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07 August 2019

Call to Action

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        The purpose of Revelation is not, primarily, to be a tool to divine the future or to provide detailed chronologies about history in advance. Instead, it is a summons to God’s people for vigilance, right living, and faithful witness while living in a hostile society.
        Revelation is not so much about when certain events are to occur and their details, but how churches "overcome" to get beyond present situations to New Jerusalem.
        One primary method by which the book calls believers to action is the exhortation to "overcomers" at the end of each of the Seven Letters to the churches (chapters 2 - 3). A second is through the seven "beatitudes" threaded through the book.
        The explicit and the figurative use of certain numbers in Revelation is widely recognized, in particular, the numbers seven, four, ten and twelve (e.g., seven seals, four corners of the earth, tribulation “ten days,” twelve apostles of the Lamb).
       Also used are multiples of these numbers, such as twenty-eight (4 x 7), one-thousand (10 x 10 x 10), and 144,000 (12 x 12,000).
       Not as readily apparent are several series of things not explicitly numbered. For example, the name 'Jesus' occurs fourteen times (2 x 7), “Christ” seven and “lamb” twenty-eight times (4 x 7).
       One unnumbered series is Revelation’s seven “beatitudes,” pronouncements of “blessing” when certain conditions are met (Greek: makarios). Considering the extensive use of the number seven, this cannot be coincidental.
  • (Revelation 1:3) - “Blessed is he who reads and they who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep what is written in it, for the season is near.”
       The first beatitude is a pronouncement of blessing on “he who reads and they who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep what is written in it.” The declaration reflects the historical context; “He who reads,” singular, and “they who hear” plural.
In the first century, books were expensive and large segments of the population barely literate. The common practice was to have one person read a book or letter aloud to the assembly. The following is a complete list of all seven beatitudes:
  1. (1:3) - “Blessed is the one who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
  2. (14:13) - “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”
  3. (16:15) - “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men see his shame.”
  4. (19:9) - “And he said to me, Write, Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said to me, These are true words of God.”
  5. (20:6) - “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”
  6. (22:7) - “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is the one who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”
  7. (22:14) - “Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.”
       The second beatitude is a call to faithful endurance in the midst of persecution and temptation, even to the point of death. This is how one “keeps the commandments of God and faith in Jesus” (14:13).
        The next one calls for vigilance and watchfulness in view of the coming of the Lord, and of the believer’s inability to know or compute the time of his arrival. The vigilant “keep their garments” pure because Christ could appear at any moment. Vigilance is necessary precisely because no one but God alone knows when it will occur, just as a homeowner cannot know when a thief will strike in the night (16:15).
       The fourth beatitude pronounces blessings on “those invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (19:9); the fifth one declares all who participate in the first resurrection “blessed and holy” (20:6). The “second death” will have no authority over them; instead, they become “priests of God and of Christ, and reign with him a thousand years.”
       The sixth beatitude reiterates the promise of the first one: “Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:7). It stands at the end of Revelation’s visions and the start of the book’s epilogue. Believers prepare for the coming of the Lord and keep their garments unsoiled by heeding the words of Revelation.
        The seventh and final beatitude pronounces a blessing on all who “wash their robes.” They will have access to the tree of life and freely enter New Jerusalem by its gates (22:14). The image of washing robes also occurs in the vision of an innumerable multitude from every nation (7:9-14). John saw a large group coming out of the great tribulation, “having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” 
       The seven beatitudes collectively form a call to action for believers and highlight key themes of the book. Revelation opens with a summons to heed the words of the book of the prophecy. This includes exhortations to bear witness even in the face of death, to remain vigilant at all times, to keep one’s “garments” pure from stain, to strive to attain the “first resurrection,” to keep the words of the prophecy, and to wash one’s robes in the blood of the Lamb.
        This overall call to action itself best summarized by Revelation 12:11, “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives even unto the death."

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