Rising Tide: A Way to Understand Prophecy in Revelation
Copyright 2018 by Bob Rogers
For three decades as a preacher and teacher, I have studied and taught the Book of Revelation. I have sought to balance symbolism with the literal return of Jesus Christ. One of the thorniest questions has been, How do we understand the chronological sequence of prophecy in Revelation? The most helpful way to see it is what I call the “Rising Tide” theory. Let me explain why I think this, and then explain the theory.
The problem: As one studies the Revelation, we notice that in numerous places, the prophecies seem to describe the end times long before the end of the book. Revelation 6:17 speaks of how the great day of wrath has come, and that’s in the very first chapter of prophecy after the Lamb breaks open the seals! Revelation 11:19 says that God’s temple in heaven opened, preparing for the end, yet in the next chapter, Revelation 12, the gospel story is repeated from heaven’s viewpoint with the images of the birth and resurrection of Christ. Revelation 14:14-20 speaks of the harvest of God’s judgment (again sounding like the end), but then the following chapters revert back, coming to a climax in Revelation 19 with the rider coming on white horse (Jesus), the beast (antichrist) and false prophet cast into lake of fire. From that point forward, the chronology in chapters 20-22 appears to follow a direct line to the end, with Satan bound a thousand years, then thrown into lake of fire, and a new heaven and new earth, and invitation to respond.
The “Rising Tide” explanation: How are we to find a chronological order of prophecy in all of this? Instead of seeing the prophecies in chapters 6 and following as a straight line chronological order, I think we should interpret them like the waves during the rising tide of the seashore. That is, the prophecies appear to move near the end, then go back and repeat, each time coming close to the end times, just as the rising tide comes in waves to the seashore, receding, then coming farther in, receding again but eventually coming in farther and farther. I believe this interpretation honors the reality of the text, taking seriously the symbolism but also trusting in its truthfulness. Revelation is a powerful book, inspired by God to steadily wash over us with our need to have our names written in His book of life. By repeatedly warning us of the end, instead of just one description of the end, the constant waves of its truth have a greater affect on our hearts to fall down in worship before the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
Twisted scripture: “The curse of Canaan,” used to justify racism
Copyright by Bob Rogers
Canaan be cursed. He will be the lowest of slaves to his brothers. – Genesis 9:25, CSB
One of the most despicable distortions of the Bible in all of history, was the use of Genesis 9:25 to justify enslaving the African people.
According to Genesis, shortly after Noah and his sons survived the flood, Noah got drunk and was lying naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham, saw his father naked and told his two brothers. The two brothers took a cloak and walked backwards into the tent to cover their father while showing him respect by not looking at him. Genesis 9:24-27 says that when Noah awoke and learned what his youngest son had done, he cursed Ham’s descendants by cursing his son Canaan, saying he should be the slave of the descendants of the other sons.
This verse has been used to justify African slavery by those who claimed Canaan was the ancestor of Africans, and that Negroes were destined to be slaves of Caucasians. Since Genesis 10: 6 mentions that one of Ham’s sons was Cush, generally identified with Ethiopia, he has been falsely identified with Ham’s other son Canaan, as though both were African. However, the curse was on Canaan, not Cush, and Genesis 10:15-19 says that the descendants of Canaan included the Jebusites, Amorites and the settlers of Sodom and Gomorrah. All of these are well documented as being in Palestine, not Africa. The Amorites were so evil that Genesis 15:16 says, “the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (This full measure eventually was punished when Joshua entered the land to destroy this people, who were known for such evils as child sacrifice.) As for Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19 tells the story of the destruction of those cities due to their homosexual perversion.
Not only did the curse of Noah apply to Canaan and not Cush, but a prejudice against a descendant of Cush is specifically condemned in scripture. Numbers 12:1-16 tells how Moses own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, criticized Moses for marrying a Cushite woman, and the Lord became angry with Aaron and Miriam, cursing Miriam with leprosy for speaking against Moses and his Cushite wife. There are many other scriptures that condemn racism and teach that God does not show favoritism, showing how God accepts people from every race and nation who follow Him (Genesis 12:2-3; 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 96:3; Isaiah 2:2; 56:6-7, Jonah 4:11; Acts 10:34-35, Galatians 2:11-14, Colossians 3:11, James 2:1-4, Revelation 7:9).
Thus, not only is it a devilish distortion of scripture to say that Africans were cursed to be slaves, it is also a correct conclusion from scripture to say that those who practice racism against Africans (or any other people) are cursed!
Twisted scripture: “by His stripes we are healed”
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the fifth blog post in a series on scriptures commonly misinterpreted.)
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5, NKJV
I often meet people praying for the sick who claim Isaiah 53:5 as a promise that God will heal any sickness if they pray for it in faith. Their logic is straightforward: the prophet said that the Messiah would be crucified for our sins, “and by His stripes we are healed.” Thus, they conclude, the verse is saying that Jesus’ cross has two effects: first, Christ paid for our sins, and second, He also heals our diseases, if we pray in faith. After all, they reason, didn’t Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well?” (Mark 5:34).
Is this really what Isaiah 53:5 is teaching? Does it teach a two-part effect of the cross: a healing from both sin and sickness? This interpretation fails to take into consideration the kind of Hebrew poetic writing used here, often called Hebrew parallelism. That is, the Hebrew poet frequently says the same thing twice in slightly different ways, for emphasis. We see this in many psalms, such as, “While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have being” (Psalm 146:2). If this is Hebrew parallelism, then the second part means the same thing as the first part, and the first part says the Messiah was wounded for our transgressions, not our sickness. But what if this is not Hebrew parallelism?
Here is where we need to apply a very important but often neglected principle of Bible interpretation: scripture itself is the best interpreter of other scripture. So what does the rest of the Bible say on this subject?
The New Testament frequently discusses the effect of the cross of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:24-25 speaks of how Jesus’ blood justifies us from sin, redeems us from sin, and presents Jesus as a sacrifice for our sin. Ephesians 1:7 says His blood gives us forgiveness from our sin. Colossians 1:20-22 says Jesus made peace through the blood of His cross, in order to present you “holy and blameless” before God. Many other scriptures talk about how the cross of Christ offers salvation from sin, but nowhere does the New Testament say that the cross of Christ brings healing from sickness.
Is Isaiah 53:5 directly quoted anywhere else in the Bible? Yes, it is, in 1 Peter 2:24. Here it is:
“Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”
If Isaiah 53:5 was intended to be a prophecy that Jesus’ cross would heal from sickness as well as sin, then when Peter quoted that very same verse, surely Peter would have mentioned the effect of the cross on sickness. Yet it is not there. Read the verse again. It says Jesus “bore our sins in His own body…” It continues, “that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness.” After making reference to sin twice, Peter then quoted Isaiah 53:5: “by whose stripes you were healed.” There is no question what kind of healing Peter understood Isaiah to mean. He already said it twice: healing from our sins.
Remember this important principle: the best interpreter of scripture is other scripture, not a human preacher or teacher. Should we pray for the sick? Yes, we are commanded to do so (Matthew 10:8; James 5:14). Is God able to heal the sick? Yes, and He often chooses to do so, although not always (Acts 5:16; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). However, does Isaiah 53:5 teach that the cross of Christ is a promise of physical healing for us to claim in faith? Based on the interpretation of scripture itself, we can only conclude that it is a promise for one type of healing– the greatest kind of all– from our sin.
Twisted scripture: “the truth shall make you free”
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the fourth blog post in a series on scriptures commonly misinterpreted.)
President James A. Garfield said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” The president was making a humorous allusion to the famous words of Jesus in John 8:32.
Unfortunately, this Bible verse is often taken out of context John 8:32: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” This verse is engraved on courthouse entrances, implying that if a wise court can grant freedom by finding truth. This verse is cited by educators to say that knowledge is freedom, and it is quoted by investigative reporters who believe that freedom can be found in digging up the truth. While all of these are worthy goals, these interpretations ignore the verse immediately before it. So let’s read it again, this time in context:
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32, NKJV)
What a difference verse 31 makes! This verse gives us the audience to whom Jesus was speaking, and the conditions Jesus laid down to know truth and freedom. Notice what they are:
1. The audience. The audience who first heard these words were believers. Jesus “said to those Jews who believed Him…” Thus this promise is not intended for the general public. It is a promise for those who believe in Jesus Christ. Yet there is more.
2. The conditions. Jesus laid down two conditions to knowing truth and freedom. They link together like links in a chain. First, “If you abide in My word.” The first link is to continually study and obey the words of Christ. The second link results from the first: discipleship. He said, “you are My disciples indeed.” Note the word “indeed.” That is, if we study and obey Christ, then we are real disciples. The third link is in verse 32: “And you shall know the truth.” What is that truth? When Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor, He said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice” (John 18:37). The governor asked, “What is truth?” Jesus had already answered that question in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The fourth link results from the third, of knowing the truth: “And the truth shall make you free.” As we have seen, the truth is Jesus. No wonder Christ said of Himself a few sentences later, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
So there you have it. If you believe in Jesus, then abide in Him. Study His word and obey it. If you do, you will be a real disciple. And if you are a real disciple, then you will really know the truth, for the truth is Jesus. And when you really know the truth in Jesus, you will truly be free.
Free from what? From from the power of death and the devil, from deception, and from deeds of sin. (See Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 2:11, 2 Corinthians 10:5, Galatians 5:13).
Engraved on the Statue of Liberty is a poem by Emma Lazarus that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Millions of people have passed by the Statue of Liberty as they came into New York harbor, seeking freedom in America. But Jesus Christ has a better offer. He says to those who believe in Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Real freedom comes from real discipleship, following the real Savior.
Twisted scripture: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me
Copyright by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the third in a series of blog posts I am doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted verses in the Bible.)
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13, NKJV
Philippians 4:13 is one of the most beloved verses in the Bible. Sports teams emblazon it on their uniforms to inspire them to win games, and business people quote it to inspire their sales force. So what is the problem with that? A closer look at the verse shows that such interpretations violate the cardinal rule of Bible interpretation: context. So let’s put the verse back into its context and unpack it.
The apostle Paul was in jail when he wrote the letter to the Philippians. He stated in the letter that he could die there for the gospel (Philippians 1:12-13, 20-21). In the last chapter of the letter, Paul talked about his suffering in prison, and said, “…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content–whether well-fed or hungry whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13, HCSB). From the context, it is obvious that Paul was not talking about winning games or setting sales records. In fact, he didn’t even ask to change his circumstances, to break out of jail. Instead, he was talking about contentment in the midst of his circumstances.
Taken out of context, people often stress the phrase “I am able to do all things,” as if this is a guarantee that we can climb the highest mountain and swim the deepest sea. But taken in the context of Paul’s contentment, despite his imprisonment, the whole verse makes sense. The emphasis of the verse is not about being able to do anything, but on being able to do all things (including handling bad things) through Christ. That is, whatever I face in the physical world, I can face it with with the spiritual strength that Christ gives me.
Understanding the context should not spoil the inspiring words of Philippians 4:13, nor even ban it from a theme for sports teams or business people. It can. It can inspire the team that has lost to get up and go again. It can inspire the business that has failed not to quit. Just remember that this verse is more about Christ than self, more about hope than hype, and more about rising from the bottom than about climbing to the top.
Twisted scripture: “Putting out the fleece”
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the first in a series of blog posts I will be doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted scriptures in the Bible.)
In Judges 6:36-40, Gideon put fleece on dry ground, and asked God for a sign: to make the morning dew fall on the fleece of wool while leaving the ground around it dry, and then a second sign on the second morning, by leaving the fleece dry and covering the ground in dew. God granted Gideon’s request. From this story, we get the expression “putting out the fleece.” For many people, this has come to indicate the practice of asking God for a sign to show them God’s will. They may pray for God to show them a “sign” before making a major decision like getting married or taking a job. Sometimes, they even ask for a specific fulfillment, as putting out their fleece. For example, a person may pray, “God, if you want me to marry this man, have him notice the emerald ring on my right hand.” Or they may pray, “God, if you want me to take the job, then when I go for the interview, have the boss wear a blue tie.”
The problem is, that this is a twisting of scripture, and totally unbiblical. Here’s why:
1. Gideon didn’t just ask for a coincidence, he asked for a miraculous sign. For dew to fall only on the fleece with the ground left dry, and then dew to fall only on the ground with the fleece left dry, is not a natural occurrence, and cannot happen by accident. It required a supernatural intervention from God. So what Gideon asked for cannot be compared with the common idea of asking for an interesting coincidence to happen to guide someone to God’s will.
2. Gideon was not asking for God’s will. He already knew that it was God’s will to fight for their independence from the Midianites. He was looking for reassurance of God’s power and presence. He said, “If You will deliver Israel by my hand, as You said [italics mine], I will put a fleece of wool here…” (Judges 6:36-37)
3. Gideon’s “test” (Judges 6:39) was a violation of Deuteronomy 6:16, where God commanded the Israelites not to put the Lord to a test. Jesus himself interpreted this as a command not to test God with signs, and Jesus refused the temptation to do so (Matthew 4:7). Apparently, Gideon realized that he was treading on dangerous ground, since he asked God not to be angry at him for making the request (Judges 6:39). The fact that God granted Gideon’s request only shows that God is sometimes gracious with us, even in our foolishness.
4. Jesus refused to grant signs, implying we should trust in Biblical revelation instead of mystical experiences. In Matthew 12:38-39, the scribes and Pharisees said, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” He replied, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” He went on to talk about how Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and came out, and likewise Jesus Himself will be in the earth three days and come out. So Jesus was pointing them to the scripture and to the events of the gospel, and saying, “Put your trust in this.”
5. All of this points to a rule of thumb for Bible interpretation: Don’t get truth from a descriptive passage of scripture; get truth from prescriptive scripture passages. For example, the Bible often describes people having multiple wives, but 1 Timothy 3:12 prescribes only one wife for deacons in the church. Judges 6:36-40 is descriptive; it describes what happened. That does not necessarily imply that it endorses Gideon’s behavior. Deuteronomy 6:16 is prescriptive; it specifically condemns putting God to a test.