Preachers: don’t believe everything you see!

Have you seen the memes that go like this?

A pastor friend just mentioned something that I had also wondered, that the figure 365 seemed really high! So I ran it through my Bible software, and within a few minutes found that the number indeed was way off.[1]

“Fear not” is a Kings-James-ism; the NET and the NASB versions each have it a few times, the other modern versions do not, including the New KJV; the earlier English versions do use it: Douay-Rheims, Coverdale Bible, Geneva Bible. So, checking the KJV, I would say that are exactly 70 examples of the phrase “fear not.” But only around 44 are in the sense of, “Fear not, because God is with you,” as said by God or some messenger. The other 26 examples are more mundane: “Fear not, your baby is almost born” (Gen 35:17) and other things.[2]

33 “fear nots” are from the Old Testament, 11 from the New Testament; Isaiah is the winner with eight instances; taken together, the Nativity stories of Matthew and Luke have four.

#1 is this well-known verse: “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Gen 15:1

#44, the last, is Rev 1:17 – “And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last.”

Even if one expanded the search to include other versions of the phrase (“do not be afraid,” for example), one does not attain the magic number of 365.

That is to say, the Bible has 365 “Fear not” passages if and only if you own nine copies of the King James Bible.

Of course, if one wanted to say that there are hundreds of verses which, whether they use the specific phrase “fear not” or not, serve to allay our fears with God’s promises, they will get no argument from me! To begin with, Matt 6:34 – “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” My point here is not to be finicky with regard to the semantics, but rather that, (1) it’s too easy to pass along “facts” without checking them, and (2) that preachers especially, more than are the laity, are under an obligation to check the facts before repeating them.

PS – To mention another “fact”: I have lately seen “Prophecy Experts” claiming that unless the United States backs the permanent unification of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Palestinians, then they will fall under God’s final judgment. This is based on “… there will I deal with and execute judgment upon them for their treatment of My people and of My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations and because they have divided My land” (Joel 3:2).[3] In my opinion this is a poor interpretation indeed of the Joel passage; but my point here, again, is that the preacher who hears this being passed around is under obligation to determine for him/herself whether this really means that Jerusalem must be the capital of the modern State of Israel and not (simultaneously) the capital of a Palestinian state.

NOTES:

[1] Here is one example among many: https://www.christianpost.com/news/rick-warren-why-god-encourages-christians-to-fear-not-365-times-in-the-bible-163029/

[2] Here is the list of 44: Genesis 15:1, 21:17, 26:24, 46:3, Exod 20:20, Deut 1:21, 20:3, 31:6, 31:8, Josh 8:1, 10:25, Judges 6:23, Ruth 3:11, 1 Sam 12:20, 22:23, 2 Kings 6:16, 1 Chron 28:20, 2 Chron 20:17, Psalm 78:53, Isaiah 7:4, 35:4, 41:13, 41:14, 43:1, 43:5, 44:2, 54:4, Jeremiah 46:27, Lamentations 3:57, Daniel 10:12, Daniel 10:19, Joel 2:21, Zech 8:13, Matthew 1:20, 28:5, Luke 1:13, 1:30, 2:10, 5:10, 8:50, 12:7, John 12:15, Acts 27:24, Revelation 1:17. The verse mentioned in the second meme, Joshua 1:9, has “fear not” only in the older Catholic Bible, the Douay-Rheims.

[3] Here is one of the more extreme versions of this idea, but in all honesty I have not found anyone who takes this viewpoint do anything better with these key Old Testament passages. David Jeremiah takes a similar view.

“Preachers: don’t believe everything you hear!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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Revelation Part 21 – There’s Good News AND there’s Bad News

Revelation Part 21

Revelation Ch. 10

Matthew 3:1-12

There’s Good news and there’s Bad news

By all accounts, chapters 8 & 9 in the Revelation have been pretty harrowing.

Ch. 8 begins with the opening of the 7th seal of the scroll introduced in Ch. 5 – which scroll contains the whole program of God’s redemptive plan right up to the very end of this present existence as we know it. Both God’s final judgment on all sin – human and angelic, and the fulfillment of all of God’s promised blessings on those who are reconciled to Him in Christ by means of faith in Jesus’ atoning, substitutionary death on The Cross.

As each seal was opened, we saw more and more of what has to unfold in bringing things to this end.

Now as we enter into Ch. 10, we encounter something in the structure of the book that we’ve seen once before – a pattern that is helpful in unpacking this rather puzzling chapter.

You’ll recall that Ch. 6 contained the opening of 6 of the 7 seals. Then, Ch. 7 introduces some sort of break before the 7th seal is opened in Ch. 8.

This break in the action of opening the seals is a sort of breather for the reader. It brings a much needed shift of perspective.

The 6 seals reveal that there is going to be a lot of disruption on earth and suffering of all kinds as God brings His plan to completion.

Then Ch. 7 takes us into the heavenlies again to witness God marking out His saints so that while these judgments are being poured out – Believers are brought safely through. It lets us breathe a giant sigh of relief.

Now, this pattern repeats. At the opening of the 7th seal in 8, the 7 trumpets begin to sound. Ch.s 8 & 9 present an extended period and series of announced warnings about the coming judgments. One after another they expand on the nature of those coming judgments, including the introduction of how demonic deception on a massive scale afflicts mankind.

They are bleak, frightful and disturbing chapters. Huge numbers of humanity being tormented and dying, along with natural disasters ramping up and all this demonic affliction – and just as we’ve hit our limit for taking in the horror of it all – just before the 7th trumpet finally sounds – we get another much needed break.

Another chance to catch our breath. To reflect on what we’ve seen, and recollect our thoughts some.

Ch. 10 like 7 shifts the scene somewhat to give comfort and instruction to God’s people so that we are not overwhelmed by the content of the previous 2 chapters. And thus it proves to be very instructive, useful and clarifying. It restores some very much needed perspective.

Sweetly and wonderfully as God speaks to us here, we’re taken to what could be – in terms of the message alone – a stand alone chapter, but one filling a most important role at a critical time in the Revelation. In fact, the 7th and last trumpet won’t be blown until the middle of Ch. 11. So we want to capitalize on the break God gives, and see what He’s prepared. We want to soak in some of the good news that accompanies the bad news we’ve been steeped in.

And this all comes to us by way of a vision of another mighty angel that God sends. Now watch the interesting series that unfold here.

Revelation 10:1–11 (ESV)

  1. 1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.

Once again, God sends an angel, a mighty angel it says here, to represent some things, and to declare some things.

Notice the first 4 features John wants us to see:

  1. He is wrapped in a cloud.
  2. He has a rainbow over his head.
  3. His face was like the sun.
  4. His legs were like pillars of fire.

This is quite a sight! And just what it all means seems to be wrapped up in a series of couplets. I’ll come back to that later.

  1. Next John notes: 2 He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land,

4 more features:

  1. A little scroll open in his hand – contrasted to the sealed scroll that was in God’s hand.
  2. This is in the angel’s hand, not God’s.
  3. He has his right foot on the sea.
  4. He has his left foot on the land.

III. 3-4 and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.”

  1. He called out with a loud voice. But we don’t know what he said.
  2. His voice was like a lion as opposed to the many waters of God’s voice in ch. 1.
  3. Upon his crying, 7 thunders sounded.
  4. We don’t know what they said – in fact, contrary to how John was told to write down what God said in the beginning of the book, he is forbidden to write down what is said here.
  5. 5-7 And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
  6. The angel lifted hand and swore to God. He does not speak as God.
  7. He swore there should be no more delay.
  8. He says that in the days of the 7th trumpet, the mystery of God would be fulfilled.
  9. He links this announcement to other prophecies as their fulfillment.
  10. 8-11 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
  11. God instructs John to take the scroll.
  12. God tells John to eat the scroll and that it will be sweet and bitter.
  13. John eats the scroll and it is sweet and bitter.
  14. John is told his ministry isn’t over.

Well now – just what are supposed to do with all of this?

The key to that question I believe is found in the pattern which is repeated so many times.

Just as this chapter follows the pattern we saw above, so too this chapter trades on its own repeated image: An image of both blessing and cursing at the same time.

This is a similar duality to the promise of Jesus’ ministry who John the Baptizer said that when He was come would both bless and judge in His blowing, separating the chaff from the grain.

Matthew 3:1–12 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The picture there is clear. Jesus is the one who will one day come to separate the wheat from the chaff – the true Believers from those who are merely religionists.

And when He sends the Spirit to blow at Pentecost, He will begin the process of removing that which has no weight and substance from that which does – and bind it up the chaff and burn it.

i.e. He will bless the Believers with the moving of the Spirit, which will also serve as part of the judgment of unbelievers. The two occur simultaneously through the singular action of the Spirit.

So in Rev. 10 – There is great judgment being poured out on sin and sinners, but there is also blessing and faithfulness to be seen for those who are righteous in Christ Jesus!

Let’s go back to the text to see that demonstrated in just 6 of instances in the vision shown to John.

  1. Revelation 10:1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.

The angel is sent from heaven, and he is wrapped in a cloud.

This motif of clouds and judgment is a common one throughout the OT.

Isaiah 19:1 An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.

Ezekiel 30:3 For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.

Joel 2:1–2 Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.

But what happens after the rain and the clouds begin to dissipate?

RAINBOWS! Rainbows appear at the same time as rainclouds. At the very time of God’s judgment, there also appears the sign of His loving and unbreakable covenant with His people.

Blessing and cursing at one and the same time. Judgment and blessing are bound up together.

  1. Then we see something of this same parallelism again: Revelation 10:1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.

There is light and revelation in the angel’s face, even as there is the fire of judgment in his legs.

  1. Then too: Revelation 10:2 He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land,

The angel steps on the mysterious sea as well as on solid land. There is both revelation and mystery. Not all is fully revealed. But God is God over the unstable and the mysterious even as He is God over the solid and the concrete.

A wonderful representation of why we can trust Him in those dark days of judgment.

  1. Revelation 10:4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.”

The angel cries out and it is loud and like the roar of a lion. But when the 7 thunders roar, their message is not to be written down.

And so we are given a graphic representation of how God speaks, but not everything is equally revealed and accessible to us yet.

It is a warning not to over-interpret prophecy, and to trust God even though we don’t know all the details.

  1. Revelation 10:5–7 And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.

There is a sworn-to time set for fulfilling the mystery, but it is not all at once, but rather, an era. “IN THE DAYS” of the 7th trumpet. It is not an event, but an era. How long or how short we are not told. But we’re given hope in the picture of a sworn promise and the insight of a period in which this will all come to pass.

  1. Revelation 10:8–10 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.

The little scroll is sweet to the taste, but makes the stomach bitter.

God’s Word is both sweet to us in it’s Gospel blessing, but also teaches us the bitterness of sin and judgment. These must be taken together.

This duality is not contradictory, but to be held in tension until the end. And it keeps us from being overwhelmed in the hard times, and overconfident in the good times.

“Behold the kindness and the severity of the Lord” Paul says in Rom. 11:22.

This is a view of God the world cannot comprehend. God must be either ALL loving in many people’s minds, or He appears harsh and cruel and to be hated or disregarded by others.

But of course, He is holy, and loving and good, AND just, and faithful and cannot ignore sin.

So it is the same God who judges sin, also provides His Son as the ransom for our souls in His death on Calvary – and demands the Gospel of His grace be freely preached to His enemies, and those under His just wrath.

It is central concept to the Gospel itself.

Romans 1:16–18 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

The Gospel isn’t good news in any sense, unless we know that there is bad news which makes the Gospel the good news that it is in contrast.

The bad news is, humanity is under God’s curse – and has been ever since our race rebelled together in Adam against God’s absolute rights over us as made in His image. A curse that will end in final, eternal judgment.

Out of the very many places where this Gospel duality shows itself in wondrous clarity – let me show you just 2 in closing:

The bad news is: Isaiah 53:6a All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;

Isa. 53:6b and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

John 3:36a – The good news is: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life;

John 3:36b The bad news is: whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

And so we call everyone in the sound of our voice today – to acknowledge the bad news of their sin and condemnation, that they might also know in all reality – the really good news: Jesus died for sinners, and forgives all who come to Him in faith.

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