Friday, September 11, 2015

BIBLE STUDY: DANIEL, EZEKIEL, and REVELATION WEEK # 6

Date:          9-11-15

Part III       Continue:             Revelation:

         

The Martyrs:

 

The dictionary defines a martyr as "a person who is killed because of his religious or other beliefs." Interestingly enough, the English word martyr is really a word transliterated from the original Greek martyr, which simply means "witness." The reason why this word became synonymous with dying for one's religious beliefs is that the early Christian witnesses were often persecuted and/or killed for their witness.

As evidence of this, consider the story of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, recorded in
Acts 6:8–7:53. After being anointed as one of the first deacons in the church, Stephen immediately began doing mighty works among the people. As is usually the case when the Holy Spirit is mightily at work and the gospel is going forth, the forces of darkness arise to hinder the work of the kingdom. In this case, several men came to dispute what Stephen was saying, but Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, was able to refute their criticisms. Rather than accept what Stephen was teaching, these men brought false charges against him to the Jewish leaders (Acts 6:11-14). Most of Acts 7consists of Stephen's speech to the Jewish leaders in which he essentially summarized the history of Israel up to their rejection of their Messiah.

At the end of the speech, Stephen utters these words, which seal his fate: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it" (
Acts 7:51-53).

Now, there was nothing untrue in Stephen's words. The Jewish leaders were indeed responsible for turning Jesus over to the Romans for execution. Despite Jesus' miracles and authoritative teaching, the hardness of the Jewish leaders' hearts kept them from seeing the truth about Jesus. The Jewish leaders, upon hearing Stephen's words, were enraged and immediately arranged for Stephen's execution by stoning (v. 58). Stephen was, therefore, the first Christian martyr recorded in Scripture.

The Bible places a premium on faithful believers who pay the ultimate price for their witness. Stephen was granted a glorious vision of heaven before he died, and in this vision, he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father (
Acts 7:56) as though waiting for Stephen in an attitude of honor for Stephen's faithful service. As further evidence that martyrs are considered precious in God's sight, the apostle John saw in his vision of the millennium those martyred for their faith reigning with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4). The apostle Peter, who wrote the most about martyrdom and suffering for one's faith, said, "If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you... However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name" (1 Peter 4:14; 6). There is also the word of our Lord who pronounced a blessing upon those who are persecuted for His name: "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me" (Matthew 5:11).

Clearly, the biblical evidence points to the fact that those who are persecuted and suffer for their witness to Christ (up to and including death) are pleasing in God's sight. Given that, two additional questions arise. First, what if I'm not asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of Christ? God doesn't call everyone to make the ultimate sacrifice, but the Bible calls all Christians to be prepared to give a defense of the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15). The key to this passage lies in preparedness. Consider this analogy: those enlisting in the armed services should do so with the understanding that they may be called into battle and may be called upon to die in the service of their country. This is (or should be) the mindset of everyone who joins the military. Clearly, not all enlisted men and women die in the service of their country, and not all are even called into battle. Despite this, they are trained daily to be prepared for battle. The same goes for the Christian. We are in a state of "warfare" (Ephesians 6:12-20), and our Lord may call upon any of us to witness and even be martyred for our faith. Thus, we must be prepared!

The second question that can be asked is, given martyrdom's "special" status in God's eyes, should we actually seek martyrdom? Biblically, we can't make a case for seeking to be martyrs for the cause of Christ. Martyrdom is a great privilege if it is inevitable, but it is not to be sought. Jesus said, "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next" (
Matthew 10:23). Furthermore, reading through the book of Acts, we see that the early church continually fled from intense persecution (Acts 8:1; 9:25,30;14:6;17:10,14). In each of these biblical examples, we see the early Christians fleeing persecution and taking all necessary precautions for survival. When Jesus says, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39), He is not calling for people to make an attempt to lose their lives. Rather, He is calling us to be willing to lose our lives for His sake. Those who actively seek the path of martyrdom are not seeking it for the glory of God, but for their own glory. As the old saying goes, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. God's purpose in martyrdom is the glorification of His name and the building up of His church.

The 144,000:

The book of Revelation has always presented the interpreter with challenges. The book is steeped in vivid imagery and symbolism which people have interpreted differently depending on their preconceptions of the book as a whole. There are four main interpretive approaches to the book of Revelation: 1) preterist (which sees all or most of the events in Revelation as having already occurred by the end of the 1st century); 2) historicist (which sees Revelation as a survey of church history from apostolic times to the present); 3) idealist (which sees Revelation as a depiction of the struggle between good and evil); 4) futurist (which sees Revelation as prophecy of events to come). Of the four, only the futurist approach interprets Revelation in the same grammatical-historical method as the rest of Scripture. It is also a better fit with Revelation's own claim to be prophecy (Revelation 1:3; 22:7 ,10,18,19).

So the answer to the question "who are the 144,000?" will depend on which interpretive approach you take to the book of Revelation. With the exception of the futurist approach, all of the other approaches interpret the 144,000 symbolically, as representative of the church and the number 144,000 being symbolic of the totality—i.e., the complete number—of the church. Yet when taken at face value: "Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel" (
Revelation 7:4), nothing in the passage leads to interpreting the 144,000 as anything but a literal number of Jews—12,000 taken from every tribe of the "sons of Israel." The New Testament offers no clear cut text replacing Israel with the church.

These Jews are "sealed," which means they have the special protection of God from all of the divine judgments and from the Antichrist to perform their mission during the tribulation period (see
Revelation 6:17), in which people will wonder who can stand from the wrath to come). The tribulation period is a future seven-year period of time in which God will enact divine judgment against those who reject Him and will complete His plan of salvation for the nation of Israel. All of this is according to God's revelation to the prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:24–27). The 144,000 Jews are a sort of "first fruits" (Revelation 14:4) of a redeemed Israel which has been previously prophesied (Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:25–27), and their mission seems to be to evangelize the post-rapture world and proclaim the gospel during the tribulation period. As a result of their ministry, millions—"a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language" (Revelation 7:9)—will come to faith in Christ.

Much of the confusion regarding the 144,000 is a result of the false doctrine of the
Jehovah's Witnesses. The Jehovah's Witnesses claim that 144,000 is a limit to the number of people who will reign with Christ in heaven and spend eternity with God. The 144,000 have what the Jehovah's Witnesses call the heavenly hope. Those who are not among the 144,000 will enjoy what they call the earthly hope—a paradise on earth ruled by Christ and the 144,000. Clearly, we can see that Jehovah's Witness teaching sets up a caste society in the afterlife with a ruling class (the 144,000) and those who are ruled. The Bible teaches no such "dual class" doctrine. It is true that according to Revelation 20:4 there will be people ruling in the millennium with Christ. These people will be comprised of the church (believers in Jesus Christ), Old Testament saints (believers who died before Christ's first advent), and tribulation saints (those who accept Christ during the tribulation). Yet the Bible places no numerical limit on this group of people. Furthermore, the millennium is different from the eternal state, which will take place at the completion of the millennial period. At that time, God will dwell with us in the New Jerusalem. He will be our God and we will be His people (Revelation 21:3). The inheritance promised to us in Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14) will become ours, and we will all be co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

The Two Witnesses:

The two witnesses are found in Revelation 11:3-12: Some say these are the possibilities.

 

(1) Moses and Elijah, (2) Enoch and Elijah, (3) two unknown believers whom God calls to be His witnesses in the end times.

 

Moses and Elijah are seen as possibilities for the two witnesses due to the witnesses' power to turn water into blood (Revelation 11:6), which Moses is known for (Exodus chapter 7), and their power to destroy people with fire (Revelation 11:5), which Elijah is known for (2 Kings Chapter 1). Also giving strength to this view is the fact that Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:3-4). Further, Jewish tradition expected Moses and Elijah to return in the future. Malachi 4:5 predicted the return of Elijah, and the Jews believed that God's promise to raise up a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18) necessitated his return.

(2) Enoch and Elijah are seen as possibilities for the two witnesses because they are the two individuals whom God has taken to heaven apart from experiencing death (Genesis 5:23; 2 Kings 2:11). The fact that neither Enoch or Elijah have experienced death seems to qualify them to experience death and resurrection, as the two witnesses experience (Revelation 11:7-12). Proponents of this view claim that Hebrews 9:27 (all men die once) disqualifies Moses from being one of the two witnesses, as Moses has died once already (Deuteronomy 34:5). However, there are several others in the Bible who died twice—e.g., Lazarus, Dorcas, and the daughter of the synagogue ruler—so there is really no reason why Moses should be eliminated on this basis.

View (3) essentially argues that Revelation chapter 11 does not attach any famous identity to the two witnesses. If their identities were Moses and Elijah, or Enoch and Elijah, why would Scripture be silent about this? God is perfectly capable of taking two "ordinary" believers and enabling them to perform the same signs and wonders that Moses and Elijah did. There is nothing in Revelation 11 that requires us to assume a "famous" identity for the two witnesses.

 

I believe the two witnesses are Elijah and Moses. In Malachi 4:5-6, we are told that Elijah will come before Jesus returns. In I Kings 17, Elijah stopped the rain; and in Revelation 11:6, the witnesses "have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy." Another reason I believe it to be Elijah is because Elijah didn't die. Elijah was taken to heaven in a whirlwind of fire.  I believe the second witness to be Moses. In Exodus 7:20 and 21, Moses turned "the water into blood"; and in Revelation 11:6 the two witnesses are said to "have power over waters to turn them to blood (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). The body of Moses was preserved by God so that he might be restored. Finally, it is also significant that Elijah appeared with Moses in the Transfiguration.  It is possible to prove conclusively who these two witnesses are. But if they are not Moses and Elijah, we can know that they are very much like them and have the same kind of ministry. In Revelation 11:3, we are introduced to the two witnesses. There is much debate as to when these witnesses appear on the scene. I believe they begin their ministry at the beginning of the Tribulation, at the time the Antichrist makes his covenant with the Jewish people. We can assume they will have a great following.  Revelation 11:5 says, "If anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies." God has provided them with protection. These witnesses will have power over death, drought, and disease. They will preach about Christ as Lord of all the earth. They will shut the heavens so no rain can fall during their ministry, and they will have power to cause plagues as often as they desire. They will go about testifying of the wickedness of the people. They will tell the people that God is responsible for all the judgments that have been poured out. If that is not enough, they will tell them of more terrifying judgments to come. They will preach against the Beast of Revelation 13, and men try to destroy them because their witness exposes the wickedness of the earth.  After forty-two months, during which time they can-not be killed, they will be killed by the Beast who ascends from the bottomless pit. The two witnesses are so hated that the entire world will rejoice at their deaths. Their bodies will be put on public display. Their bodies will lie in the street for three and a half days (Revelation 11:7-10). In Biblical Jewish society this was an abomination. Their enemies will be ecstatic that someone has finally put an end to these two nemeses.  They are already decomposing and the next action we see is that they stand up!  The whole world will see this because they are looking in on the scene through the news and the papers. While they are the focus of world attention, they are not only resurrected, they are raptured (Revelation 11:12). They go up to heaven in "a cloud." This cloud is the shekinah glory of God. It is the same cloud in which the angel of Revelation 10:1 was clothed.

DID YOU KNOW?

The earliest examples of seals in the ancient world were small, carved designs pressed into soft clay. When the clay hardened, the letters, name, or image in the seal conveyed ownership, authority, blessing, or warning. The most common use of seals was similar to the stamp of a modern notary-to give a document official status.  Official clay tablets might be impressed with king's seal.  Centuries later, rolled-up vellum or parchment scrolls might be fastened with wax that bore a king's seal. The seal was to say, "Violation of this document is an act against the king." References to seals occur more than 50 times in Scriptures.

 

QUESTION:       WEEK # 6

What do the word martyrs means?

Who was the first Christian martyr?

How would you explain the persecution and martyrdom of those mentioned in Hebrews 11:35-38?

What is the primary reason a Christian would be martyred?

Name others in the Bible who was killed because of their faith.

How will the martyr be rewarded?

How must we prepare ourselves in case we are called upon by God for the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of Christ?

Who are the 144,000?

What does the sealed means concerning the 144,000?

Explain Zechariah 12:10, and Romans 11:25-27.

What is the mission of the 144,000?

Who are the two witnesses?

When will these witnesses appear?

What special powers will the two witnesses possess?

What will happen to the two witnesses?

 

 

SALVATION PRAYER:

 

Heavenly Father, I confess that I have sinned against You and need Your salvation. Please forgive me. I believe Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead.  I receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, fully trusting in the work He accomplished on the cross on my behalf.  Thank You for saving me, accepting me, and adopting me into Your family. Guide my life and help me to do your will, and walk in close step with You, amen.

 

In your name, Amen:

 

 

Reading Assignment:            Week # 6        Revelation 8-14          Monday through Sunday

Prayer Time

Prayer Time
Praying for Peace