works?”
By this, I mean works of the Spirit. I’ve done works. I gave up a lucrative career that was, in my view, unethical. I believe strongly in social justice, and have written, protested, organized, and campaigned. I helped bring about a six-year cease-fire in a faraway, war-torn country. I’ve fed and housed people who needed it. I’ve “loaned” money to people I knew couldn’t pay it back. But I did it to try to get closer to God, not because the Spirit moved through me.
(I do believe that the Spirit moved through me when I was doing peace work. But that wasn’t because I had faith. The results we achieved were clearly the work of God, but at the time I was not a Christian and I came home scarred and exhausted. I was not living in the Spirit. Thankfully, God can use anyone to achieve his intentions.)
Last August, I finally accepted the forgiveness of Jesus Christ for my sins. I’ve shared before about my long and meandering journey. I’d been baptized, but still hadn’t fully accepted Christ. Have I fully accepted him now? I think there’s still another step I need to take. Perhaps more than one.
Following my acceptance, I began to experience gifts of the Spirit. I had already learned that I can (sometimes) see demons. This gift grew stronger. I also began to have visions. I’ve had one experience in which, through me, the Spirit healed someone. This is all to the good.
Yet I’ve read the Gospels and seen what Jesus did. “You will do the works that I do,” he said.
I’m not there yet. But I’m willing.
How about you?
clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force (1:13-16).
This is Jesus the warrior, as we will see in 19:11. Yet Jesus’ weapon is his tongue. We are told,
his name is called The Word of God… From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (19:13-14).
It’s noteworthy, however, that the word ποιμανεῖ, translated as the verb “to rule,” is more appropriately translated “to shepherd;” the same root appears in Jesus’ command to Peter in John 21:16: “Shepherd (or feed) my sheep.” Despite the warlike images Revelation offers, Jesus’ “war” is conducted with Truth, not steel, and his goal is to care for, not conquer. If this seems ironic, presumably it is meant to be; like the Gospel of John, Revelation contains a great deal of irony.
The Son of Man appears again in Chapter 14:
“Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand!” (14:14).
Here, Christ the majestic becomes the reaper of the earth. The text does not say exactly what was reaped. In the following passages, angels reap grapes and make wine (14:17-20).
The second appearance of Jesus is in Chapter 5. Here we find more irony, as the elder tells John that only “the Lion of Judah, the root of Davis” can open the scroll. But what John sees is not a lion, but lamb “standing as if slaughtered” (5:6). It is not Jesus’ power and glory but his sacrificial death on the Cross that makes him worthy to open the scroll.
As the seals are broken and the story unfolds, we are told more about the Lamb. Washing robes in his blood makes them white (7:14), he will shepherd (the same verb ποιμανεῖ is used as in 19:14) to the water of life (7:17, cf John 4:10, 10:11), he keeps the book of life (13:8, 21:27), and he is “Lord of lords and King of kings” (17:14). The “great multitude” (7:9) has been saved, we are told, because “they have washed their robes and made the white in the blood of the lamb” (7:14, cf 1 John 1:7). It is not only belief in the Lamb that saves, but participation in his blood sacrifice. “They will hunger no more and thirst no more” (7:16, cf John 6:35, Isaiah 49:10).
We should note here that despite the plagues being unleashed on the people of earth (which I’ll discuss in another post), what believers are called to do is to remain firm in their faith, even in the face of persecution. There is no allowance here for violence. In no way do the followers of Jesus participate in God’s judgment. They are called instead to a radically nonviolent response in the face of gathering armies and falling empires.
In Chapter 12, we see the third representation of Jesus: the innocent infant. He is described as ““a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne…” (12:5). (Note the use of the word ποιμαίνειν, another form of the verb “to shepherd”.) Here, in the midst of God’s Kingdom being declared, we encounter the birth of Jesus, the hope for the future. In Part 1, I argued that John intends to place these events outside our concept of time, a topic I’ll return to again; this is surely more evidence of that intent.
There is one final appearance of Jesus that stands out. In the closing passage, John writes:
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” (22:8-9).
But a few lines later, this very same speaker tells him,
“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (22:16).
As we read Revelation, we find a great deal of ambiguity between Jesus and God, as we do also in the Gospel of John (e.g. John 14:7, 14:10-11). In this particular verse, we find ambiguity between Jesus and his servants, suggesting that just as there can be oneness between Jesus and God, there can also be oneness between Jesus and those who serve him (note the language in 22:9: “I am a fellow servant”). Again, this echoes the Gospel of John: “Abide in me as I abide in you” (e.g. John 15:4a).
Books could be written about Jesus as he appears in Revelation (and they have been). However, this short summary of the three (or four) representations of Jesus do give us an overall feel for where Revelation is taking us. Jesus is the Savior, and Jesus is the Word. Yet despite the warlike language describing him, Jesus does not fight his battles with military force. Instead Jesus conquers through Truth and through his own sacrifice on the Cross– a ritual execution by a conquering power that, to readers of the 1st century, was conventionally associated with defeat.
Two weeks ago, I received a powerful vision, both visual and verbal. Some of it was personal, including some specific instructions. Some of it was communal. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but I’ve decided to share the parts that are not personal in nature:
I am the root and the branch; I am the seed and the seedling. I am the dark and the light. At my command, the rains come and the sun appears. I am, and there is no other. Wherefore then do you ask, “Why?” I am the why, and the what, and the how. In the sunset see my hand, and likewise in the dawn. I am the soil and the sky, and I am the flame that burns in all life. Above all, I am love, for without me there can be no love any more than there can be breath. You, created in my image, were made to love. Go, then, and love this world as I do—every person, every beast, every plant, every river, stone, and mountain, for they are mine as you are mine. Love them as I love you, for so I love them also.
The land burns, therefore flee to the water. Immerse yourself in it and let it wash over you. Let it cleanse your heart, for when the fire has passed there will be new life, a new world built on the old foundation. Walk in it with wonder, my children! Walk in it with innocence and awe! For as it once was, so it shall be again: all things made new. For I will burn away the scourge of greed and cunning, of fear and violence, of self-centeredness and self-reliance. I will do a new thing, such as has not been done since the beginning, and you, my children, will have another chance. The slate will be wiped clean of all your sins, if only you will confess them and renounce them.
Look how high they are heaped! Like straw waiting for the fire they choke the fields. Like refuse they clog the streets and even the rivers! Leave them behind! Then you may be spared when the fire does its purifying work.
But woe to you who cling to the old ways, the ways of sin, who say “Lord, I am forgiven” for that which they do not confess aloud! Do you not know that promise goes two ways? Would you not divorce a spouse who is unfaithful time and time again? “I love you,” she says in the morning, but where is she in the evening? When she thinks I am not looking, does she not get drunk on the wine of her lovers? She sings to me, but she dances with them. “But surely,” she says, “he does not know.”
Unfaithful bride! You come to me, and I smell stale wine from when you drank with them, the blood from when together you slaughtered my lambs for your feast, and the scent of a luxurious perfume that I did not give you. You still wear gold jewelry given to you by those you lie with! No, you have no shame.
And yet I love you still, for the bride that you once were.
This, then, is what you shall do if you wish to reclaim my covenant: get up from that soft chair in which you lounge. Strip from your body your soiled clothes and the jewelry given to you by your lovers, and lay them on the straw outside. Walk naked to the water—yes, naked in your shame—and cleanse yourself of the stench of your adulteries.
And as you cleanse, I will burn the straw with all the evidence of your unfaithfulness. Then return to me, washed and born anew—for then your nakedness will be innocence—and I will clothe you. Sit at my table and I will feed you. Embrace me, and I will love you. Look only to me, and my covenant with you shall not be annulled, and it shall last forever.
And as for you, mortal, it is time for you to choose. Too long you have walked the line between us. You see her unfaithfulness, yet you beg me to have mercy. It is by her own hand that mercy will be gained or lost. And you, still by her side, do you excuse her harlotry? You have seen her wear the crown and turban of her lovers, and still you would stay my hand?
Choose, mortal, choose! For if you stand by her in her iniquity, you shall suffer her fate. Beg indeed, but not of me! Beg the drunkard to give up her wine, the harlot to give up her lovers and their gifts. Take her, then, to the water and wash her, if she will. But do not look to me, for her future is of her own choosing.
The Word came to me today. It is clearly addressed to me, and yet I think not only to me, for it contains a challenge for all who fall short of the promise made in John 14:12:
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
This is the Word I received:
Walk with me, my child—do not be afraid to take my hand. You call my name, yet when I answer you turn away, like a child seeking reassurance that I am here. Now I call you. The time for playing is over. Embrace me! Come into my arms! For while you focus on your toys and games, you are still alone. Come to me, my child, that you may be held in my loving arms.
It is as if you live in a fertile valley, and you climb the foothills and marvel at what you can see. Do you look at the far-off mountain peak and imagine how much more glorious it might be there? But it is too far for a day’s journey, and you would not come home for dinner, and so you have never gone.
Look again at that peak, for there you will find me, for I have set my Kingdom on the mountain as a light to all the world! You are the heirs to my Kingdom. Will you not climb and enter? Come claim your inheritance! You are children of the promise—come, let the promise be fulfilled! Yes, you must travel far and leave your comforts behind. I promise you will not regret the journey, for you cannot imagine the glory you shall see.
Would you leave the table after the soup, without eating the meal? Why, then, do you settle for so little in your search for me? Why do you eat little when the table is so abundant that you may be filled beyond measure?
I sent you my Son to show you, and he made you this promise: that your deeds would exceed even his if you believe. Where then are your mighty works, your healings and your miracles? Why are the poor yet hungry and cold? I am the Lord! Will my Spirit not work through you if you will only ask and believe? Why then do you still turn to governments and human will?
Come into my house, for it is your house. Come to my table, for it is your table. Do not fear to embrace your father! As I embraced my Son, so I will embrace all my children—if you but ask. Do not be content to play in the yard, saying “That is my Father’s house, and there is my Father who comforts me.” Do not settle for that! Embrace me and let my love enfold you. For it is time to set aside childish things and learn to do the works that I shall do through you.
A closed heart is like a closed fist: It gives nothing and receives nothing, and is only useful for striking a blow. Open your heart! Let it be filled with my Spirit, and you shall give to all and yet never want.
The Word came to me again:
Look at the proud nation! How they go here and there without a thought for those they trample underfoot. “I did this,” they say. “I made these riches.” Oh, you wicked, arrogant people, have you no shame? What you have, you were given by your Lord, or else you took from someone else. You have made nothing! You are but the image of the One that is, and even that you have forgotten! My son gave his life for you to save you from sin and even death. What do you give in return? You shield your eyes from the poor, call them criminals, and blame them for their poverty.
Hear this, oh proud nation: I do not know you! For you have strayed far from my teachings, and look only upon yourselves. You cry “Lord, Lord,” but you say it as if into a mirror. Save yourselves, then, if you think you can! Send forth your mighty armies, your riches, your bankers, and your politicians. See how they fare! Beat your brows upon the cliffs of the sea until you return to your senses, or until you drown.
Rebellious children, you do not hear the language of love. Listen then to the language of consequence. You will reap as you have sown. Your fields shall burst forth with weeds and thistles—eat them! Your cup will be of poisoned water—drink it. And your mattress shall be hard with the bones of those you have trodden in your quest for riches. See then how you sleep.
When you have had enough, when you are ready to hear, turn then back to me, for I have not yet given up my love for you. But know this: it is not I who punish you, but you who punish yourselves. No longer will I shield you, for you have become spoiled children who do not learn.