Fire Flung from Heaven, Part One

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Fire Flung from Heaven, Part One – Audio Version

Shall we just skip Chapter Seven entirely and ignore it away? Maybe it does not matter too much. Just one of Revelation’s twenty two chapters can be overlooked; right? Perhaps it does not contribute much content to the book.


Well, I mean, after all, Chapter Seven does abruptly interrupt the flow of the narrative. If and when you read through Revelation Chapter Six, you will find the first six of the Seven Seals broken open and presented in quick, orderly sequence. But then Chapter Seven completely stalls the tempo. It disrupts the rhythm of Revelation entirely. You would have every reason to expect the Seventh Seal to come right at the beginning of the Seventh Chapter. But sorry, no, not so. The Seventh Seal is entirely absent and not to be found in Chapter Seven. The grand opening of the final Seventh Seal is delayed for an entire chapter. It makes a seemingly overdue appearance in Chapter Eight. 

Why is that?

Good question. I will attempt to answer that soon and very soon. But first, allow me to make an observation about a narrative pattern within the Book of Revelation. As I have mentioned in a previous blog post, the Book of Revelation is organized around four major heptads — four sets of seven scenes. In the first heptad Jesus Christ gives seven diagnostic messages to seven churches. In the second heptad, Christ, the Lion-Lamb, breaks open seven seals, each of which results in yet another strange scene. In the third heptad, seven angels sound seven trumpets, each of which results in something surreal and catastrophic. In the fourth and final heptad, seven angels pour seven bowls of cataclysmic wrath upon the world. In super-succinct summary, the Book of Revelation presents four core heptads: 1) the seven messages, 2) the seven seals, 3) the seven trumpets, and 4) the seven bowls.

Notably and significantly, three of the four Apocalyptic heptads are interrupted between scene six and scene seven. The Seven Seals are interrupted between the Sixth Seal and the Seventh (interrupted by Chapter Seven). The Seven Trumpets are interrupted between the Sixth Trumpet and the Seventh (interrupted by most of Chapter Eleven). And the Seven Bowls are interrupted between the Sixth Bowl and the Seventh (interrupted parenthetically by just one very curious verse of warning: 16:15, that is). 

But back to the question of why Chapter Seven interrupts the tempo of the opening of the Seven Seals. Why is that? Why the chapter-long interruption? Here’s the reason: It is because no one ever expected the Surprise revealed in the Seventh Seal. The Seventh Seal comes along as a huge historical shock. The Seventh Seal reveals a profound mystery that had been (mostly) undisclosed for centuries.

That mystery is the Church. 

Chapter Seven presents the reader with 144,000 sealed Servants of God. The number 144,000 derives from an equation of 12,000 multiplied by 12 — 12,000 sealed servants from each of the twelve tribes of the Children of Israel. But… gasp! The twelve names listed in Revelation Chapter Seven are historically wrong, since the Tribes of Dan and Ephraim are omitted entirely. These two omissions are not a mistake, though, but instead a clue to the close reader. While the Servants of God do include the Children of Israel, not all of the Children of Israel are Servants of God.

And then Chapter Seven depicts a vast uncountable throng, from every nation, and from all the tribes, peoples, and languages. They, too, count as Servants of God. Since they are where they are — up there in Heaven, dressed in white and worshipping God — they, too, are to be included among the 144,000 elect Servants of God. Gasp, again! This is a surprise, a massive surprise. This is an utter mystery, as it was entirely unexpected. How did all these unexpected foreign people end up there in Heaven?

These unexpected foreign people — all these Gentiles — were/are redeemed from the nations by Christ. They, along with the redeemed Children of Israel, make up the Church of Christ. The mystery is that the Church is comprised of both the redeemed Children of Israel and the redeemed Gentiles.

If this is so, where does the multi-national Church of Christ come from? And when does the Church begin? When is the Church’s birthday?

The Church was born on Pentecost Sunday, on a Sunday morning in May, 33AD/CE, when fire was flung to Earth from Heaven. The fire that was flung from Heaven is the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Revelation the Flung Fire is both the Seventh (and final) Seal (see Revelation 8:5) and the First Trumpet (see 8:7).

But if this Flung Fire is really the impartation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, why does Revelation present the event and its aftermath in terms of blood, death, and destruction? Very good question. My answer is that this should be understood as figurative speech, as non-literal speech. After the Resurrection and before Christ returns, God wages war against His enemies, as He always has. But more often than not, God now battles his human adversaries spiritually, rather than physically. He prefers to overpower them spiritually, not physically. He subdues them using spiritual weapons, not physical weapons. He desires to “slay” them and yet leave them alive physically. God brings the ego to its end and then gives new life by the Spirit. He “kills” us by converting us. We die to ourselves in the water of baptism and are raised to new life as members of the Church.

If this figurative interpretation of Revelation seems like a stretch, I strongly suggest you give it further consideration and not reject it outright. There is quite a bit more to be said in substantiation of it. And it helps make sense of much of what Revelation presents. In fact, it turns whole sections of Revelation upside down, and transforms what at first seems impossibly horrifying into something hopeful and happy.

But I realize I have more work to do to convince you of all that. For now, you might start by reading Hosea 6:5, where God claims to have slain his stubborn, rebellious Chosen People by the words of His mouth. How is it that God slays rebellious people by the Words of His Mouth? Is God’s verbal violence to be understood physically or spiritually?  

Matthew 10:32-42 – Not Peace, But a Sword

To be continued.                 

Deviant Preachers

Thursday, June 10th, 2020

Deviant Preachers, Audio Version

In the event of an emergency, preachers may deviate from a previously intended message. Sometimes they set aside whatever they had originally planned to say, and instead will speak to their audience about the event or occasion that preoccupies everyone. To make such an adjustment in subject is usually a prudent move, if done well. That is because an emergency can prove to be a gift in disguise. An emergency gives a preacher a unique opportunity to really, truly be heard. In such moments, the preacher can say something particularly poignant, forever memorable, and especially impactful. The preacher’s message might even challenge a listener’s perspective or long-held position. People are particularly open and unusually attentive during and immediately after an emergency. They are looking for meaning, guidance, and hope. Thus the preacher’s words pack more punch during an emergency. 

At the very least, then, an emergency holds redemptive potential. Timely words can turn a seemingly-bleak situation into something transformative. Minds and lives can be dramatically altered, perhaps even permanently. Souls may even be saved. And that is probably the best possible outcome. We do well to pray that salvation emerges out of emergencies. 

At their worst, emergencies merely wreck havoc. There is no upside, no silver lining. They bring destruction, devastation, death, and nothing else. Some emergencies are wholly destructive. If a what-might-have-been moment does come, it comes ever-so briefly, is overlooked or even scorned, and then slips into oblivion. Instead of any change for the better, the emergency just brings devastation. Towers topple. Things disintegrate into ash. Children are orphaned.   

No, I am not merely thinking about our current national crisis. Of course, I do mean that; but I have other historical emergencies in mind, as well. I am also referring to a couple of biblical emergencies, one in Ancient Egypt, the other in first century Judea.   

The last two weekends have given our preachers an opportunity. Since the arrest and slow, open-air strangling of George Floyd, the country has been on edge. Many people are angry, frustrated. Street protests are frequent. Cities brace for yet more disturbances, riots, and vandalism. Our preachers witness all the unrest and recognize the need for wise and timely words. Something needs to be said. People are looking for meaning, guidance, and hope. 

But what exactly should the preacher say? What does the occasion call for? What does God want people to hear in the midst of the tumult today? The audience awaits. What will the message be? What is the Spirit saying to the churches?

What are you saying, Lord? 

Like everyone else who aspires to preach and proclaim the word of the Lord, I have been asking that question. I hope to faithfully discern and convey what the Spirit is saying to us.

Coincidence always intrigues me. On the assumption that God is truly sovereign over historical events, including exactly when they occur, I will not immediately dismiss a clear coincidence as insignificant or irrelevant. Therefore, I wonder if and suggest that we should take a cue from the Church calendar. A clear calendar coincidence occurred. All the recent civil unrest first erupted on Pentecost eve. The pandemonium amidst a pandemic coincided with Pentecost. We might ask what that may portend or mean. Does the coincidence have any significance?

The original Pentecost Sunday morning sermon was also a fiery occasion. At least, it followed immediately on the heels of a fiery supernatural display. The Spirit descended and dispersed as fire. In Scripture, fire often symbolizes the fearsome holiness of God. God’s Spirit is holy.

Under the inspiration of the fiery Holy Spirit, Peter, the former coward, stood up in front of a potentially hostile crowd and preached an accusatory, “turn-or-burn” sermon. Weeks before Peter had cravenly denied any association with Jesus. But everything changed that morning. The fiery Promised Holy Spirit descended, entered, and emboldened Peter. Now the former coward fearlessly proclaimed the name of Jesus to the very people who had crucified Jesus only fifty two days earlier. The fiery Promised Holy Spirit came and changed everything.

“Therefore, let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” That is Acts 2:36, and the climatic conclusion of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. His message shook and scared the crowd. Many of them repented.

Here is my paraphrase of the conclusion to Peter’s sermon: Therefore, know exactly who it is whom you just crucified. Yes, you all messed up badly. Yes, you do find yourselves in a very precarious position. Yes, you better admit your personal guilt. It is indeed your only hope. 

The point of Pentecost and a primary purpose of the Promised Spirit is proclamation. The Holy Spirit was given then and is given now to make ready preachers out of each and any of us. Like the disciples back then, we are supposed to seek the Spirit’s empowerment, guidance, and inspiration so that we can boldly proclaim the name of Jesus to those in need. And among the needy are those who have an urgent need to face the guilt of their sin and submit to Jesus as Lord. In fact, the greatest need anyone has is the need for salvation through Christ Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

So what is the Spirit saying to you today? To whom should you preach?

In our next episode of the Dekrakenator Daily, I will take you back to Egypt at the time of the Exodus, because somehow all this has something to do with the Book of Revelation. Please stay tuned.

A Peculiar Person

Saturday, June 6th, 2020

A Peculiar Person, Audio Version

In Acts 1:15, Luke mentions that about 120 disciples were gathered in Jerusalem. They were waiting for what was to come. Before he left, Jesus had given them clear instructions. He had told them to say put in Jerusalem and wait for it. Stay and wait. Wait for the capital-P promise. Wait for the Promise to arrive. So they stayed. And they waited. They waited for days and days. They waited patiently for the Promise. Like children eager for Christmas morning, they waited until the Day of Pentecost for the Promise.

On the morning of Pentecost the Promise arrived, in person. A person arrived dramatically that morning, the Promised Person. The Promise was and is a person. The Promise is a particular person, but a person unlike any other you’ve ever encountered. The Promise is a peculiar person. 

Okay, I have to get a bit technical here. Hang in there, please. Person can potentially be a misperceived at this point. It can possibly be a misleading pointer. Given your probable preconceptions, the word person could be perplexing. But it is the proper word, nonetheless. It is the word I have to use. The Promise is definitely a person, but is not a human being. The Promise is a person because he is truly an individual entity. He is himself. He is a living, identifiable entity. He has personal integrity. He is a cognizant, relational, identifiable, unique, and peculiar person. But he is not a human being. 

As we talk about the Promise, we have to be careful to explain what we mean, even in the use of common words. I need explain what I mean by it and he here. Rather than the pronoun it, I use the pronoun he because I need you to understand that the Promise is actually a person. He is a person, as opposed to an energy field or impersonal force. The English language poses a problem here, though, because it offers us only two gender specific pronouns. The Promise-person really should not be assigned a gender, because “he” has no gender. Some other languages do have pronouns that are not gender specific. It would be easier to meaningfully talk about a genderless person using a pronoun from those languages. But since I am using English here, I will stick with the pronoun he, just to impress the concept of personhood. He is a person. 

Yes, I agree. It can be quite confusing to talk about a non-human, non-gendered entity. I readily admit that. What kind of person is this? What kind of entity is this? Is he some kind an extra-terrestrial? Am I talking about ET? Do I need to phone home?

Well, yes, he is an extra-terrestrial. But no, he is not an outer space alien. Yes, he does come from way beyond. But no, he does not travel in a flying saucer. He does not need an exterior mode of transportation. He is able just to arrive and depart on will, wherever and anywhere.     

Unlike other persons, this Promise-person is not contained spatially to a body. This Promise-person can repeatedly divide himself, without any damage done, and without any loss of integrity, potency, or personality. Somewhat like water, he can fragment and disperse himself. He can also re-condense himself. He can contract, expand, disperse, and regather at will. He is person, but a peculiar person without a body. He is just not limited, in terms of space and dimension — unless he voluntarily chooses to be limited.  

Since these spatial characteristics are so freakishly beyond our usual categories of what it means to be a person, we have no choice but to resort to analogies. If we wish to talk meaningfully about him, we have to use analogies. We must say he is like this thing or like that. Like, like, like — we will use a lots of likes. For example, the Promise is somewhat like water. And the Promise is a lot like fire. We necessarily resort to symbols and analogies when we talk about him. We have no choice but to do so. He is just so peculiar, so different. He is a much different person than us. He is different than what is normal and natural to us. He is a peculiar person. He is incomparable; but we have to use comparisons. He is an incomparable, peculiar, supernatural person. In fact, he’s God.        

The fact that we necessarily use symbols to talk about the Promise will be important to keep in mind when I return to my direct discussion of symbolism in the Book of Revelation. Fire is the most frequent symbol for the Promised Holy Spirit in the Book of Revelation. Remember that.  

As implied previously, the Promise simply has no physical limitations. He can pass through any physical barrier. He can limit himself to physical space, if he chooses. He can confine himself, disperse himself, concentrate himself, retract himself, expand himself. He can and does operate within physical dimensions. But they pose no problem to him. He is not limited by any physical barrier. This has huge implications for us as Christians. 

The Promise voluntarily confines himself to willing human beings. He indwells individuals. If a human being recognizes the truth about who Jesus is, and submits to Jesus’ authority, the Promise takes up residence within him or her. The Promise indwells the Christian. The Christian thereby becomes a temple of sorts. A temple of the Holy Spirit. A supernatural entity dwells here within.

As strange as all this may sound, it is very real. And it is powerful. The same entity— the same Spirit — that raised Christ from the dead indwells you and hangs out within you, 24/7. Consider the implications. Consider the possibilities. Consider both the implications and possibilities, for there are many. 

On the condition of your recognition of and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, you have a limitless source of life-giving power available to you, all the time — through the rest of your mortal life, and beyond. Much of the New Testament serves as a users’ handbook for accessing and maximizing the Promise’s power. If you wish to make full use of your resident Promise and his power, go familiarize yourself personally with the handbook, and also join a group of people who are committed to the same. And then go make use of the Promise.

You Lost on Jeopardy

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

You Lost on Bible Jeopardy, Audio Version

Over the next few days, I will focus directly on the Day of Pentecost. It will seem like I’m straying very, very far from the Book of Revelation. Really, though, I’m not. I have Revelation in mind here and somewhat in view; and in the end, I assure you, I will circle back. 

If you were a contestant on Bible Jeopardy, you might face the following answer: “These three phenomena accompanied the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.” Being the quick-witted game show whiz that you are, you might ponder momentarily and then offer a question like, “What are a loud rushing wind, head-top flaming tongues of fire, and about one hundred twenty disciples spontaneously speaking in unlearned foreign languages?” After which, you would be congratulated on your correct answer… question, I mean. Way to go, you!

Although you are first-time contestant on Bible Jeopardy, at this point you’re feeling more confident. You decide to stick with the same category, that being, The Day of Pentecost. The answer presented to you next is this: “The Fiery Revelation of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai.” Now you feel confused. You are absolutely certain that the category is still The Day of Pentecost. But this answer does not make any sense to you. What does the Day of Pentecost have to do with the Fiery Revelation of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai? You stand there, silent and befuddled, until you hear a triple beep. Beep, beep, beep. Sorry, you failed to respond in time. You lost on Bible Jeopardy. And then he reads the question…  

“What is the original meaning of Pentecost?” Good question. What exactly was the original meaning of Pentecost? Here’s the answer: The original meaning and occasion of Pentecost was the divine revelation of the Law, otherwise known as the Torah, to Moses the Man of God at Mt. Sinai. 

In all likelihood, the reason you were confused about the matter is because you were raised a Christian, and not a Jew. Christians correctly associate the Day of Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jews associate Pentecost with the Fiery Revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Both Christians and Jews are correct on their respective points. It is about the divine gift of the Torah. And it is about the divine gift of the Holy Spirit. As a Christian, you’re not wrong about the coming of the Holy Spirit; but you probably have never heard anything about the original meaning, occasion, and focus of Pentecost. Now, though, you have. 

You might also want to remember the coincidental timing of the seminal Old Testament and New Testament events. They both happened on the same calendar day, the Day of Pentecost. That coincidental timing means that for the first Christians the Holy Spirit and the Torah were always theologically associated. We should make the same association. The Torah and the Spirit should alway be associated with each other. The two have something in common. But given their differences, the two are also to be distinguished from each other. They are similar but different. This association-yet-distinction point is worth repeating and remembering. Torah, Spirit: Similar, Different. Torah, Spirit: Similar, Different. Torah, Spirit: Similar, Different. Got it. 

But how? How exactly are the two similar and how are they different? 

A key similarity is that they are both a means of divine communication. Back at Sinai, God appeared in fire and communicated to the leaders of Israel directly. At Sinai, God gave his people a record of what he said in the instructive written words of the Torah. Similarly, on the New Testament Day of Pentecost, God also appeared in fire and communicated to his people directly. On Pentecost, the resurrected Christ fulfilled his Father’s promise and gave the instructive Holy Spirit to his people. 

A trio of key differences that separate the Spirit from the Torah is location, duration, and identification. The Torah is an external written record of long-past divine communication, whereas the Spirit resides internally. The Spirit indwells individual Christians, even now, communicating daily. The Holy Spirit lives and speaks continually within each one of God’s people and among all of them.

Therefore, as Christians we should aspire to cultivate our attentiveness to the Holy Spirit who indwells us and wishes to communicate with us. Indeed, as we do cultivate our attentiveness to the Holy Spirit, we will be increasingly effective in ministry. We will thereby make ourselves useful to God. And we should want that and aspire to that. 

In summary, then, on Pentecost in the Old Testament, God gave his people a good gift, whereas on Pentecost in the New Testament, God gave his people an even better gift.   

Pentecost Pandemonium

Monday, June 1st, 2020

A Panda at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.
Pentecost Pandemonium, Audio Version

In a nod to the calendar, I ought to mention that yesterday was Pentecost Sunday. Yesterday was Holy Spirit distribution and installation day. Yesterday was the birthday of the Church Universal. She is almost 2,000 years old, or young. Happy Birthday, Bride of Christ!  

It was a rough birthday for the Church, though. At least, it was rough here. This past weekend fit the definition of pandemonium. Protests, unrest, rioting, vandalism, and looting occurred in many cities across the United States. Here in this country, we had plenty of pandemonium on Pentecost. The pandemonium was everywhere on social media and everywhere in the news. It was nearby; and it was unsettling. Even now, we are hoping and praying it all calms down.  

Until someone else mentioned that it was Pentecost, I had forgotten. Yesterday we spent part of the day visiting my parents. One of them mentioned that it was Pentecost. “Oh, yeah,” I thought as I was startled to recollection. I had completely forgotten. The pandemonium of the previous days had me preoccupied. Until that moment, immediate circumstances and events had loomed a lot larger than a long-past historical event, however significant. The immediate overwhelmed the permanent. Yet the spiritual effects of Pentecost are permanent and eternal, while this present pandemonium is only sporadic and passing. The Holy Spirit is here to stay, as long as the Church remains on Earth below. 

Did you know that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is referenced symbolically in the Book of Revelation? I did not know that until last year. But I hope to show it to you and convince you that it is there. The birthday of the Church Universal is mentioned in Revelation. More accurately, it is symbolically depicted in Revelation. But the depiction is easy to miss, because it is veiled in oblique references to the Old Testament and in surprising symbolism. 

Are you ready? The Pentecostal birthday of the Church Universal is depicted in Revelation chapter 8, verse 7. If you go read it, you’ll come away wondering if I am a bit crazy. You may suspect that I’m seeing things that are not there. A trumpet is blown. Hail and fire follow, mixed with blood. The hail, the fire, and the blood are thrown upon the earth. A third of the earth is burned up. A third of the trees are burned up. All the green grass is burned up.  

Is this fulfilled literally or symbolically?

Yep, that is Pentecost. That is how Revelation depicts the Pentecostal birthday of the Church way back in the first century AD. Admittedly, this claim requires a lot of interpreting and explaining. I cannot do it all here, because it will take too long. But I will, eventually. Let me say a few initial things here. First, the seven trumpets symbolically depict seven chronological events, most of which have already occurred. The first four occurred in the first century. Those first century events can be precisely named and dated. The first event is the Pentecostal birth of the Church Universal, which you can read about non-symbolically in Acts chapter 2.

None of this makes any sense unless you pick up on the fact that the seven trumpets are decoded by referencing the Old Testament. What is symbolized by the hail, the fire, and the blood? These are actually allusions, or subtle references, to Old Testament events and prophecies. Once you know that, you can begin to piece together what the events and prophecies point to. You can begin connecting the dots. In the case of the first trumpet, the dots connect in a portrait of Pentecost, the Birthday of the Church. 

You don’t need to believe me yet. Just give me a chance to make my case, which I will attempt to do in upcoming posts.