Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (Revelation Chapter 22)

Revelation 22:1-2, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

I love rivers.  Always have.  I can vaguely remember my first times fishing and trying to keep up with my Dad on the trail as we made our way to the creek.  Inevitably my fishing pole would get tangled up in the brush and he would have to stop and rescue me.  On one occasion I fell into a river necessitating a more urgent kind of rescue.  We spent a lot of weekend days fishing in my growing up years.  Dad would patiently stay put in one place—and catch fish--while I ran from hole to hole anxious to see what was “around the river bend.”  I’ve hiked a lot of river banks and have swam, boated, fished, and enjoyed rivers large and small. 

The Bible speaks of rivers.  There was a river in Eden which watered the garden (Cf. Genesis 2:10).  But that paradise was lost to man in sin.  The Promised Land lay on the other side of the Jordan River.  God miraculously stopped the river allowing His people to pass (Cf. Joshua 3).  Idolatrous Israel languished in spiritual drought.  So God spoke to His people through the prophet Jeremiah, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).  God likened Himself to a perpetual life-giving stream.  Jesus did too, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38; Cf. Revelation 21:6).  He spoke thus of the Spirit (Cf. John 7:39).  The life of God in the soul of a man is said to be like a river flowing out of one’s heart.

The New Jerusalem will have a river.  You can trace most rivers to their source.  The headwaters of the nearby Columbia lie far north in British Columbia.  The Metolius River in Central Oregon springs up from ground from some undetermined birthplace.  But the river “of the water of life” will flow “from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1).  Some rivers are crystal clear.  Their multi-colored rock and boulder-strewn bottoms are beautifully magnified by the cascading currents.  The river in New Jerusalem will be “bright as crystal” and obviously majestic to behold (Cf. Revelation 22:1).  The river in Eden watered the garden and the trees, the heavenly river will do the same.  “On either side of the river” will stand “the tree of life, with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit for each month” (Revelation 22:2).  “The leaves of the tree (will be) for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). 

Heaven will have a river.  It will flow from God Himself.  There are lovely rivers on earth, but the beauty of the river of heaven will far surpass them all.  It’s good to live by a river.  That’s why so many cities are located alongside them.  The heavenly city will have a heavenly river that will supply the water of life to its heavenly citizens.

A beautiful river runs through heavenly Jerusalem.  Are you going to have a place there on that river one day?  Riverfront property is even now availed to us in Christ.  He invites us to come to Him and drink.  We were all created to love a river.  And we will ever remain thirsty souls lest we drink of the living water He alone can supply (Cf. John 4:13-15). 

The earth will give way and the mountains will be moved into the heart of the sea (Cf. Psalm 46:2).  History will run its course and this present world will perish.  But “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High” (Psalm 46:4).  There will be much rejoicing along that heavenly stream.  I love rivers.  Apparently—and more importantly--God does too. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

NO MORE TEARS (Revelation Chapter 21)

Revelation 21:1-4, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation chapter 21 unveils to us a new heaven and earth that will be the eternal dwelling place of the redeemed.  Paradise lost in Genesis chapter 3 is paradise regained in these final chapters of the book of Revelation.  Specific details of this new creation are revealed.  There will be no more sea (Cf. Revelation 21:1).  A city, New Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven,” will be the dwelling place of the saints in the presence of God (Revelation 21:2-3).  There will be no more sin (Cf. 2 Peter 3:13).

The most difficult aspects of life here on earth will be non-existent in heaven.  These things have troubled man since the fall.  Were there tears shed by Adam and Eve when they fell in sin?  There have been plenty shed since.  Mourning, crying, and pain are all sourced ultimately in sin and death.  Creation itself groans under the burden of the curse (Cf. Romans 8:22).  We do too (Cf. Romans 8:23).  No estate in this present existence can avail these “no longers” to us.  There is no place on earth devoid of these troubles which have long plagued man’s existence.  No set of circumstances can guarantee to us the absence of death, mourning, crying or pain.  And though we, as believers in Christ, are strengthened and comforted amidst our afflictions by God, it is the Spirit-borne hope of glory which ultimately works to encourage and sustain us.

John MacArthur has commented on this, “He shall wipe away every single tear. What it means is there never will be a tear in heaven, not one single tear. There will be nothing sad. There will be nothing disappointing. There will be nothing unfulfilling. There will be nothing lacking. There will be nothing wrong. There will be nothing limiting. There will be nothing to cry about.  Tears of misfortune, tears of poverty, tears of loneliness, tears over lost love, tears of sympathy, mercy, pity, tears of persecuted innocence, tears of remorse, tears of regret, tears of penitence, tears of neglect, tears of yearning for what cannot be are all gone forever. Bliss, joy and nothing but for eternity. Tears, you see, are part of, what he says at the end of verse 4, the first things that have passed away. They don't exist.  To put it in a clinical form, you won't have any tear ducts. Furthermore, you might not even have any water in you. How about that? I told you there's no more sea. It's not a water-based existence. No more tears, gone, nothing to cry about.”

An old hymn, “There’s No Disappointment in Heaven,” speaks to what awaits the believer in Christ in this eternal abode:

“There’s no disappointment in Heaven, No weariness, sorrow or pain;
No hearts that are bleeding and broken, No song with a minor refrain. 
The clouds of our earthly horizon, Will never appear in the sky,
For all will be sunshine and gladness, With never a sob or a sigh.

We’ll never pay rent for our mansion, The taxes will never come due,
Our garments will never grow threadbare, But always be fadeless and new,
We’ll never be hungry or thirsty, Nor languish in poverty there,
For all the rich bounties of Heaven, His sanctified children will share.

There’ll never be crepe on the doorknob, No funeral train in the sky;
No graves on the hillsides of glory, For there we shall nevermore die. 
The old will be young there forever, Transformed in a moment of time;
Immortal we’ll stand in His likeness, The stars and the sun to outshine.”

Words and Music by Frederick M. Lehman, 1914.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

THE THOUSAND YEARS (Revelation Chapter 20)

Revelation 20:1-4, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.  And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.  Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

This passage speaks of what is commonly referred to as the millennium which has to do with the thousand-year reign of Christ over the earth.  The phrase “thousand years” appears six times in the first seven verses of this chapter.  There are three main views regarding the nature and duration of this period.

Premillennialists understand the millennium to be a literal thousand year period in which Christ will reign in fulfillment of numerous Old Testament prophecies (Cf. Psalm 2; 45, 110; Isaiah 2:1-5, 11:6-12, 24:23, 60, 61-3-62, 66; Jeremiah 23:3-8, 32:37-44; Ezekiel 40-48; Daniel 2:44-45; 7:13-14; 12:2-3; Micah 4:1-8; Joel 3:9-21; Amos 9:8-15; Zechariah 12:10-14:21).  Christ will return after the Great Tribulation to establish His Kingdom.  A great rebellion takes place at the end of the millennium (Cf. Revelation 20:7).  A new heaven and new earth is then established after the Great White Throne judgment (Cf. Revelation 20:11-21:1).

Postmillennialists say that Christ will return after the thousand years.  According to their view the thousand years is merely symbolic of a period of world-wide turning to Christ.  As J. Vernon McGee has pointed out, “This viewpoint has become obsolete as it could not weather the first half of the twentieth century, which produced two world wars, a global depression, the rise of communism, and the atom bomb with which worldwide destruction is imminent.”

Amillennialists understand the thousand years to be merely symbolic of a long period of time.  The addition of the prefix “a” serves to negate the term.  This view typically interprets Old Testament prophecies of having being fulfilled in a spiritual sense through the church.  Most amillennialists fit the millennium into the present age and the events of Revelation into past history.

What difference does it make what one believes about such matters?  God made specific promises to Israel that are yet to be fulfilled.  God has not abandoned Israel (Cf. Romans 11:25-27).  He promised to them a kingdom and God is always faithful to do that which He has promised.  Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum has commented on this, “The belief in the Messianic Kingdom does not rest on this passage (Revelation 20:4) alone. In fact, it hardly rests on it at all. The basis for the belief in the Millennial Kingdom is twofold. First: there are the unfulfilled promises of the Jewish covenants, promises that can only be fulfilled in a Messianic Kingdom. Second: there are the unfulfilled prophecies of the Jewish prophets…The only real contribution that the book of Revelation makes to the knowledge of the Kingdom is to disclose just how long the Messianic kingdom will last—namely one thousand years—for which the term Millennium is used. This is the one key truth concerning the Kingdom that was not revealed in the Old Testament.” 

John Walvoord has written of the nature of this coming kingdom, “For the whole period of one thousand years the earth will revel in the immediate presence of the Lord and His perfect divine government. Israel will be exalted and Gentiles also will be blessed. The major factors of the millennium, therefore, include a perfect and righteous government with Christ reigning in absolute power over the entire earth. Every nation will be under His sway, and God’s purpose in originally placing man in charge of the Garden of Eden will have its ultimate fulfillment in the Last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will reign over the earth.  The prominence of Israel in the millennial scene is evidenced in many passages of the Old Testament…Gentiles who share in the kingdom blessings have unparalleled spiritual and economic benefits, and the thousand-year reign of Christ is a time of joy, peace, and blessing for the entire earth. Though problems in understanding this period persist due to the fact that there is not a complete revelation on all details, the major facts are sufficiently clear for anyone who is willing to accept the authority and accuracy of Scripture and interpret language in its ordinary sense.”

THE SECOND ADVENT (Revelation Chapter 19)

Revelation 19:12, “And on his head are many diadems”

Merry Christmas!  Today we rejoice in the first advent of the Lord Jesus who “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).  We are almost to the end of our reading through the New Testament.  It’s been almost a year since we began and read in the early chapters of Matthew of His first advent.  And now in this chapter we read of His second.

It’s good for us to connect the two together.  In fact, it is impossible to rightly celebrate Christmas—in God-intended fashion at least—apart from understanding the whole truth about Jesus Christ.  We read through the narrative of Jesus’ birth last night at our Christmas Eve service.  That God in His love would condescend to our need in sending His Son is glorious truth indeed, as Martin Luther has noted: “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.”  The nativity scene speaks to this mystery, but there is more to the story.

Jesus Christ is the CREATOR.  John 1:3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”  This is an important truth to remember in our consideration of the import of Christmas.  The Apostle John spoke of the creator’s identity and advent when he wrote: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  The hymnwriter put it this way: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.”

He was in a CRADLE.  Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).  In His first advent He came in humility.  There was no place for Him in the inn.  They laid Him in a feeding trough.  He received no royal reception and was instead welcomed by shepherds and foreigners.  He lived a humble life for “He came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Cf. Philippians 2:5-8).

He died on a CROSS.  To fulfill the Father’s will, Jesus purposed to die on a cross for sins.  Having been delivered up, they “stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand.  And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying ‘Hail, King of the Jews’” (Matthew 27:28-29)!   And as He hung there on that cross—the subject of mocking abuse—the sign above His head seemed to mock Him too.  Pilate had written the inscription.  The chief priests tried to make a change, but Pilate stood by what he wrote.  The sign was written in four languages and said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 19:20).  It spoke the truth, though on that day He appeared to be anything but a king.

He will wear a CROWN.  He’s coming again.  The first time He came in humility, but He’s coming again in glory.  Revelation chapter 19 speaks to the events associated with His return.  He will come on a white horse to judge and make war (Cf. Revelation 19:11).  He will be accompanied by the armies of heaven (Cf. Revelation 19:14).  He will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15).  He will be clothed in a “robe dipped in blood” symbolizing not His redemptive work, but His coming again in judgment (Cf. Revelation 19:13; Isaiah 63:3-6).  He will wear on his head “many diadems” which speak to His identity as the Sovereign ruler over all.  His robe likewise speaks to this having the name written on it, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16).  Jesus is no longer a babe in a manger.  He is the risen and returning Lord who is coming to reign forever and ever.  He exchanged His kingly crown for a crown of thorns in His first advent.  He will wear glorious crowns in His second. 

The hymn, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne,” speaks to both advents of Christ: “Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown when Thou camest to earth for me.  But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room for Thy holy nativity.  Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word that should set Thy people free; but with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn they bore Thee to Calvary.  When the heav’ns shall ring and the angels sing at Thy coming to victory, Let Thy voice call me home, saying, ‘Yet there is room—There is room at My side for thee. My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus, when Thou comest and callest for me!”  Is He—this Creator who was laid in a Cradle then put upon a Cross to one day be Crowned—your Savior and Lord?  To celebrate Christmas in God-intended fashion one must first receive Him in the entirety of His person and not just as the babe of Christmas.  To those who thus receive Him He gives the best gift of all, “the right to become (a child) of God” (John 1:12; Cf. 2 Corinthians 9:15).

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

THE COMING CRASH (Revelation Chapter 18)

Revelation 18:9-20, “And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city!  For in one hour your judgment has come.’  “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more…The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls; for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’  And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’  And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’”

A little more than 85 years ago the US economy experienced a crash of the stock market.  A Time Magazine article described the events of that day: “As the story goes, the opening bell was never heard on Black Tuesday because the shouts of "Sell!  Sell!  Sell!" drowned it out.  In the first thirty minutes, 3 million shares changed hands and with them, another $2 million disappeared into thin air.  Phone lines clogged.  The volume of Western Union telegrams traveling across the country tripled.  The ticker tape ran so far behind the actual transactions that some traders simply let it run out.  Trades happened so quickly that although people knew they were losing money, they didn't know how much.  Rumors of investors jumping out of buildings spread through Wall Street; although they weren't true, they drove the prices down further…One trader fainted from exhaustion, was revived and put back to work.  Others got into fistfights.  The New York Stock Exchange's board of governors considered closing the market, but decided against it, lest the move increase the panic…The market recovered for a few months and then slid again, gliding swiftly and steadily with the rest of the country into the Great Depression.  Companies incurred huge layoffs, unemployment skyrocketed, wages plummeted and the economy went into a tailspin.  While World War II helped pull the country out of a Depression by the early 1940s, the stock market wouldn't recover to its pre-crash numbers until 1954.”

That was a bad day in the history of our country.  And from time to time other kingdoms and countries have experienced similar kinds of financial challenges.  Revelation chapter 18 speaks of a future political and financial collapse that will encompass the whole world.  The chapter has to do with the fall of Babylon.  There is debate as to whether or not ancient Babylon will be rebuilt.  Those who believe that it will view it to be the future epicenter from which Antichrist will exercise reign over a one-world government and one-world economy.  At the end of the Tribulation it will all come crashing down.  J. Vernon McGee has commented on this: “In chapters 17-18 two Babylons are brought be before us.  The Babylon of chapter 17 is ecclesiastical.  The Babylon of chapter 18 is economic.  The first is religious—the apostate church which entered into the Great Tribulation Period.  The second is political and commercial…When Christ returns, political Babylon will be destroyed by the judgment of God.”

The judgment comes about suddenly: “In a single hour” (Revelation 19:10, 17).  The destruction will be complete, laying waste to all human wealth (Cf. Revelation 10:17).  There will be much weeping and mourning on that day.  All kinds of people will lament the destruction of Babylon: the kings of the earth (Cf. Revelation 18:9); the merchants of the earth (Cf. Revelation 18:11); all shipmasters and seafaring men (Cf. Revelation 10:17).  Babylon will be “found no more” (Revelation 18:21).  Musicians will be heard no more (Cf. Revelation 18:22).  Craftsmen will construct no more (Cf. Revelation 18:22).  Industry will function no more (Cf. Revelation 18:22).  Light will shine in cities no more (Cf. Revelation 18:23).  Social and family life will be no more (Cf. Revelation 18:23).

Men plan and scheme and dream big dreams of gaining power and accumulating wealth.  Over the course of history many kingdoms have been built and have fallen.  There are some who suppose that man can somehow create a heaven on earth, a kind of social utopia.  That fallacy has been disproved by history.  Man has a sin problem.  A future kingdom is coming, under the reign of the Antichrist, but it will be no utopia.  And it will all come crashing down to make way for the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).  “Do not love the world or the things in the world…the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A WOMAN RIDES THE BEAST (Revelation Chapter 17)

Revelation 17:3, “…And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.”
Revelation 17:5-6, “And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations’.  And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.”

The chapter and the next have to do with the subject of Babylon.  As John Walvoord has noted, there is much speculation and debate concerning the details of these two chapters, “Any interpretation of Revelation 17 and 18 is difficult because expositors have not agreed as to the detail of their interpretations. In general, however, it is helpful to consider chapter 17 as dealing with Babylon as an ecclesiastical or spiritual entity and chapter 18 as dealing with Babylon as a political entity.”

Babylon is mentioned six times by name in the book of Revelation (Revelation 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21) and 260 times in the Bible.  There are five main views regarding the identification of Babylon in Revelation chapters 17-18: 1) the world; 2) Jerusalem; 3) Rome; 4) An end time religious system; and 5) a future, literal, rebuilt Babylon.  Still others suppose her to be the Roman Catholic Church or some syncretic amalgamation of two or more of the aforementioned views.

John MacArthur, “Babylon has from its inception symbolized evil and rebellion against God.  It was founded by Nimrod (Genesis 10:9-10), a proud, powerful, God-rejecting ruler.  Babel (Babylon) was the site of the first organized system of idolatrous false religion (Genesis 11:1-4).  The Tower of Babel, the expression of that false religion, was a ziggurat; an edifice designed to facilitate idolatrous worship.  God judged the people’s idolatry and rebellion by confusing their language and scattering them over the globe (Genesis 11:5-9).  Thus the seeds of idolatry and false religion spread around the world from Babylon, to take root wherever these proud rebels and their descendants settled.”  

According to Rabbinic sources, “Nimrod was the primary force behind this rebellion.  The Midrashim explain his sinister motive.  He planned to build a tower ascending to Heaven, and, from it, wage war against God”

The Babylon of Revelation chapters 17 and 18 is the fruit of the seed of the idolatrous rebellion in Genesis chapter 11.  They share similar characteristics.  A powerful ruler leads both.  It should be noted that Nimrod was the first earthly “king.”  The Antichrist will be the last one.  They both work to build something.  Nimrod, an “invincible” tower; Antichrist, an “invincible” kingdom.  They both enlist and unite others in their ungodly enterprise.  Through the building of the Tower of Babel false religions spread.  The Antichrist will gladly tolerate false beliefs (anything is permissible as long as it does not stand in the way of his agenda), but not the truth (Cf. Revelation 17:6).  Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was “Tower of Babel” like.  The Roman Empire was too and though there existed a plethora of pagan gods and goddesses it was the emperor alone who demanded absolute allegiance.  The godless humanism of our day functions according to similar principles.

John MacArthur, “What is found in these verses if the final form of religious apostasy, ending in a one-world super-church…During the Tribulation, all the world’s diverse false religions will be reunited into one great religion.  That ultimate expression of false religion will be an essential element of Antichrist’s finale world empire, in holding together his military, economic, and political structure.  Only religion can unite the world in the most compelling way.”

The coming one-world religion will tolerate all kind of beliefs and practices, but will not tolerate the truth.  As the Apostle John warned, that form of “religion” is even now in the world, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and 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” (1 John 4:1-3).

Monday, December 22, 2014

SEVEN VERY BAD BOWLS (Revelation Chapter 16)

Revelation 16:1, “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”
Revelation 16:9, “They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues.  They did not repent and give him glory.”
Revelation 16:11, “(They) cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores.  They did not repent of their deeds.”

There is a lot of concern in our day regarding the environment.  Some suppose climate change to be the most serious threat faced by humanity.  There is concern for ocean dead zones, as the Smithsonian has reported, “Warmer waters and other factors will cause nearly all areas of low oxygen to grow by the end of the century.”  There is also concern for the increase in the frequency of earthquakes.  According to scientists the world has experienced a six-fold increase in earthquakes in a recent decade as opposed to the previous one.  We are even warned from time to time of the dangers associated with occasional solar flare ups and asteroids that pass perilously close to our planet. You can read about such things.  Alarmists demand that something be done.  But there are not many speaking to man’s far greater predicament.  Mankind has a sin problem.  In sin men “suppress the truth” and worship and serve the “creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:18, 24).  Not many are concerned about the sin problem, but judgment day is coming.  Unprecedented calamity will be visited upon planet earth and all its inhabitants.  But even in the midst of such clear evidence of God’s displeasure in His wrath against sinful rebellion, mankind will refuse to repent.
In the previous chapter John saw the “seven angels (with) seven angels full of the wrath of God” (Revelation 15:7).  Chapter 16 has to do with the pouring out of the bowl judgments.  The primary purposes of the seven bowl judgments are to: 1) exercise God’s righteous judgment against those who dwell upon the earth; and 2) to dramatically demonstrate the extent of their depravity in their continued refusal to repent of their evil deeds.
As a result of the pouring out of the first bowl “harmful and painful sores (come) upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image” (Revelation 16:2).  Reminiscent of Job’s experience and the plagues that struck Egypt (Cf. Job 2:7; Exodus 9:8-11), these sores will not only cause pain but will refuse to heal.
The pouring out of the second bowl will make the sea to become “like the blood of a corpse” (Revelation 16:3).  In the second trumpet judgment a third of the sea became blood and a third of the living creatures in the sea died (Cf. Revelation 8:8).  Now the remainder of the sea is made lifeless.  Dead marine life will litter the shores.
The third bowl turns the “rivers and springs of water” into blood.  There is a similarity here also between this judgment and the third trumpet judgment, the differences being in quantity (one third vs. all) and extent (blood vs. wormwood).  Again, this judgment bears resemblance to that which afflicted Egypt in the plagues (Cf. Exodus 7:20) and will bring unimaginable hardship and suffering to earth’s residents.
The fourth judgment affects the sun allowing it to “scorch people with fire” (Revelation 16:9).  The fifth plunges the kingdom of the beast into darkness (Revelation 16:10).  People will gnaw their tongues in anguish but will nevertheless use them to curse God (Cf. Revelation 16:11).  The sixth judgment dries up the “great river Euphrates,” preparing a way for the kings of the east (Cf. Revelation 16:12).  The seventh bowl is poured out and “a loud voice (comes) out of the temple, from the throne, saying ‘It is done” (Revelation 16:17).  The pouring forth of this bowl is accompanied by “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was the earthquake” (Revelation 16:18).  So powerful is the earthquake that earth’s geology will suffer major alteration (Cf. Revelation 16:20).  In addition, “Great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each” will fall from heaven “on people” (Revelation 16:21).
No amount of environmental activism, governmental regulation, or FEMA planning or expenditure will work to prevent these things.  There will be no escape to another planet from Him “to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).  These judgments will come from the hand of the Creator of all things.  Man’s biggest problem is sin and his greatest need is for salvation.  Best now to trust in Jesus who “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

Friday, December 19, 2014

THE OVERCOMERS (Revelation Chapter 15)

Revelation 15:1-4, “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.  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. 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! 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.”

Chapters 12 through 14 are all part of an interlude in the judgments visited upon the earth.  In chapter 15 the scene reverts back to these judgments and specifically the final set of seven bowls judgments in which “the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1).  As the previous judgments have progressed from the seals, to the trumpets and now to the bowls, the degree of their intensity has increased.  When the final bowl is poured forth, a voice from throne will declare “It is done! (Revelation 16:17).  These final judgments will conclude with the second coming of Christ (Cf. Revelation 19:11-21). 

This chapter describes the scene in heaven from which these “plagues” are unleashed to execute judgment and establish God’s Kingdom.  Earlier in the book we have read of how God’s heavenly sanctuary has been unveiled to John (Cf. Revelation 4:1; 8:1; 11:19).  “Seven angels with seven plagues” come out of the “sanctuary of the tent of witness” in heaven (Cf. Revelation 15:5).  They are heaven-sent to carry forth God’s judgment upon the earth.

Before there sendoff of the seven angels (Cf. Revelation 16:1), we are made aware of group of overcomers standing beside a sea of glass (Cf. Revelation 15:2).  John saw “what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire” (Revelation 15:2).  In his vision of heaven the prophet Ezekiel saw “the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal” (Ezekiel 1:22).  Here the sea of glass is mixed “with fire” likely referring to God’s pending judgment.  It is noteworthy that the overcomers are “standing beside the sea of glass” and not on it (Cf. Revelation 15:2).

These “who had conquered” appear in heaven prior to the end of the tribulation, before the pouring out of the seven bowls.  They are martyrs who were killed for refusing to worship the Beast (Cf. Revelation 13:15).  The term “conquered” translates the Greek nikontas which means to overcome or be victorious.  These individuals are those who had been threatened with the death penalty.  They had faced the dreadful choice--either worship the beast or refuse and suffer death.  Countless others acquiesced, but these did not (Cf. Revelation 12:11).  They “conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name” (Revelation 15:2).  They were overcomers.  In the Revelation Jesus was speaking to an overcomer.  The Apostle John, a partner to his readers “in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus,” who was on the island of Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9).  In His messages to the seven churches Jesus made specific promises to the overcomers (Cf. Revelation 2:8, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).  Jesus Himself was an overcomer (Cf. Revelation 3:21).  Those early believers were facing challenges similar in kind to what would be faced by these future martyrs of the tribulation.  In every age and in every place God’s people have had such challenges to overcome.  The Apostle John had previously written these encouraging words, “For everyone who is born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:4-5)?”  No matter the challenge—be it “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” we are, “In all these things…more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

The overcomers sing a song of praise to God—“the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:3; Cf. Revelation 5:9-14)).  The song of Moses, celebrating God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt in the exodus, is fulfilled in the song of the Lamb, which speaks of the greater redemption availed to all men through the cross.  The overcomers praise God for who He is and thank Him for what He has done.  They “have conquered…by the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12:11).

Thursday, December 18, 2014

THE WINEPRESS OF WRATH (Revelation Chapter 14)

Revelation 14:17-20, “Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle.  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.” 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.  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.”

Christmas—the celebration of the birth of Christ—is but a week away.  But the message of Christmas extends beyond the cradle in the nativity scene.  The cradled child was purposed to die on a cross and then rise again.  He is now ascended to the right hand of God and is coming again.   John MacArthur has commented on this: “And we are looking at a text of Scripture that deals with the final harvest of the earth, the final reaping when the Lord Jesus Christ reaps the earth in judgment. The first time Jesus came to earth, He came as a servant. The next time He will come as the sovereign King. The first time Jesus came, He came as one obeying. The next time He will come as one commanding. The first time Jesus came, He came alone to live with a Jewish couple in a small obscure town. The next time He will come with all His holy angels to take over the whole earth. The first time Jesus came He came in humility. The next time He will come in glorious majesty and splendor. The first time Jesus came, He came to seek and to save the lost. And the next time He will come to judge and sentence the lost. Or, to put the contrast in the terms of our text, the first time Jesus came He came as the sower. Next time He will come as the reaper. He came in grace, He comes in wrath.”

Some struggle to accept these varying aspects of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  They refuse the clear testimony of God’s Word regarding a future judgment, but that’s what this text declares.  There is much debate regarding the nature and timing of that which transpires in this passage.  An angel will swing his sharp sickle to harvest grapes that are then thrown into “the great winepress of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:20).  Blood will flow and cover a vast region (Cf. Revelation 14:17-20). Revelation chapter 19 uses similar language in describing what happens when Christ, the rider on a white horse, comes to exercise judgment at the end of the tribulation period (Cf. Revelation 19:11-21).  In “righteousness he judges and makes war” (Revelation 19:11).  “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood” and is accompanied by “the armies of heaven” (Revelation 19:14).  Who is the one who “will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15)?  It is none other than Jesus Christ that One who came the first time as a babe in a manger.  The One who first came in humility to die is coming again in glory to reign. 

To where can one “flee from the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7)?  To the One who bore God’s wrath against sin upon the cross (Cf. Romans 3:24-25; 1 Peter 3:18).  Charles Spurgeon has commented on the urgency of the need to trust now in Jesus, “And the winepress was trodden outside the city.” This represents the awful suffering of lost souls, the eternal punishment that will then begin. And, as the red juice spurts from the trodden grapes, so did John, in his terrible vision, see the blood of men come flowing forth, “even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.” That metaphor and measurement are meant to show how terrible is the wrath of God against the ungodly…There can be no possible exaggeration of the wrath of God! I beseech you, my dear Hearers—though I know not, and never wish to know much about this dreadful subject—remember that what we do know about the doom of the lost is enough to make one’s hair stand on end and one’s heart almost to cease to beat! So I beseech you, do not risk that doom for yourselves! Escape for your lives! Look not behind you, but flee to the one Refuge which God has provided.  Whoever will entrust His soul to Jesus Christ shall be eternally saved! Look to Him who wore the crown of thorns and repose your soul’s entire confidence in Him!...But if you reject Him, do not think it wrong that you should be cast with the grapes into the winepress of the wrath of God and be trodden with the rest of “the clusters of the vine of the earth.” I beg you to take Christ as your Savior this very hour lest this night you should die unsaved! Lay hold of Jesus lest you never hear another Gospel invitation or warning.  If I have seemed to speak terribly, God knows that I have done it out of love to your souls and, believe me, that I do not speak as strongly as the Truth of God might well permit me to do, for there is something far more terrible about the doom of the lost than language can ever express or thought conceive!  God save all of you from ever suffering that doom, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

THE COMING EVIL RULER (Revelation Chapter 13)

Revelation 13:5, “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 the life of the Lamb who was slain.”

In his book "Approaching Hoofbeats," Billy Graham imagines and describes the scene in a typical city in the Apostle John’s day, "Imagine a village in the suburbs of Ephesus or Laodicea.  Christian believers are at work tanning leather, dying cloth, harvesting crops, raising families, studying math and history--at worship, at work, at play.  Then, suddenly, hoof beats are heard clattering up the nearby cobbled streets.  The horses are reined in by a Roman centurion and his honor guard.  A leather camp table is unfolded.  An incense burner is placed upon the table.  A flame is lit.  Heralds sound the trumpets.  There is no place to hide, no time to decide.  Believers must join their neighbors in that line.  Just ahead the village mayor tosses his incense into the flames and exclaims proudly, "Caesar is Lord."  Others follow.  The line ahead grows shorter.  The moment of decision draws near.  Will the Christian avoid the conflict and protect his life and security with the simple act of obedience?  Will he mutter "Caesar is Lord" and sneak back home to safety?  Or will he recognize that act as a symbol of a wider disobedience, refuse the incense, proclaim "Jesus is Lord" and pay the price for his disloyalty to the state?  These scenes no doubt happened in all of these cities and chief among the reasons for the writing of this book was to encourage persecuted Christians.”

What was true in that day will be true in the future but to a worldwide extent.  An evil ruler will demand worship and allegiance and will harshly deal with those who refuse to comply.  Human history is littered with examples of men who ruled according to this devilish formula.  They demand under the threat of harm and punishment.  In response to God’s revelation regarding future events, and the pending demise of his kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar constructed a 90 foot tall image of gold (Cf. Daniel 2:36-45, 3:1).  The image was dedicated and the proclamation was made: “You are commanded, peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.  And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:4-6).  Under threat of harm or punishment evil dictators have done such things.  In Medieval times, under papal rule, thousands were martyred for the refusal to acquiesce to the heretical doctrines and demands of the Catholic Church.  The Nazi regime demanded absolute allegiance and dealt harshly with all dissidents.  Evil atheistic dictators like Stalin and Mao Tse-tung worked to cleanse their communist countries of all religious practice.  Churches were burned and all religious materials were destroyed.  Dissenters were threatened, imprisoned, and millions were slaughtered in the cause of communistic atheism.  Even today, in various parts of the world, there are evil dictators who rule in that manner.  North Korea has its prison camps.  ISIS threatens Christians and beheads those who refuse to convert to Islam.

There have been a lot of “prototypical antichrists.”  They’ve ruled according to that spirit.  They’ve threatened and punished and callously abused those who refused to yield.  But no past evil leader can compare to the evil one who is soon coming.  This chapter speaks of two “beasts” that will come to rule, the Antichrist and the false prophet (Cf. Revelation 3:1, 11).  The Antichrist will utter “haughty and blasphemous words” and will be “allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months” (Revelation 13:5).  He will “make war on the saints” and will be given authority “over every tribe and people and nation” (Revelation 13:7).  “All who dwell on earth will worship” him (Cf. Revelation 13:8).  The false prophet will enlist worshipers for the Antichrist through miracles and deceit (Cf. Revelation 12:13-14).  Worship of the beast will be demanded of all: “both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave” (Revelation 13:15).  To refuse to receive his “mark” will be to lose the freedom to “buy and sell” (Cf. Revelation 13:17).  Previous generations might have questioned how any ruler could possibly exercise dictatorship to such a broad (i.e. worldwide) extent.  Remember when Credit Cards and ATMs first came into being?  But technology is catching up to Biblical revelation.  Such a day does not seem far-fetched at all.  There have been plenty of evil dictators.  None can compare to the one who is coming.  There is but One Ruler worthy of man’s love and devotion—the One who died on a cross and rose from the dead to save us from our sins (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  Do you know Him?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

THE LONG WAR AGAINST GOD (Revelation Chapter 12)

Revelation 12:1-5, “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.  She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.  And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.  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.  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.”

Though human history there have been countless wars that have led to the deaths of millions of people.  Our country has currently been at war in Afghanistan for a decade. The “hundred years’ war” (it was actually 116 years long) began when King Edward III of England invaded France.   But no battle on earth can compare in longevity or import to the war spoken of in this passage.  The scene in heaven speaks to events ranging back to the Fall of Man and the subsequent promise of Redeemer to come.  Various personages are involved: 1) a woman, representing Israel; 2) the dragon, representing Satan; 3) the male child, representing Christ; 4) the stars in heaven, representing angels.

The “great red dragon” (Revelation 12:3) is Satan.  His color speaks to death and destruction.  He is elsewhere identified in this chapter to be “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).  He is referred to by five names/titles: 1) as the “great dragon,” he is fierce and fearsome; 2) as the ancient serpent, he is the One who “tempted Eve by his cunning” (2 Corinthians 11:3); 3) as the devil (diabolos), he is an accuser and slanderer; 4) as Satan, he is the adversary to God and His purposes; and 5) as the deceiver, he is the “father of lies” and the great master of deception (Cf. John 8:44).

The long war against God began when the tail of the dragon “swept a down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them down to the earth” (Revelation 12:4).  The stars refer to angels.  Sometime prior to Eve’s temptation the devil rebelled against God (Cf. Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 28:15).  A third of the angels (a vast number) followed him.  These fallen angels (demons) are referred to in this chapter as “his angels” (Revelation 12:7, 9).  Together with Satan they represent the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” spoken of by the Apostle Paul (Cf. Ephesians 6:12).

The devil won a battle in his temptation of Eve (Cf. Genesis 3:1-7).  But in response God made promise of a future victory through a coming redeemer, as he spoke 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 3:15).  Whereas the devil would inflict a wound, the Redeemer would cause a fatal one.  This promise, of a future triumphant Redeemer coming from the seed of the woman, relates to all that henceforth transpires in the Biblical narrative.

The “woman clothed with the sun” refers to Israel (Cf. Revelation 12:1).  It is through Israel that the promised Redeemer was born (Cf. Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2; Romans 9:5).  The sign, “she was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth,” had a partial fulfilled in Christ’s incarnation by virgin birth to Mary (Cf. Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:25; Luke 1:34).  It will have its ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s second coming when He comes to rule over His kingdom (Cf. Revelation 12:5).

As God had promised, there has been ongoing enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Cf. Genesis 3:15).  Pharaoh attempted to kill all the male sons of Israel (Exodus 1:16).  Haman sought to eliminate all of the Jews (Cf. Esther 3:6).  Athaliah, Ahaziah’s mother, attempted to wipe out all of the male heirs of the tribe of Judah, the tribe through which the Messiah would come (Cf. 2 Chronicles 22:10).  Herod sought to murder Jesus by killing all of the male children in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16).  These devil-led attempts all failed as did the most dramatic example of them all—the crucifixion of Christ.  Christ died, but the promised child born to the woman rose again and was subsequently “caught up to God and to his throne” (Revelation 12:5; Cf. Acts 1:9-11).

The bad news is that there is a horrific war, a battle for the souls of men, going on—there have already been innumerable causalities.  The good news is that God sent His Son, who died on a cross and rose from the dead, so that men might be turned “from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Cf. Acts 26:18).  The good news is that in the long war against God, God wins.  So do those who believe in Christ for salvation (Cf. Romans 8:37).

Monday, December 15, 2014

THE DEVIL'S CHRISTMAS (Revelation Chapter 11)

Revelation 11:3-11, “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”  These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.  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.  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.  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, 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.  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, 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. 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.”

The blast of the seventh trumpet must wait until two witnesses “prophesy for 1,260 days” (Cf. Revelation 11:3).  Revelation chapter 11 speaks to their ministry.  There has been much speculation regarding the identity of these two.  Some suppose them to be merely symbolic or representative of a group of people (i.e. the church).  Amongst those who believe them to be to actual persons there are various opinions as to their identity, but they are most commonly thought to be Moses and Elijah--they will do the kinds of things Moses and Elijah did (Cf. James 5:17-18 and Revelation 11:6; Exodus 7:20 and Revelation 11:6) and it was Moses and Elijah who appeared with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration (Cf. Matthew 17:3).

Their ministry.  They minister by the authority of God (Cf. Revelation 1:3).  They are heaven-sent to proclaim truth in an incredibly evil time.  They will “prophesy for 1,260 days” (Revelation 11:3).  Their message will be one of repentance (they are “clothed in sackcloth”; Cf. Revelation 11:3; Isaiah 37:1-2; Jonah 3:5; Matthew 11:21).  Zechariah gives some insight into their role (Zechariah 4:2-3 is referenced in Revelation 11:4).  Zechariah preached a message of repentance to the people of his day, encouraging them to return to Israel to rebuild the destroyed temple.  In a vision he saw a lampstand of gold with a bowl on top and seven lamps on it.  He also saw, on either side of the lampstand, two olive trees (Cf. Zechariah 4:2-3).  The “two olive trees and the two lampstands” of John’s vision allude to what Zechariah witnessed.  The two lampstands of his vision represented Joshua and Zerubbabel who had a God-given role in the rebuilding of the temple.  That historical incident also looked forward to the future day and the two witnesses who would be used by God in some similar way.  In the immediate context reference is made to “the Branch” and events that come to pass in His millennial Kingdom (Cf. Zechariah 3:8-10).

God supernaturally protects the two witnesses.  Fire comes from their mouths and consumes anyone who would seek to do them harm.  They have power to shut off the rain, turn waters into blood, and strike the earth with plagues.  It is only after they have “finished their testimony” that the beast (the Antichrist) is able “to make war on them and conquer them and kill them” (Revelation 11:7).  Their death will result in a huge celebration when “those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents” (Revelation 11:10).  J. Vernon McGee has commented on this, “This is the Devil’s Christmas.  The modern celebration of Christmas gets farther and farther from the birth of Christ and closer and closer to paganism.  The day will come when it will be anti-Christian—it is almost that now.  Here is the celebration of what Antichrist has done instead of celebration of the coming of Christ to Bethlehem.”

While the world celebrates the death of the two witnesses something astonishing happens.  “But after three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet” (Cf. Revelation 11:11).  In dramatic fashion the ungodly revelers are silenced and then overcome by great fear.  Any celebration of sin is at best short-lived.  In the message of the birth of the One who came into the world to save sinners there is a true and lasting reason to rejoice and celebrate (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:15).

Friday, December 12, 2014

BITTERSWEET (Revelation Chapter 10)

Revelation 10:8-10, “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.”  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.”  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.”

Some things are sweet—think honey.  Other things are bitter—think orange peel.  Some things, like dark chocolate, are bittersweet—they exhibit both characteristics.  Life experiences can be bittersweet.  Webster’s defines bittersweet as “being at once bitter and sweet; pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret.”  The latter part of this definition relates to John’s experience in eating “the little scroll” (Cf. Revelation 10:9).  It “was sweet as honey” in John’s mouth, but when he had eaten it his “stomach was turned bitter” (Cf. Revelation 10:10).

Between the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments another interlude takes place.  This interruption speaks to God’s patience with respect to enacting the pending judgments which will fully manifest His wrath.  John in his vision sees a “mighty angel” coming down from heaven (Cf. Revelation 10:1).  The angel is gloriously adorned with a cloud and with a rainbow over his head (Cf. Revelation 10:1).  He has a face that was like the sun and legs like pillars of fire (Cf. Revelation 10:1).  “His right foot (is) set on the sea, and his left foot on the land” (Revelation 10:2).  He “who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it” is at work to bring all things in subjection to Christ.  The “mystery of God” is soon to be fulfilled (Cf. Revelation 10:7). 

The angel holds a scroll.  It is the same scroll spoken of back in chapter 5.  It was handed from the Father to the Lamb who alone was worthy to open it (Cf. Revelation 5:1-7).  The little book represents the title deed of the earth.  It contains the judgments of the tribulation through which the Lord Jesus Christ works to take possession of the earth.  Some of these judgments have already taken place.  The seventh trumpet will soon be sounded and loud voices will proclaim, “The Kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Cf. Revelation 11:15).  The scroll speaks to both pending triumph and judgment.

In a scene reminiscent of the prophet Ezekiel’s experience, John is told to “take and eat” of the scroll (Cf. Ezekiel 2:9-3:3; Revelation 10:9).  The message of Ezekiel’s scroll was full of “words of lamentation and mourning and woe” (Ezekiel 2:10).  He ate of that scroll and found it to be “sweet as honey” (Ezekiel 3:3).  John ate of his scroll.  It was sweet to his mouth, but bitter to his stomach.

John MacArthur has commented on this, “When I think about the coming of Christ, it has a sweetness, doesn't it to you?  It means my Christ is glorified.  It means He takes over the world destroying Satan and demons.  It means the Kingdom comes, sin is conquered, salvation is revealed, Christ reigns.  That's sweet.  But it also means blood and wrath and vengeance and judgment and hell.  Anyone who loves Christ can sense what John was experiencing here.  The blessings of God are sweet, every message of hope, of blessing, of glory, every message of liberty, salvation of goodness, every promise of heaven is sweet.  Every touch of love, every kiss of grace is sweet.  But oh the bitterness of judgment!”

The bitterness of pending judgment should work to motivate us to share the gospel.  The gospel is a bittersweet message of bad news and good.  The bad news is that we are all born as sinners deserving of judgment (Cf. Romans 3:23; 6:23).  We are by nature children of wrath (Cf. Ephesians 2:3).  The unbeliever is destined to eternal destruction in a place called hell.  That part of the message is bitter, but praise God that there is good news, a sweet part, to tell.  God’s love was manifest to us in the death of His own Son (Cf. John 3:16; Romans 5:8).  Jesus has borne our sin, once for all, at Calvary that we might be saved (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21).  Salvation is by grace through faith in Him (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:9; Acts 16:31).  There is a bitter cost associated with sin.  But great sweetness to be enjoyed in knowing Jesus (Cf. 1 Peter 2:3; Psalm 34:8).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

WOE TO THE WORLD (Revelation Chapter 9)

Revelation 9:1-6, “And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.  He 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.  Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth.  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.  They 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.  And in those days people will seek death and will not find it.  They will long to die, but death will flee from them.”

The preceding chapter ended with the three-fold warning—“woe, woe, woe”--to those “who dwell on earth” regarding the last three trumpets and the escalating judgments associated with them.  Webster’s defines the term “woe” as “a condition of deep suffering from misfortune, affliction, or grief.”  The judgment associated with the blowing of the fifth trumpet will work to bring deep suffering and abiding torment to those on earth “who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (Revelation 9:4).  Unlike the previous judgments, these pending ones target men rather than nature.  In this particular judgment demonic forces are unleashed that work to cause havoc among the human population.  But even so men refuse to repent (Cf. Revelation 9:20-21).

At the sounding of the trumpet a star “fallen from earth to heaven” (Revelation 9:1; Cf. Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:9) is given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.  This bottomless pit is elsewhere referred to six other times in the book (Cf. Revelation 9:2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3).  According to Luke 8:31 the bottomless pit is the abode of demons.  The fallen star is given a key to “the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:1).  Nothing happens outside of God’s sovereign counsel (Cf. Ephesians 1:11).  Since the key that works to unleash the demonic horde was given to him, it is obvious that he did not have it in his control.  God will use Satan to accomplish His purposes in judgment.

The demons are let out of their prison.  We read from time to time of escaped convicts or released terrorists who go forth to cause mayhem and harm.  But nothing in mankind’s past experience can compare to what will take place when the demons are let go from the pit.  When the shaft of the abyss is opened smoke ushers forth to darken the sun and the air.  From the smoke come “locusts on the earth” (Revelation 9:3).  Many Old Testament prophecies are either fulfilled or alluded to in the book of Revelation.  The prophet Joel warned the people of his day of a locust-like judgment to come (Cf. Joel 1:4).  Locusts are numerous, unpredictable, unstoppable, and destructive.  This demonic host will be likewise except that they are specifically told not to harm any foliage or those sealed by God (Cf. Revelation 9:4).

They are allowed to torment people for five months.  It has been noted by commentators that five months is the period of time in which locusts typically cause destruction.  These locusts inflict harm but do not kill.  Their mode of operation is likened to the sting of a scorpion.  The sting of an actual scorpion is not typically fatal (though children who are stung sometime die) but is incredibly painful.  The venom affects the veins and the nervous system.  There are different kinds of scorpions, and some are not as dangerous as others, but a sting from the more lethal variety can cause “widespread numbness, difficulty swallowing, a thick tongue, blurred vision, roving eye movements, seizures, salivation, and difficulty breathing.”  The intensity of the affliction is evident in that “people will seek death and will not find it” (Revelation 9:6).  Those afflicted by these demonic forces will be powerless to escape.  Their radical depravity and sin’s tenacity are evidenced in their refusal—even amidst these terrifying judgments--to repent of their evil deeds (Cf. Revelation 9:21-22).  Woes are coming to planet earth.  Judgment even now awaits all “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:8).  As bad as this fifth trumpet judgment is, those who do not know God will experience something far worse in an “eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:9).  The only way to avoid woe in judgment is to receive the One who came, as Savior, to bring “joy to the world” (Cf. Romans 10:9).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

FOUR TERRIBLE TRUMPETS (Revelation Chapter 8)

Revelation 8:6-12, “Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.  The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth.  And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.  The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.  A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.  The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.  The name of the star is Wormwood.  A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.  The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.” 

A new Hollywood movie, Interstellar, tells the story in earth’s future when a global blight and dust bowl work to render the planet uninhabitable.  In the movie’s plot, a NASA physicist works on plans to save mankind by transporting the Earth’s population to a new home on a different planet.  Hollywood got one thing right—planet earth is headed for trouble—but they are wrong as to the source and the extent.  And they were wrong about one other thing—there will be no escape to another planet.

Inasmuch as the servants of God have now been sealed for protection, the seventh seal can be opened to unleash the seven trumpet judgments.  The first four angels sound their trumpets which work to bring great devastation to the ecosystems of the earth.  As terrible as these judgments are, they are less severe than the three that come afterwards.  Recall that it is the Lamb who opens each of the seals unleashing the judgments which come upon the earth and its citizens (Cf. Revelation 5:5).  Nothing happens outside of the sovereign control of God.  Each of the trumpet judgments takes place after one of the “seven angels” blows his trumpet (Cf. Revelation 8:6).  In each case the judgment brings devastation or destruction to a third of its specific target.

In the first trumpet judgment “hail and fire, mixed with blood” are thrown upon the earth” (Revelation 8:7).  Reminiscent to one of the plagues of Egypt, and what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, this judgment works to burn up a third of the earth and its trees and all the green grass (Cf. Revelation 7:7).  The destruction of all this foliage will have a devastating effect of life on the planet turning the globe it’s a virtual wasteland.  In the second trumpet judgment “something like a great mountain, burning with fire, (is) thrown into the sea” (Revelation 8:8).  In the first plague of Egypt the waters of the Nile were turned into blood (Cf. Exodus 7:14-25).  Similarly, this judgment works to turn “a third of the sea” into blood (Cf. Revelation 8:8).  As a result, “a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed” (Revelation 8:9).  In the pending third bowl judgment the remainder of the rivers and springs not affected by this judgment will also become blood (Cf. Revelation 16:4).  The destruction of the sea will work to devastate the food chain which supports life on this planet.  In the third trumpet judgment a great star named “Wormwood” falls from heaven, “blazing like a torch” (Revelation 8:10).  It falls on “a third of the rivers and on the springs of water” causing them to become “wormwood” (Revelation 8:11).  According to Vine’s the term refers to “a plant both bitter and deleterious (deleterious=”having an often obscure and unexpected harmful effect”; Webster’s), and growing in desolate places” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  “Many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter” (Revelation 8:11).  The fourth trumpet works to strike a third of the sun, moon, and stars, “so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night” (Revelation 8:12).  The “sun became black as sackcloth” under the sixth seal judgment (Cf. Revelation 6:12).  And during the plagues of Egypt there was complete darkness (Exodus 10:21-23).  Only a partial darkness is described here, but—as on other occasions—it will work to illicit great fear in the hearts of men.

As bad as these judgments sound, there is worse to come.  John hears an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow’” (Revelation 8:13).  In other words, If you think this is bad…you ain’t seen nothing yet.