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The Apocalypse: Revelation Commentary from James M. Boice

June 3, 2020 11 comments
A lot of “stage-setting” for the end times scenario has occurred within the last several decades:  Israel back in the land (regathered in unbelief), and the worldwide travel and instant communication technology indirectly prophesied in Rev. 11:9-10 (see this previous post).  Very recent news is starting to look more and more apocalyptic:  a worldwide pandemic (the above two pieces were not in place during previous pandemics), killer hornets, riots and anarchy around the country, and even articles about the world leaders looking for someone to take charge and lead the world in dealing with covid-19.  (Note:  I am not saying that any of these things ARE end-times events; yet these events are interesting, in terms of what God is working out in this world, in His providence, in preparation for Christ’s Return.)
The Second Coming and our Blessed Hope  is always an important doctrine — oft-neglected, especially when the world appears to be stable and status-quo.  In the current world situation, the year 2020 which has turned out to be far from the normal life, resources that point us to the end times are especially to be appreciated.  One such offering, from Dr. Phillip Ryken and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, is a newly published commentary from the late James Montgomery Boice on the first six chapters of Revelation.   Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, and One LORD is compiled from Boice’s last messages at Tenth Presbyterian Church, just before he learned the news of cancer; Boice went home to be with the Lord before completing the series.  I’ve been aware of Boice for several years, as a modern-times covenantal premillennialist, and have previously listened to and read some of his teaching, such as his Psalms commentary on book one, and a few other messages.  Recently I’ve also started listening to some of his lectures on the minor prophets, and it was refreshing to hear his very clear and sensible exposition of Zechariah 14, including his reference to David Baron.
As I’m reading the first chapters in this new commentary, on Revelation 1, the original plan to complete the series was in his mind, and thus comes a touch of sadness when reading page 21, where Boice mentioned the Hebrew number equivalents, noting “We will discuss this puzzle when we get to chapter 13 ….”  In this case as always, it was “if the Lord wills,” and clearly the Lord had other plans, to take Boice home before that point.
The commentary on Revelation 1 provides Boice’s two main guidelines, along with interesting connections between Revelation 1 and OT passages.  This Reformation21 post provides a good excerpt on the introductory material.  Another interesting part here is the count of OT allusions in the book of Revelation:  79 references to Isaiah, 54 to Daniel, 48 to Ezekiel, 43 to the Psalms, 27 to Exodus, 22 to Jeremiah, 15 to Zechariah, 9 to Amos, and 8 to Joel.  Of the 404 verses of the 22 chapters of Revelation, 278 contain one or more allusions to an OT passage.
Revelation 1 is interesting in many ways, including the numerous Old Testament allusions, such as these, pointed out by Boice:

Other interesting points:

  • the seven lamps in this vision are separate lamps, not attached to each other like the Jewish Menorah.  This represents the universal church.  Here, also reference Matthew 5:14-15, the city on a hill and a light set on a stand.
  • Revelation 1 portrays Jesus as a priest (standing among the lampstands and tending them) and as a prophet, who has come to impart the revelation to the apostle John

Boice was less concerned about the specific futurist/historicist/preterist interpretations, focusing instead on the pattern, repeated throughout the book of Revelation, of visions that show the scene in heaven, followed by scenes on earth.  The purpose of Revelation, something that is applicable to all believers in all eras of history, is to get Christians from all periods of history and in all circumstances to look at things from God’s perspective rather than from man’s and to draw comfort and strength from that perspective.

This quote from J.I. Packer (shared by Boice) well expresses the timelessness of God’s word, and the  immutability of our God:

Men sometimes say things that they do not really mean, simply because they do not know their own mind; also, because their views change, they frequently find that they can no longer stand to things that they said in the past.  All of us sometimes have to recall our words, because they have ceased to express what we think; sometimes we have to eat our words, because hard facts refute them.  The words of men are unstable things.  But not so the words of God.  They stand forever, as abidingly valid expressions of His mind and thought..  No circumstances prompt Him to recall them; no changes in His own thinking require Him to amend them.  Isaiah writes, ‘All flesh is grass … the grass withereth … but the word of our God shall stand for ever’ (Isaiah 40:6).

 

The Song of Moses: David Baron on Deuteronomy 32

February 11, 2014 2 comments

I have mentioned David Baron a few times before, such as this post listing several of his works available online.  A Jewish Christian and classic premillennialist from the early 20th century (1855-1926), his writings include the topic of national Israel in its history and future, as well as interesting observations in the scriptures.  I’m currently reading David Baron’s “Israel in the Plan of God” (originally published as “The History of Israel—Its Spiritual Significance”), a good collection of his expositions on a few key scriptures about God’s relationship to Israel: Deuteronomy 32, Psalm 105, Psalm 106 and Isaiah 51.

Deuteronomy 32 is well known as the Song of Moses, a prophetic section that foretells Israel’s history in a broad view, from their early apostasy to the Last Days and God’s final work on behalf of Israel.  David Baron provides great instruction concerning the six strophes (themes) in the song, along with interesting details concerning apostate Israel in his day, including judgment events more known in his day (the 1920s, many years before the WWII Holocaust events that everyone today thinks of in reference to the Jewish nation).

S. Lewis Johnson taught a similar division of Deuteronomy 32 (see this previous post), though naming seven distinct parts (verses 1-3 as a separate ‘exordium’ followed by verses 4-6 as the theme).

The six strophes (themes):

1.  Verses 1-6:  The absolute perfection of God, His character

He is “the Rock” and His work is perfect. As noted in S. Lewis Johnson’s exposition of the text, this is the First Mention of God described as a Rock.

2.  Verses 7-14:  What God did for His people

It is Jehovah—the everlasting, self-existent God, Who, in his grace and condescension, has made Himself known to you by this covenant name as your Redeemer and Friend—that ye thus requite with ingratitude and rebellion.  Truly “a foolish and unwise” people! For it is not only criminal, but the height of folly, and equivalent to self-destruction, for man to depart from the living God; and the history of the Jews in apostasy has demonstrated to the full that it is not only an evil thing, but “a bitter thing,” to forsake Jehovah, the “Fountain of living waters,” and the only source of blessedness.

3.  Verses 15-18: What Israel did against God; their apostasy

But Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked…  David Baron notes the character of the false gods, that they were 1) “strange” or “foreign,” without sympathy, the very opposite of Jehovah our Maker; and 2) abominations:   “whose worship was often associated not only with orgies of cruelty, but with unspeakable obscenities which had a very debasing effect on the worshippers”.  A key observation here:  “men always rise or sink to the level of the object of their adoration.” The worship of false gods, abominations, has the effect of making men themselves filthy and abominable.  This worship of demons also leads to superstition, and men tormented and haunted by evil spirits.

4.  Verses 19-25:  Judgment upon Israel

Here David Baron’s observations are so timely and relevant:  the peculiar sufferings and judgment upon the Jewish people, observed in his day in events in Russia and eastern Europe — still 20 years before the most well-known event to modern-day readers, the World War II Holocaust.  Baron includes eye-witness descriptions of then-recent killings of Jews, such as the 1923 account of Mr. Isaac Ochberg, a prominent and wealthy Jew from South Africa.

As well noted by David Baron:

the calamities and sufferings of Israel are due in the first instance to God’s retributive anger against His people on account of their sins and apostasies, and are in fulfillment of prophetic forecasts, predictions, and warning some of which were uttered at the very beginning of their national history. … The fact that the sufferings of the Jewish people are all foretold, and that they are due in the first instance to God’s anger against sin–especially the great national sin of the rejection of their Messiah, is no excuse for the Gentile nations for their cruelties and brutalities which they have perpetrated against them.

5.  Verses 26-33:  God’s mercy, and that His judgment is not forever.  The connection is here, too, between how God deals with Israel and how He deals with us individually.

Let us admire the marvelous grace of God and His perseverance with His sinful, rebellious people.  And remember that in His dealings with Israel, we have not only a display of the glorious attributes of His character through which we may learn to know Him more fully, but also a revelation of the principles of His dealings with us …. though Israel deserved that He should make an utter end of them, that “nevertheless for His great mercies’ sake He did not utterly consumer them, nor forsake them, because He is a great and merciful God,” we must humbly confess that the same is true of us also, and that if God had dealt with us after our sins, and rewarded us according to our iniquities, He would have cast us away from His presence.

6.  Verses 34-43:  Apocalyptic, looking at the last events yet in the future: deliverance for His people and judgments upon the enemies of God and of Israel.

the day when the “seals” shall be broken so that the iniquity which the nations have committed may be laid bare, and the successive judgments which have also been “laid up” in God’s treasuries be let loose, is “the day of vengeance of our God,” which synchronises with the commencement of the “year of His redeemed” when Israel’s Redeemer shall be manifested a second time, not as the meek and lowly one to be led as a lamb to the slaughter, but in His power and glory to execute judgments committed to Him by the Father.   …  And it is the extremity of Israel’s need which provokes God’s final interposition on their behalf.

The Four Living Creatures in Ezekiel and Revelation (B.W. Newton observations)

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Benjamin Wills Newton, in “Thoughts on the Apocalypse,” (Works of Benjamin Wills Newton, volume 14) provides some interesting thoughts concerning the Cherubim mentioned in Ezekiel and again in Revelation.

The cherubim, or “living creatures,” in Revelation 4 symbolize one aspect of the redeemed:  the power “which the Church is to exercise in the hour of its glory.”  Newton notes that the cherubim join in with the elders (Revelation 5:8-10) in saying “Thou hast redeemed US unto God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Note: some translations use the third person ‘people’ instead. Yet their golden bowls are also said to be the prayers of the saints.)  The cherubim, as with the 24 elders, also act as priests in intercessory prayers.  We may find some difficulty, perhaps, in attaching symbols so different as those of the elders and of the cherubim to the same body — the Church: but it is a difficulty necessarily consequent on the blessed truth, that the Church is “the fulness of him who filleth all in all.”

Why the Four Living Creatures in Ezekiel are with the wheels (But no wheels in the Revelation vision)

What can be more significant of the resistless course of almighty power? These terrible wheels, combining the movements of four, without losing the unity of one — each one advancing swift as the lightning, in its straightforward course, not to be resisted by any strength or checked by any impediment — each going upon its sides and yet none revolving — moving at once northward and south ward and eastward and westward, and yet being but as one wheel — nowhere absent but everywhere present in the perfectness of undivided action, afford the mysterious, but fitting, symbol of the omnipotent agency of the power of Him before whom “all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say unto him, ‘What doest thou?'”

In the Revelation, however, the cherubim are not, as in Ezekiel, acting in the earth. In Ezekiel, they were seen below the firmament of crystal; but in the Revelation they are withdrawn from the earth into the presence of the throne, within the sea of crystal; and this, because of Israel’s sin. “I will go and retire into my place, till they acknowledge their offence.”

But the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, the fall of Jericho, the deliverance of Elisha when multitudes of unseen hosts surrounded him, the destruction of Sennacherib, and many other like interventions of the omnipotence of God, are proofs of what this power was able to effect, and what it once did effect, on behalf of Israel and Jerusalem. But the vision of this power was shown to Ezekiel, only that he might bear witness to its withdrawal. He saw it gradually depart, until at last it was hidden in heaven; and accordingly, in the Revelation, we find it there; but no wheels were seen, only cherubim, and they in rest, save only toward God; for their agency in the earth has for the present ceased; nor will it be restored until the order of the millennium begins.

The beasts of prophecy are to be contrasted from the living creatures, as we consider the difference between the government by the Gentile powers and the future government of God:

When the beasts of Daniel were permitted to establish themselves in the earth, and to tread down Jerusalem, that holy and blessed agency represented by the living creatures of Ezekiel and the Revelation was withdrawn from the earth; and as soon as those beasts have fulfilled their course, the “living creatures” will return. One of the great objects of the Revelation is to contrast the condition of the earth whilst under the last great “beast,” with its condition when it shall be again brought under the heavenly agency of the cherubim.

The Earthquake in Japan: How Short is Our Interim of Grace

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Amos 3, in verses 4 – 6, puts forth three sets of “before” and “after” events.  The first one shows the “before” — when it is time to avert disaster.  The second phrase shows the “after” when the event has passed and the opportunity missed:

Before:  ​​​​​​​​Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?    — No, the lion keeps quiet until he finds his prey.
After:   Does a young lion cry out from his den, if he has taken nothing? — By now the lion has caught the prey

Before:  ​​​​​​​​​Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it?
After:  Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing?

And more clearly in verse 6,
Before:  Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?
After: Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?

The personal application is clear.  As S. Lewis Johnson observed in this Amos message, sometimes in our lives we have opportunities to do certain things.  Then come seasons in our lives of lost opportunities, for the things we wish we had done.  In between, we live in this interim of grace, before judgment has fallen.

Early Sunday morning as I began my Bible reading time, the sun was shining so brightly, and what it represented came to me so clearly: this is still the day of grace, the time to seek the Lord.  As the song goes, “His mercies are new every morning,” and “great is Thy faithfulness.”

It was hard to believe, looking at the sun shining so brightly and calmly here, that calamity had struck another part of the world — so remote, and surely things here continue the same as always (the common thought that such things can never happen here).

But that terrible earthquake is surely just as much a reminder of our sovereign God and His mighty power, so terrible to behold.  For many thousands of people in Japan, their day of grace has ended, their time of opportunity gone.  This earthquake also is a reminder of the dreadful judgment certain to come to the whole world, that this interim of grace has an end — when the grace of God finally ends and wrath comes to the lost instead.  We presume on God’s grace if we continue to think things will just go on as always.

It seems also that we are getting a preview of things to come, as described in Luke 21:25-26:  the nations distressed, in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.

Isaiah’s Little Apocalypse and Progressive Revelation

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

In my study through Isaiah with S. Lewis Johnson, the book can be outlined (so far) as follows:

Isaiah 7-12 — The Book Of Immanuel
Isaiah 14-23 — Judgments against the Nations
Isaiah 24-27 — Isaiah’s “Mini-Apocalypse”
Isaiah 28-33 — The Book of Woe

SLJ dealt with each of these sections in its own sub-series within the overall Isaiah series.  I have previously blogged about the Book of Immanuel.  Now to a brief summary of the “Little Apocalypse” section (here in part 1 and part 2).

The mini-apocalypse is one of several parallel prophecies concerning the Second Coming of our Lord, and the progressive revelation of scripture is important at this point.  Revelation given in earlier books is less detailed, but later Old Testament revelation expands on earlier revelation, just as New Testament revelation expands further — and even some New Testament revelation expands with more details not found in earlier NT texts.  The book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament, completes the progress of revelation.

Isaiah 24:5-6 make reference to an everlasting covenant that has been broken.  The next sentence relates, “a curse devours the earth.”  Which everlasting covenant has been broken?  The description suggests that the Noahic covenant is in view here, a covenant that provided basic law and order, human government.  Though God has been incredibly patient with mankind throughout history, the time will come when God finally says “enough!”  All government is after all under God, appointed by Him, and the final breakdown of government will result in God’s destruction of this world.

Verse 10 describes (in KJV) the “city of confusion”  (ESV translates it “wasted city”).  Though Isaiah’s text does not specify the city, and it could be taken in a general sense, S. Lewis Johnson saw this — in the light of later biblical revelation — as a reference to Babylon, the city of man always opposed to God.  Babylon does play that special role, the first city that rebelled against God (Genesis 11), which will be rebuilt and destroyed in the future, as described in Revelation 18.

Verses 14 and 15 describe the people, the remnant of Israel, as including those who live in the land as well as some in the east (verse 15) and some in the west. S. Lewis Johnson, reading from the KJV, noted that the phrase “glorify God in the fires” has the Hebrew word for “lights,” the word Urim — as also used in the phrase “Urim and Thummim” of the priest’s attire.

Isaiah 24:21 indicates that this judgment will be against both this world and the demons:  On that day the Lord will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth.  Then verse 22 is a parallel to other, later, biblical texts:  in this case, another description of Satan and his angels being bound in the abyss (Revelation 20:1-3).  The phrase that begins with “after many days” refers to the thousand years and Satan’s subsequent release and final punishment, the lake of fire.

Isaiah 25-27 is a series of songs in response to the judgment of chapter 24.  Isaiah 26:3 is a familiar, oft-quoted verse — and I think of the scripture-song from George and Kathy Abbas here:   “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.”  The context, though, is a praise from Israel rejoicing in Christ at the Second Advent.  Consider further the verse’s meaning:  “whose mind” — the mind is kept by God’s word, and emphasizes the importance of staying in and seeking God in His word, the scriptures.

Isaiah 26:20 is another parallel reference to the Great Tribulation, and especially to Revelation 12, where the woman (Israel) flees to safety.  From the Revelation text, which agrees with Daniel’s prophecy as well concerning the time period, we also know that “a little while” is the 3 1/2 years  (ref. Revelation 12:14).

Isaiah 27:1 contains a symbolic reference to Assyria, Babylon and Egypt, the enemies of Israel who are referred to as Leviathan.   Isaiah 27:9 has a New Testament reference, in Romans 11:26, the time Paul speaks of when God will “turn away ungodliness from Jacob.”

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