In the beginning, we are told, our world was an unformed wilderness, full of wild animals and wild plants, waiting for someone to come and cultivate the earth and bring creation into a state of peace and proper order.
And so, to answer this need, God formed mankind from the dust and they became his children, filled with their Father’s vision to bring ever greater life and order and beauty to the earth.
But God’s children were young. So God planted a garden in a high valley on a mountain in the land of Eden, a garden full of everything his children would need to live in safety: walls and gates, gold and precious stones and perfumes, rivers flowing, and at the center a tree of life and healing. And God lived with them in that garden, teaching them how to work the earth, how to cultivate the plants and the animals, how to expand their family into a countless nation that would expand the walls of the garden slowly, over many thousands of years, so that the tree of life could someday grow up to extend life and healing to all of creation.
But a foreign power came and invaded God’s garden in the form of a serpent, a wild animal from the wilderness outside. And, true to its nature, the serpent did not attack the garden directly. Instead it used deception, presenting itself as a dignified ambassador from the outer world, sent to offer God’s children a short-cut to wisdom, a way to skip their Father’s long slow expansion program.
God’s children accepted the serpent’s offer. They took the short-cut. And they lost their garden in the mountains. They lost their access to those life-giving rivers, that life-giving tree.
But even as they were driven out, into the wilderness, down into the low country, their Father promised them that one day, one of their sons would lay the foundations for a new garden. He would rebuild the walls and the gates, and God’s people would be safe from attack by any foreign power.
And, sure enough, later in the Book of Genesis a man named Abraham appeared who left his home in the low country and travelled up to a land of mountains and valleys, and there he marked out the boundaries for a new garden — a garden much larger than the first one, a garden the size of a nation, where God would once again live with his people and train them in how to bring life and order to the rest of the earth.
But then the rebuilding effort ran into opposition, from within and without: foreign powers kept interfering, and Abraham had no sons to continue the rebuilding work anyway. And in his grief over these delays, Abraham demanded an explanation from God. So God visited him in the form of darkness and fire, and let Abraham know that rebuilding the garden was actually going to take centuries, and always in times of trouble.
Sure enough, Abraham’s descendants found themselves in exile, serving foreign powers. More than 400 years passed. And then God provided another man to complete the rebuilding project: Moses, who rescued the people of Israel from Egypt, and led them out of the low country back up into the land of mountains and valleys. And over the next 400 years or so, Moses’ people finished the work Abraham had begun: they settled the land, and finally built a temple on a mountain in the midst of their nation, a structure designed and decorated to look like the garden of God, with the tree of life at its center.
Again, more than 400 years passed, and history repeated itself: a foreign power came and invaded God’s land, a foreign power in the form of a Babylonian general named Nebuchadnezzar, who was later crowned king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed God’s temple in Jerusalem, and carried God’s people away into exile. And one of those Jewish exiles was a youth named Daniel, who ended up serving in the courts of those foreign powers for the rest of his life.
Daniel’s dream, Daniel’s prayer, was that God would provide yet another man who might rebuild God’s garden, the temple in Jerusalem. And late in Daniel’s life, when he was a very old man, God answered his prayers: a man named Zerubabbel led God’s people out of their exile in the low country, back up into the land of mountains and valleys, and there he laid the foundations for a new temple.
And then the rebuilding effort ran into opposition, from within and without: building permits were denied, and the people lost interest in the work. And Daniel, in his grief over the delay, demanded an explanation from God. So God visited him in the form of a man dressed as a heavenly High Priest, and let Daniel know that the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem was actually going to take centuries, and always in times of trouble.
Sure enough, the temple was completed. The walls and gates of Jerusalem were built and maintained through times of war and times of peace. More than 400 years passed.
And once again, history repeated itself: a foreign power came and invaded God’s land in the form of a Roman general named Titus, who was later crowned emperor of Rome. Titus destroyed the city and the temple. He killed a third of the Jewish people, sold another third of them into slavery, and scattered the rest throughout his empire. And one of those Jewish exiles was a man named John.
But John was not an ordinary Jewish exile.
Because John had been carried off into exile many years earlier, when he was still a youth — probably about the same age Daniel had been. But John’s youthful exile was a different kind of exile from Daniel’s. Daniel had been carried away physically from his home and his people, but John was carried away spiritually, we could say, by the teachings of a man named Jesus of Nazareth.
This Jesus claimed to be the man promised by God, the one who would rebuild the true garden, the true temple, the one who would finally fill the wilderness of the earth with life and order and the perfect knowledge of God. Jesus claimed he was going to do this by dying and then rising again, so that his own body could serve as both cornerstone and capstone: his death would be the foundation laid under the temple, while his eternal resurrection would be the pinnacle at the very top of the temple, holding the whole thing together. And this man Jesus claimed he was going to build the walls of his temple out of people gathered in from all the different nations on earth.
In other words: Jesus’ temple would not be a building made out of stone, it would actually be a living nation made out of people from every nation, bound together by the Spirit of God himself.
Well, Jesus completed the first step: he died and came back to life, becoming the cornerstone and the capstone of this new spiritual temple. So John decided to join in the work of helping Jesus build the walls of this temple: he went to work gathering people in from every nation on earth to become part of Jesus’ Church, the new Garden of God.
But just as Jesus had warned him, this actually alienated John from his home and his people. Because most of the Jewish nation at that time rejected Jesus. They could not accept a Messiah who would choose to be defeated by foreign powers rather than fight back against them. They could not accept the idea that God’s temple would no longer be a physical building, a centralized source of political and economic and spiritual power for the Jewish people. They definitely could not accept the idea that the temple would be made up of people from all the foreign powers of the earth!
And so John found himself in exile from a young age. Sure, he still lived in his home country, but he had become a spiritual citizen of a new nation, a builder of a new temple, and this meant that he was rejected and persecuted by people he once considered family and fellow citizens.
So when General Titus came and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and brought the Jewish nation to an end, John was ready. He already understood that his Jewish identity was no longer his true identity, he already understood that he could go and serve God and be at home anywhere on earth. His only dream, his only prayer, was that he might continue to participate in the building of Jesus’ living temple.
So ancient sources tell us that John left Jerusalem and moved to Roman Asia and participated in church planting work there. Just like Abraham had done in the beginning, John spent the rest of his life marking out new boundaries for the new ever-living, ever-expanding garden of God.
But then the rebuilding effort ran into opposition, from within and without. We know from John’s letters — which are included in our bible, we can read them together sometime — we learn from John’s letters that, later in his ministry, a rising flood of false teachers were beginning to drown the churches of Roman Asia, dividing and destroying the churches where he had served as a pastor for so long. Around that same time, the government of Rome passed a new law requiring everyone in the empire to worship the emperor as a god — or be executed as an enemy of the state.
And then, to make matters worse, John himself was apparently arrested and banished to the island of Patmos, a small volcanic island about 50 kilometers off the coast of Roman Asia.
And this is where the Book of Revelation begins: about 60 years after John first met Jesus, about 20 years after the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. John, just like Daniel was, is now a very old man, forced into retirement and physical exile from the churches in Roman Asia. John, just like Daniel was, is worried about the future of God’s people, he is deeply troubled by this delay. As a child of God, John needs an explanation from his Father. As a pastor, John needs to know how to explain this opposition to his own spiritual children in Roman Asia.
And so, just as he did for Daniel, God visits John in the form of a man dressed as a heavenly High Priest.
This is how John describes it:  I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,  which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,  and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.  The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Now, if you are familiar with the Book of Daniel, then you already recognize many details of this vision: Daniel also heard a very loud voice. He also saw a heavenly being dressed as a Jewish priest, with legs like bronze, his eyes like fire. Daniel also fell on his face in terror, and then Daniel also was touched and raised back up to his feet and told to write his vision down on a scroll so that God’s people would be able to read it and understand what was happening to them.
But there are also some key differences here. For instance, in Daniel’s case, he saw the heavenly High Priest hovering over a river here on earth. But in John’s case, when he turns around to see who is speaking to him, he sees the heavenly High Priest standing in the midst of seven golden lampstands.
What does this mean?
Well, in the Old Testament, the outer room of God’s temple was lit by a golden lampstand that was designed to look like a tree with seven branches: the lampstand was a model of the original tree of life in the original garden. And on the end of every branch was a lamp. And it was the special job of the High Priest to take care of those lamps, making sure that they had enough oil, making sure that they burned bright and clear all night, every night.
That was the earthly temple.
What we are supposed to realize here is that John is now seeing into the outer room of God’s heavenly temple, God’s heavenly garden. He is now seeing the original, eternal, heavenly lampstands, of which the earthly lampstand was just a copy. And he is seeing the original, eternal, heavenly High Priest, of which the earthly High Priests were just copies. This heavenly High Priest is among the lampstands because he is doing his job of keeping those lamps burning through the long, dark, heavenly night.
But there is more: in Daniel’s case, the heavenly High Priest was — apparently — a young man, because Daniel did not comment on his hair. But in John’s case, he sees this High Priest as an older man with white hair, a man who still has all the strength of his youth, a strength now tempered by the wisdom of long experience.
Now, what does this mean?
Well, in one of Daniel’s other visions, he also saw a figure with hair that was white like wool, a figure that Daniel called the Ancient of Days: basically he saw God himself, the wise Father over all creation, seated upon his heavenly throne, passing judgement upon all the nations of earth and heaven. Daniel also saw a young man, the victorious commander of God’s armies, approach the judgement throne and give God all the glory for his victory. And as Daniel watched, he saw the wise Father acknowledge that young man as his true Son and then give him the authority to pass judgement upon the nations.
So what we are supposed to realize here is that John is now in the presence of that same victorious young man, the commander of God’s armies — this heavenly High Priest is that same Son of God Daniel once saw — except that now this Son of God shares fully in his Father’s wisdom and power and authority: this priest is also a king, with a sword to judge his enemies and protect his people.
But there is more: in Daniel’s vision, this one like a son of man was not given a name, an identity. But here John receives a full personal introduction: “I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!”
What does this mean?
It means that this heavenly High Priest, whose job is to use the seven flaming stars in his right hand to keep the seven lamps burning throughout the night — this High Priest is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, John’s old friend and mentor and Lord. Jesus of Nazareth is the only begotten and acknowledged Son of God, the only man who has ever earned the right to rule alongside the God and Father of us all.
So what we are supposed to realize here is that John has now been reunited with the dearest friend of his youth, a man he has not seen face-to-face for sixty years or more. John was probably 15 or 18 years old the last time he saw Jesus, and Jesus himself was a few years past 30. But now everything has changed: John is at least 80 years old, while Jesus is still in the prime of his life, a man translated into a strength and glory beyond all human description.
Just like Daniel, John needs an explanation for the rising tide of opposition to Jesus’ Church. And Jesus himself has come to give John an answer that he, in turn, can pass on to the churches of Roman Asia.
So Jesus says,  “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.  The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
And what does this mean?
It means that the seven churches in Roman Asia are not just on earth, in Roman Asia: they are also present in heaven, in the outer room of God’s temple, being tended by Jesus Christ himself. On earth, it looks like the churches are being opposed from without by foreign powers, destroyed from within by false teachers. But in heaven they have been set up to shine like stars in the gateway of an eternal garden where no foreign power will ever break in to steal or destroy. And Jesus himself is taking care of them: he has seven angels in his right hand, seven angels that he has specifically assigned to feed the lamps that are the churches and keep them burning through the long night between now and the dawn at the end of the age.
In other words, John needs an explanation for the delay in building Jesus’ Church, and this vision is the beginning of Jesus’ explanation: things are not always as they seem. How things appear on earth is not always how they actually are; what might seem like a delay is just the beginning of a plan that will take centuries to complete.
And John is being called to carry this explanation to the churches of Roman Asia.
And that is exactly what John did: he wrote down everything he saw and heard from this point on. And when the visions were finally over, he sealed up the book he had written and mailed it off to the seven churches with this introduction:
 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,  who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
That was John’s introduction, and his purpose statement: he wrote this book to be read out loud during Christian worship, so that Christians could hear it and have their lives transformed by this vision of things as they really are — and as they really will be.
Then he made sure to address it properly:
From:  John.
To: the seven churches in the province of Asia.
…but hang on a moment: we live in modern Asia. But the Roman province of Asia was in what we now call Turkey.
Why are we reading someone else’s mail? What does John’s book have to do with us?
Well, as we have already noticed, John’s book already has a lot in common with Daniel’s book. And in Daniel’s book, many of the particular place names were not just meant to be just particular place names, they were actually designed to be particular historical examples of things that are true in many different places and times.
For instance, in Daniel’s book, near the end he had a very detailed vision about a terrible war that took place between North and South, between Syria and Egypt, a war that absolutely devastated God’s people. And that war really did happen in history! But that ancient historical war was also written down as an example of a thousand different wars in history that have devastated God’s people.
In the same way, these seven churches in the province of Asia were real churches with real problems. But we are also supposed to understand that these seven churches are actually examples of a thousand different churches in history, including ours.
How do we know this?
Because there are seven of them.
Let me explain: to the ancient writers of scripture, the number seven was a symbol for completeness. For instance, way back at the beginning of the Old Testament, when God says that “anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over,” he does not mean that he will kill Cain’s enemies seven times, it simply means that his judgement upon them will be absolutely, totally complete. In the same way:
When John says he is writing to the seven churches in the province of Asia, he is writing to seven particular churches, he even names them. But these seven churches also represent the complete Church — not just in Roman Asia, but in modern Asia as well…and everywhere else in the world.
So this letter was written to us. Which means this next blessing is also meant for us:
“Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,  and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,  and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
The reason we have been set free from our sins is so that we can be a kingdom and priests: it is our job to continue the rebuilding and the expansion of God’s garden, God’s temple, God’s Church. And John’s book, this revelation, is meant to help us figure out how to do that properly.
And now John finishes his introduction with a summary of his book. In the end, when we have finished John’s Book of Revelation, this is what we will understand:
 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.
 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
That’s it. That is the whole message of this book: in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In the end, God will create a new heavens and a new earth.
If that is all we learn by the end…then, really, that should be enough to change everything about how we live in this world.
But we are not there yet. We are just at the beginning of John’s book. So…what is our practical application for today? What does our Father want us to believe and do because of this introduction?
Well, let’s start with this: he wants us to believe that we are part of these seven churches of Roman Asia. We are also supposed to believe that, as one of these ”seven“ churches, we are being cared for directly by our heavenly High Priest and King, Jesus Christ. We do exist here on earth, we are rebuilding God’s garden in times of trouble; but we also exist in the heavenly places: our wounds, our fears, our worries are being tended even now by the hand of our Saviour.
Okay. So if that is what we are supposed to believe, what are we supposed to do because of this belief?
Well, in part we are doing it right now: we are supposed to read aloud the words of this prophecy, so that together we might hear it and take to heart what is written in it.
In other words, we are supposed to read this book because we are supposed to believe that it is relevant to us.
Which means that this would be a good place for us to pause and discuss exactly how we will be reading John’s book.
Because I think most of us already know that people read the Book of Revelation in a number of different ways, and those ways hardly ever seem to agree. As a result, most of us have gotten the idea that the Book of Revelation is controversial and confusing and impossible to really understand.
You may be surprised to find out that this was not always the case.
The earliest and oldest interpretations believed that the Book of Revelation was just like the Book of Daniel: it basically outlined the next 500 years of history for God’s people, prophesying that Jesus would return, judge the Roman empire and every other nation on earth, and then rule unopposed for at least 1000 years.
The Roman empire did eventually fall, but…the world did not end. Jesus did not return. And so gradually Christian interpreters came to realize that, like the Book of Daniel, the Book of Revelation is about the fall of the Roman empire — but it is also about so much more. Just as in the Book of Daniel, some of the details of Revelation are connected to historical people and places in the Roman empire, but those details were simply meant to be previews and patterns of the many empires to come. So Christians came to believe that Revelation was written as a description of how Jesus is already reigning on earth through the Church, and how the Church must be tested by death and defeat in every generation in order to be refined and learn how to preach the gospel more and more effectively, right up until the day Jesus returns.
And for 1000 years, this is how almost everyone interpreted the Book of Revelation. There was no confusion, and no major controversy.
But then, a few hundred years ago, some teachers began to interpret Revelation as a fairly detailed roadmap of world history from Jesus’ first coming to his second coming. They began trying to match up specific details in the book with specific details in their own history. And this is when things began to get a bit confusing and controversial. Because the problem with this kind of interpretation is that our interpretations of history keep changing, which means that the interpretations of the book also have to keep changing.
Still, that kind of interpretation was accepted by only a very small minority of Christians: the vast majority of churches continued to interpret Revelation as they had from the beginning.
But then, a little less than 200 years ago, some people began to teach that Revelation is not really a roadmap for all of world history, but just a very detailed look at the last few years of world history, the so-called “End Times”. Unfortunately, this idea became very popular among American Evangelical Christians. And — let’s be honest — American Evangelicals are very good at marketing and promotion: they sent missionaries all over the world, missionaries who did a lot of good things, but who also strongly promoted this modern American style of interpretation.
And that is why, if you have spent any significant time in a modern evangelical church anywhere in the world today, you have almost certainly been taught this modern American style of interpreting Revelation. And you have almost certainly been taught that it is the only way to interpret Revelation, that the Church has always interpreted Revelation this way. Some among us have even been taught that those who interpret Revelation any differently are not even Christians…
Now, besides the confusion, controversy and division this modern kind of interpretation has created, this approach has at least one other major problem: if the Book of Revelation is just a roadmap for the last few years of world history — the “End Times” — then that means it has actually been irrelevant to every generation of Christians from when it was written until now; it will only be relevant to the very last generation of Christians. But here’s the problem: that directly contradicts what John said right here in his introduction: that this book is intended for the encouragement and blessing of every generation of Christians, every church, everywhere.
So we are going to go back to a simpler time, before all the confusion and controversy. We are going to rejoin the majority of Christians in history and around the world today by returning to the earliest and oldest interpretations of this book, because…you know what? They were right! The Book of Revelation really is just an updated version of Daniel’s book. The Book of Daniel was written to help God’s Old Testament people survive until Jesus came the first time; the Book of Revelation was written to help God’s New Testament people survive until Jesus comes again.
And we can already tell — just from the introduction here — that Revelation is meant to be read as a sequel to Daniel: we have already noticed that John has basically received an updated version of the same vision Daniel received.
But we are going to find out as we go that the similarities between the two books to do not end with the introduction:
For instance, Daniel had four visions in a row that outlined his people’s future, visions that were structured around 4s and 7s and other significant numbers. Some of his visions were a basic overview of history; others were extremely detailed closeups of the same history, told again from a slightly different angle, with a slightly different focus.
John’s visions are structured in the same way. Over the next few months, John is going to lead us through the history of the world four times. Each cycle will begin by revealing four universal patterns, followed by an interlude, followed by three more detailed patterns leading up to Judgement Day: which adds up to seven patterns in each of the four cycles. Some of these cycles will be overviews of history; some will be very detailed closeups of the same history. They will be told from different perspectives, designed to teach us different things about the nature of reality. There will be four major scene changes: the first one happened today, when John turned on earth and found himself looking into the outer room of God’s heavenly temple. The second one will happen two weeks from now, when John is ushered through the veil into the inner room of God’s heavenly temple, into God’s throne room, the Holiest of Holy Places. The third major scene change will happen near the end of the book, when John is brought back to the wilderness of this earth to witness an extremely close look at God’s final judgement, followed by an extremely zoomed-out summary of the whole redemption story from beginning to end. And then the fourth major scene change…
Well, I don’t want to spoil the end of the story. But I will tell you that we will see a garden there, a garden in a high valley on a mountain, a garden full of everything God’s children will ever need —
I cannot wait to get there.
But before we can get to that faraway mountain at the end of this book we first have to pass through the dark valley that lies between here and there. Next week we are going to turn the page and take our first steps down into those shadowlands. We are going to find out why the rebuilding efforts have stalled, why John is so concerned about his churches in Roman Asia. We are going to find out, just as Daniel did in the Old Testament, that the rebuilding and the expansion of God’s Church is designed to take place slowly, over many centuries, and always in times of trouble. And we are going to be reminded that the expansion of God’s garden into the wilderness was always meant to be a long slow process, requiring a countless nation of children.
Adam and Eve could not accept this plan. They took the serpent’s shortcut, and made the whole process so much more painful for all of us. Well, again and again, throughout this Book of Revelation, we are going to be challenged in the same way our primordial parents were: are we going to accept our Father’s plan? Are we going to follow him through valley of the shadow of death, or are we going to follow the serpent’s false light and make things harder for our own children, for the generations that follow us?
We want to be faithful. So we are going to do what we have been commanded to do: we are going to read aloud the words of this prophecy, we are going to hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
Actually, the time is not just near, it has already begun.
So, let’s get practical:
If you are here today and you have not been baptized into Jesus’ Church, into Jesus’ family, then hear this and take it to heart: “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” John borrowed these words from the Book of Daniel and from the Book of Zechariah. And what he is saying is this: one day everyone on earth will see Jesus descend in judgement. And on that day, all nations and all peoples on earth will mourn, because we have all “pierced him”, we have all rejected him and betrayed him.
But there will be two kinds of mourning on that day:
When we look at where this first quotation comes from in the Book of Daniel, we realize that when Jesus comes “with the clouds” that will be a time of terror for the nations of our world, and for all the people who served those nations. That mourning will be the grief that comes from knowing your life must now come to a bitter end.
But when we open the Book of Zechariah and find the original source for the last two quotations, we see that, in the midst of the terror of those last days, God promises to pour out upon his people a spirit of grace and supplication. He says this: “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child.” In other words, the mourning of God’s people on that day will be the mourning of repentance, grief over the terrible cost of our redemption. But their grief will turn to joy and everlasting life.
So if you are here today and you have not yet entered into covenant with Jesus and his people, this is John’s challenge for you: Jesus is coming back to judge all the earth. You will mourn on that day. Which kind of mourning do you want to experience: the grief of regret for a wasted life? or the grief that must become joy?
It is for you to decide.
For the rest of us, we who are already brothers and sisters in our Father’s family, let me close with this promise, also from the Book of Zechariah: “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to clease them from sin and impurity. In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’”