Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

1 Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, "Come and see." 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.3 When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come and see." 4 Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword. 5 When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come and see." So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine." 7 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come and see." 8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

Revelation 6:1-8

It may surprise many to find that most people, believers or not, have heard of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. No doubt the reasons for that are films from Hollywood, video games, and even references in the news that talk about these four individuals. So it should come as no surprise that with the events of the past few months, and the emergence this past week to a possible world wide flu pandemic, questions about the "Apocalypse" have shown up. So let me try to give you a primer on what the Bible has to say about these individuals, and the explain the context in which they appear.

As you begin to read the book of Revelation, it seems clear to most that there are some definite divisions within the book. The first three chapters are described as letters to the seven churches, which most scholars agree are report cards from Jesus to seven churches that existed in the first century. Why just seven? Well the conclusion is that based on what we know about God's use of the number seven as a sign of perfection referring to completeness, every church then, as well as today is described by one of those letters. In other words, every church throughout history and in existence today will fall into one of seven categories.

The most important thing to notice in Revelation, however, is the absence of the Church after Chapter 3. The point is made by the majority of Bible scholars that the reason for this is the removal of the Church, described by most as the "rapture", which occurs before the period of time called the Tribulation. This period of seven years is the subject of the rest of the book of Revelation, and the events which occur during those seven years are graphically described beginning in Chapter 6. For the purpose of this discussion, though, it is important to understand that the first event to be revealed at the beginning of the tribulation period is the appearance of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Exactly who are these horsemen? Well the Bible only tells us that the horses are ridden by men, by using the word "he" to describe the riders. It is the power these men possess, however, which give us a clue as to their purpose. The first rider is revealed as riding a white horse, holding a bow and wearing a crown. We know from history that victorious generals usually rode into cities riding a white horse, so the picture we have is a political leader who the world sees as "victorious". He wears a crown, but in the Greek the word here is "stephanos", which is used to describe a conqueror, not a King or ruler who would wear a "diadema". He also carries a bow, or in the Greek "toxon" which refers to a covenant, which indicates he conquers by political means rather than militarily. So the picture we have of the first horseman is an individual who "conquers" much of the world with non-violent means, probably by promising peace.

The second rider described is riding a red horse, which would probably signify blood, as he is given the power to take peace from the earth by violent means. He is carrying a sword, and we are told he has the ability to encourage men to fight against each other, the result obviously being open warfare. It is also important to note he is able to affect the entire earth, so the description we have is of a war or conflict which involves the entire human race, regardless of geographical location.

The third rider rides a black horse carrying a pair of scales. Scales have historically been used in the marketplace to weigh out food, so the obvious conclusion here is this rider is bringing famine to the world. If we read verse 6, however, we find more than that. It says there that it takes a "denarius" to purchase enough food for one person for one day. In the first century a denarius was equivalent to one days pay for the average person, so the picture we are given here is that people will have to spend their entire daily wage to purchase enough food to live on. That in turn tells me that there is an economic side to this picture as well. Not only is food in short supply, but the economy is so bad people will only be able to afford to buy food. So what happens to house payments, rent, car payments, gas, heating, etc?

The fourth rider rides a pale horse, and is the only rider given a name. Death. Not a very encouraging picture to be sure, but look closer at the description of how that death is accomplished. We are told in verse 8 that death comes to a quarter of the earths population from one of four ways. War, starvation, pestilence, and the wild beasts of the earth. The word pestilence refers to what we today would call a pandemic, or a plague of sickness which would affect the whole world. So the scenario described is one fourth of the world, (which right now would be 1.68 billion people) will die from war, starvation, sickness, and predatory attacks from animals.

To sum up, the Bible predicts that at the beginning of the Tribulation period, a great leader will emerge attempting to unify the world through peace, but wars will spontaneously occur worldwide while the world economy suffers to the point that famine and starvation begin to be the norm, which, along with a worldwide pandemic decimates one fourth of the population of the earth.

Have you read the news lately?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Final Sign. Is America Abandoning Israel?

Genesis 12:1-3
1 Now Jehovah said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee: 2 and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make they name great; and be thou a blessing; 3 and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

Contained in this passage is one of the most important promises, and a warning, that I believe God has given to the nation of Israel and all the other nations that inhabit the earth. In simple terms God says that anyone person or nation that blesses Israel will be blessed, but to those who curse Israel, they in turn will be cursed.The United States and Israel have been allies since the inception of the Jewish state in 1948, and throughout the intervening years of both war and peace in the middle east we have continued to support the independence of Israel.

Anyone who has taught the subject of eschatology, or what the Bible has to say about the end of the world as we know it, has at one time or another encountered the same question over and over again, and that is "where is the United States in prophecy?" Since it would appear that we are not mentioned specifically, those of us who teach on this subject have been left to come to our own conclusions based on what we do find in scripture, and on what we don't. The position I have taught over the years is really a simple one, and it goes something like this. The United States is not mentioned in the end times scenarios written in scripture for one of two reasons. One, we don't exist as a nation, or two, we exist but choose to not get involved.

Now since we have always been allies with Israel, the logical conclusion would be that we suffer some sort of an attack or at least are threatened with one serious enough to force us to question our support and then choose to withdraw. This is the conclusion most would come to based on the fact of our past strong support for Israel. Recent events on the political front initiated by our current president, however, may be signaling a radical shift in our foreign policy which in turn might suggest that in any future conflict the United States may withdraw it's longstanding support for Israel.

Since taking office our current president has initiated contact with Syria, Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela to name but a few, and the one thing in common with each of these countries is the fact that they all have been considered enemies of the United States. At some time in the recent past each of these countries has threatened the United States by making statements that suggest that the world would be a better place if the United States, as well as Israel, ceased to exist. Threats from radical regimes is nothing new to our nation, and in the past such threats were simply ignored, or written off as the rantings of disturbed individuals. Now we find our president attempting to make friends with the very people that have threatened our existence?

Already in Israel the feeling is emerging that the United States is "rethinking" it's historical support of Israel. They see our president reaching out to their enemies and attempting to influence the policy making of the new Israeli government. Slowly but surely it would appear that a shift is occurring in regards to our relationship with Israel, and Israel is fully aware of it. There are signs that Israel is preparing to address the threat from Iran without the support or approval of the United States, which in the past has been a major concern. Does Israel feel abandoned already?

If I were to give any advice to our president I would strongly suggest he read and become intimately familiar with the passage from Genesis which begins this post. Should a major conflict, which we know from scripture is on the near horizon, occur in the Middle East and we withdraw our support, God is very clear that we will be cursed. The only question is what form our judgement would take.

Read and consider the following articles:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Three Days and Three Nights

"For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
Matthew 12:40 KJV

Unfortunately, Friday to Sunday isn't three days and three nights, so we are left to answer the question, why? Hard as it may be to believe, most believers do not know the answer to this because very few pastors have the answer. This might explain why they pass over this question and speak of other things at Easter, rather than investigating a seeming contradiction in scripture.

The reason many Christians can't answer this question has less to do with their knowledge of Christianity and much more to do with their lack of knowledge about Judaism. You see, most believers throughout the church age base their belief of a Friday crucifixion on the verses in the Gospels that state that Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath. This is why the Jews were in such a hurry to get Jesus off of the cross and into the tomb before sunset when the Sabbath would start, and everyone knows that the Sabbath is Saturday. So Jesus was crucified on Friday, right? Wrong.

You see, in Judaism although every Saturday is a Sabbath day, there are also other "High Sabbath" or "Holy Days" that are considered Sabbath days as well. These holidays on the Jewish calendar are much like our Christmas. We all know that Christmas is celebrated on December 25, and every year that occurs on a different day of the week because the calendar changes. It is the same for the High Sabbaths of Judaism. They occur on the same date on the Jewish calendar, but the day of the week it falls on is different every year.

One of these High Sabbaths is the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which occurs on the fifteenth day of the month of Nisan. It is the day after another Jewish holiday I'm sure you have heard of and that is Passover, which occurs on the fourteenth of Nisan. Now can you see where we are going with this? The days in Judaism begin at sundown, so although to us it was still Wednesday night, it was already the fourteenth or Passover. Jesus celebrated Passover with His disciples, and then went to the garden to pray where He was betrayed and taken into custody. The trial lasted until Thursday morning and by 9AM or so, Jesus was on the cross.

Since Friday was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, also a High Sabbath, the Jews were in a hurry to make sure Jesus was dead and buried by sundown Thursday, which was when the Sabbath would begin. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday day equals three days. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night equals three nights. On Sunday morning Jesus rose from the grave and the prophecy was complete, just as He had foretold.

He is risen, He is risen indeed.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Forgotten Prophecy

One of my favorite memories of when I was an intern at a church in Southern California in the 70's was getting together with friends who were attending seminary and quiz each other on what we called bible trivia. One of the questions we came up with was " how often does the bible say Jesus wept?". Of course, although most wanted to say once, it was obvious that by asking the question there must be a different answer. True.

Today is the day Christians around the world celebrate what has become known as Palm Sunday. It is the day that Jesus of Nazareth rode a donkey into Jerusalem to present Himself as the coming Messiah promised by the prophets of the Old Testament. But although virtually every Christian knows that, many don't know the circumstances surrounding it, and the fact that those circumstances caused our Savior to weep.

If you look in your Bible at Luke 19:41 you will find that as Jesus approached the city from the direction of the Mount of Olives, "He saw the city and wept over it". Why would Jesus weep at the sight of the city of Jerusalem on the very day He came to proclaim Himself as the Messiah? That question is answered in the following verses where we see Jesus say that the people did not know "the day" and the "time of your visitation". In other words, Jesus was holding the people accountable for not knowing the day that He was to appear.

Now this obviously leads one to ask how they were supposed to know the exact day the Messiah was to appear in their presence if God had never told them? The trouble with that is what I have come to call "The Forgotten Prophecy". You see, God had told them when the Messiah would come but the religious leaders of the day, the Sadducees and Pharasees, and the people themselves had totally forgotten it.

If you look in your Bible at Daniel 9:25-26 you will find an amazing prophecy given to Daniel that not only outlines the future of Israel, but predicts the exact day that the Messiah would appear. In this prophecy Daniel is told that there will be 69 weeks from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah would appear. The word here for "weeks" is "shabua" which is what is called a "heptad", meaning it stands for a group of seven. In this particular case, it stands for a period of seven years, so what Daniel is being told is that there would be a period of 69 "weeks of years" or exactly 173,880 days from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to the day the Messiah appeared. (69 x 7 x 360 days/year)

The decree to rebuild Jerusalem was given by Artaxerxes Longimanus on March 14, 445 b.c. You can find that referred to in Nehemiah 2:5. If you add the period of time Daniel was given, 173,880 days, you arrive at Sunday, April 6, 32 a.d. which we now call Palm Sunday, the week before Easter and the very day Jesus wept when He saw the city. Why did He cry? Because even though God had gone to such great lengths to predict the exact day His Son would arrive as the Messiah, everyone had forgotten it.

Jesus has told us, His followers, to watch for His return. He went to even greater lengths to tell us what to watch for so we would recognize the time of His appearing. My question to you is this: "Are you watching?" At this most holy of weeks when we celebrate the Resurrection, let us not forget the promise of Jesus' return, and the responsibility we have to actively "watch" for it. It's coming soon.