Prophecy

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Can Christians Receive the Mark of the Beast?

Posted by on 07 Nov 2015 | Tagged as: Book of Revelation, Prophecy

Then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die. He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666 (Rev. 13:15-18 NLT).

Many believers walk in an inordinate amount of fear concerning the mark of the Beast. Their fear is deep, pervasive, and emotionally debilitating. Over the years, numerous questions have come up in my pastoral ministry as to the characteristics of the mark of the Beast mentioned in Rev. 13. Believers are anxious that they might be forced against their will to receive this dreaded mark. Is it possible for Christians to receive the mark of the Beast? Is the mark of the beast a tattoo, or a computer chip, or a bar code, etc.? Some despicable use of current computer technology? Should Christians fear the Second Coming of Christ because of the mark?

First, the context (Rev. 13:11-14:5) of the passage speaks of a mark of the beast and a seal of the Lamb. If you receive a tattoo or a computer chip for following the Beast, then in turn, you must also be given a tattoo or computer chip for following the Lamb. Present day End Times teaching emphasises the negative mark, Beast, not the positive seal, Lamb. What is true for the mark of the beast must also be true for the mark of the Lamb.

Second, the symbols in Revelation should be interpreted first by their counterpart in the Old Testament. The “mark” comes from Ezekiel 9:4-6, where an angel is instructed not to kill those who have the mark. The mark is invisible to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, it is seen and known only by God and the angels. The mark is indicative of the individual’s heartfelt allegiance to God. Notice that the “mark” is the Hebrew letter “taw” which is roughly the shape of a cross.

Third, the beast in the Book of Revelation is the city of Rome and her empire (Rev. 17:7-9), the “seven hills” would have been known in the first century as the “City of the Seven Hills,” Rome. Therefore, the beast, Caesar, is asking for lordship over the lives of all the Empire’s inhabitants. True believers refuse Rome’s domination for Christ is Lord over their lives. Several Caesars expected to be worshipped as a god, yet the early church only recognized Jesus as Lord and Savior of the world (Phil. 2:10-11; 3:20).

Last, the Roman Empire was so oppressive that only those who worship Caesar as divine were allowed to do business in the empire (Rev. 13:16-17). One’s allegiance is obvious by the way one worships, dresses, serves, and lives. You could not do business in Roman trade guilds if a citizen did not declare Caesar as Lord and eat food sacrificed to idols. Similarly, believers under communist rule in the Soviet Union suffered penalties during the dark days of the Cold War if they did not declare their loyalty to the State and their acceptance of atheism. The visible mark of Christian believers is the distinctive manner in which they live the life of love (John 13:35, 1 John, Epistle to Diognetus).

By way of application, the Beast today is any governmental authority who sets themselves up, over, and against faith in God and love of Christ. The Beast is any civil government that persecutes Christians and attempts to destroy the church. The Beast is idolatry and love of all worldly things: economic control, unbridled sex, and thirst for power. The love of the Beast and the seal of the Lamb are heart issues, therefore, unseen by men, except by their outward behavior.

Conclusion: The mark is invisible, seen only by God, nothing to be feared by believers, and indicative of one’s true allegiance: the systems of the world, Beast, or the Lordship of Jesus, the Lamb.

Like the other markings in Revelation, it seems to be symbolic (see comments on Rev. 3:12; 7:3; cf. 14:1; 17:5; 19:12; 22:4); some Jewish texts speak of a symbolic mark of destruction on the forehead of the wicked (Psalms of Solomon 15:9) in contrast to the mark of the righteous (15:6). Some interpreters have nevertheless seen a tangible expression of allegiance to the world system; in at least the last two major imperial persecutions of Christians, both in the third century, certificates were issued to those who had fulfilled the mandated rite of emperor worship. But the text may simply imply a figurative slave brand identifying to whom a person belongs — God or the world. Participation in idolatry appeared to be almost an economic necessity in many cities in Asia Minor (see comment on 2:18-29), and John warns that commercial discrimination would grow more severe, alongside the graver danger of martyrdom.

Craig S. Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).

Mary, Anna, and the Prophetic Word

Posted by on 08 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: Blessed Virgin Mary, Christmas, Prophecy

And there was a prophetess, Anna . . . . She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38

Anna, a female prophet, lived her life in the Temple courts: she was dedicated to worship, fasting, and praying. Anna represents wholehearted devotion to God and commitment to enjoying his presence (Luke 2:37).

Like Simeon, her fellow prophet (Luke 2:25-35) spending time in God’s presence means knowing God’s heart, and to know God’s heart is to hear his voice, and to hear God’s voice is know his ways (Isa. 55:8-9). Immediately after Simeon’s word, Anna confirms that this child will bring about the redemption of Israel (Luke 2:38). To be the redeemer of Israel is to be the Messiah, the chosen one, who would free Israel from her bondage. Anna’s word further confirms to Mary and Joseph that the God of Israel has major plans for their son, bigger plans than they can imagine.

Luke does not record the Blessed Virgin Mary’s response to these two prophetic words, but we know that in another situation, she chose the “ponder these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19 KJV). Pondering is not passivity. Pondering says to God, “I trust your prophetic word, I may not understand it, therefore I will not talk about God’s instruction until he reveals its meaning to me.” Pondering is faith, pondering is waiting on God, pondering is giving God opportunity and time.

The season of Advent is a unique time for hearing and obeying God’s prophetic word. Like Simeon and Anna, we are called to Spirit-waiting, Spirit-listening, Spirit-anticipation, and Spirit-obedience. Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are called to Father-directed submission, Spirit-led action, and Christ-follower trust.

We may not identify with Anna’s call to prophecy or her living situation, yet her commitment to the Spiritual Disciplines of prayer, fasting, and worship–a life focused in mind, body, and activity on engaging God–is a commitment we all can pursue.

“Anna,” The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, New Revised Standard Version with Deuterocanonical Books, eds., Richard J. Foster, Dallas Willard, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene H. Peterson (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989), 1889.

Mary, Simeon, and the Prophetic Word

Posted by on 06 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: Advent, Blessed Virgin Mary, Christmas, Prophecy

 

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’

Luke 2:34-35

On this blog, we have discussed the word of prophecy (1 Cor. 12: 10), its importance during the season of Advent, and how to respond when given a confirmed prophetic word. Today’s post focuses on the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model for receiving and acting on prophetic words. Luke 2:25-40 describes two prophetic ministers, Anna and Simeon, reaching out to Mary when the baby Jesus is being presented at the Temple for circumcision.

Simeon was united in Christ in righteousness, “righteous and devout” (v. 25a), yielded to Christ trusting his delay, “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25b), and remained in Christ enjoying his manifested presence, “Holy Spirit was upon him” (v. 25c). Simeon was intimate with God for Simeon knew his voice, “you would not die” until he sees Messiah (v. 26), and Simeon was led by the Spirit for he was directed by the Spirit “into the Temple courts” (v. 27).

Simeon’s prophetic word consisted of two parts: public in Temple (v. 29-32) and private to Mary (v. 34-35).The public pronouncement focuses on Jesus–God’s salvation found in the baby. This salvation is for the Gentiles and the Jews bringing about the healing of the nations.

Simeon’s personal word to Mary is strangely negative: the proud, self-absorbed, self-assured, and hard-hearted will be revealed (v34-35). Israel will resist Jesus’ ministry, and as result, their worldly, unbelieving hearts will be exposed.  In turn, Israel’s rejection of Mary’s son, the Son of God, will break her heart as well. [Stephen D. Swihart, ed., Logos International Bible Commentary(Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1981), 439.

Some may ask why Simeon’s word of prophecy is negative in tone, “Are not all prophecies to be ‘strengthening, encouraging, and comforting'” (1 Cor. 14:3)? “Are not all prophecies to be positive and uplifting”? A prophecy can contain a rebuke, correction, or warning and still be comforting and healing. When Jesus corrects or rebukes, he also gives the grace, the Holy Spirit’s enabling power, to obey his word of command. Jesus gives prophetic words to the seven churches of Asia: five of the seven are rebuked or corrected for their lack of holiness, obedience, or perseverance. Yet, all five are encouraged, graced, and offered a reward for choosing obedience (Rev. 2 & 3).

Simeon’s warning to Mary is the Holy Spirit’s way of helping Mary avoid the pain and shock of unexpected suffering and rejection. It is good that Mary knows now that her precious child’s future death will break her heart in the most painful of ways–the Cross.

Simeon and Anna are the senior citizens of Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth, and they know and understand more than anyone else. Of all the people that Jerusalem’s streets were teeming with the day that Jesus was named–the rich, the powerful, the young, the holy,–only Simeon and Anna are given insight into who is being carried into the Temple courts in his parent’s arms. In fact, they know more than Mary or Joseph, who are astonished at what Simeon says about Jesus. It is clear that God has placed great value on Anna and Simeon and that he does not think he is wasting the Holy Spirit on two seniors who have passed the prime of life.

Murray Andrew Pura, “Luke,” in The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, New Revised Standard Version with Deuterocanonical Books, eds., Richard J. Foster, Dallas Willard, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene H. Peterson (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989), 1887.

Stone the False Prophet

Posted by on 09 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Gift of Prophecy, Prophecy, Prophets, Wayne Grudem

Why Not Stone the False Prophets?

But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death. You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

Deut. 18:20-22 NIV

Often, I am asked the question, “If New Testament prophecy exists today, why do you guys (i.e., Charismatics and Pentecostals) not stone the prophets when they are obviously wrong in their predictions”? To begin to answer this question, we need to examine the difference between an Old Testament prophet and present day New Testament prophetic ministry.

In the Old Testament the prescription was clear (Deut. 18:20-22). If a prophet failed in his prophecy, he dies because his words did not come to fruition. Clear, tangible, visible evidence assisted the observers in discerning whether a prophecy was true or false.

The Holy Spirit was not present individually in the lives of the Israelites, the only means available for discernment was outward evidence. If the “word of the Lord” came true, the prophet was from the Lord. If the prediction was false, the prophet was false and must be killed before he or she deceives and misleads hundreds, if not, thousands of people.

Today, however, any New Testament believer has within him (or her) the presence of the Holy Spirit. Since, the Holy Spirit is resident within, then are all the spiritual gifts are available to every believer (1 Cor. 12). One of those resident gifts is the spirit of discernment (1 Cor. 12: 10): this gift assists each believer and the whole body to discern whether a prophetic word is from the Lord, the flesh, or even the devil (1 Cor. 14: 29). Thus, we are able to weigh whether a prophetic word is valid by an inner witness (1 John 4: 1-3, 1 Cor. 14:29).

Therefore, we no longer need piles of stones outside our church doors. The Lord himself guides a congregation to accept or reject a prophetic word or ministry.

In 1 Corinthians 14:29 it seems that the prophet’s words could be challenged and questioned, and that the prophet could at times be wrong. Yet there is no indication that an occasional mistake would make him a ‘false’ prophet. In 1 Corinthians 14:30, Paul seems unconcerned that some of a prophet’s words could be lost for ever and never heard by the church.

In 1 Corinthians 14:36, he refuses the prophets the right to make rules for worship other than the ones he has given, and in 1 Corinthians 14:37-38 he seems to indicate that, in his opinion, no Corinthian prophet had a kind of divine authority equal to his own. Finally, in 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Paul allows women to prophesy while denying to them the right to enforce obedience or belief on the congregation, and this would be consistent with the view that prophets spoke with something less than ‘absolute’ divine authority.

Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988), 87.

Prophetic Ministry

Posted by on 05 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Gift of Prophecy, Holy Spirit, Jack Deere, Prophecy, Prophets, Spiritual Gifts

Prophetic Ministry

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers . . . .

Eph. 4:11

A prophet is a male or female called by God to hear his voice, display in his or her life that message, and proclaim that word to the people of God. A prophet is anointed to be a voice of encouragement and correction to the Body of Christ by exhorting God’s people to walk in holiness of life and obedience to the Word of God (Amos 3:7, Eph. 4:11, Acts 21:7-14). Not every believer is a prophet, but every believer can exercise the gift of prophecy. Prophetic ministry still exists today, but the prophets must be accountable to the governing authorities of their local church (1 Cor. 14:36-40).

We do have prophetically gifted people in the church today. Some of the most gifted of these can regularly predict the future, tell you the secrets of your heart, receive accurate impressions and dreams, see accurate visions, and some are even used to do miracles. I don’t really care what we call these people, as long as we are wise enough to see the value of their ministries and benefit from them.

Since the beginning of the New Testament church, God has given prophetically gifted ministers to each generation of believers, just as he has always given evangelists, pastors, and teachers.

Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 69.

Evaluating a Word of Prophecy

Posted by on 04 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Gift of Discernment, Gift of Prophecy, Holy Spirit, Jack Deere, Prophecy, Spiritual Gifts

Assessing a Word of Prophecy

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

1 Cor. 14:29

Every believer can prophesy because every believer has indwelling within him or her the presence of the Holy Spirit. The word of prophecy has not ceased because the Holy Spirit has not stopped being our advocate, counselor, and guide (1 Thes. 5:19-22). In addition, the Holy Spirit endows every believer with the gift of discernment.

Evaluating a word of prophecy involves three elements: revelation, interpretation, and application. Revelation: Is a prophetic word genuinely from the Holy Spirit having a sense of eternity? Interpretation: What does the word mean to us? The correct interpretation is important as the revelation. Application: What do we do with this word?

The gift of discernment is insight from the Holy Spirit which enables a believer to know whether a practice, teaching, or gifting is from God, Satan, or a manifestation of the flesh (Luke 10:19, Acts 16:17-18, 1 Cor. 12:10). The Holy Spirit has not only graced the Body of Christ with prophetic guidance, but also, he has granted the church the ability to weigh prophetic words. Is a prophetic word from the Lord or simply a human creation? Is a prophetic word eternal, genuinely from the Lord, or a manifestation of the flesh, an emotional working up of concern? Could it be possible that a prophetic word is a distraction from Satan?

The gift of discernment operates in the congregation and within the leadership of the local church. This gift is enables the congregation to identify the source, content, and intent of a prophetic word. Individually, discernment is a check in one’s spirit with a question mark in one’s mind. A prophetic word may sound right, but does not register in our spirits as being from the Lord.

Certainly in these Last Days, the church needs the gift of discernment more than ever before. All types of false teaching and wrong-headed leadership are attempting to subvert local churches. We are not only called to discern, but are commanded to do so. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1-2).

One aspect of discernment is the ability to judge not by what our eyes see, or our ears hear, but with righteousness through the Holy Spirit (Isa. 11: 2-4). The Holy Spirit can show us whether or not predictions will come true. But this is not the highest level of discernment that he has to offer the church.

The Spirit of Truth is given to the church, especially its leadership, what promotes the love, testimony, and glory of Jesus. If the leadership of the church would follow resolutely after these three things—the love of Jesus, the testimony of Jesus, and the glory of Jesus—it would be very difficult for them to be deceived.”

Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 198.

The Word of Prophecy

Posted by on 03 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Gift of Prophecy, Holy Spirit, Prophecy, Spiritual Gifts

The Word of Prophecy

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

1 Cor 14:1 ESV

Today, many believers express confusion and consternation over the nature and purpose of the charismatic gift of the word of prophecy (1 Cor 12:10; 14:1-5). We will examine the gift of prophecy and prophetic ministry over the next several days.

The word of prophecy is spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, intelligible speech, orally-delivered to the church gathered intended for the building up of the people of God. In other words, the gift of prophecy is not planned, we cannot make the Holy Spirit give us a word. Properly, the word is not self-generated, but insight and instruction from the heart of God for the people of God. Biblically, the word of prophecy is shared by an individual for the whole Body of Christ in a language that everyone can understand. A word of prophecy, even if given to just one individual, should be submitted to the whole congregation for discernment (1 Cor. 14:29).

Prophecy can be both foretelling, insights into the plans of God; and forthtelling, God’s word for our present circumstances. Prophecy is an important gift for the Apostle Paul encouraged us to “earnestly desire” the gift of prophecy (1 Cor 14: 1) and prophecy has the ability to “strengthen, encourage, and comfort” the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 14: 3). New Testament prophecy is not inspired like scripture, but insights from the Lord for personal guidance and corporate direction.

In its broad meaning, prophecy is simply God communicating His thoughts and intents to mankind. When a true prophecy is given, the Holy Spirit inspires someone to communicate God’s pure and exact words to the individual or group for whom they are intended. It is delivered without any additions or subtractions by the one prophesying, including any applications or interpretations suggested by the one speaking. To be most effective, it must also be delivered in God’s timing and with the proper spirit or attitude.

Bill Hamon, Prophets and Personal Prophecy (Santa Rosa Beach, FL: Christian International, 1987), 29.

On Reading the Book of Revelation (Updated)

Posted by on 20 Apr 2010 | Tagged as: Apocalyptic, Prophecy, Second Coming

Apocalyptic Literature

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

Rev.1:1-3

Apocalyptic writing tells a symbolic story by which eternal insight is given by an angel to a visionary prophet. This heavenly perspective explains God’s eternal purposes to a church that is struggling on earth with persecution, oppression, trials, and sorrow. Apocalyptic literature uses powerful images to prick the imagination and draw the reader into God’s eternal perspective on the events of this world.

First, seventy per cent of the symbols’ meaning are drawn from the original context of  the Old Testament’s use of that symbol. Second, John’s symbols are also pulled from the contemporary Roman world using pagan images to illustrate sources of evil in the world. Third in our culture, we tend to think of symbols as meaning something less than real or true. John’s symbols are intended to convey deep theological meaning while simultaneously impacting our spirits and emotions. We tend to read a text “literally” as opposed to reading it “symbolically” as if a literal interpretation makes the text more true. In the Bible, symbols are understood to be just as “true” as other more historical or literary passages.

Before Apocalyptic literature can be applied to our day, the text must be read in the light of its original context. In other words, the writing must make sense to the readers of the first century before it speaks to a reader in the twenty-first century.

Apocalyptic literature was written not only to inform the church, but to impact believers’ emotions and encourage their spirits as well. We need to read the Book of Revelation with our hearts as well as our minds. Apocalyptic literature is designed to uplift our emotions by strengthening our wills with the truth of God’s sovereign grace and the power of his redeeming Cross.

What then is the Book of Revelation’s message?

1. That God is awesomely majestic, as well as sovereign in all our troubles.

2. That Jesus’ sacrifice as the Lamb ultimately brings complete deliverance for those who trust in him.

3. That God’s judgements on the world are often to serve notice on the world that God will avenge his people.

4. That regardless of how things appear in the short run, “sin does not go unpunished,” and God will judge.

5. That God can accomplish his purposes through a small and persecuted remnant; he is not dependent on what the world values as power.

6. That worship leads us from grief over our sufferings to God’s eternal purposes seen from a heavenly perspective.

7. That proclaiming Christ invited persecution, the normal state of committed believers in this age.

8. That Christ is worth dying for.

9. That a radical contrast exists between the God’s kingdom (exemplified in the bride, the new Jerusalem) and the world’s values (exemplified in the prostitute, Babylon).

10. That the hope God has prepared for us exceeds our present sufferings.

11. That God’s plan and church ultimately include representatives of all peoples.

Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIVAC(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 41.