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  • "Destined for A Dinner" (Revelation 19:1-21)

    Revelation: The Time is Near Please pick up a Bible and turn to Revelation 19. You will find that chapter starting on p. 1039 and continuing onto p. 1040. It will be my delight to read this section of God’s Word for you before I preach from it. Listen to the way that the scenes in this chapter blend what we think of as contrasts: reverence and joy; solemnity and celebration; wrath and worship. After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” 4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” 6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. 11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:1–21) So many of the world’s great stories end with a feast, an elegant dinner. So often the fairy tales that we love to tell our children end this way – the bad guys are done in, the hero rescues his princess, they enjoy a big wedding which culminates in a banquet, and all live happily ever after (except the bad guys). We love this plot because, deep down, we long for it to come true. We want it to be more than a fairy tale. The Bible’s story is not just another fairy tale but the true story to which all the fairy tales testify. God gives us his word that all our true longings will one day become reality. Revelation 19 depicts the ending of the human story. It ends with two very different feasts. Every person who has or will live on earth will attend one of the two banquets. You are destined for one of these dinners. The first is a wedding feast. The scenes of 19:1-16 depict this feast. The second is a doomsday dinner (19:17-21). At the first, guests gather to enjoy the feast. At the second, those who gather are the feast. Majestic music is the soundtrack for the first. The cry of vultures sounds over the second. The woman of the first feast is a beautiful bride. The woman of the second feast is a humiliated prostitute. Which feast will you attend? At which feast will you gather? When the time comes, you cannot switch from one to the other. You will not want to leave the first. You will not be able to escape the second. Now is the time to direct your destiny. Today is the day of preparation for these feasts. The Wedding Feast If you are a Christian, the wedding anticipated in Revelation 19 is your wedding. Look forward to it. Prepare for it. Let the excitement grow. Contemplate four features of your wedding feast from vv. 1-16. There is the Music, the Bride, the Invitation, and the Groom. The Music First, the music. I count five songs in this first section of Revelation 19. Perhaps these are five verses of the same song. The first begins at the end of v. 1 and continues through v. 2. The second takes up v. 3. The third comes at the end of v. 4. The fourth is v. 5. And the fifth runs from the end of v. 6 to the middle of v. 8. The first song begins with the word “Hallelujah.” Three more times in these songs the word reverberates. This is the only chapter in the New Testament to use the word. Hallelujah is a Hebrew word that has migrated into every language that embraces the biblical faith. We don’t translate it. We transliterate it. We sound it out in English the way it sounds in Hebrew. Hallel means praise. And “Jah” is the short form of the personal name for God, Jehovah or Yahweh. The word simply means “Praise Our God.” But it means so much more than that. God’s personal name (Yahweh) refers to his Eternal Existence. The word derives from the Hebrew verb “to be.” Our God is. He always is. There has never been a time when God was not and there will never be a time when God is not. He simply is. Which means he is self-existent. He does not depend in any way on any other being for his existence. He needs nothing to extend his existence except what he is in himself. Which means he is infinite. All else that exists owes its being to this eternal God. Which means he is sovereign over all things. All else is dependent on him. Yet he is a personal God. He has a name. His people praise his name. The wedding music of Revelation 19 calls those who are anticipating the wedding feast to praise the personal, eternal, infinite, self-existent, sovereign God who secures their place at the coming feast. According to these songs, salvation belongs only to this God. He alone has the power and glory to judge and destroy the prostitute who tries to steal affection away from the Groom. Those who anticipate attending this wedding feast sing because God has dealt decisively with this woman, the world system (as we saw last week). No longer will she seduce or slaughter the Groom’s faithful servants. This God is Almighty and he alone reigns over human history. These songs appear in the text to remind us that those who plan to attend the final wedding should sing in anticipation. Are you singing in anticipation of that day? Do you gather here in anticipation to sing to and about your beloved Groom and his Father? Did your heart soar to sing about the True and Better One this morning? Did you treasure your true Love more as you addressed him in song as the High King of Heaven? Did you feel some sense of urgency when you heard your brothers and sisters challenge you, “Go meet him as he cometh with alleluias clear”? Did you lament life in a fallen world as you sang to the Refuge of your soul who is coming to rescue you? I fear for those here who do not or will not enter sing. Are you not expectant for this feast to come? Is not the One who is preparing the feast worthy of your praise? The book of Revelation has taught us that Christians are singing people. They sing together. They carry a song in their hearts. They sing with every kind of emotion and in every situation. I encourage you to fill your soul and your mouth with the music of heaven. Sing as a family. Learn new songs. Cherish the best of the old songs. Let our praise to God be bold and beautiful as we prepare for our wedding feast. The Bride The strangest feature about this wedding is that the guests are the bride. The invitation is a blessing because to respond to it is to claim an identity as the Bride of Christ. In chapter 21 we will see the Bride again and she will be described as a whole city. Here in chapter 19, the emphasis is on the Bride’s preparations. The song that begins at the end of v. 6 and continues into v. 8 worships God for providing the Bride’s dress. She has clothed herself in righteous deeds that belong to the saints. A saint is another name for a Christian. It refers to someone declared holy in God’s sight because he or she belongs to Jesus Christ. He or she is part of the Bride and so is granted (or given the grace) to wear her wedding gown. You cannot become a saint by doing righteous deeds. You do righteous deeds because you are a saint through faith in Jesus Christ. The whole of your Christian life is like sewing your own wedding dress. Every obedient act is another stitch in the beautiful garment. You cannot see the finished product here in this world. You sew by faith. Every sacrificial expression of love, every inch of progress along the paths of righteousness for Christ’s name sake is preparation for your wedding. The Christian life is not conformity to a list of rules or the application of a set of principles but the engagement in a relationship with a person who seeks deeper intimacy with you as your prepare for the day when you will be wedded to him forever. A woman preparing for her wedding takes great pains to make sure her dress is just right. But she doesn’t want people to see it until her wedding day. So it should be for us when we do what is right in this world. We act to honor Christ and not to be seen by people. The Invitation An angel draws John’s attention to a third feature of your wedding in vv. 9-10. It is the invitation. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Revelation 19:9–10) This is a strange sequence of circumstances. An angel commissions John to pass along a blessing to those who are invited [and presumably intend to come] to this marriage feast of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. The angel assures John that these words of blessing come from God and so are completely true. John reacts by worshiping the angel, but the angel rebukes him and insists that he must worship God alone. The angel identifies himself simply as a fellow servant of Jesus with John who along with other believers holds to the testimony about Jesus. John then adds that the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. What is going on here? John considers receiving a word from God such a precious treasure that he wants to worship. The angel understands that those who have received an invitation to attend this wedding feast hold to the testimony about Jesus. They trust God’s word and remain faithful to it. And all the prophecy that God has revealed focuses on Jesus. The whole prophetic word is filled with a spirit that testifies about Jesus. There are two points of application for us. The whole Bible is about Jesus and we treasure it to worship Him. Wherever we are reading in the Bible, we look for Jesus Christ. He is the point of the whole Bible. When you open the Bible for reading or study, pray that you might know Christ better, whether you are in the gospels or the Psalms. Work hard at understanding the Bible as the testimony of Jesus. Then hold to that testimony. Treasure it. Receive it with awe and gratitude. Worship Jesus with your obedience. Hold to the testimony. Effectively, the whole Bible is your invitation to the wedding. Holding to it is the mark of one who intends to be there. This is another way of describing the righteous deeds that beautify the Bride. The Groom The fourth and most important feature of this wedding is the Groom. In vv. 11-16 he is pictured as the conquering Prince coming to rescue his Bride and vanquish all her enemies. The picture of Jesus confirms that he is God the Son. He is celebrated for his faithfulness, his truth, his righteousness, his justice, his wrath, and his sovereignty. His flaming eyes (v. 12) symbolize his omniscience (that he knows all things). He shares a name with God (v. 12) that only he knows. No one else can claim it. He is the Word of God. And His word is the sharp sword that strikes the nations (v. 15). In this scene, the beautiful Bride is following her Prince (v. 14). Christian, this is the portrait of the One to whom you are betrothed. This is a wedding picture of the Groom. This is the One who will rescue you from all your enemies: from your own sin, from Satan, and from the surrounding world system. This is the One who will escort you into his eternal kingdom. Those in front of this Prince are crushed by his wrath. Those behind him are welcomed into his palace. What’s your perspective on Christ? Are you facing him or following him? The Doomsday Dinner That question leads us to consider the contrasting feast of Revelation 19 in vv. 17-21. It is the Doomsday Dinner that awaits those who will not submit to Jesus as his loving Bride. V. 17 calls it the great supper of God. But God is not partaking in this feast. He leaves the dead for the vultures. The birds of prey gather for this dinner. The armies of the earth also gather. The beast and false prophet who deceive the people of earth lead the rebellion. They intend to amass their forces and fight against Jesus Christ. But the battle never materializes. V. 20 simply says that the beast was captured. Jesus exercises his sovereignty without a shot fired or a sword swung by anyone except the Lord Himself. His sword is the sword of judgment that he wields over every human being. Note back in v. 18 that all classes of people come under his judgment. Kings down to slaves. No one is too important or too insignificant to escape Christ’s judgment. At the end of history, you will not be evaluated by your status among men but by your relationship with Jesus Christ. Conclusion Those who face down Jesus will meet Him as a Conquering Prince. Those who take him as their beloved Groom meet Him as the Lamb. They anticipate the marriage supper of the Lamb. It is His feast. Those who enjoy it with Him remember that this feast cost him his life. He had to be killed to win the love of his Bride. He accepted the wrath of his Father so that we could receive the blessing. He paid the bride price with his own blood to secure an eternal covenant marriage with all who will turn from sin and trust Him. You don’t have to face Christ in judgment. You can follow Him. You don’t have to fear his return. You can anticipate his return as a Bride waits for her Groom to escort her to their wedding. The return of Jesus will find you at one of these two feasts. Which one will it be for you?

  • "All Nations Will Come and Worship" (Revelation 15:1-8)

    Revelation: The Time is Near Revelation is the last book of the Bible. Ch. 15 is about 2/3rds through the book. These eight verses unveil another strange vision, consisting of two interrelated scenes. As I read this chapter, pay attention to two themes: wrath and worship. God expresses wrath as His people express worship. He accepts worship as he inflicts wrath. It’s jarring to us. If we read carefully and honestly, this vision awes us and horrifies us at the same time. Hear God’s Word: Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. 2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” 5 After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. 7 And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, 8 and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. (Rev 15:1–8) Put yourself in John’s shoes. You were raised in a family and culture that was steeped in Scripture. From childhood, you learned Bible stories as part of your family history. You heard God’s Word daily and weekly. You memorized it and meditated on it. Then, as an adult, you meet the very One that your people had longed for for centuries. The Messiah. You become His disciple. You live in Jesus’s inner circle for three years. You witness his death and resurrection. Later, you write a letter (we call it 1 John) in which you recall touching, hearing, and seeing the very Word of Life. And now, late in life, Jesus visits you in exile on an island called Patmos. He shows you visions that depict the demise of this present evil age and the establishment of the eternal new heavens and earth. As Jesus unveils this vision in chapter 15, you see a sea. On the far shore of the sea, God’s people gather. They are singing. They are moving toward God’s holy sanctuary. In the same vision, God is sending plagues into the world. As you watch and listen, you recognize the song. It is the song of Moses. You are seeing a reenactment of the Exodus. You recall how God brought your people out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the Red Sea. He first sent plagues on Egypt to force Pharoah to let the people go. The whole story appears in the first 15 chapters of Exodus. Pharoah changed his mind and led his Army to pursue the Israelites, trapping them against the sea. But God instructed Moses to stretch out his walking stick over the sea. When he did, God divided the water and God’s people walked across on solid ground. Pharoah’s army tried to do the same thing, but God collapsed the water and drown them. On the far shore, God’s people broke into song. After the celebration, Moses led them to Mt. Sinai, where God met with them and revealed plans for a tabernacle where he would live with them. The Exodus stands as the foremost example of God’s saving power in the Old Testament. In one sense, the book of Genesis is a preface to the Exodus, and the rest of the Old Testament celebrates the salvation that God worked through this event. In Genesis, God’s perfect creation deteriorates poisoned by human wickedness. Egypt with her false gods rises as the most powerful empire. God’s people serve as slaves to these oppressive pagans. The false gods seem to have the upper hand. But then comes the Exodus. The Exodus provides evidence for two fundamental truths: The Living Lord is the only God; and, He will rescue his people by subduing all their enemies. God alone is sovereign. God alone will save. There is no god beside Him and no salvation apart from Him. The rest of the OT looks back at the Exodus as the supreme example of God’s salvation to that point. I cite just one example, Psalm 66:5–7, written over 500 years after the Exodus, Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. 6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in him, 7 who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations…. (Psalm 66:5–7) The OT prophets predict that God will initiate a second Exodus at the climax of history, even better than the first. This is the Exodus symbolized in Revelation 15. This new Exodus is led not by Moses but by Jesus Christ. It is a greater and better Exodus. The old Exodus proves to be a sign that points to the ultimate Exodus fulfilled in Jesus Christ. My goal in this message is for you to discover from Revelation 15 why and how Jesus’ Exodus is better than the first Exodus. If you will take this into your heart, it will change how you look at and how you live your life. Jesus’s Exodus is Better Because, If You Belong to Christ, It Includes You The first Exodus involved God rescuing a specific people, a large family, a single ethnic group oppressed by another. Israel entered Egypt as Jacob’s family—70 people resettling within a world-dominating empire. Jacob’s twelve sons became the heads of twelve tribes. Egypt enslaved them because Pharoah perceived the Israelites to be a threat to their dominance. In the Exodus, God separated His people from all the nations. He constituted Israel as a true nation. In the original song of Moses, the people sing of God’s triumph over their enemies. “Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. 5 The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. 6 Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. (Exodus 15:4–6) Other nations hear of God’s salvation and shudder because they are vulnerable to God’s judgment. The song continues, The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. 15 Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. (Exodus 15:14–15) But God’s plan was always bigger than one nation. It was global. In the new Exodus, all nations pass through the Sea into God’s presence. The choir on the far shore includes representatives from across the world. It includes all who belong to Christ in this room right now. You used to be the nations. You belonged to those in Revelation 13:8 who worship the beast. You were enslaved to your passions, determined to live apart from God’s rule, and your heart hardened to God’s purposes. You should have feared and glorified God (v. 4) but you refused. And then Jesus Christ rescued you. He now includes you in his people who are not just from one nation but all nations. If this is true then Christ is saving your enemies. He is saving people who are different from you; people from different races and ethnic backgrounds; people from different socio-economic conditions; people of different classes and cultures; people outside your family. He is saving people from every continent and people group. And all are standing together as equals in God’s presence, worshiping God together. No excuse for prejudice exists. No one can claim superiority. We were all trapped in self-worshiping slavery. We had to be rescued. We cannot save ourselves. We sing not because we are holy but because God alone is holy (v. 4). We sing not because our righteous acts have been revealed but because his righteous acts have been revealed (v. 4). We deserved a fate like Pharoah and his armies. God would have been just to drown us in the sea of his wrath. But he saved us. We have conquered because He won the battle. By including you in His Exodus, Jesus declares that you belong to true Israel. In Christ, you qualify to receive all God’s promised blessings. You are welcomed, loved, accepted, and affirmed beyond your deepest expectation. There has been, is, and will only be one people of God and you are a part of it in Christ. Your spiritual birth certificate marks you as born into the family. Your citizenship is in heaven. A new exodus is going on right now and, in Christ, you belong to it. You do not look back at an event that your ancestors experienced, you are even now a part of this new Exodus. In Christ, you are no longer enslaved to your desires or the approval of other people. You are free. He is leading you through the wilderness of this world to His Father’s holy home. By faith, let this truth change you. Let it describe your identity. Let it determine your purpose in this world. Let it define your destiny. This world and the Satanic forces that control it deceive and entice you to follow your passions; live for yourself. They want you to live as if there is no world beyond the Sea; that what we have here in this “Egypt” is all there is; that there is no time like the present. People of the New Exodus are not seduced by the grandeur and glitz of this world. They conquer the beast’s image (v. 2). They have a distinct identity. They won’t take his number or name (v. 2). They refuse to worship empty idols like money, romance, intelligence, or physical strength and looks. They worship the only God who alone can save. People of the new Exodus enjoy blessings here but they do not worship those blessings. They know that every pleasure in this age will fail to meet expectations. Even the best and closest relationship will end or unravel. New Exodus people never say, “It just doesn’t get any better than this” because it will. The best is yet to come. When they lose something good in this world, they are sad but not devastated. They do not lose hope. They do not ground their hope in this world but the one to come. They have been accepted into the kingdom that will never end by a King who will never stop loving them. Jesus’s Exodus is better because it includes all who trust in Him no matter where they come from. Jesus’s Exodus Is Better Because He Rescues You Completely The first Exodus brought a nation out of physical slavery to an earthly slave master. In the new Exodus, Jesus rescues his people from slavery to the beast (v. 2), the god who enslaves the heart, drives them to grab for more and more, gets them addicted to things, and defines their identity by what they have. But in Christ, we conquer the beast (v. 2). The first Exodus brought a nation into the wilderness only to see them turn away from God and wander for forty years before reaching the promised land. An entire generation who experienced the Exodus failed to enter into God’s salvation. But Jesus leads a better Exodus. He takes us all the way home to the heavenly sanctuary. He does not lead us to the Tabernacle copy that Moses constructed in the wilderness at Mt. Sinai. Read Exodus and see what an impressive structure that was. But Jesus takes us to the reality behind the copy. He takes us into God’s presence. In the vision, those singing the Exodus song have God’s harps. He has gifted them to worship and serve Him. And all qualify for special service for him, not just a certain tribe or family as in the first Tabernacle. They see the angels who are “clothed with pure, bright linen with golden sashes” (v. 6). But they feel no shame because they too are clothed in righteousness. John does not mention it specifically here in ch. 15, but other visions picture Christ’s people in similar dress (we will see this picture in ch. 19:8). Jesus has done everything to qualify them to stand in God’s presence. Jesus’ Exodus is better because he rescues his people completely. Jesus’s Exodus Is Better Because the Leader Is the Lamb It is Christ’s work for his people that makes his Exodus better. So, third, we emphasize that Jesus’s Exodus Is Better Because the Leader Is the Lamb. The sea of the Exodus is the sea of God’s judgment. It is mingled with fire. It overwhelms its victims. Moses leads the first Exodus people through the Sea and walks with them to the other side. But we have a better Moses. Our leader is the Lamb. He stretches out his hands on the cross and sacrifices himself for his people. He plunges into the sea of God’s judgment so that his people walk through on solid ground. He is the only Bridge that spans the chasm between God’s holy presence and sinful humanity destined to plunge into eternal ruin. He exhausts and absorbs the wrath of God so that he can protect all who trust in Him from that wrath. But the Lamb who lays down his life as a sacrifice rose from the dead. He is alive. In the first Exodus, the people sing with Moses. But in the new Exodus, the people sing to their Leader because the Lamb is the Lord God Almighty (v. 3). He is the King of the nations (v. 3). It is His righteous deeds have been revealed in his life, death, and resurrection (v. 4). The new exodus proves (as the first exodus did) that there is only one God and He alone saves from sin. It is difficult to believe in God’s wrath. Something in us pushes back against the thought of God’s wrath. It’s even more difficult to worship God for his wrath. We want there to be justice but we also want to worship God for His love rather than proclaim, v. 4, “You alone are holy.” But it is impossible to worship God for his wrath when you know that you deserve that wrath. God alone is holy. We are not. God’s ways are just and true (v. 3). Ours are not. The only way one can sing with joy about God’s wrath is if one knows that the Lamb has taken that wrath and there is no longer any reason to fear it. The song ends in V. 4 with the declaration that the righteous deeds of the Lamb have been revealed. He could have revealed his righteousness in condemning all sinners. Instead, he revealed God’s righteousness by taking that condemnation in the place of any who will repent of sin and rely completely on Him for salvation. The vision of Revelation 15 ends in a strange way. God’s holy glory fills the heavenly sanctuary so that no one can enter until the angels finish doling out God’s wrath. There is a foundational principle on display in this vision. You cannot enter God’s presence until his wrath is finished. You cannot approach a holy, just, true, and glorious God while his settled anger against your sin remains. He must finish his wrath by pouring it out on you (as we will see in ch. 16). Or he must finish his wrath by pouring it out on His own Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How will God’s wrath be finished for you? As Jesus died he cried out, “It is finished.” He had paid the price. He had satisfied divine wrath. Those who trust in Jesus Christ can worship a holy God because His wrath has been finished in Christ. They can fear and glorify God because they no longer fear His wrath. Have you crossed over to the safety of salvation in Christ? Is He your sin-bearing, wrath-removing, life-giving Savior? Can you look at the cross of Jesus Christ and sing, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” Can you tell him along with the hymn writer: Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress; 'midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head? Can you lift your head with joy in the face of God’s wrath? Only through Jesus Christ.

  • "The Earth Was Reaped" (Revelation 14:14-20)

    Revelation: The Time is Near “I have just two days on my calendar: this day and that Day.” So said Martin Luther. By “this day” he meant today. By “that Day” he meant the last day of this age, judgment day. His statement reflects a healthy perspective. Live for today in light of the coming judgment. Live now so that it will go well on the last day when you face God’s assessment. Live regret-free over the past. Live worry-free about the future. Live every moment ready to give an account to God for that moment. How differently we would live if we had only two days on our calendar. What peace and joy would fill each hour. What simplicity would mark our lives. How helpful we would be to others. How boldly humble we would be. Adopting such a perspective requires knowing something about judgment day. Revelation 14 portrays a vision of that Day. Let’s examine the vision. Take a Bible and turn to the last section of Revelation 14 on p. 1036 of the church Bible. As you listen to vv. 14-20, identify the word picture that symbolizes the coming judgment. Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia. (Revelation 14:14–20) Revelation 14 pictures the final judgment as a harvest. It’s a common biblical comparison. Harvest is the climax of a farmer’s work. When the harvest is over, the year’s work is done. All of the planning, and preparation, and plowing, and planting, and persevering point to that day when the crops are all in. The judgment harvest does not merely mark the end of a year, but the end of the age, the end of human history, the end of time as we experience it. Beyond the judgment lie two and only two destinies – the eternal delight of a new heaven and new earth; or eternal misery in a wasteland absent the blessing of God called hell. Consider five features about this final judgment harvest from Revelation 14:14-20. There is much more to say about final judgment than what is here. We will draw on other passages. But let’s get a good sense of what this vision is communicating. 1. The Significance of the Harvest First, note the significance of the harvest. We have been saying for several weeks that Revelation 12-14 recounts and replays the great conflict between God and Satan. We might expect that the conflict would end in a climactic battle. There will be such a battle. We will see it unfold in later chapters. But in this short vision, the picture of the end is a harvest. It is a picture of a farmer right on schedule. His purposes have come to pass. He carries out his plans as intended. He’s in charge and his opposition in the conflict offers no resistance like a crop in the field or grapes on a vine. 2. The Sovereign of the Harvest That leads to a second feature, the Sovereign of the Harvest. The word sovereign refers to supreme power and authority. It identifies the one who rules. The judgment harvest features God as the ultimate Sovereign. Jesus Christ appears in v. 14 sitting on a cloud. John recognizes Him as the Son of Man from Daniel 7 in the OT. “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13–14) The Ancient of Days is God the Father. In Revelation 14, angels from the presence of the Father in the heavenly temple deliver His instructions about the final harvest (v. 15). And, we see Jesus Christ continuing to obey his Father perfectly. While on earth, Jesus anticipated his return as the coming of the Son of Man: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:36–37) This is a profound mystery. The eternal Son of God limits his knowledge of the future to honor his Father. He waits for his Father’s command to initiate final judgment. In one sense, Jesus waits for his second coming as we do. He waits to do his Father’s will. He completely trusts his Father’s wisdom. Even though Christ himself possesses all authority, He submits to his Father. What an example for us. Even when the world overflows in wickedness, we continue to obey God. We wait for his timing to establish perfect justice. We obey as Christ obeys. What an example for you children as you obey your parents. They are not God. Their wisdom is not perfect. But God has given them wisdom and authority in your home. You may not understand all that they require. But you can trust the Lord and obey them following Jesus’ example. Our point this morning is that God is in full control of the final judgment. He directs it from His temple in heaven. He gives Instructions, and His servants carry them out immediately with full effect. The speed of the harvest demonstrates whose in control. And on earth, judgment day will be, in a special sense, Jesus’ day. He will oversee the whole operation. He will ensure that His Father’s desires are completely fulfilled. V. 14 declares that Jesus has a crown on his head. He is ruling, sharing authority with His Father. He appears not as a Lamb but as the Son of Man with power to judge. 3. The Separation of the Harvest The final judgment is like a farmer harvesting his crop because God is sovereign over his whole creation. He will judge. No one will stand in his way. However, notice that the judgment appears here as two harvests. There is a separation of the harvest. One harvest reaps grain (vv. 14-16). The other gathers grapes (vv. 17-20). In the first, Jesus, the Son of Man, personally harvests the grain. In the second, an angel gathers the grapes and throws them into the winepress. Why two harvests? Why these two pictures side-by-side? The first harvest symbolizes Jesus gathering his people to Himself. The second symbolizes the judgment of the wicked under God’s wrath. The Grain Harvest (vv. 14-16) In the first phase of the harvest, Jesus fulfills what John the Baptist predicted he would do. As John announced the arrival of Jesus for public ministry, he declared about him, His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12) Farmers in that day rolled a heavy stone over harvested wheat to break open the pod around the good grain. The pod was worthless chaff. So the harvesters used a fork to throw the wheat into the air. The wind carried the light chaff out from the threshing shelter while the good grain fell back to the stone floor. Later, the farmer burned whatever chaff piled up. Revelation does not include these details about the grain harvest. But the results are the same. Jesus Christ gathers his good grain, his faithful ones, to Himself. He told a parable in Mark 4. “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26–29) In another parable, Jesus employs a similar word picture. “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. (Matthew 13:24–26) Jesus continues the story up until the harvest. Then Later in the chapter, he explains it: “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:37–43) Again, Revelation describes the same event without all the details. But Jesus Christ’s purpose is clear. He will certainly gather all the righteous who belong to his Father into the eternal kingdom. He takes it as His responsibility. Those who refuse to submit to his law will suffer punishment. The Grape Harvest (vv. 17-20) In Revelation 14:17-20, that punishment is pictured as a grape harvest, the second phase of this final harvest. Christ delegates this harvest to an angel. Grapes ripe with wine symbolize rebels flush with sin. The angel cuts them off the vine and throws them into a winepress. Presumably servants, then, trample the grapes. The blood-wine flows into the valley and away from the city. Significantly, this grape harvest happens at the direction of the angel that comes from the altar in the heavenly temple (v. 18). We met this angel in Revelation 8. HeThis angel oversees the fire on the altar. The smoke rising from the fire carries the prayers of the saints crying out for justice. Now, in chapter 14, the Father directs angels to execute that final justice. God always answers prayers for the good of his people. He does not answer them as quickly as we like. He does not answer them in the way we expect. But He does not ignore the prayers of his people. You may have made your most lasting impact this week when you prayed. We all long for true justice. By faith receive the Lord’s promise and respond to his question: And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7-8) Christian, when you experience or witness injustice, first pray. Cry out to God. Pour out your heart before him. He will honor the faith that clings to him. Your heart’s longing may not be satisfied until the Son of Man comes. But He will establish perfect justice on the earth. The wait will test you. But He will satisfy you. This grape harvest represents another important separation. The winepress stands outside the city (v. 20). The city is the holy city, the dwelling place of Christ with his covenant people. It is the home of human beings in perfect fellowship with the God who has redeemed them from sin and judgment. Outside the city is a wasteland of destruction. On judgment day, when Christ completes his work, there will be only two kinds of people: Citizens of the city and outcasts from the city. 4. The Scope of the Harvest There will be only two kinds of people because the scope of the harvest is worldwide. This is a brief but important point. The scope of the harvest is worldwide. Twice in these verses, once in v. 16 and again in v. 19 we see the phrase “across the earth.” The harvest is universal. No one escapes. No one overlooked. This passage does not refer to it, but when Jesus reaps the grain of the earth in judgment, there will first be a resurrection. Jesus announced while on earth: And [the Father] has given [the Son] authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:27–29) Perhaps the most haunting word in these verses is the short word “all.” Every human being of every time and every town will face judgment. Every tribe and tongue and territory will assemble before Jesus Christ. On the one hand, the picture of judgment as harvest cuts us all down to size. The whole earth reaped with a single swing of a sickle. All humanity is like stalks of grain or grapes on a vine. On the other hand, the Bible assures us that the judgment will be individual. On the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed, 6 He will render to each one according to his works. (Romans 2:5–6) 5. The Suspension of the Harvest Each person will meet Christ face-to-face in judgment. But that will not happen until “the harvest of the earth is fully ripe” according to v. 15. The finality of this judgment indicates that it is still future. This is the last day. So, what about today? Luther encourages us live with two days on our calendar, this day and that day. On this day, today, there is a suspension of the harvest. The angels have not yet emerged from the temple. The Son awaits his orders. The winepress is yet empty. You are either anticipating that day with joy because justice will finally prevail, or with fear because … justice will finally prevail. If fear, you may be asking the question that Scrooge posed to the Ghost of Christmas Future in Charles Dicken’s novel as they entered a graveyard that Scrooge knew contained his own grave. “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be or are they shadows of the things that May be, only?” These events will be. The harvest will come. But from our limited perspective today, for each person, the results of that day are a maybe. The only way to change fear to joy is to believe that the Judge has already been judged on the cross. That your judgment day has already passed. The Bible says that God the Father gave the word and crushed his Son like grain on a threshing floor or grapes in a winepress. The wrath of God against human sin burned his Son in the fiery furnace and he did not come out alive. Do you believe that He took that judgment for you? Do you recognize and renounce your sin that required such death? If so, then Christ’s life is in You. You are safe in his righteousness. The coming day will be one of rejoicing as you shine in the glory of His kingdom. If you have that hope in Christ, remember that when Jesus talked about this day, today, he spoke about a different kind of harvest. He told his disciples and tells us in his Word, Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. (John 4:35–36) He said this as a whole town of Samaritans, people whom the disciples had been taught to hate, were coming to follow Jesus. Today we sow the seed of the gospel everywhere and reap a harvest of those who come to faith in Jesus Christ. As we live for that day, the day of the judgment harvest, we dare not neglect today’s harvest. In every way, Our God is Lord of the Harvest and he has sent us into today’s harvest.

  • "Wearing Christ's Name" (Revelation 14:1-13)

    Revelation: The Time is Near At the close of every wedding ceremony at which I have officiated (close to a hundred), I have said something like, “It is my honor to be the first to introduce to you, Mr. & Mrs., the groom and bride’s first names, and then the groom’s last name.” I am looking forward to September 3rd when, if the Lord wills, I will have the privilege of introducing to a congregation of witnesses at our daughter’s wedding, “Mr. & Mrs. Michael Poindexter.” A distinctly Christian wedding ceremony is saturated with deeply meaningful symbols and actions. Watch what the bride does. The ceremony opens with her father giving her away. She takes her groom’s arm. He is leading her. At the close of the ceremony, she takes his name. She identifies with him. She belongs to him in the most precious sense of that word. She is his. This wedding language flavors Revelation 14, which is strange because the chapter describes a war. Revelation 12-14 describes the great cosmic conflict between the Eternal God and his ancient enemy Satan. These chapters use symbolic visions to portray this conflict from a variety of angles. Over the past few weeks, we have seen the overview of the war and the history of it. Last week in Chapter 13, we witnessed how Satan uses human governments and false religions (depicted as two beasts) to attack those loyal to the Lamb, Jesus Christ. We saw that those loyal to Satan wear the mark of his beast. It is a number, six hundred sixty-six. Symbolically, the number represents a life of never enough – a life of discontentment, greed, selfish ambition, restlessness, unbridled passion, power-hunger, fear, and pride. These mark a person who is loyal to the Dragon. The first section of Chapter 14 reveals God’s current strategy in this great conflict. He has his forces, led not by a beast but by the Lamb. And those loyal to the Lamb do not wear a number but a name. His name. Instead of the beast’s blasphemous words the Lamb’s army is singing a song and sounds like harps playing. Take a Bible and turn to Revelation 14. Listen to the first thirteen verses of this chapter to pick up the contrasts between those who serve the Lamb and those who serve the Dragon. Revelation 14, p. 1036, vv. 1-13. 1 Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. 6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” 8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” 9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” 12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:1–13) The central scene for this vision is named in v. 1. It is Mt. Zion. Geographically, Mt. Zion was a way of referring to Jerusalem, the home of God’s temple. But by the time John writes Revelation, the Roman empire had attacked and destroyed Jerusalem. They demolished the temple. The literal Zion had been desecrated. Symbolically, Mt. Zion is the place where God rules over his covenant people. That’s why we can refer to the local church as a manifestation of Zion. In this vision, Mt. Zion is the place where Jesus Christ, the reigning King, dwells with and directs his followers. His followers are the 144,000 who wear his name. John reintroduces them in v. 1. We saw them in another vision in Chapter 7. The number symbolizes a vast multitude that is in an orderly formation, ready to do the will of its Commander. As vv. 2 & 3 unfold, it seems that some of this army is already in heaven singing a victory song. Yet, v. 12 reminds us that some of Christ’s saints remain on earth and must endure until death when they rest from their labors. These are learning the victory song, preparing to join the heavenly chorus. We preach God’s word for this group – those who claim Christ, who assert that they wear his name, they bear his mark. They say that they are loyal to the Lamb. Do you count yourself among the ranks of Christ’s army? Then this passage tells you three things associated with the mark of Christ’s name. If you truly wear Christ’s name, this passage declares: what that mark reveals about you; what the mark requires of you; and how the mark rewards you. What that Mark Reveals About You If you truly wear the mark of Christ’s name, it reveals that you belong to Christ. You are His. Notice the ways the passage reinforces this truth. Redeemed The Lamb shares his name with those whom he has redeemed. V. 3 describes Christ’s army as those who had been redeemed from the earth. V. 5 repeats that those who follow the Lamb “have been redeemed from mankind.” If you are a Christian, Jesus Christ as God’s Lamb purchased you from slavery to sin so that you might belong to him. He paid the price to rescue you from God’s wrath so that you could enjoy God’s blessing. And He redeemed you by his own blood. 13:8 identifies Jesus as the slain Lamb, the sacrificial Lamb. He gave himself up to His Father to die as a sin offering so that you could wear the name that He and His Father share. This is why you can learn the song that others cannot learn. The holy angels are loyal to the Lamb, but they do not know what it’s like to be redeemed. Creation waits for restoration, but animals cannot repent and believe the gospel. Only repentant sinners know what it means to be redeemed. If Christ has redeemed you, you no longer belong to the Dragon and his beasts. You belong to the Lamb in a very special way. Betrothed The Lamb shares his name with those to whom he is betrothed, those committed to a faithful, covenant relationship forever. I’ll admit that v. 4 is strange. It describes the Lamb’s army as those “who have not defiled themselves with women for they are virgins.” This does not teach that only celibate men can be Christians. John picks up an OT image of the betrothed virgin, one who is committed to another in marriage and is faithful to that one alone. The vision is anticipating the final scene of history when Christ’s people are his fully prepared Bride enjoying his Marriage Supper (Chapter 19). In the meantime, while on earth, they are soldiers who belong only to Christ and refuse to give themselves to the harlot called Babylon. He has chosen them to be his own. Devoted The Lamb shares his name with those who have been devoted to His Father. The concept of devotion is wrapped up in the words “first fruits” in v. 5. Ancient Israelites devoted the early harvest to the Lord as a statement that everything belonged to Him. Christ offers you as an offering to His Father as a statement that everything finally belongs to Him. If you bear Christ’s name, you wear his mark instead of the mark of the beast. You belong to him completely. You live as v. 4 says, you follow Jesus wherever He goes. You endure as v. 12 describes. You keep God’s commandments and you keep the faith of Jesus Christ. You have both the right practice and the right beliefs. Your lifestyle and your theology match. Your mind and body work together to honor Jesus Christ. All your time belongs to him. You cannot just give him a couple of hours on a Sunday morning and call it good. All your money and treasure belong to Him. You cannot give a little in the offering plate and call it good. Your whole body belongs to Him. You cannot sing songs about him with your mouth and then dishonor Him by the way you live. You bear his name on your forehead, obvious to everyone, wherever you are and whatever you do. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) What that Mark Requires of You It is clear that there is a difference between claiming to wear Christ’s name and wearing Christ’s name. How does the person who truly belongs to Christ live? Revelation 14:1-13 also tells us what the mark requires of you. We can sum up the requirement in a sentence. Those who wear Christ’s name proclaim the gospel and refuse to promote lies. Return to v. 5. It says of those who belong to Christ that no lie was found in their mouths. So what is in their mouths? V. 6 answers. God’s angel, or messenger flies overhead with an eternal gospel to proclaim. The army is getting its marching orders. Proclaim the gospel. The eternal gospel. The gospel is for the whole earth, every nation, tribe, language, and people. Christ’s people don’t spread lies. They spread the gospel. This is why the charge to spread the gospel is followed by three warnings: V. 7 -- Revere God because he is the Creator and He is preparing to judge; V. 8 – Reject the world system because it is ready to crumble; V. 9 – Refuse to worship the god of your passions because they will only lead to eternal torment. Satan conspires to spread lies. “God is not the creator. We are here by chance. There is no God to worship because there is no God to judge. The only kind of glory that matters is self-glory. Get as much as you can. Fear no one. Live for yourself.” Christ’s people will not promote such lies. The Gospel begins with God as Creator. V. 7 points to the truth. He made you. He made you in his image. He made you to give him glory. But, as the Bible declares, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Instead of worshiping Him, we give our attention to created things and rarely think about God. We need the gospel to save us from our idolatry. Satan conspires with the world system to promote immorality. V. 8 calls this world system Babylon, the ancient code name for all organized efforts of human beings to live without God. The world system promotes immorality like a strong liquor that intoxicates. “There is no right and wrong. Sensual pleasure is the highest good. Do whatever feels good with whomever you choose. Sexual boundaries are relics of an oppressive age.” Christ’s people will not promote such lies. Two men cannot share a marriage. God defines marriage as His beautiful gift to be enjoyed by one man and one woman for life. A woman cannot become a man. Gender and sex are beautifully joined in God’s design for every human being. Sex is not a casual sport like pick-up basketball. Sex is a sacred pleasure reserved for the protected privacy of covenant marriage. V. 9 reminds us of the lies we discussed last week. Satan’s beasts push the lie of never enough. “Get more. Don’t stop until you’re satisfied. Life is short. Live your passions. Again, Christians refuse to promote such lies. We trust God’s word and know that our passions are disordered. Those who live under the control of their passions will find no rest in this life or the next. There will never be enough. If your mark is six hundred sixty-six, you will never be satisfied. You will always crave more. This life is short. But it is not the end. It is only the doorway into eternity. Christ’s people proclaim the gospel and refuse to promote lies. Which means we don’t lie about our sin. We proclaim the gospel to everyone including ourselves. V. 5 says that we are blameless not because we are perfect but because we must own our sin and repent. These warnings come with the gospel so we must heed them first. We must fear God and give him glory. We must reject the world. We must renounce ungodliness and worldly passions so that we might “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” as Paul writes to Titus. Remember the words of the Holy Spirit through Paul to Timothy: But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19) Bearing his name requires living according to his truth. How that Mark Rewards You But how will we do that? What motivates one to endure to the end and die in the Lord as vv. 12-13 envision? If you truly bear Christ’s name, you will endure because you know how the mark rewards you. V. 12 declares that death is a blessing for the one who bears Christ’s name. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain,” Paul says in Philippians 1:21. Those who wear Christ’s name serve him until the end and find that death is a blessing. It leads to rest. Rest from labors. A Christian may retire from a job in this life, but he or she never retires from the Lord’s work until death. The Holy Spirit affirms (v. 13) that a Christian’s deeds follow him into his eternal rest. He serves in the power of the Holy Spirit. She sacrifices drawing joy that comes from the Spirit. So, rewards will follow. God will honor his people for what they have accomplished through His Spirit. And all the glory will reflect back to Him. This reward for the faithful contrasts with the miserable destiny of those who refuse to take Christ’s name. The Christian finds eternal rest (v. 13). But the one who takes the beast’s mark finds no rest day or night (v. 11). The believer finds blessing after death (v. 13). The one who refuses to take Christ’s name will endure torment after death. Those loyal to the Lamb die in the Lord (v. 13). Those who are not loyal to the Lamb will suffer wrath in the Lamb’s presence forever (v. 10). They will be tormented with perpetual dissatisfaction. Their unsatisfied desires will choke their hearts like smoke and burn like sulfur. Hell is furious and hell is forever. But Jesus Christ endured eternal hell in the place of anyone who will turn away from sin and trust him alone for salvation from hell and judgment. He experienced the curse in death so that we could find a blessing in death. He set aside his glory so that we could share in it. He devoted himself to destruction so that we could devote ourselves to him in an eternal covenant. He rose again to lead us into eternal life Do you have this one to be your only Lord? To have him and hold him from this day forward? For better or worse? For richer for poorer? In sickness and in health? Till death brings you home to him? May every heart here exclaim, “I do.”

  • "I Saw A Beast" (Revelation 13:1-18)

    Revelation: The Time is Near On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur headed for Beijing, China. Or at least that’s what most people thought. It never landed. 240 people remain unaccounted for. Months of searching turned up some debris in the Indian Ocean that likely belonged to the aircraft. But what happened to the flight is still a mystery. Some questionable official announcements at the time sparked many conspiracy theories. The plane was hidden, disguised, and then redirected to be shot down by Russia over Ukraine. Or, the Israeli prime minister orchestrated a large-scale kidnapping. Or, terrorists seized control of the plane by hacking into an auto-pilot system and flying the plane remotely to Antarctica. That’s three of the theories according to Wikipedia. Conspiracy theories often promote the presence of sinister, unseen powers operating secretly in the world you and I experience. Christians, as people who love the truth, must be very careful about any theory and insist on solid evidence before passing it along. There is one conspiracy active today in our world that is not a theory. God’s word validates it and the evidence of history supports it. It is the conspiracy behind the hostility that God’s people experience in this world. It is a conspiracy that we cannot ignore. It is a conspiracy that every person either resists or reinforces. It is the conspiracy that comes to life in the vision of Revelation 13. The chapter falls in the middle of a description of the cosmic conflict between Satan and God. 12:1-6 summarized the whole conflict. In 12:7-17 a replay focused on how Satan left heaven to continue his war on earth. In Chapter 13, we learn more details about Satan’s strategy for this war. As I read these verses, identify the main culprits in this conspiracy. 1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” 5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear: 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. 11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. (Revelation 13:1–18) From one perspective, this is an incredibly difficult passage to preach. Symbolic numbers and strange images, echoing various OT passages require interpretation. Do they point to historical figures alive when John wrote? Do they represent kinds of people throughout history? Do they predict characters that will emerge in the future that might be alive even now? Many answer “Yes” to all three questions. Sorting it all out is a monumental challenge. But from another perspective, John, the human author who saw and wrote down this vision made it simple to preach. He provides the application right in the text. We read it in vv. 10 and 18. The vision of the dragon and his two beasts should move Christ’s people to faithful endurance (v. 10) and wise understanding (v. 18). Whatever their circumstances, Christians (“saints” as v. 10 refers to them) must endure faithfully by applying wise understanding. These four terms – endurance and faith, wisdom and understanding are a pair of twins in the same family. You cannot separate endurance and faith. Endurance requires faith and faith requires endurance. For the Christian, you cannot experience one without the other. If you have genuine faith, you will endure. If you are enduring it is only through faith. Also, wisdom and understanding are twins. Those who get wisdom get understanding. Those who have understanding have wisdom. And wisdom and understanding strengthen faith. True faith will be growing in wisdom and understanding. So, the purpose of interpreting the vision of the dragon and his two beasts is to move Christians to endure with a wise and understanding faith. It has always been difficult to be a Christian in a world where, behind the scenes, Satan is conspiring to overthrow God’s purposes. Christ’s people have always had to endure. He warned his disciples, 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:21-22) Paul visited several churches on his first mission trip, 22 … strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22) In the opening chapter of Revelation, John introduces himself to Christians this way, 9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus…. (Revelation 1:9) The vision of Revelation 13 calls those who are loyal to the Lamb to endure in a world in which an ugly enemy conspires to make sure that they do not endure. I want you to endure. I want Riverbend to be a church full of committed Christ followers who endure to the end with a wise and understanding faith. How will that happen? This chapter points to four requirements. Recognize Your Enemy First, recognize your enemy. Know who’s behind the conspiracy. The Dragon Most importantly, recognize the Dragon. We’ve already met it in 12:9. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. At the end of Chapter 12, the dragon stands on the shore at the edge of the sea. Chapter 13 now tells us that Satan not only has fallen angels cooperating with his conspiracy, but he also has help from human beings symbolized by two beasts. His Two Beasts We meet the first beast in vv. 1-8. We meet the second beast in vv. 11-17. The first beast rises from the sea (v. 1). The second beast rises from the earth (v. 11). The first beast looks hideous with multiple horns and heads and a mixture of animal parts for a body (v. 2). The second beast appears innocent like a lamb but speaks like a dragon (v. 11), a dragon in sheep’s clothing. The first beast has the throne (governmental authority) and gains a following by amazing and coercing people with its power, especially as it receives a mortal wound but recovers (v. 3). The second beast gains a following by deception and encouraging false worship (v. 14). The First Beast The first beast is associated with the antichrist. He is a false Christ. A fake king. Jesus submitted to and received authority from His Father. This false Christ receives authority from the Dragon. Jesus died and rose again, drawing his followers to worship Him as they worship the Father. This false Christ receives a death wound and yet recovers, leading his followers to marvel at and worship him. Jesus Christ has ascended to the Father’s throne and is destined to rule the nations with a rod of iron. This false Christ has a throne from the dragon and has authority over the people of the earth who do not belong to Christ (vv. 3, 7-8). This first beast represents the authority of the state. It is a symbol for governments under Satan’s influence to coerce those on earth to reject Christ and to harass those who follow Christ. Not every government is as bad as it could be. Sometimes hostile governments are wounded and cease their hostility for a time. But the power of the state to oppose God’s purposes on earth always comes back. In John’s day, the first beast was the Roman government. It expected Christians to acknowledge Caesar as Lord. Governments throughout history have to varying degrees used their coercive military power to pester or persecute those who are loyal to Jesus the Lamb. As this opposition increase with time, a great anti-Christ will arise before the end to unite world governments against Christ’s rule. This is why John could write, 18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18) The people in the world who do not recognize Jesus as Lord look at the power of government and ask as v. 4 does, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” They do not recognize the Satanic conspiracy going on behind the human government nor will they give their allegiance to Jesus Christ. The Second Beast The second beast encourages worship of and shares authority with the first beast. He is a fake Holy Spirit. He gives breath to the image of the first beast that people worship (v. 15). In the original language of the NT, the word for breath is the word for spirit. The Holy Spirit performs signs and wonders to validate the representatives of Jesus Christ. The second beast does signs and wonders to deceive people to worship the first beast (v. 13). The Holy Spirit seals those who belong to Christ. The second beast marks those who belong to the first beast. In later chapters of Revelation, this beast is called the false prophet. The second beast is a symbol of false religion that works alongside the power of government to oppose Christ. It deceives with error disguised with some truth. In John’s day, the local cults encouraged emperor worship. Throughout history, false leaders in the church and other religions have allied with the state to turn people from the truth. Before Christ returns, a great apostasy or turning away from the faith will occur exposing the hypocrisy of many. Paul describes this in 2 Thessalonians 2. Revelation 13 applies in every era between Christ’s first and second coming. The False Trinity Therefore, our enemy is a sinister counterfeit. Satan, the Dragon, wants to take the place of God the Father. The Anit-Christ is a false Christ. The False Prophet is a fake Holy Spirit. Christians must recognize that we face a conspiracy masterminded by a false Trinity, a direct challenge to the one True and Living God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Chapter 13 reveals that all human beings fall under the authority of one of these godheads, the false or the True. Human leaders and those who follow them may not know that they are in submission to God’s challenger. They may appear kind and innocent but work for Satanic purposes. No wonder Peter calls the church to sober-mindedness in response to the Devil’s dark tactics. A runner has to know the length and difficulty of her course if she is to endure to the end. A farmer has to know a weed down to the root so that he can buy and apply the right herbicide. Endurance with wise faith requires that you know your enemy. Resist the Lure of Power However, knowledge cannot be enough for endurance. There must be a response. So let’s add to the requirements for endurance from this chapter that draw implications from the threat of these two beasts. To endure to the end with a wise and understanding faith, refuse the lure of power. This is a response to the threat of the first beast. Christians are called to endure under not compete with or compete for political power. It is tempting for Christians to lust for political power. It is tempting for Christians to think that if we can find the right leader we can turn human government into a weapon that will establish Christ’s kingdom. It is tempting to think that my party is God’s party and the other party is the devil’s party. It is tempting to think that my country is God’s country and the others are Satan’s domain. Think about these things before the next election cycle kicks into higher gears. Power and control are dangerous. Human beings and human governments abuse them. People abuse each other to get power and control and abuse each other when they get power and control. That’s true in governments and families. Satan has proven that he will work behind the scenes to use all human government to challenge and resist God’s purposes. Those who are loyal to the Lamb do not put their trust in government. We understand that the Bible calls us to submit to human authorities. That’s Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-17. In a fallen world, government is necessary. And it is noble to serve in the government. But the Bible also teaches that we must defy human authority when it requires that we disobey God. V. 10 admits that this may mean that many Christians are destined to be taken captive or killed. We must be ready for that possibility. There may have been times in the United States when human power and control favored the cause of the gospel. And the church is called to pray for government leaders that they will make decisions that encourage godliness and the growth of the gospel. But we see that government in the United States in many ways hinders and opposes godliness and the gospel. We have had leaders say blasphemous things against Christ and his people. Christians insist that the church remain separate from the power and control of the government. We cannot use government power to advance the gospel. Taking over the government has not gone well for Christians in history. And we cannot lend our heavenly authority to legitimize a government’s plans. Do not forget how many churches in Nazi Germany bowed their knee to Hitler. Christians are called to endure not take over. We are not here to exercise power but to serve. We are not loyal to the Dragon but to the true Lamb who was slain (v. 8). He lay down his life. He set aside his power to serve. If God gives you authority of any kind, treat it carefully. Use it for the good of others as God defines that good. As we have seen throughout Revelation, Christians endure by both declaring the gospel in their words and displaying the gospel in their works. Resist the lure of power. Reject the Love of Money If the first beast’s abuses warn us against the dangers of power and control, the second beast’s deceptions warn us against the love of money. To endure to the end with a wise and understanding faith, reject the love of money. The second beast uses religious ideas to con people into taking the mark of the first beast to make money and buy stuff. Worship a false Jesus in order to prosper. This is a sick vision of what Paul warns about in 1 Timothy 6:5 when he describes false teachers who imagine that “godliness is a means of gain.” It is religion to get rich. The vision of the second beast pictures compromising the truth for the sake of treasure. We can come to the end of Chapter 13 and get all wrapped up around arguments about what the mark of the beast is and how people wear the mark. Remember that this is symbolic language. This is not describing a tattoo on the forehead. It is symbolizing lives marked by the number six-hundred sixty-six. The number may mean many things. But John here calls it the number of man (no “a” in Greek). It is the number of human beings. If seven is the number of completeness, six is the number that is short of completeness. And the six is repeated here three times. It is continually incomplete. Those who compromise the truth to gain treasure never have enough. Their lives are marked by a constant craving for more – more stuff, more money, more spending, more pleasures – trying to find some satisfaction. And they never get there. They will break God’s law to bring in more money but it is never enough. Christians endure by rejecting the love of money. As the last days continue, Christians may have to quit jobs or lose jobs to remain true to the truth. We may have to sacrifice more to help a brother or sister out of work because he or she refused to compromise. Next week we will talk about the mark of the Lamb. Today’s message warns us against the mark of the beast which at least involves living for the love of money. Remember the True Lord We cannot turn away from the vision of these two evil beasts without noting that in the center of Chapter 13 is a reference to the Lamb who was slain. Let’s conclude by adding: To endure to the end with a wise and understanding faith, remember the true Lord. Who has the real power? Who allows the Dragon and his beasts to operate? Who limits their time? Who truly satisfies the human desire for worship? It is the Lamb who was slain. Translations struggle with verse 8. It may be saying that the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world. Or it may be saying that the names of the Lamb’s people were written in his book before the foundation of the world. The Bible teaches that both are true in some sense. Let me focus on the first. Before God even created the world, he provided his Son as the sacrifice for sin. Even before Adam plunged the human race into misery through his rebellion against God, God ordained the slaughter of his Son to redeem human beings from the judgment of death and renew them to life. His book is the Book of Life. And if your name is in his book of life it is because he chose to die your death for you. He accepted the punishment for your sin so you would not have to bear it. He received the mortal wound that you deserved. But then He rose again to secure life for all who will ever believe in Him. The only people who can endure are saints (v. 10 says). And the only way to be a saint is to turn from your sin and loyalty to Satan and receive the righteousness of Christ as a gift, not a reward. Jesus Christ endured the cross so that you can endure. He is not merely the example of endurance that we should follow. His endurance makes possible our endurance. Without his sacrifice, we remain under the domination of a false trinity. But through the slain Lamb, we receive the life of the true God. And that eternal life will endure.

  • "They Loved Not Their Lives" (Revelation 12:7-17)

    Revelation: The Time is Near Do you love life? Do you love your life? Should you love your life? The text that we come to in our study of Revelation seems to hold up as a good example people who did not love their lives. Should we imitate them? Before we answer that question, we have to understand who they are and what they did. Turn in a Bible to Revelation 12. We focus in this message on the second section of chapter 12 which begins at the very bottom of the right column on p. 1034 and continues onto p. 1035 of the church Bibles. Listen to vv. 7-17 and consider what kind of person does not love his life. 12:7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” 13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea. (Revelation 12:7–17) We are in a section of Revelation, Chapters 12-14 that describe the cosmic, epic war between the Dragon and the Woman. We reviewed the summary of that war in 12:1-6 last week. Today in vv. 7-17 John replays the war with greater detail and commentary. In the overview (vv. 1-6) we meet a woman who represents the people of God. She is destined for splendor but lives now in a wilderness oasis for protection from the threats of a Dragon that represents Satan. The Dragon initiated a war against God and convinced a third of the angels in heaven to join him. At some point, he shifted the battlefield from heaven to earth. There, he first focused his hostility against the woman’s male child (Jesus Christ). But God exalted Jesus as the Victorious Prince to share His throne. So the Dragon turned his anger toward God’s people on earth. In 12:7-12 we watch a replay of this war with greater detail. Early in his rebellion, the Dragon maintains a place in heaven. Though he has turned against God, he continues to approach God. He has standing in heaven’s courtroom to accuse God’s people of being traitors like he is. But when Jesus Christ lives, dies, rises, and ascends to heaven’s throne, Michael leads the loyal forces in heaven against the Dragon and defeats him and his armies. The Dragon did not leave heaven voluntarily. He was thrown out by God, with Michael and his soldiers doing the job. The Dragon no longer has standing in heaven as v. 8 says. God’s people in heaven see the results of Christ’s work and celebrate that salvation has come (v. 10). The loud voice in v. 12 belongs to a worship leader who calls the hosts of heaven to rejoice. In vv. 13-17 we watch a replay of Satan’s activity on earth now that he no longer has a place in heaven. He attacks the woman and her offspring. But God makes her like an eagle (v. 14), to fly to a safe place, where He nourishes her for 3 ½ years. Note all the parallels to v. 6 from last week. Our concern this morning is how God’s people survive the Dragon’s attacks. V. 11 assures us that they do more than survive. They conquer him with three defenses: the blood of the Lamb; the word of their testimony; and not loving their lives even unto death. We will touch on all three, but focus on the last. They did not love their lives even unto death. It’s not that they loved their lives until death and then stopped loving them. No, they did not love their lives, and not even death could make them start. How should we make sense of all this? Let’s ask and answer four questions: Who is not to love his or her life? What does it not mean not to love one’s life? What does it mean to not love one’s life? And, how can we live this way? Who is Not to Love His/Her Life? First, who is not to love his or her life? The phrase appears in an announcement from a loud voice in heaven. The voice begins to speak in v. 10 and the announcement continues through v. 12. The last declaration we heard from loud voices in heaven introduced the song of the twenty-four elders back in 11:15. This loud crowd represents God’s redeemed people who have died and entered the Lord’s presence, worshiping Him around the throne. The loud voice here in 12:10 is a spokesman for that group. He announces that Satan has been accusing “our brothers.” These brothers include fellow believers who continue on earth as well as those who have graduated to glory. In other words, all God’s redeemed people, all the brothers and sisters from all eras and cultures. The point is that it is not an elite group of martyrs who are commended for not loving their lives even unto death. Rather, this is a description of every true believer in Jesus Christ. Earlier when we studied the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, we heard Jesus in each letter commending the one who conquers. He makes promises that include a taste of the Tree of Life, protection from the second death, a new name, authority in Christ’s kingdom, and righteous clothing for life in the new creation. These blessings belong to all believers, not a select few. The description “did not love their lives even unto death” applies to every Christian. V. 11 is, effectively, the story of every Christian. Every Christian conquers Satan by the blood of the Lamb. If you are a Christian you came at some point to understand that you belong to Christ not because of what you have done but what He has done. God dealt with your sin long before you were born. Before creation, before the world began, he appointed his Lamb, his perfect Son, to come to earth as a human being. He offered that Perfect Lamb as a sacrifice, the only one whose blood washes sin away. This Perfect Lamb shed his blood as the completely sufficient payment for all the blessings that his people will enjoy forever in his eternal kingdom. If you are a Christian, you recognize that all this took place on a hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago. You can add nothing to his work to merit your salvation. Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished” (“Paid in Full” John 19:30). Satan no longer has standing to accuse you before the Father because the Son is at the Father’s right hand pleading the merits of his blood for you. But the Christian story continues. Every Christian at some point responds by testifying to faith in Christ. He or she overcomes by the word of testimony. If you are a Christian, you came to confess Christ personally. You repented of sin and received King Jesus as Savior and Sovereign. As Paul says in Romans 10, you confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believed in your heart that God raised him from the dead. The facts of the gospel became the reality of your experience. We call this conversion, when you became conscious that God had worked salvation for you in Christ. But the story does not end there. Every Christian’s story includes growing more and more like Christ, not loving life even unto death. We’ve not yet defined this. At the moment, we simply underline the truth that this is for all Christians. This is part of the Christian story. We cannot slide over this as if it were for a few brave martyrs that we admire from a distance. If you do not find your story in the phrases of v. 11, you are not a Christian. But you can be. This can be your story. Is your heart heavy because you are guilty in the eyes of the God who is perfectly good and pure? Do you see that God provided the only way for sinners like you and me to be right with Him and free from Satan’s control? Does Jesus Christ’s love move you to love him more than anything else? Then turn from your sin and trust Him. You will conquer in Him. What Does It Not Mean Not to Love One’s Life? If Revelation 12:11 describes every Christian, then the phrase, “not loving life even unto death” must be important. Everyone who claims to know Christ must know what it means. But before we try to define it directly, let’s ask about the opposite. What does it not mean not to love one’s life? What should we not conclude from the phrase? Simply, and emphatically, the Bible is not promoting self-harm of any kind. Human life – including our individual lives – is precious. We are called to promote and protect life. Every human being, including you, is made in God’s image by God, valuable, and accountable to Him. The apostle Peter assumes that people will “desire to love life and see many days” (1 Peter 3:10), quoting David from Psalm 34. Jesus often speaks of His Father’s kindness in supplying daily needs. Consider his words from Matthew 6. Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. (Matthew 6:26, 31–32) When Jesus identifies the most important commandment, He begins, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Then He adds a second, love your neighbor as yourself.” He assumes that we love ourselves. And that’s not bad to a point. Paul can argue for a husband to love his wife by insisting, “He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it. (Ephesians 5:28-29) Not loving one’s life does not involve self-harm or self-destructive behaviors. Those who struggle with these find freedom and joy in the gospel, though the battle for well-being is difficult. The Bible does not promote neglect of our physical health and well-being. What Does It Mean? So, what does it mean not to love one’s life even unto death? Let’s pull apart the phrase for an answer. First, the word “lives” is the common word for “souls.” NT writers use the word in a variety of ways. In some contexts, it refers to the non-material aspect of human life, the part of us that is not a body. In other cases, the word refers to the whole self, the whole life as it does here. We could translate the word “lives” with a phrase like, who you are as a human being, your human identity. Second, the word “love” points to the highest affection and adoration. We could translate it in this context as worship. If I’m right, then this verse is saying that a Christian does not worship who he is as a human being even if his identity is threatened by death. A Christian refuses to value anything about her human identity that replaces her worship of Jesus Christ. Her core identity is defined by Jesus Christ. It is her central purpose to offer love and affection to Jesus Christ. Christians are learning to re-order all loves to make Him most important. Augustine back in the fifth century noted so perceptively that our problem as sinners is that our loves are disordered. Most of our loves are not wrong but wrongly emphasized. We love some things too much and others too little. Satan scores a victory when he pushes us to love something or someone more or less than we should. He takes a good thing and tempts us to love it as if it were the most important thing, that we would die if we were to lose it. We have many ingredients in our human identity, most of them praiseworthy. But when we worship our identity or any part of our identity, we dishonor Christ who is the Christian’s ultimate identity. Our political affiliation, our job, our ethnic heritage, our education, the skills we learn, the things we own, our health, our home, the institutions to which we belong, including our earthly families – all these shape who we are. \But when these define us, when they determine our identity not just flavor it, we come to “love our lives.” We worship ourselves rather than the One who created us. We must live for someone larger than ourselves. We were designed by Jesus Christ to live for Him. This is the way we conquer. How do you finish the sentence, “I can’t live without ….” Is your answer another person, a pet, or some possession? Fill in the blank. Now, take the disappointment/despair test. If you were to lose it or be threatened with the loss of it, would your response tend toward disappointment or despair? Disappointment includes a season of grief, sadness, and sorrow. Despair involves intense and sustained anger, resignation, and turning inward. Despair is a sign that we love something or someone more than Jesus Christ. We grow in Christ when we learn to read our responses and expose self-worship in our souls. As one of you reminded me this week, Jesus takes things from us – things of great value to us – to reorient our hearts to love Him as the greatest and only necessary treasure. John Newton says it so clearly: “Everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds.” Jesus defined what “Not loving one’s life even unto death” means: For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:35–36) If the whole world isn’t worth it, then nothing in the world is worth it. At the close of our passage this morning, we see what it looks like not to love one’s life. V. 17 defines Christians as those “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” Obey Christ no matter what. Keep confessing Christ no matter what. Whatever I love that keeps me from obeying and confessing Christ is self-worship. How Can We Live “Not Loving Our Lives?” And I fail so often. My life frequently looks like I care only about my interests. How can we live this life in which we do not love our lives? What conquers self-worship? The core answer is in the phrase the blood of the Lamb. Jesus Christ did not love his life even unto death. He loved his people and gave himself up to death for them. He suffered separation from God so that they will never have to. Apart from Christ’s death, sin remains and Satan’s accusations stand. But through Christ’s death and resurrection, Satan is cast down. He no longer has standing in heaven. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). He pleads His blood before God’s throne for all who will trust in him. Satan can afflict Christ’s loved ones on earth with temporary suffering. But he cannot inflict God’s wrath on them because Jesus did not love his life even unto death. They conquer through Christ. As the writer of Hebrews declared about Christ, Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost [completely] those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25) Such love creates love. True obedience flows from affection. Christian, because Jesus said, “Father, not my will but yours be done,” we can say it every day. And mean it.

  • "She Has A Place" (Revelation 12:1-6)

    Revelation: The Time is Near Almost 500 days ago, Russian soldiers invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine. Real battles with real bloodshed happened in real places like Kharkiv, Mariupol, and Bakmut. Ukrainians know that behind the attackers, tanks, and drones stands a dictator named Vladamir Putin and a long history of conflict. Without understanding Putin and history, one cannot understand or respond to this aggression. Another war rages today that has raged for much longer than 500 days or even 500 years. This war is almost as old as time. It continues everywhere on earth, even in this room right now. Behind this conflict stands a dictator who long ago declared war on the Eternal God and the goodness of His creation. Revelation 12-14 recounts the true history of this war up to the present. And because we have God’s Word, these chapters lay out a thoroughly accurate account of the future of this war and how it will end. Revelation 12:1-6 provides a simple summary of the history of this war. Then, beginning at 12:7, we see a replay of that history with greater detail. Today we look at this six-verse summary. Turn in a Bible to Revelation 12. Verses 1-6 of that chapter appear on p. 1034 of the Bibles available in the chair racks. As I read these words, identify the main combatants in this war. Locate the movement of the war from heaven to earth. And track the history of this war up to today. Rev. 12:1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 5 She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Revelation 12:1–6) My purpose for this message is that all who listen would care about and care for the church. I want you to consider what God would have you do to care about and care for the church. And I want you to act, to care about and care for the church. And you respond, “How on earth are you going to get from this strange account of an attack on a mother and her male child by a hideous monster to a message about the church?” I have my work cut out for me. Let’s start by admitting that this drama is highly symbolic. Verses 1 and 3 mention signs. Signs stand for something. Signs point to greater realities. Signs highlight specific details to get our attention. In v. 1, the woman is a sign. She appears in heavenly splendor (v. 1). But her past (v. 2) was not so bright. She endured a difficult pregnancy. As she came to deliver (end, v. 4), instead of a caring midwife, a hideous monster appears to receive her son. God rescues and exalts this child (v. 5), while the woman flees to safety (v. 6). This woman is a symbol of God’s faithful people throughout history before and after the first coming of Christ. Before Jesus Christ was born into the world, God’s old covenant people anticipated His coming like a woman in labor. At His birth, God’s faithful people welcomed the Messiah. And now God’s new covenant church remains in the wilderness of this world awaiting her Messiah’s return. Note that this male child is not called a sign. He is, literally, Jesus Christ – a true human male who was born, triumphed over Satan, and was coronated by God as the Ruler of all. Verse 6 affirms that, in this current wilderness, God’s people have a place that He has prepared where he nourishes his people for 1260 days or 3 ½ years. We’ve said that 3 ½ is the number of incompleteness, the temporary number, the number in between the beginning and the completion of God’s kingdom on earth. It is the time between Christ’s first and second coming. It is the time to endure before the time to be exalted. Where is the place in the wilderness that God has prepared for His people to nourish her between the first and second comings of King Jesus? It is the church. The church is an oasis in the wilderness. That’s why I purpose in this message to persuade you to care about and care for the church. If you are a Christian you are part of Christ’s church. You should care about and care for the church. If you are not a Christian, you will wander in the wilderness unless you come home to Christ and enter into His church. The text points to five reasons why you and I should care about and care for the church. 1. Her destiny is glorious (v. 1) First, care about and care for the church because her destiny is glorious (v. 1). As Jesus shows John the vision of the woman in v. 1, he reveals her in heaven, as she will be when her wilderness days are done, when the conflict with the dragon is over. She appears in her final glory. This is her destiny. In the wilderness, she looks like Cinderella the maid. But she is, in reality, a beautiful princess and bride to the King. She is clothed with the sun because she shares the glory of her king. She has the moon under her feet and stars on her crown because she shares authority with her King. We can look at any church, including this one, and see her faults and failures. We can focus on problems and conflicts that are real and cannot be ignored. But we will lose motivation to address these issues if we lose sight of the church’s destiny. Paul through the Holy Spirit reminds us that: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25–27) This book of Revelation ends with a Great Marriage. Christ is the Husband and his people His Bride. Then came one of the seven angels … and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he … showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Revelation 21:9–11) When we remember the church’s glorious destiny we will speak well of the church to outsiders. We will not cover up or excuse her faults, but we will seek to protect and promote her reputation and her members’ reputations. We will think the best of her and give her the benefit of the doubt. For every criticism, we will offer ten encouragements. We will fight for her, not against her. We honor the church’s destiny by treating her with respect, being careful to attend when not hindered beyond our control, being on time and attentive during her services, participating eagerly and earnestly, and helping others do the same. We will sacrifice to meet her needs. We will not use the church as the step-sisters used Cinderella but will seek to serve the church as the princess that she is. What would it mean for you to demonstrate greater honor to the church, to this church? Care about and care for the church because her destiny is glorious. 2. Her History is Courageous However, a woman often does not feel like a beautiful princess when in labor. She may not look the part at the time. But that is no excuse for failing to care for her. Care about and care for the church also because her history is courageous. This vision pictures God’s faithful people anticipating the Messiah as a woman carrying and then delivering a baby. The word picture captures perfectly the history of God’s old covenant people tracing back to the garden of Eden. After the first human beings, Adam & Eve rebelled against God’s rule under the Serpent’s influence (Genesis 3), God judged all involved in the sin, including the Serpent. The Lord God said to the serpent, … “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14–15) God’s promise of salvation involves a male child suffering to defeat Satan, reversing the rebellion. Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people wait courageously for this promised deliverer. Consult Micah for an example. In Chapter 4, the prophet seems to sneer at God’s people going into exile. Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pain seized you like a woman in labor? Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued; there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies. (Micah 4:9-10) And how will God accomplish this rescue? Just a few verses later at the opening of Chapter 5, the prophet employs the same word picture again: But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. (Micah 5:2–3) Every December we celebrate Advent, the season of anticipation. One reason is to remember the courageous faith of those who waited for centuries for God to keep His promise. You should care about this history because, if you belong to Christ, this is your history. There is one people of God throughout history, united in Jesus Christ. The faithful before Christ looked forward. The faithful after Christ look back. One group anticipates. The other celebrates. Both belong to the same people. U.S. citizens should know their nation’s history. All the more, we in the church should know our history. We have more in common with a faithful ancient Israelite whose hope is in God’s Messiah than we do with a fellow American whose hope is in a political party. One reason I have a children’s sermon is that I want the children who attend this church to get a history that they will not get in school. I want them to see that all of these events and artifacts point to the central hero of history, Jesus Christ. One way to care for the church would be to volunteer to take a turn every few weeks to teach our children. We need qualified, screened, and caring teachers for classes before church and during the sermon. Ladies, the current study on Wednesday nights is in Hebrews 11, a chapter that celebrates the faith of old covenant saints who courageously waited on God to bring salvation. I encourage you to attend. We should care about and care for the church because her history is courageous. Not that the people achieved their salvation through their courage. No, they courageously hoped in God to do for them what they could not do for themselves. All attempts at self-salvation failed. Isaiah writes: Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O Lord; we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth …. (Isaiah 26:17–18) Those who try to gain salvation through self-effort fail. Only those who trust fully in the work of Jesus Christ find salvation. If you cannot consciously say that you have repented from sin and rested in Jesus, then you are destined to wander in the wilderness forever. Come and find eternal life in Him. 3. Her Enemy is Ferocious We should care about and care for the church because her destiny is glorious and her history is courageous. But we should also care because her enemy is ferocious. The other sign in this passage is the dragon in v. 3. This monster has horns and crowns. Horns symbolize power. Crowns symbolize authority. V. 9 offers more information about his identity. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:9) Satan, with great power and authority, begins his war against God in heaven. He takes a third of the angels (stars) with him in his rebellion. These are the demons who carry out his attacks. They shift the battle from heaven to earth by the end of v. 4. They concentrate hostility against the woman. That hostility did not end at the birth of her child. In the wilderness, the church is surrounded by Satan’s forces and under constant attack. We care about and care for the church when we pray for each other to resist Satan’s assaults. Ephesians 6 teaches that we “extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” when we “keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” We care about and for the church when we combat sin in our personal life and lovingly confront our brothers and sisters about sin. When a fellow believer approaches us for a difficult conversation, it’s so easy to get defensive, to think that he or she is attacking. In reality, Satan is attacking. Our brother or sister is helping to resist him. The doctor wielding a scalpel is not an enemy. What she is removing is the enemy. 4. Her Mission is Gracious Such difficult ministry points to a fourth reason why we should care about and for the church. Her mission is gracious. Verse 6 simply says that, in the wilderness, in the place prepared by God, his people are to be nourished. The church is a place where people find nourishment in a barren land. The church is where God feeds his people on heavenly manna. He gives us His Word. The church is the place where Christ communes with his people. It is where people gather to sing the songs of Zion. It is where they gain strength to move forward as the camp inches toward the Promised Land. And the Lord uses means to accomplish his purposes. Church members graciously nourish each other. For the church to fulfill her mission, she needs strong leaders. That’s why we support Agros and its network of churches and leaders in our area. The church needs servants who care for administrative details so that her shepherds can focus on the ministry of the Word of God and prayer. She needs members who teach and admonish one another. She supports missions and evangelism so that the church expands into the wilderness as more and more come to Christ. I ask you to consider: How has God prepared you to make this church a more refreshing oasis in the wilderness of this world? Timothy Dwight gave us words to express our care for the church: I love thy kingdom, Lord, the house of thine abode, the church our blest Redeemer saved with his own precious blood. For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend; to her my cares and toils be giv'n, 'til toils and cares shall end. Her King is Victorious Finally, at least in this text, care about the church and for the church because her King is Victorious. This is the most significant reason. Satan, with his crowns and horns, mimics Christ but can never replace Him. Jesus Christ is the male child “who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (v. 5a). He humbled himself to be born of a woman yet is exalted to share God’s throne (v. 5b). He is Victorious. The vision depicts Jesus’s victory over Satan in less than a sentence. The details between his birth and coronation have been described elsewhere in Revelation and will be again later. Here the emphasis is on how simply he dispenses with the imposter who thinks that he will be the god of this world forever. The church is the one place in this vast wilderness across the generations that honors Jesus Christ as the Rightful King. John declares in 1 John 5:19 that the rest of the world remains in the power of the evil one. A church is an embassy of the coming kingdom in a foreign land. Every human being is either devoted to Jesus Christ and identifies with his kingdom or else is bound to Satan and identifies with his counterfeit kingdom. Present circumstances may paint Jesus as helpless and irrelevant. His church often looks weak and defeated. But Her King will not allow her to fail. Her destiny is secure in Him. He will supply the courage she needs. She will accomplish her mission. He reigns at God’s right hand to intercede for her. Those who love Jesus and live loyal to Him as King will care about and care for his church. We sang the essence of this message earlier. Who is this, so weak and helpless, child of lowly Hebrew maid, rudely in a stable sheltered, coldly in a manger laid? Who is this, a Man of Sorrows, walking sadly life's hard way, homeless, weary, sighing, weeping over sin and Satan's sway? Who is this? Behold him shedding drops of blood upon the ground! Who is this, despised, rejected, mocked, insulted, beaten, bound? 'Tis our God, who gifts and graces on his church is pouring down; who shall smite in holy vengeance all his foes beneath his throne. Who is this that hangs there dying while the rude world scoffs and scorns, numbered with the malefactors, torn with nails, and crowned with thorns? 'Tis our God, who lives forever 'mid the shining ones on high, in the glorious golden city, reigning everlastingly. To You, Lord Jesus, we pledge our loyal obedience.

  • "You Have Begun to Reign" (Revelation 11:14-19)

    Revelation: The Time is Near We’ve been considering what it means to represent Jesus Christ in this world. If you are a Christian, you live in a world that does not know Jesus Christ, and He calls you to represent Him here. We’ve seen that this world is hostile to Jesus, lying under the domination of Satan. But we cannot be hostile in return. We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, shining Christ’s character as we speak for Him. Nor can we hibernate from this world. We must engage so that our witness is seen and heard by those who so desperately need Christ. We’ve seen that this witness requires an impossible balance of courage and compassion. We must take sin seriously but not self-righteously. Our witness requires perseverance, representing Jesus faithfully to the point of death, even if death comes because we represent Jesus. How can any Christian keep going under these conditions? One answer is: focus on the future. Persevere in the present by focusing on the future. As Jesus unfolds the book of Revelation for John, He inserts a scene at the end of ch. 11, which shows heaven’s perspective on what’s happening on Earth. The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come. 15Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” 19Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. Notice the shift in the middle of this chapter. The scene shifts from Earth (vv. 1-13) to Heaven (vv. 14-19). V. 14 is a transition. There is more agony ahead on earth, a third woe. But what’s happening in heaven while we represent Jesus Christ on earth? That’s the question answered by the scene in vv. 15-19. On earth, Christ’s people joyfully endure hostile opposition. In heaven, they prepare for His return. One of the strongest motivations for persevering in Christ is the promise that He is coming back. Jesus Christ is going to return to earth one day. This hope forges faithfulness. So let’s explore this hope. The Central Character of Christ’s Return First, let’s look at the central character of Christ’s return. It is … Jesus Christ. This is obvious, but worth a closer look. V. 15 includes the song of heaven. “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever.” He is singular. This singular pronoun points back to the last person named which is “his Christ.” The slain Lamb of Chapter 5 on the throne with God is now worshiped as “the Lord’s Christ.” He will reign over the kingdom of this world forever. He is returning to rule. He is coming again. If Jesus Christ is the focus of this passage then the worship here belongs to him. He is the “Lord God Almighty” of v. 17. Some claim that the Bible never calls Jesus God. V. 17 is another of many texts that declare the opposite. In this context, twenty-four elders, who represent all God’s redeemed people from all ages, call Jesus, “Lord God Almighty.” They go on to describe him as “the one who is and who was.” Three times before this in Revelation, we have similar descriptions of God. 1:4, Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come. 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” And in 4:8, the song of the living creatures, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” Here at 11:17, there seems to be something missing. The song of the elders includes “the one who is and who was” but does not mention “who is to come.” But it does. The rest of the song describes the future coming of Christ. He is the central character of this scene. Jesus Christ is the one who has taken his great power and begun to reign (v. 17). This can only be said of Jesus Christ as the unique God-man. As God, He has always had the power and has always reigned. But in his unique role as the God-man, he has taken his power and begun to reign. When did Christ take up his power and begin to reign? In his death, resurrection, and ascension. Listen to a sampling of texts that declare this truth. Acts 2:36 (ESV) 36Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Romans 14:9 (ESV) 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Ephesians 1:19–22 (ESV) 19That you may know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. Philippians 2:9 (ESV) 9Therefore [because of the cross] God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name Hebrews 1:3b–4 (ESV) After making purification for sins, [Jesus Christ, the Son] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. 1 Peter 3:22 (ESV) 22[The crucified and resurrected Jesus] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, accomplished what no one else could. His achievement earned him a kingdom. He will exercise his authority until he subdues all his enemies and establishes the full and final expression of his kingdom. This will happen at His second coming. V. 18 adds that he is coming to judge: to reward (beginning of v. 18) and to punish (end of v. 18). Many passages reiterate Jesus’ role as judge. Just one example: John 5:22–23 (ESV) 22For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Jesus Christ is the central character of this passage about his second coming. And the passage emphasizes two aspects of his character. He is the Ruler of all and Judge of all. He is the Almighty who reigns. And He is the one who rewards and punishes. No one operates outside his control and no one escapes His final appraisal. His second coming will put both qualities on display. At that time, he will not simply be the central character of this vision but the central character in all of his history. The Certainty of His Coming But perhaps the most striking feature about Christ’s coming in this passage is the certainty of it. Those in heaven sing about the second coming as if it’s already happened. Jesus Christ’s kingdom has already overtaken this world (v. 15). He has begun to reign (v. 17). His wrath has already come (v. 18). Judgment is certain. We know that we have not yet experienced the full expression of Christ’s rule in this world. But we also know that nothing can stop it. From heaven’s perspective, this is a done deal. The Celebration of His Coming Such certainty leads to the third feature of this paragraph: The celebration of Christ’s coming. Heaven’s worship in this context, centers on the return of Christ to earth. Trumpets sound. Loud voices are singing. Human beings who have the right to sit on thrones with substantial authority are on their faces worshipping their Lord. There is great reason to celebrate. Jesus Christ gets ready to return. His rule will be validated. His justice will be administered. His faithful servants receive the proper reward. Those who destroy the earth will themselves be destroyed (v. 18). Consider the phrase that opens the song of the elders in v. 17, “We give thanks.” This is the heart of worship. We give thanks. We give thanks, Lord Jesus, for who you are. We give thanks for what you have done. We give thanks for what you are about to do for we know you will certainly do it. We are humble creatures who owe everything we are and all that we have to you. So we give thanks. We are sinners who have been redeemed by your blood so that we can rest in your presence without fear of judgment. So we give thanks. We have prayed for justice and you are answering our prayer. We give thanks. We have served you not in our strength but in yours, and you reward us. We thank you. The second coming of Jesus Christ will bring the satisfaction of all our longings. Every wrong will be righted. Every right will be rewarded. When He comes, we will have nothing to say except, “Thank you, Lord Jesus.” The Circumstances of His Coming So when he does come, what will happen? What are the circumstances of Christ’s coming? This particular scene does not give us much detail. But notice what is here. First, the timing of Jesus’s return. V. 14 prompts us to conclude that the third woe includes most of the rest of Revelation. There is not another verse like it in the book. In 9:2 John noted the end of the first woe and the beginning of the second. Here he marks the end of the second and the beginning of the third. But he never marks the end of the third. When this woe ends, all woe ends. It takes us up to the very end when Jesus comes. And we learn that this third woe will happen soon. Sadly, so many Christians have sunk into the quicksand of predicting when Jesus will return. They have strung together convoluted arguments setting dates and stirring up controversy. The question, “When will Jesus come back to earth?” begs a simple, one-word answer. It is the same answer that the apostles and the fathers and the reformers and the faithful of every generation have given. It’s the answer that strikes fear and stirs hope all at the same time. The answer is … soon. This is Jesus’s promise. Four times in Revelation – 3:11, and then three more times in Ch. 22 (vv. 7, 12, & 20) – Jesus promises “I am coming soon.” What a fascinating promise. It provides both a sense of urgency and a sense of calm all at the same time. Jesus is coming soon. We must be ready. That’s urgency. Jesus is coming soon. Don’t worry. That’s calm. When scoffers mocked the first generation of Christians because Jesus had not returned, Peter shot back. A thousand years is just like a day to him. According to His count, in 2023 we are a little over two days removed from His departure. We may think that he’s not coming soon enough. But our sovereign Lord says, “Soon.” The other circumstances of Christ’s return set out here are also simple. He comes to judge. He rewards and punishes (v. 18). As He tells us, Revelation 22:12 (ESV)12“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. Those who remain faithful to Him while living in this enemy-occupied territory will receive rewards. V. 18 calls them servants, prophets, saints, and those who fear His name. These descriptions could all refer to the same people because (as we have seen in Revelation) all Christ’s people are his servants, who prophesy, and who are saints because they fear him and find their salvation only in his name. He also comes to reign. Never again will those who wish to destroy the earth succeed because he will reign forever and ever. What may be most surprising about the circumstances of Christ’s return here is the way the vision communicates them. Look at the whole heavenly scene. Seven trumpets are blowing. We began to hear these trumpets in Ch. 8. There four of them sounded. Two more joined in Ch. 9. Now the seventh and last sounds in Ch. 11:15. We should not think that one trumpeting angel stops so that another can start. Rather, they join in succession. By the time we come to the end of chapter 11, the majestic sounds of seven trumpets fill Heaven’s royal palace. Add to this brass ensemble the voices of Christ’s faithful ones singing loudly. The second half of v.15 and all of vv. 17-18 are poetry in the original Bible. Translators display this by setting the words in poetic lines. This choir is reciting or singing this poetry. So seven trumpets are blowing. And God’s people are singing loudly. Then, in v. 19, the Ark of the Covenant appears with great fanfare including lightning, thunder, earthquake, and hail. Does this sound vaguely familiar? When Israel passed beyond the wilderness and crossed the Jordan River, they encountered the city of Jericho. Jericho represented the forces of evil occupying the promised land. It was the city standing in opposition to God. At the culmination of a week of worship, on the seventh day, God’s people marched around Jericho seven times. Seven trumpets blew. The people shouted. And the city crumbled so that the people could enter and occupy it. That scene from 1400 BC anticipates the end of history. The ark appears in heaven as Christ’s armies prepare to march on the great city. They shout Christ’s praises. Seven trumpets blow. Soon the Lord will give the word and the great city will crumble. The great city goes by many names (Last week we saw in v. 8 that one title it has is “Sodom and Egypt”). The most common name for this city is Babylon, the ancient name that stands for organized opposition to God’s purposes in this world. Beginning in Revelation 14 and culminating in ch. 18, we will see great Babylon crumble in a way that is more astounding than the fall of Jericho in Joshua 6. The fall of Babylon will make way for the new city, the holy city, which comes down from heaven in ch. 21. Application This amazing heavenly vision at the end of Revelation 11 shows us, at least, the central character, the certainty, the celebration, and the circumstances of Christ’s return to earth. There are no direct commands in this passage. There are no assignments for us here. We are called to watch and wonder at what heaven is doing so that we persevere here until Christ comes or calls us home. So, what are applications we can make today? 1. Let’s pursue gratitude. We can give thanks in all circumstances just like the heavenly choir because we see that Christ is in control and one day he will make everything right. He will judge and reign. Everything that happens to us here relates to our final reward. When I fear or complain about my circumstances here, I fail to believe the promises of the gospel. Deep gratitude is the evidence of genuine faith. 2. Let’s Sing about the Second Coming and let’s sing loud. Elders set the example here as they represent all of God’s people. If we truly hold out the hope that our Savior will return as King and nothing can stop Him, we have reason to sing. 3. Let’s Not Retaliate. The song of heaven celebrates the truth that Christ will return to set things right. We don’t have to. That’s not our job. We desire justice. We pray for it. We work for it. But, ultimately, it’s Christ’s work. No scheme of human justice will ever be complete or perfectly just. Often, human justice fails. However, we don’t give up because the world is unfair. We don’t respond like the world when we are wronged by the world. We ground our hope in Christ and the promise of his return. 4. Let’s serve because Christ is important not because our job is important. Notice in v. 18 that Christ rewards his faithful ones “both small and great.” It matters not to Him if the way you serve was spectacular or secret. What we think of as small may be monumental according to heaven’s measure. What we deem great may be ordinary to the Lord. Faithfulness to his assignment is the measure of our service. Jesus was not against us seeking greatness. He simply said that the one who wishes to be great must be a servant to all. 5. Let’s admit our need for salvation. The last phrase of v. 18 is haunting. Every sin destroys something of the design and order that Jesus Christ established in His creation. Every one of us has contributed to the destruction of what is true, good, and beautiful in God’s world. We cannot do enough to repair the damage we have done. We cannot find in ourselves the healing we need for the damage done to us. In the end, those who remain in sin will be destroyed as they have destroyed. The only alternative is to cast your hope on Jesus Christ so that He might make you right with God. Only then can you serve Him faithfully until He returns. The coming judgment will divide everyone into just two humanities. The old humanity, raging against Jesus Christ and his reign (beginning, v. 18), or the new humanity, fearing Jesus Christ and celebrating his reign. I hear the sounds of his coming from the pages of Revelation 11. Will that day mark the coming of your city or the crumbling of your city? The old spiritual asks, When judgment day is drawing nigh, where shall I be? When God the works of men shall try, where shall I be? When east and west the fire shall roll, where shall I be? How will it be for my poor soul, where shall I be? O, where shall I be when the great trumpet sounds? O, where shall I be when it sounds so loud? When it sounds so loud that it wakes up the dead, O, where shall I be when it sounds?

  • "I Grant Authority to My Witnesses" (Revelation 11:1-13)

    Revelation: The Time is Near Christians believe that Jesus Christ rules over us through his word. We meet with Him as His Spirit guides us into the truths of His word. Therefore, we gather to worship by opening Christ’s word to learn how to honor and obey Him. In 2023, we are on a trek through the last book of the Bible, Revelation, or, more accurately, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. When I last preached (2 weeks ago) we walked through chapter 10. I asked: “Are you ready to represent Jesus Christ in this world every day?” In chapter 10, John receives a commission from Jesus to serve in this world. It’s a commission that applies to every Christian. It’s in the very last verse of chapter 10, v. 11. Listen to it again. Revelation 10:11 And I [John] was told [by Jesus], “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” Jesus sends his people to prophesy, to declare, to speak out, His truth about people all over the world. The truth is: that judgment will come on everyone who does not repent of sin and joyfully embrace Jesus as Lord. What will it be like to fulfill this commission? What will it be like to represent Jesus in this world? Chapter 11:1-13 answers this question. If Chapter 10 prepared us to represent Jesus, chapter 11 begins by telling us what to expect as we do. 1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. 7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. 11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. This passage tells us about the place where we represent Jesus; the pattern we follow to represent Jesus; the perspective we adopt to represent Jesus; the power we have to represent Jesus; and the promise cling to as we represent Jesus. Let’s look at each one. The Place Where We Represent Jesus I begin with place because that’s where Jesus begins. In vv. 1-2, He establishes some boundaries. He gives John a tape measure and commands him to measure the temple, the altar, and the people who worship at the altar. In the ancient world, when a ruler sent officials out to measure some land, he was making the statement that he had completely conquered it and fully dealt with any enemies there. His reign was fully established. The place where Jesus reigns uncontested and no evil remains unjudged is heaven. We have seen this in several visions in Revelation. The altar stands before the throne of God and the Lamb. The Lamb’s faithful ones worship Him in splendor and contentment. Measure this area. Measure these worshippers. They are home. That’s v. 1 The outer court of the temple and the city is a different story (v. 2). It’s not time to measure these places yet. Here the battle continues. Jesus has given temporary control of these places to the nations, to those who do not belong to Him. His people who live here belong to the holy city, but they are not home yet. In this vision Christ’s church and all Christians are represented by the two witnesses whom we meet in v. 3. Jesus gives his people authority to prophesy (remember the commission at the end of chapter 10) in this outer place. The outer place where we represent Jesus is a hostile place; a place where Christians get trampled (v. 2); where people may try to harm them (v. 5); where people celebrate their death (v. 10). Earth dwellers (those who belong to this place) throw a party over the dead bodies of Christ’s witnesses. They refuse to let anyone bury the bodies (v. 9). In that culture, to deny a person a proper burial was an act of humiliation, an expression of shame. This hostile place is enemy-occupied territory. Jesus permits the nations to take control of it (v. 2). But Satan is their leader (v. 7). He is the beast who rises from the bottomless pit to make war on Christ’s witnesses, to conquer and kill them. He lurks behind all the hostility to Christ’s representatives. It is a hostile place under enemy control full of all kinds of evil. In v. 8 the headquarters for this world is a great city with a symbolic name, “Sodom and Egypt.” These places are OT symbols for the full spectrum of human sin. At one end of the spectrum, Sodom is the place of unbridled freedom. Anything goes. Satisfy your cravings. No boundaries. Do whatever you want. Do it now. Do it whenever. Live for the moment. Defy all authority. The goal is pleasure. Sodom means intoxication and immorality. At the other end is Egypt. Egypt is the place of slavery. Slavery of others. Slavery to accomplishment. Slavery to wealth. Egypt is the land of the driven. Pay any price for success. Squeeze every advantage out of people for your gain. Prove yourself. Demand control. Use others. Make a name for yourself. The goal is power. Egypt is domination by discipline. We can think of extreme examples on both sides. But the two names belong to one city. Most of us harbor a strange and sickening combination of both Sodom and Egypt in our corrupt hearts. We like to disguise or deny that we are citizens of this city. But, v. 8 concludes, this is where Jesus was crucified. On the cross, by his crucifixion, he took the full force of God’s wrath for the full spectrum of human sin. Note the last phrase of v. 8. Sodom and Egypt is where “their (the two witnesses) Lord was crucified.” The phrase forces each of us to face two realities and one question. The first reality is that you and I are born as citizens of this great city called Sodom and Egypt. We may sin one direction one day and go the other direction the next. We might favor one kind of sin over another. But we belong to this city. The second reality is that Jesus was crucified. Not even historians deny this anymore. Christianity is the only religion that worships a God who became an executed criminal. Faithful Christians have always believed that God the Father sent his own Son to this death; that Jesus willingly embraced this death. This is either the most immoral or the most amazing reality. Jesus came to the city of Sodom and Egypt the land of human sin. He embraced the cruelty of crucifixion to take the place of any sinner who will turn from sin and trust him as Lord and Savior. There are the two realities. You and I are born as cooperative citizens of a great city that offends God and opposes His people. Jesus Christ was crucified by sinners, for sinners. Here’s the question from the last phrase of verse 8. Is He your Lord? The verse calls Jesus “their” Lord. He’s Lord of the two witnesses. Is He your Lord? Have you renounced your citizenship in this great city of sin and trusted Jesus Christ to save you? Are you a citizen of the holy city (v. 2). Will you accept shame to represent your Lord? Don’t be deceived by the response of the earth dwellers in v. 13. They see God’s judgment and are terrified. They give glory to God. But this is not true repentance. This is only the fear of judgment. True repentance treasures Jesus Christ and will gladly give up anything that hinders you from enjoying Him. Is He your Lord? Those who delight in Jesus continue to live in the great city of Sodom and Egypt, but they have a new Lord. For us, this place we live in now is hostile to holiness. We are not saying that opposition is continuous. Not everyone in this place will try to harm. This vision does not teach that every Christian will be killed. These are symbols. Earlier we heard Paul in Romans 8:36 quote Psalm 44 and apply it to all Christians, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” This is not literal, at least for most Christians. Rather, it reminds us that those who belong to Christ represent Him in a hostile place, under enemy control, full of temptations to sin. Think of the pressures that graduates like Addy, Ethan, Jocelyn, and Ashton face as they walk onto a college campus or pursue a profession. Let’s pray for these and the grace they need to know and follow Christ in the new settings where they will live. No Christian should be shocked to face opposition for our faith. We should expect it. Let’s resist getting defensive. Let’s refuse to feel sorry for ourselves. Let’s not try to be offensive; at the same time, let’s not water down the offense of the gospel. Jesus has given us the authority to represent Him, not misrepresent Him. The Patterns We Follow to Represent Jesus So how do we represent Him? What patterns guide us? This passage lays out three. The first is the pattern of the prophets (vv.5-6). John sees the church in this world like the prophets of the OT. He first points to the example of Elijah. The opening of v. 5: And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. And the first part of v. 6, They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying. These re-enact Elijah’s ministry. In 2 Kings 1:9-16, Elijah called down fire on armies sent to capture him. In 1 Kings 17-18, he prayed and God held back rain for 3 ½ years (the length of the ministry of Christ’s people in v. 3). Then, at the end of v. 6, John describes the vision through the example of Moses. They have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. This re-enacts Moses’s encounter with Pharaoh. God used Moses to announce judgment on those who refused to hear and obey His word. These examples should not cause us to expect literally to breathe fire or poison water. Rather, we follow the prophet’s pattern: Fearlessly announce God’s word and trust him to protect us and punish our enemies at the appropriate time. V. 7 reminds us that the present time for us is the time for testimony. We witness to God’s truth. The judgments we warn about will come. The judgment is already happening as is pictured in v. 13. God brings an earthquake. 7,000 city dwellers die. But judgment is in God’s hands. It is our duty to testify. The second pattern is the pattern of pairs. Jesus gives authority to two witnesses just as he gave authority to his disciples and sent them out two-by-two in Luke 10. It’s a reminder that we do not represent Jesus alone. We serve him together. I fail at this often. Let’s pray for each other and our witness for Jesus in this world. Let’s do hospitality together to reach out to a mutual friend who needs Christ. How great would it be to call up a fellow church member and say, “Let’s go for a walk together and ask the Lord to lead us to someone to talk to about the gospel?” We might be shocked at how God answers that prayer. I’m so thankful that, as I was preparing this message, a member asked me to visit a family member with him and talk about the gospel. We represent Jesus together. The third pattern emerges as we see this vision in its entirety. Let me summarize it and you tell me if it sounds familiar. Representatives come from God with divine authority. They proclaim God’s word, announcing judgment and offering hope. They face Satanic and human opposition. They are killed and their enemies rejoice. It seems that evil has won. However, on the third day, they come back to life and enter heaven in a cloud. You know the pattern. It is Christ’s pattern. We as His people have the privilege of living as he did in the world. We speak as He spoke. We serve as He served. We suffer as He suffered. We are people who take up the cross, not the sword. Our goal is not to make sinners conform but to bring sinners to Christ. We are not here to take over the world but to testify to the world. As Peter says, 1 Peter 4:2, We live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. Jesus Christ is more than our Pattern. But He is not less than our pattern. Yet, if Christ is a perfect patter+n and we are not perfect people, then what should our attitude be as we represent him in this world? The Perspective We Adopt to Represent Jesus What perspective should we adopt as HIs representatives? We could give many answers to the question. But let me focus on just one. It jumps out in v. 3: “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” Clothed in sackcloth. The clothes of repentance. Christ’s representatives mourn sin. We mourn the coming judgment. We are not here to shake our self-righteous finger at the sinners around us. We do not celebrate when God’s judgment falls. If our God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11) then neither should we. If Jesus had compassion on those who wandered like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36) then we must too. But we also wear sackcloth for our own sins. The church has often acted as if we belonged to Sodom or Egypt rather than the holy city. We have responded to harrassed and helpless sinners with condemnation rather than compassion. We have committed or condoned sexual and other kinds of abuse. We have promoted or permitted oppression. We have chased worldly reward in the name of Christ. We have failed to be faithful to the gospel. I’ve noticed that many church websites include a paragraph about what one should wear to the church. It’s a way to address people’s expectations which have changed dramatically over the past fifty years. I read one church’s site this week that was trying to emphasize that they did not have a dress code. It said, “As long as you have clothes on, we’re good.” The proper heart dress code for the church is sackcloth. This must be our perspective. And yet it seems impossible to carry out this prophetic commission. It calls for us to be both courageous and compassionate at the same time. We announce judgment yet point to Christ as the hope to escape judgment. How can we possibly embody what seems like a contradiction? The Power We Have to Represent Jesus This vision points to the power to fulfill Christ’s commission. That power is so beautifully pictured in v. 4. The two witnesses are compared to two olive trees and two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. These symbols come from the OT, from Zechariah. And they are full of meaning. But one obvious truth it pictures is that the olive tree is full of oil to light the lamp on the lampstand. Every believer has the Holy Spirit (the oil) to shine the light of Christ in the darkness of this world. The light that we shine is not our own and we cannot produce the fuel for that light. Paul commands the church in Ephesians 5 to be filled with the Spirit. Here is a command to obey, but it is a passive command. Allow the Spirit to fill you, to control you. Surrender to the Spirit. This happens as we submit to God’s word and worship Him. We do not drum up the courage we need. We do not gather up our own strength to obey. We consciously, and actively rely on the Holy Spirit to live as Christ in this world. What a glorious paradox. The Promise We Cling to as We Represent Jesus Representing Jesus in this world means that we expect a hostile response. The world is not naturally going to embrace a message of judgment. It means living as Christ did, conforming our lives to the pattern of the cross. It means adopting a perspective that grieves over sin, especially our own. It involves a continuous reliance on the Holy Spirit for the power to live in weakness. And we can endure in this world as Jesus’s representatives because we have hope. We have a promise to which we cling. It is represented in the resurrection of the two witnesses. There is life beyond death. This time of opposition is temporary. It is the three-and-a-half time. There are four references to three-and-a-half in this passage. The number seems to be a symbol of incompleteness, somewhere between nothing and seven, the number of completeness. This time will come to an end when Jesus perfectly completes His eternal kingdom. Those who belong to Christ know that death is merely the taxi that takes us where we are better than we have ever been. At death, we hear the voice of Jesus say, “Come up here (v. 12).” He takes us to himself. Satan, sin, and the world cannot have the last word. Because Jesus is alive forever, we live in the certainty of our resurrection. Christ’s representatives can claim everything. Charles Wesley’s words lay out our plans for dying: Soar we now where Christ has led. Alleluia. Foll’wing our Exalted Head. Alleluia. Made like Him, like Him, we rise. Alleluia. Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia.

  • "Take and Eat It" (Revelation 10)

    Revelation: The Time is Near “Are you ready?” It’s a question we might expect in everyday situations. A mother calls out “Are you ready” when it’s time for the school bus. A husband might ask his wife the question (however impatiently) when the time he set for them to leave has passed. “Are you ready for dinner?” may simply mean “Are you hungry?” Context determines the weight of the question. “Are you ready … for a trip across town?” is not nearly as heavy as “Are you ready … for your move across the country?” The more significant the responsibility, the more serious the question. “Are you ready … for the wedding? is a big question. But it does not rise to the level of, “Are you ready … to get married?” “Are you ready … to graduate?” is much heavier “Are you ready … for graduation?” Revelation 10 confronts every Christian with this question: “Are you ready to represent Jesus Christ in this world?” It’s a question that points to our second greatest responsibility. The first is to worship Jesus Christ. The second is to represent Him to the world. Moments before Jesus departed the world, this encounter occurs with his disciples in Acts 1:6–8, So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus rebukes the disciples’ curiosity and issues a commission. “You will not know everything about the future but you will be my witnesses. You will represent me wherever I send you in this world. I will send my Spirit to you. And I will send you to the world.” Jesus’ words extend to every generation of the church. John, one of the disciples with Jesus when he departed, receives a similar commission in Revelation 10. In this commission, he represents every Christian. In studying this chapter, I’m praying that you know Jesus Christ and that you see yourself in this commission so that you will be asking, “How can I be ready to represent Jesus Christ in this world every day?” Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2 He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, 3 and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” 5 And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven 6 and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, 7 but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets. 8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” How can I be ready to represent Jesus in this world every day? Revelation 10 offers at least three answers: Recognize Jesus I mean this answer in two senses. Immediately, we must recognize the angel of Revelation 10 as Jesus. Then we must recognize what this vision tells us about Jesus. The Angel is Jesus I know it’s debatable, but I conclude that the mighty angel that John sees and introduces in v. 1 is Jesus. He comes from heaven to earth as Jesus did. Whenever the Bible describes a figure coming from heaven in a cloud, it’s God. And this angel is wrapped in a cloud (v. 1). The rainbow over his head is another divine symbol (v. 1). The previous reference to a rainbow was in 4:3, where it is around God’s throne. Now it is over this angel. This vision looks remarkably like the one of God in Ezekiel 1:26-28. John describes this angel in terms that his readers associate with God. When the angel speaks, thunders sound (v. 3) as when God speaks (for example, Psalm 29). The angel sounds like a roaring lion (as God does in Amos 3:8, Isaiah 31:4, and Hosea 11:10). John presents Jesus as the Angel of the Lord from the OT. On several occasions, before Jesus came to earth as a human being, he appeared or spoke as the Angel of the Lord (for example, Genesis 22, Exodus 3). The basic meaning of angel is “messenger.” Jesus is the ultimate messenger from heaven to show us who God is. And Jesus is Lord The angel is Jesus and Jesus is Lord! If we are going to be ready to represent Jesus in this world, then we must recognize who He is. This vision reveals Him as Lord in several ways. Jesus’s face is like the sun (v. 1). He is glorious and holy. He is the source of pure light of truth and beauty. His legs are like pillars of fire (v. 1). John evokes the image of the Lord as a pillar of fire guiding the Israelites through the wilderness to the promised land (Exodus 13:21). Jesus is guiding his people through the darkness of this world to his kingdom. The world is spiritually dark but Jesus remains sovereign over all. He is Lord over all creation. To plant a foot is to declare sovereignty over a place. Jesus plants one foot on the sea and one foot on the land (v. 2). He declares authority over both halves of creation. John draws attention to this fact again in v. 5 and again in v. 8. A triple emphasis. He is Lord over all creation. His lion-like voice reinforces his identity as King. Creation shakes with thunder when he speaks (v. 3). Christian, recognize whom you represent. You represent the King. You represent the King who has authority over all things. You represent the King who shines in holiness and thunders in judgment. You are, to use Paul’s phrase, “Ambassadors for Christ.” You have been stationed in a foreign country from your homeland to represent the King of kings and Lord of lords. And the greater the kingdom, the more significant the appointment as ambassador. Jesus left us in the world as “My witnesses.” Notice that in Revelation 10, John has relocated from heaven to earth. And in the vision Jesus has come to be with him. The same is true for you Christian. He has placed you in this world and He is with you. Recognize whom you represent. This is essential to being ready to represent Him. And, knowing who He is, you will, secondly, Internalize His Word To be ready to represent Jesus, you and I must internalize his word. This is the point of the encounter between Jesus and John in Revelation 10. Jesus comes holding an open scroll (v. 2). He roars like a lion and seven thunders sound (v. 3). John attempts to write what he hears the thunders say. But God commands him not to do that (v. 4). Jesus then takes an oath to his Father that he will keep the appointed schedule for judgment that the prophets announced in the Scriptures (vv. 5-7). God then directs John to take the scroll from Jesus, and Jesus commands John to eat the scroll (vv. 8-9). John does and finds that the scroll is sweet to the taste but makes him sick to his stomach, just as Jesus said it would (v. 10). Jesus then commissions John to prophesy (v. 11). This little scroll is not the judgment scroll we first saw in Ch. 5. That scroll belonged only to Jesus Christ who is worthy to open it and act as Judge. The scroll in Revelation 10 represents Scripture, the Bible. It is the scroll that Jesus gives to us, His Word. It is the scroll that we must, like John, digest completely and thoroughly if we are to represent Jesus Christ in this world. We must internalize His Word. What do we learn about the Bible from the vision of Revelation 10? First, the Bible is Christ’s book. It is his scroll. He is the Living Word of God and the Bible is the Written Word of God. The two perfectly harmonize. The Written Word bears perfect testimony to the Living Word and the Living Word bears perfect testimony to the Written Word. I believe the Bible is perfectly true because Jesus did. He insisted, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). He also declared, “The Scriptures … bear witness about Me” (John 5:39). When you take up the Bible to internalize it, you take up His book. It’s all about Him and His authority stands behind every word of it. What we think about the Bible will change how we handle it. Second, the Bible is our food. Jesus tells John to eat the scroll. Digest it. For it to do its work, it must be swallowed bite by bite. Savor it as the choicest delicacy. Let it permeate every cell to bring life and nourishment. We cannot just listen to the Bible any more than we can lick a carrot and think we have fed our bodies. We must read the Bible too. But reading must lead to study. And study to memorization. And memorization to meditation. Psalm 1 declares that the truly blessed person who represents God before a wicked world meditates on his Word day and night. To internalize the Bible, to take it into our souls and let it saturate our thoughts and desires, takes time and effort. But we give more time and effort to prepare for other less important jobs. We will not be ready to represent Christ if the Bible is a bunch of fuzzy thoughts rather than a clear and constant meditation. Food is constantly at work in a healthy person. Find a memory method that works for you and stick with it. Learn how to study the Bible for yourself. Get into a Bible study. Listen to good preaching. Attend a conference like “For the Church.” Make the sacrifice to internalize Christ’s Word. The vision of Revelation 10 also tells us (third) that the Bible is bitter. Not that it is confusing. We can digest it. There are things that we are not to know. God does not let John write down what the thunders say (v. 4). We saw in Acts 1 that we are not to know the specific timing related to Christ’s coming in the future. Deuteronomy 29:29 declares, The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever. There are things in the Bible that are hard to understand but that is not the point of bitter here. The Bible is sweet to the believer’s taste because it so quickly “revives the soul” according to Psalm 19:7. But it becomes bitter because, when representing Jesus, we have to grapple with hard truths in the Bible. God exists. He is sovereign. He is holy. Sin is serious. All people are sinners and stand guilty before God. No one can save himself. Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. God will judge sinners. Hell is real. Hell is horrible. And hell is eternal. We cannot disregard or distort these truths as we represent Jesus Christ in this world. We may want a Bible that is only sweet, but that is a failure to love lost people. To internalize His Word is to meditate on it until the Holy Spirit sets on our hearts a bitter burden to take the gospel to the world. Evangelize And that is the conclusion of this vision in v. 10. To represent Jesus Christ in the world is to evangelize. Recognize. Internalize. Evangelize. Jesus calls John to prophesy. In this context, he must speak the Word that he has internalized. Speak the good news (“evangelize”). Judgment is coming, but there is time to repent and turn to Christ. Declare His Word as true whether people accept it or not. Prophesy. Speak it out. This is the mission of the church – to declare God’s word for the salvation of human souls. Speaking is not everyone’s gift but it is everyone’s responsibility. Jesus tells his people to proclaim his message from the housetops, implying that it will happen in the everyday course of life, in the neighborhood not confined to the temple. Speak my words again, Jesus says. You must again prophesy. You spoke to your friend once. Seek an opportunity to do it again. You showed greater boldness for Christ earlier in your Christian life. Show the same boldness again. You explained the gospel to your children yesterday. Explain it again today. You missed an opportunity last week. It will come again soon. Every opportunity, declare it again. Jesus assures us in v. 10 that his word applies wherever we go and to whomever we meet. His word applies to people in various nations speaking many languages. His Word is for common people and kings. In Revelation, “kings” refers to people of power. Christ’s Word applies to the elites and the excluded. Christ’s gospel applies to every person you encounter. There is no interaction when the Bible is not relevant, where Christ is not present. Be intentional to talk about Jesus in a Bible way. Conclusion Are we ready to represent Jesus? The answer, sadly, is no. We can only strive toward that goal because he so perfectly represented us. He went to the cross, raised his arms before his Father, and swore, “No more delay. Let the judgment fall. Let it fall on me. I will represent them as the sacrifice. By my oath, according to my Word, they will live. And, as My Spirit makes them alive to believe Me, they will speak My word. They will represent Me. They will be My witnesses.” Lord, make us ready. Pray with me. Father, We face a task unfinished That drives us to our knees A need that, undiminished Rebukes our slothful ease We, who rejoice to know Thee Renew before Thy throne The solemn pledge we owe Thee To go and make Thee known We go to all the world Your kingdom hope unfurled No other name has power to save But Jesus Christ Our Lord.

  • "The Rest of Mankind" (Revelation 9)

    Revelation: The Time is Near Last week we listened as, in heaven, four angels blew four trumpets at Jesus Christ’s command unleashing intensifying judgments on the earth. The worshiping assembly around Christ’s throne hears the trumpets. Those on earth hear an eagle crying “Woe.” The eagle’s lament sounds in the last verse of chapter 8. Three times the bird cries “Woe,” one “Woe” for each of the three remaining trumpet judgments. In Chapter 9, John, standing in heaven, hears two more trumpet blasts (5 and 6). He watches as two more symbolic scenes of judgment on Earth roll across a great screen. And he learns a disturbing truth about God’s judgment. Revelation 9:1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I [John] saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. 7In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 11They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon. 12The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come. 13Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. 16The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. 17And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. 18By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 19For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound. 20The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. The disturbing truth that plays out in these visions is that Jesus Christ allows his most vicious enemy, Satan, along with his demons, to work horrendous evil as part of divine judgment. In the visions of chapter 9 are two demonic invasions. In vv. 1-11, we watch a locust invasion. Grasshoppers, like battle horses, cover the Earth. Normally, grasshoppers devour vegetation. These insects torment people but do not kill them (v. 4). These creatures are symbolic representations of demons. They swarm out of the bottomless pit, meaning hell. And who leads them? V. 11 identifies their king as Abaddon (Hebrew) or Apollyon (Greek). In v. 1 he is the star that falls from heaven and opens the bottomless pit to release the locusts. This reflects the biblical teaching that Satan was once a holy angel attending God’s throne in heaven but who rebelled against God. He led a mutiny sometime after God completed his good creation and before Satan tempted Eve in the garden. He has fallen from heaven to earth as v. 1 says. Angels who followed him are called demons, fallen creatures who work his evil will in the world. In vv. 13-19, a second vision pictures an invasion of 200 million mounted horses led by four evil angels. This swarm breathes out smoke, fire, and sulfur and stings with serpent tails. It kills a third of people on Earth. These visions make visible the world of demons that is largely invisible to us. They picture a vast and vicious army determined to destroy God’s creation. Seeing it forces us to consider our response to the reality and danger of demons. Consider these three responses: Considering the Danger Demons Pose, Be Careful First response: be careful. Satan and demons are not the projection of our imaginations. They are real. They are active in this world. And they are dangerous. The fact that they are invisible does not make them rare or distant. The unseen spiritual world surrounds us continually. Be careful because: Demons Deceive Smoke, especially in vv. 2-3 but also in vv. 17-18, symbolizes darkness and deception. Demons work for Satan who deceived Eve (Genesis 3:1-7; 2 Corinthians 11:3). Jesus describes him in John 8:44, [The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. In Revelation 12:9 Satan is “the deceiver of the whole world.” He blinds people to the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul warns that: In later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1). Those who follow such teaching have lost their senses (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Christians are called to stand against Satan’s schemes, a word that refers to his plans that involve deceptive strategies (Ephesians 6:11). Since Satan cannot be everywhere at once, he employs demons to carry out his deceptions. He rules a vast horde. We must be careful about demonic deception. Peter insists that we be sober-minded when it comes to Satan (1 Peter 5:8). Spectacular demonic manifestations like the ones seen in the gospels get a lot of attention. People go into convulsions. A demon will speak from a person but in a different voice. This does happen. However, the Bible makes it clear that: Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14–15) The immediate reference here is to false human teachers. But the truth applies to demons too. We should be more concerned about being deceived by false teaching or sin than by encountering some weird occult practice. Consider one biblical example. Ephesians 4:27 commands believers not to give an opportunity to the devil. How would a Christian give Satan an opportunity? Use a Ouija board? Hold a séance? Watch a horror movie? Take drugs? All of these have demonic connections. But what does Paul warn will give the devil an opportunity? According to 4:26, it’s unresolved anger. Holding a grudge. Refusing to reconcile. Demons deceive. Be careful. Don’t let unresolved anger simmer on the stove of your heart. Students, be careful. There is spiritual significance in everything you learn at school. Stay alert to the way that social media breeds conflict and unrighteous anger. Parents, be aware that everything your child watches on a streaming service or in a video game reflects a worldview that is loyal to one of two kings. It is interesting that, in v. 20, those who continue to worship demons do not repent of the “works of their hands.” The specific reference is to making idols. But the phrase more broadly refers to what people produce in their strength and creativity. Pride in their accomplishments for their glory is, in essence, demonic. Demons Destroy Demons not only deceive, but they also destroy. They torment and kill according to Revelation 9. Their deceptions result in destruction. One of Satan’s names according to v. 11 is Abaddon or Apollyon. The words in Hebrew and Greek mean “destroyer.” Demonic worship fosters a culture of death. This has always been true of idolatry. The testimony about ancient Israel reads: They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 37They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 38they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, Psalm 106:36–38 A demonic smokescreen has convinced our culture that killing an unborn child is a form of health care. We legalize destructive pleasures regardless of their impact on children because of a demonic smokescreen. Economic freedom is a smokescreen for greed. In Canada, the right to die is quickly becoming the duty to die to save money or make life more convenient for family members. Christians must oppose every manifestation of the culture of death. Demons Demand Devotion V. 20 insists that not repenting of sin is the equivalent of worshiping demons. They demand devotion. Satan knows that the stakes are high. We all worship. We are either worshiping God or Satan. Satan worship is not limited to weird occult practices. Whatever is not to the glory of God is the worship of his enemies. There is no middle ground. The apostle who relates these visions to us in Revelation writes in his letter, 1 John 3:8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. One theologian concludes, “Demonic activity is probably a factor in almost all sin and almost all destructive activity that opposes the work of God in the world today.” The threat we face is serious. Be careful. Considering the Danger Demons Pose, Be Clear And yet, acknowledging this demonic threat tempts people to blame demons for their sins. So, we must, secondly, be clear. The Bible does not allow us to excuse sin as if we are helpless victims under the power of demons. We acknowledge that demonic oppression is significant. The visions of Revelation 9 illustrate what John writes at the close of 1 John. The whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 1 John 5:19 But at the end of chapter 9, John makes clear that the rest of mankind remains under God’s judgment because they refuse to repent. God holds them responsible for their sin. They are guilty (according to v. 21) of murders, sorceries (using drugs as magic potions), sexual immorality, and theft. In v. 6, instead of repenting, they want to die. Rather than turn to God to find life, they long for death. They are making a conscious choice. They are following their strongest desire. They are not helpless slaves to demonic oppression. We must also be clear that the answer to all demonic oppression is the gospel. Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. The greatest evil Satan can inflict is holding you in your sin so that, like him, you face God’s final judgment. The only thing that frees you from a final judgment is the news that God has come in Jesus Christ to take sin’s punishment on the cross so that sinners can be set fully free. Listen to this summary of the gospel in Colossians 2:13–15. And you, who were dead in your trespasses[sin] and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands [judgment]. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities [Satan and demons] and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Jesus Christ shames Satan and his demons by taking from them the one weapon by which they could eternally harm his people. He canceled sin’s debt at the cross. But for whom? Revelation 9 also makes clear that there is a distinction between people in general and those who belong to Jesus Christ. Look at vv. 3-4. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. We have seen in earlier messages that those who have God’s seal are those who have the Holy Spirit. They repent of sin and trust Jesus Christ in the gospel. The demon’s torment cannot reach these people because the guilt of their sin has been removed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If you, today, know torment over the wrong you have done before a holy God, do not remain captive to it. Do not choose death. You cannot blame demons for your condition. There is life and peace in Jesus Christ even in the turmoil and chaos that grips this world. Let me be clear about the gospel. God created each of us to live with joy in his kingdom. But we gave our loyalty to a rebel prince who wants to be king. We willingly serve him in our self-centered sin. But Jesus Christ came to show us that being truly human means living in perfect harmony with God’s will. He died as the only sinless sacrifice that would satisfy God’s wrath against our sins. Through his resurrection, he completely rescues his people from eternal hell. But this rescue is only enjoyed by those who turn from sin and trust in King Jesus and his saving victory. If you have never come to Christ in this way, you remain a part of the rest of mankind: Still alive but headed for eternal death. I ask you the prophet Ezekiel’s question, “Why will you die?” Repent and believe the gospel. Considering the Danger Demons Pose, Be Courageous Those who have responded this way to the gospel, belong to Jesus Christ. They are set apart from the rest of mankind. Demons can harass and trouble Christians but not torment them under God’s judgment. When we consider the threat of demons, we add a third response for believers: be courageous. We can preach Revelation 9 honestly, acknowledging the power that demons possess and, at the same time, call Christians to be courageous. Demons have greater power than any of us on our own or even all of us put together, except that we have God’s seal (v. 4). We have the Holy Spirit. John who watches the horrors of Revelation 9 writes in his letter, 1 John 4:3–4 Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. As we saw last week, passive verbs remind us that God is ultimately in control. V. 1 Satan “was given” the key to release his demons. In v. 3 the demons “were given power” and “were told” exactly whom they could harm and whom to leave alone. They operate only under Christ’s permission just like Satan Job 1. V. 5 restricts their activity to five months. The killing demons in vv. 13-19 are not released until Christ directs the angel to blow the sixth trumpet. A voice (probably Christ’s voice) commands the release of the four evil angels. Until this point, He has bound them (passive). V. 15 specifies that they “have been prepared” (another passive) by Christ for the exact moment when they will accomplish his purposes in judgment. As we see in the gospels, demons must obey Jesus. He is in control. And we have his authority through the gospel over demons. We also have his promise, 1 John 5:18: We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God [Jesus Christ] protects him, and the evil one does not touch him [to destroy him]. Christians must be aware of the pervasive power of demons but not be obsessed with them. We are careful without being paranoid. When they confront us, we meet them in the name of Christ and the power of the gospel. We remain prayed-up and Bible-ready every day. The NT does not instruct us to use special rituals or engage in long, drawn-out encounters with demons. Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church (Matthew 16: 18). When the seventh trumpet blows in 11:15, we will hear loud voices in heaven singing the song which proclaims what is already true: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

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