Thursday, July 12, 2012

Burn, Baby, Burn

Revelation 21.22-22.7

“Heaven has gates? Just what kind of neighborhood is it in, anyway?”
- Comedian Jim Gaffigan

What if God is like the sun and sin is flammable?

That’s how I typically think of judgment and punishment and hell. Some think that God must be really angry, and so he lashes out against the sinful. That may be partly right. But our perception of anger is so distorted by the sin-stained ruination of human anger that I think something gets lost in translation. Others think that God is really intolerant, so he turns his head to the side and refuses to even acknowledge sinners. Again, that might be partly right, but it tends to cheapen the seriousness of sin and caricaturizes God as dainty, or petty, or elitist. Besides, the nations are welcomed into God’s presence and the gates of heaven are never closed (21.25). There are gates, and God could close them, but he doesn’t. Which tells me that everyone is invited, but not everyone can enter.

“Nothing that has not been made holy will ever come into it, nor will anyone who practices {wicked nonsense}…”

Sin keeps us from God. Why? Back to my earlier summation, I think God burns sin up. His holiness is hot. His perfection is plumb. His beauty is illuminating. The dross of sin gets purified. The crookedness of sin gets constrained. The blemish of sin gets exposed. Simply, sin itself is unable to remain in the presence of God, like kindling is unable to remain near the fire. In God’s new creation, where everything exists according to its original perfect intention, there is no room for corruption of any sort. Sin assaulted the first creation, slowly at first through one act of disobedience, but heaven is too hot for sin to be present.

Ironically, the flames of hell are cooler.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why the Boring Bits are Sometimes the Most Fun

Revelation 21.6-21

This section of The Revelation involves John tediously describing the dimensions of heaven’s walls, the names of heaven’s gates, and the materials used in the construction of heaven’s foundations. I admit, I used to treat these descriptions as the apocalyptic equivalent of genealogies, and still partly do, but some recent study has revealed there’s more going on in those laborious details than I’d first imagined.

Quelle surprise.

The “cubit” for example, has a history prior to its standardization as a unit of measurement. Much like our “foot” was the approximate size of a grown man’s actual foot before it ever became standardized into 12 inches, the cubit was the rough measurement of a man’s forearm (from wrist to elbow). Several Catholic scholars have noted that—since John’s description of the heavenly city brings the natural and the supernatural together—he likely intended the “cubit” to refer to the length of an angel’s forearm. And just how big is 144 angelic cubits? Who knows? But that’s the point. These measurements are not statistics, but symbols.

Likewise the precious jewels have a twin significance. On the one hand these 12 stones corresponded to those found in the breastplate of the high priest in the Jewish Temple. Heaven needs no Temple, but John wants us to understand that the earthly Temple—at the very least—foreshadowed the heavenly antecedent. On the other hand, these 12 stones match precisely the 12 stones that pagan astrologers associated with the zodiac. But in reverse. Which, I like to think, was John’s way of saying that [a] there is an order to the universe, although [b] it’s not what the Zoroastrians think it is. The true order of the universe comes from He who gave it its beginning and who will supply its end—the Alpha and the Omega, the source and the goal.

But amidst all these intellectual curiousities let’s not lose sight of the main thrust of heaven’s architecture. The big idea, of course, is that heaven is a perfect cube, reminiscent of the holy of holies. In the end, all creation functions as God’s sanctuary. Everything is expropriated for worship. Everything finds its fulfillment in God, with God, and before God. Which is to say that everything fits. There’s room for everybody. Everything, and everyone, has a place. Everything belongs. Which is good news, for the misfit toys of the world. Good news: God has a place for you. Good news: God has been waiting for you. Good news: God’s plans for the future of the world include you.

That’s gospel truth.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Revelation 21.1-5

God the Father speaks in verse 5 for only the second time in Revelation. From the Throne he calls out ‘behold—I make all things new.’ I’d like to suggest that glossing over that little phrase has led to boredom, error, and hopelessness in many of our contemporary churches. Why? Simply because there is a vast difference between ‘making all things new’ and ‘making all new things.’

If, for example, we believe in a God who ‘makes all new things’ then—subconsciously or otherwise—we believe in a God who is content to start over whenever he pleases. Our beliefs about heaven and eternal life are thus affected: we think God is going to do away with everything we know and love and give us something better…only, how could it be better? Will I get a better wife? Better children? What if I want to keep these ones? Will God’s “newness” come at the expense of what God has already given? And, if so, what’s the point in doing anything good with what I’ve got now?

Hence hopelessness: whatever…it won’t last anyway.

And, since God is going to give us new ‘everythings’ anyway, our imagination suffers also. We don’t know what to do with the things we don’t know. We can’t dream about heaven (to say nothing of heaven-on-earth or, as Jesus put it, ‘on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven’ness) because heaven is the final residence of unfamiliarity. We’re afraid of getting our hopes up about the specifics of heaven, but we’ve got nothing for our imaginations to work with and so nothing upon which to anchor our expectations.

Hence boredom: I don’t know what it’ll be like, but I’m sure it’ll be neat.

Boredom and hopeless both stem from the same error: mistaking God for One who makes ‘all new things’ instead of ‘making all things new.’

‘Making all things new’ means that God takes what already exists and sweetens it, perfects it, and removes any strain or stain from it completely. Our relationships will be exonerated, our loves will be sanctified, our creative energies will be intensified and uninhibited by sickness or death or fatigue or ego. Pastor-poet Eugene Peterson said it best when he taught that ‘heaven will not give us anything other than what we already have…it will simply be more.’ More of what? More of what we know and love and cherish and trust. More of all we desire in God.

The life we’re promised for eternity is the life we’ve got now, only better.

It’s feasting

and laughing

and music

and work

without gluttony or stomach-ache,

humiliation or mockery,

country music or white-rap,

exhaustion or futility.

In the end, we’re treated to a life of remarkable continuity between what happens now and what will happen then, between what happens here and what will happen there, and between what happens in us and what happens with God. Which is a very long and roundabout way of saying that everything matters. Nothing will be scrapped or discarded. Everything will be restored. Nothing will be wasted. Everything will be made new.

Perhaps that is the fullest understanding of Christ as ‘Alpha and Omega.’ Those words don’t just mean ‘beginning and end.’ They mean ‘source’ and ‘goal.’ What God began in the garden, he will complete in the garden-city. He made us, and he will complete us. His plan is to finish us, not finish us off.

So don’t get let your mind or spirit rest with fruitless dreams of harp-playing and millennial worship services. Live the life of heaven now, in anticipation of that which is to come, trusting that God will take our imperfect version of life and make it new.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Sword of Shannara

Revelation 20.7-15

One of the first fantasy novels I read was ‘The Sword of Shannara’ by Terry Brooks. It’s now a classic, and it introduced me to the marvelous capabilities of SF fiction to ask truly difficult questions about meaning and the human experience.

And trolls.

And magic.

And swords.

The protagonist, Shea, is a pure-hearted young man without any real combat acumen, magical powers or wisdom. In fantasy lit, that pretty much makes him useless. But the secret of the whole book is that Shea’s innocence is actually what makes him so special. The fantastical world is under threat by the evil Warlock Lord, who is said to be vulnerable only to the Sword of Shannara (stay with me here). No one knows what the sword does, only that Shea is destined to use it against the villain. At the end of the book, Shea finally claims the sword from its ancient hiding spot and holds it aloft in his hands expecting something miraculous. Instead, he experiences something horrendous.


The Sword’s secret power is the power to reveal evil. Because Shea was among the most innocent people to ever live, he is able to withstand the sword’s awful judgment. Barely. Coming face to face with his own imperfections, deviance, and sin nearly cripples the hero but he is finally purified and goes off to defeat the Warlock Lord. That battle, incidentally, consists simply of Shea touching the villain with the sword, and watching as the Warlock Lord is obliterated by the truth of his wicked nature.

When we come face to face with Christ at the end, for the final judgment, I can’t help but feel that it will be something akin to the Sword of Shannara. We will, for the first time ever, be unable to hide our sin, justify our sin, or compare our relative sinlessness to someone more wicked than we are. We’ll just be standing there, before God, ashamed. I suspect that those moments—whether seconds or centuries—will be singularly painful, unpleasant, and inescapable. Sin is serious business, and there’s no way to avoid giving an account for who we are and how we’ve lived at the end. That judgment will be the final purification, the final rectification during which time our sinful nature will be completely burned off, judged, and removed forever.

Thank God for grace!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Key Questions

Revelation 19.11-21

In this section of The Revelation we’re treated to an image of the final battle and the defeat of the beast monsters. Jesus shows up on a white horse, surrounded by a heavenly army and birds feast on the flesh of God’s enemies. The common interpretation of these verses suggests that there will be a violent bloody conflict at the end of time, involving wholesale slaughter by Christ and his angelic hosts against non-Christians and demons. I understand why this interpretation is so common. At first blush, the text can be read like that. But, I have some lingering questions:

1. Jesus is here portrayed as a rider on a white horse. But, how is he predominantly depicted elsewhere in The Revelation? As a slain-lamb, right? How can the slain-lamb now take vengeance on his enemies? How can Jesus finally stop ‘turning the other cheek?’

2. Jesus’ robe is here dipped in blood. Who’s blood is it? The war hasn’t begun yet, so why is Jesus covered in blood? Is it possible that the blood is his own? He is described in 1.7 as ‘he whom his opponents have pierced’ and we’re told that it’s his blood that either redeems or condemns (1.5-6, 9.9-10), so is there any credence to the idea that Jesus isn’t violent?

3. If this is a war, why is there no fighting? Jesus armies never do anything, right? And, by the way, since they’re wearing ‘shining, pure linen’ doesn’t that suggest these are the martyred saints not the angelic warriors of chapter 12? How come the only weapon mentioned here is the sword from Jesus’ mouth? How does he slice and dice with that?

I have other lingering questions, but only one more that really deserves mention in this post. I’ll get to it in a minute. For now, let me just say that a careful reading of this section of The Revelation shows us that John is just up to his old tricks once more. For example, throughout the book John consistently turns imagery on its head. He defines ‘dying’ as ‘conquering’, ‘lion’ as ‘lamb’, and here ‘warrior’ as ‘judge.’ There were a few ancient prophecies about God’s total victory over his enemies, but John has reinterpreted those in much the same way as he does everything else. He uses the ancient form of the divine warrior, but fills it with new content. Instead of a bloodthirsty Spartacus, John gives us a crucified Christ who conquers with his Word. His victory is immediate and total. In this “war” there is no battle. The beasts are bound without a single blow being delivered. The armies of heaven are just spectators.

Which leads me to my last lingering question: isn’t this exactly what the rest of the Bible teaches? That Jesus is the Word? That the Word is the one weapon that can disarm Satan? That Jesus has triumphed through his sacrificial death? That we ought to rejoice because we are washed in his blood, saved, and defended? Why can’t we be content with that? Why do we insist on making Christ’s hands red with enemy blood instead of rejoicing at his blood-stained robe?

We’ve hardly learned anything! Our record stinks—the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, the wars in Northern Ireland and the Balkans—when will we learn that Christ doesn’t want us to ‘hurt to convert?’ One of the great criticisms of the Roman Empire was that they ‘make a desert and call it peace.’ Rome conquered through violence. Shouldn’t Christ offer something more…Christian? Are we so in love with Babylon, that the only way we can imagine the Second Coming is more like Hitler than Jesus? Are we, as poet Wendall Barry suggests, ‘hoping to kill everyone opposed to peace?’

Friday, July 06, 2012

Am I the Last One to Write on Messengers?

Revelation 19.1-10

I think all five of my counterparts have (at some point) mentioned that the Greek word for angel (angellos) is the same as the Greek word for messenger, and was sometimes also used for bishop or pastor. The word is intended to describe anyone—human or supra-human—who delivers God’s word on God’s behalf.

In this section of The Revelation, amidst all the cool stuff about the marriage supper of the lamb, I’m most struck by John’s proclivity to worship the angelic messenger. The message is that Babylon has fallen and will never rise, that Christ has won the decisive victory, and that it is now time to celebrate. It’s a fantastic message. But John does what we all tend to do--he falls in love with the messenger because he’s so overwhelmed by the good news.

This happens all the time. We idolize our pastors and spiritual leaders because they teach us good news from God, and we erroneously transfer our gratitude from God to God’s messenger. I’ve done this, and as a pastor, I’ve had others do this to me. It’s incredible!

The truth is that idolatry is not simply a sin committed by satanists and weirdos. We are all idolaters. Anytime we remove right-worship from God and give it to someone else, or something else, we’ve made the same mistake John made in Revelation 19. The biggest difference between us and him is that most of the time we’re not worshipping people who will say ‘don’t do that!’ like the angel did. We’ve got to be the ones who stop ourselves from idolatry. Which can prove spectacularly difficult. Consider: John spent most of the early chapters of the Revelation warning Christians against idolatry, only to fall into it later on. Twice. (He does it again in 22.) If he can screw it up, you better bet yer bonbons we will too. And yet—I’ve never actually met a Christian person who will willingly concede that they’ve made an idol of someone or something. Strangely, despite the fact that even one of the biblical writers fell into this trap, we would rather sin twice as much than repent half as often. We sin (first) through idolatry, then (second) by lying to cover it up. Wouldn’t we be better served by acknowledging that we—like John—struggle to keep giving God (and only God) glory and honor forever?

To that end, let me publicly repent of my idolatries, both past and present. I have idolized my father, my brothers, and my heroes—both academic and athletic. I have idolized preachers, teachers, songwriters and artists. I have idolized possessions, entertainment, and spiritual experiences. I am not proud of these idols. I have done my best to smash them. But I can’t ever believe my heart will truly be free of their influence without the grace and penetrating presence of Christ.

How about you? Ever confuse with messenger with the originator? Ever have the guts to repent for it?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Three Laments and a Jig

Revelation 18.9-24

If the last three sections of Revelation have been about the evils of Babylon, then this section is undoubtedly about the evils of her suitors—the kings of the earth, the merchants, and the mariners. Just as Babylon was a corrupted city whose own evil eventually destroyed her, so too Babylon’s suitors are corrupt men whose greed and self-interest have now been depleted. With her demise, they die too (in one way or another).

The kings mourned the loss of their pimp (‘they fornicated with her and shared her luxury’). Babylon was their pleasure center, the focal point of their illicit and self-indulgent relationship with excess. With her destruction, the kings have no way to work out their kinks. It is amusing, though, that the kings mourn her from a distance. They’ll miss her, but not enough to run up and say goodbye.

The merchants mourned the loss of their customer base (‘no one buys our cargo anymore’). And, lest we feel any sympathy for the merchants, let’s not forget that their cargo included human livestock. That’s right—they treated people like cattle, to be bought and sold like meat at market. The Roman system of slavery dehumanized both product and purchases, robbing the slaves of full personhood at the same time that their masters sold their own—a sour example of total control and debasement.

The mariners mourned the loss of their distribution channel (‘all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth’). Babylon was their business partner, and without her they were left holding onto old goods. Like the kings and the merchants, the mariners’ lamentation was totally self-centered. They don’t miss Babylon herself; they miss her luxury, her customers, and her markets.

And what are we to make of all this?

In a word? Celebration!

The evils about which we have been repeatedly warned have now been exposed and exhausted. There is no longer any opposition to the wisdom of the Creator—it’s now obvious that the behaviors he’s prohibited do, in fact, bring death. There’s no longer any debate about whether or not the powers of greed will outlast the powers of faith. Babylon is finished, and all those who loved her mourn. Just as Babylon brought death to God’s people, God has now brought death to her and ruin to her suitors.

Once upon a time Babylon deceived the nations with her magic, but God has disenchanted the world. We must be careful not to fall under such spellcraft again, in our own time, in our own ways, with our own suitors.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Get Out of Town

Revelation 18.1-8

When I first moved to Michigan seven years ago, I was flummoxed (yes! Flummoxed!!) by an article in the Detroit Free Press describing ‘urban wilderness.’ The article informed me that some areas of Detroit were so dilapidated and vacant that wild animals were now roaming the city streets. There had been sightings of white-tailed deer, coyotes, and large predatory cats roaming sections of town from which most people had fled.

At first I thought it was a joke, until I visited Detroit for myself. I couldn’t believe that one of the greatest cities in America had fallen so far, so fast. Within three decades the home of MoTown and the Mecca of the US auto industry had crumbled into something like ruin porn. It was, and still remains, heartbreaking.

Revelation 18 predicts a similar fate for Rome and, as NT Wright cautions, that warning contains more than simply the eventual destruction of a first century city. John’s point is that all ‘Babylons’ will eventually fall. Every place that exalts itself, and everyone who aligns themselves with such self-serving power, will ultimately end up crumbled, ruined, and given back to wild cats and dogs. 

Which is why we’re instructed to ‘come out!’

God warns his people to get out of town while we still can—and, of course, this isn’t a suggestion as to where we should live but HOW we should live. The call to leave Babylon is the call to separate ourselves from Babylonian values, lifestyles, and norms. It is the call to be different, to be holy, and to set ourselves apart from the world for God.

I’ve never been accused of being conservative, but I feel strongly that we—the church—have lost the centrality of this calling. We just aren’t separate enough. And, by “we”, I really mean Westwinds. My criticisms of the Church at large extend in the other direction—they’re not ‘in the world’ at all—but I’m afraid my own local congregation has nothing to distinguish itself from a comedy club that offers after-school programs and rock concerts. If the majority of Evangelicals are in danger of being removed from the world entirely, then I’m concerned we’re equally in danger of being completely ‘of the world.’

Not really.

Ok. A little.

We’ve just gotten so afraid. We’re afraid that holding to the biblical standards of sexual purity will make us look judgmental. We’re afraid that practicing biblical generosity will mean we can’t keep anything for ourselves. We’re afraid that preaching about Jesus boldly will lead others to think we’re religiously intolerant. And the more I run up against those fears—the fear of rejection by our society, by our friends, and by our peers—the more I rail against it.
How can we be so blind? How can we fail to understand that Babylon is falling, and if we hitch our lives to her we’ll go down too?

When John wrote the Revelation there was nothing on the surface that suggested Rome’s downfall. In fact, the Empire was strong for several hundred years after this was written. But the seeds of its own destruction had been planted. The city was destined to reap what it had sown. In our contemporary setting, we’re facing the same kind of scenario. There’s no evidence anywhere that our unmitigated growth or persistent pursuit of egocentricity and pleasure will even collapse. And yet the seeds of our culture's destruction have been planted also. The values of tolerance, pluralism, and appeasement are really just poor substitutes for love, unity, and justice. These values are our cultural attempt at avoiding conflict and pretending everything is fine so we can continue to do whatever we want. But this is never acceptable behavior for Christians, not least because it will ultimately collapse on itself. If we don’t come out of the world and cling more closely to Christ we’re likely not to come out of the world ever.

Even at the end.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Even the Wrath of Men

Revelation 17.9-18

Leviticus 21 describes the appropriate punishment for a priest’s daughter who becomes a prostitute. It’s not pretty. More to the point, it’s nearly repeated verbatim in Revelation 17.16-17 when John describes what the beast and the ten kings do to the whore of Babylon. They strip her, eat her, burn her, and kill her. As we previously mentioned, the whore of Babylon is not an actual person, but a personification of those who cooperate with the Empire. She’s (figuratively) the woman who sells her soul to get ahead. She is described as being fixated on sensuality (17.2,4), exploitation (18.13), commerce (18.11-13), violence (17.6), fraud (17.8), and idolatry (18.7). It’s easy to decry those things when they’re listed in such negative terms, but most of us are more familiar with their popular names: pleasure, ease, success, victory, spin, and self-preservation. Perhaps one of the greatest threats of the beast is his ability to convince us that all our love of sensuality is actually just the quest for happiness, or that all our luxuries are delivered without keeping the less-fortunate below the poverty line. Or, perhaps an even greater threat, is that we know that the way we live has a sinister side, and we’re trying to entertain that darkness only so much so that it doesn’t really hurt anyone.

But whenever you sell out, you inevitably get burned.

People who sell out their convictions always come to regret it later on. Girls who succumb to the temptations of boys are rarely rejoicing the next morning. Men who succumb to greed rarely die content. Parents who succumb to anger rarely have children (or grandchildren) with whom they spend holidays. When we give in, we give something else up. We might not have to pay the price immediately, but we always pay more than we’d expected. The pursuit of selfish interests collects interest, and the principle of our debt lurks in the background like a beast.

The beast will later get what’s coming to him. For now, it’s the whore who falls. The ten kings will get what’s coming to them, but for now it’s their destruction of the whore that concerns us. In a bitter twist of apocalyptic fascination, we might note that these evil powers thought they were serving their own interests, but even their murderous desires have been expropriated for divine purposes.

Even the wrath of men is made to praise God.

So what are we to make of all this? Simply that none of these judgments was necessary. No one has to compromise. No one has to give in. No one has to sell out. Everyone has the opportunity to get right with God. Everyone has the opportunity to receive the seal of the Lamb. Everyone is invited to the New Jerusalem. But many of us decline the invitation. The bright lights of Babylon blind us, and the beast isn’t so terrifying when you’re riding it like a queen. Sadly, by the time he bucks you off and bares his fangs, it’s usually too late to escape. And all those you thought were your friends have turned on you and stand by, laughing, while you come to ruin.

This can all be avoided.

What are we waiting for?

Monday, July 02, 2012

On the Cutting Room Floor

Revelation 17.1-8

Today is Sunday and I am bummed out that I had to “cut” the whore of Babylon out of my sermon. There just wasn’t time to get into it, not properly, and getting into it poorly or dismissively would only obfuscate this powerful truth: everyone who rides the beast will be eaten by it.

The beast in this chapter is the same beast (out of the sea) from chapter 13. It’s best understood as ‘dragon-inspired’ political power, which—in John’s day—was exemplified by the Roman Empire and its persistent persecution of Christians. In chapter 17 the beast is described as being ‘scarlet’, which is to say it has been drenched in the blood of the martyrs. If that sounds gory, consider that the whore of Babylon is here drunk on the blood of the martyrs and ‘gore’ is a big part of this equation.

Who is this woman? She’s not an actual person, but a personification of those who cooperate with the Empire. She’s the antithesis of the woman in Revelation 12 that represented God’s people. Just like in the First Testament where God’s faithful people were called his ‘Bride’ and his apostate people labelled ‘Adulteress’, John is describing the behavior of humanity and their fidelity. Some choose the Lamb, becoming his bride and dwelling forever in the New Jerusalem. Others choose the beast, becoming his whore, and suffering forever in the abyss.

Tough choice.

Actually, it was a tough choice. When John wrote the Revelation, the beast was winning. The Empire was at its most powerful and the church was still weak and mewling. The Empire offered opportunity, privilege, and wealth. The church offered community, hope, and new life…but it would cost you your present life in its entirety. Through these images, John is reminding his audience that things are not as they appear. It might look like the beast is powerful, but everyone who rides that sucker is gonna pay for it later. The lust for power will ultimately turn into lust for more power, until you overreach and fall on your face.

‘Evil shall, with evil, be expelled’ (to quote Stieg Larsson).

You’ve got to give John credit, though. Rather than simply telling his audience that the harlot is undesirable, he lampoons her. The woman is described satirically, almost like an ancient political cartoon. We miss most of this biting language in English, reading our sanitized translations about ‘abominations’ and ‘filth.’ But in Greek the connotations are much more provocative. This scarlet woman is less a smoldering beauty than a stumbling drunk. Sure—she’s decked out in jewels and has a fancy hairdo, but her slip is showing and her dress is falling off one shoulder. She leans on the bar and grinds herself against younger men, embarrassingly trying to keep her balance on one broken heel. And that cup? It’s not full of black magic or power or something. The Greek words for ‘abominations’ and ‘filth’ mean something more like piss, shit, and menstrual blood. I know that’s strong language, and, like NT Wright, I probably should have used stronger because the point is well-made: don’t be a whore.

On the surface, many mistakenly think that a quick rise to political power and prominence is exciting. Some think that the wealth and sexual liberation promised by our culture will guarantee happiness. Many Christians are even tempted to capitulate to the dominant cultural norms of our day in order to secure a more promising future. But the world consistently over-promises and under-delivers. The beast will always tell you you’re pretty, while spiking your drink with cat urine and etching your name on the bathroom stall. He’ll chew you up and spit you out.

Alternatively, you could come to the Lamb, who will love you forever, making you pure and building you a home of jewels in a city of gold.

Tough choice.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Judgment Fatigue

Revelation 16.10-21

I’m relieved that the pronouncements of judgment are almost over. At this point, I’m exhausted by the scope of evil, to say nothing of God’s plan for getting rid of it. It’s overwhelming to the point of numbness. I have spiritual pins-and-needles every time I read something like “the ____ angel (with a face like _____ ) opened up the _______, and said ‘wo to the _______-ers, for you will be _______-ed out beyond all recognition because of your _______-ness.’”


The one juicy little gem in these verses concerns the demonic frogs that deceive the people of the earth. In Greek there’s a bit of wordplay going on, as ‘evil spirits’ also literally means ‘bad breath.’ I find that amusing. It’s like John is telling his audience that everything they say stinks. They’ve got sociopolitical halitosis, morning coffee breath (literally) from hell.

And what is the content of their deceit? They convince the powers that be not to submit to God, but instead to array their might against him and go to war.

Have you ever had a friend lure you into something remarkably stupid? That’s these deceitful frogs. ‘Frog-men’ are the people we know we shouldn’t listen to, but because they’re our friends or our lovers or our employers or our politicians or our pastors or whatever we set our God-conscience aside for the time being and ‘go along to get along.’

Does that ever work out for anyone? Or is everyone else like me, wondering when it’s all done, ‘how did I let myself get talked into this?’

Biblically, frogs are always symbolic of plagues, non-stop ‘croaking’, and darkness. So beware the people around you who make everybody sick, keep you in the dark about what’s really going on, and never shut up.

Their words stink.