The End of the World: “Signs of the Times” – Revelation 12

It was a nice afternoon that January 29, 2012, and a businessman was returning to his south Florida home after a week away. He was traveling at about seventy miles an hour. Trees were flying by on both sides of the car, and he was humming, because he was making great time. “I-75 is often one of the most boring parts of the journey, but at least I am nearer to home”, he thought. Coming down that long stretch of straight highway south of Gainesville, he noticed his acceleration – this was a hill. It was slight… it was a Florida hill. He could barely see it, but he could feel it. The engine was pulling back. As he was briefly gazed at his radio tuner that seemed to have been phasing in and out of reception, his eye caught a flash and he immediately snapped into driver mode, watching the flashing signs ahead. “Oh, man!” he said to himself. The road was blocked. There were no less than dozens of vehicles with lights flashing on top. His first thought was about how long this was going to take. His second was to change the channel of his radio. It was then he heard the story. A dozen were believed dead in the road just ahead of him. Suddenly, the inconvenience was pushed back in his mind, and he gained an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the flashing lights and signs that were strewn across the highway. He was, after all, safe. The signs slowed him down, and the lights brought him to a stop. In the end, the warnings helped him to know that danger was ahead, and that he could prepare for it.

In a very real sense, Revelation 12 is a series of signs that flash and tell us of what is ahead. It is not a pretty picture for many, but understanding it will help us navigate in the present….By the mid point of the cyclical letter that John wrote to be distributed to the seven churches of Asia Minor, the forward progress of the flowing story of Tribulation slowed to a sweeping view of the context of what God was doing in human history. It is as though God slowed down John’s advance to show him the BIG PICTURE of the Tribulation.

Key Principle: The signs tell the story – but we have to learn to look at them and understand both the blessing of their warning and the truth of their message!

The BIG PICTURE has always fascinated me – and in the Bible the scenes and sayings must always be set in to it. God is at work telling His story – and all of that story harmonizes to share His person and His purpose. In other words, to understand the Bible’s message to you, you have to understand the Bible’s big story. I have told it often to my students – because all the details of God’s Word are consistent with the BIG STORY He is telling through the library of books and hall of writers He has used to record and compile His Holy Word. Let’s review it again: What is the Bible’s big story?

The Bible is a romance book. It is a relationship book. The center of the story of the Bible is a story of two marriages. Let’s step back and look at the whole landscape of the story…In the beginning God created a world of angelic beings. One of those beings rose up in mutiny, and took with him a third of the angelic kingdom. God’s strategy was not to simply wipe out His creation – for He is a relational being. His choice was to be creative a second time, and craft a story before the angelic world of a second world – a physical world we call our universe. In that universe, God would show Who He is – and the angels would understand His true glory.

He made man and woman and placed them in a beautiful garden. He allowed the enemy access to them, and they joined in mutiny against their creator – just as that third of the angelic host had before them. Angels that followed God gasped as God allowed a stolen world to corrupt the whole of His once beautiful creation. Without missing a beat, God promised a Redeemer – a Son that would make his entry through the womb of a woman. The enemy tried to corrupt the race of men and woman and ruin the blood lines. God fired back in protection and flooded the world, saving a family with clean blood, and started anew – penalizing permanently any fallen angels that wanted to try to ruin the race. Time passed and men grew in numbers. Eventually God separated their attempts to unify and they became ethnic groups, language groups, and even nations.

God chose from among the nations one that He would offer a special relationship… and He declared that nation to be His wife. He wrote her love sonnets, cards and poetry – but she was not faithful. His love was ever promised, and hers was fickle. She cheated on Him. Then she cheated again. Then again. He wept over her, but declared that divorce was necessary for her to learn what she needed to know. What wasn’t learned in His warm arms would have to be learned in a cold and cruel world. She was put out – but not until she was pregnant.

The woman bore a Son of the Father. He was one of her nation – but His Father was the One in Heaven. The Son grew up, and the estranged wife of His Father caused some of the deepest wounds to His heart. The Son visited her and cried over her. –but she wasn’t ready to listen. The Son grew up.

The Father told the Son to take a wife of His own. He was not to choose a nation, but rather a PEOPLE, defined by love to Him, and not by any ethnicity or national ties. The Son took a bride and engaged her – leaving to His Father’s house until the Father called for the wedding to take place. The bride was left to prepare herself for the wedding to come, and to offer example and comfort to the estranged bride of the Father.

One day the Father blew the trumpet for the wedding to come. The bride of the Son was swept into glory, and the estranged wife of the Father was not invited to the feast. In fact, in one last and giant effort to get her away from her addiction to others, the Father punished her suitors and caused them to show her their real disdain for her. When she saw they did not truly love her, and that she could only count on her ex-Husband, she cried out to Him. He sent His Son to call her back home. When she saw the Son, she recognized Him as one she wounded, and she wept a mixture of tears of joy for her rescue and sorrow for the pains she inflicted on the Son. When the family was all joined together – the story concluded with God remaking the universe and restoring things to His original design  for them. The angels nodded – they got the message. God isn’t fickle, and the original relationship failure, in spite of the rumors spread by the Deceiver – wasn’t God’s fault.

One of the places we can really grasp the story well is in Hosea. Another is in Revelation 12, and that is what I want us to look at in this lesson together. The passage is a story of:


These three signs are PEOPLE whose description and actions explain both God’s program and the enemy’s response – by “pulling back the curtain” of the spiritual world that is often unseen by people on earth.

Sign #1: There is a Woman at the center of the story.

Revelation 12:1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars…5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations ….6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

If you look closely at the description of the woman in the verse, it is clear that God the Father is speaking of His chosen and estranged wife. The events of the chapter hinge on our understanding of the identity of the woman! How can we identify her? We look closely at her description and compare that to the Scriptures for a match.

First, note the sign was formed in Heaven: The picture of what God was doing in the Book of Revelation can be seen in SIGNS formed in the Heavens. These signs were a device to help John move the story ahead. Note that this sign – like the others of the book – was a DIVINE thing – not simply happenstance on earth.

  • The Bible shows God as the MAKER of the nation, not someone looking around the nations that happened to notice her existence. God didn’t choose a wife by showing up at a party of the nations and noticing her in the corner of the room – He crafted her upbringing. God created a nation – and God chose her as a groom chooses a bride. The case for God’s marriage to Israel is not a difficult one to make- for God poetically made it Himself in Scripture as we shall see in a few moments.
  • One of the reasons I believe so strongly in the LITERAL understanding of God’s Word is the sign He provided in the nation of Israel. If you watch closely what Jesus said about the last days before His return to earth, they are filled with the promises to Israel that people would increasingly despise her and wish her destroyed. Right in the middle of Jesus’ sending speech to the twelve disciples in Matthew 10, He jumped off to a future time before His return in a prophetic statement. It I s always a struggle in the Master’s teaching to know when He is speaking of believers in general (which the disciples could represent) or Jewish people (the disciples were also all Jews). To know, you have to look closely at His words:

Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. 20 “For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 23 “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.

Jesus mentioned specifically synagogue persecution – meaning persecution by other Jews. He mentioned persecution by Gentiles – insinuating the persecuted are Jews. He ended with the return of the Son of Man – meaning it was NOT simply about the twelve, but future followers of His. Jesus said men around the globe would increasingly HATE THE JEWISH PEOPLE –even if they didn’t actually KNOW the Jewish people first hand. The rise of such irrational hatred can be seen on the internet, the TV, and National Public Radio. This past week I heard a commentary by a man who argued – and his entire panel of learned Americans agreed – that Israel is to blame for the Iranian threats, because Iran is only making a nuclear weapon because Israel is so threatening to them. I can only say it defies logic and history to think this way – and is a demonstration of the growing DECEPTION that is befalling people in circles all around the globe. Israel’s leadership is not always rightbut they did not threaten the annihilation of Iran – leaders of Iran have threatened them. It has been public, vicious, and repeated. I don’t believe most Iranians want this said by their leaders – but it is reprehensible to pin it back on Israel that such things are happening.

For those who think I am playing politics, let me say this: Whatever happens to Israel in the future will involve the whole world. You will be involved and so will your children. Her nation was formed in the heavens and God is telling His story through her – if the Bible is to be believed.

Second, the image was that of a woman. That is entirely consistent with Scripture’s view of Israel – since her major prophecies of love, failure, divorce and restoration are all as a bride of the Father in Heaven.

  • God often described His relationship to Israel as a husband. Hosea 2:16It will come about in that day,” declares the LORD, “That you will call Me Ishi (my husband, literally “my man”) And will no longer call Me Baali (my Master). That wasn’t new. God used the terminology many times: Isaiah 54:5 For your Maker is your husband–the LORD Almighty is his name–the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth. There are many more we could cite.
  • The marriage between Israel and God was depicted as a “rocky one” because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. The early verses of Hosea 2 describe a painful divorce by God, because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, and follows that description with the coming of a chastising that is severe – leading to the restoration of her marriage. In her unfaithfulness, God wrote Israel a certificate of divorce.

Compare that to Romans 11:28 and her enmity at the time before her eventual restoration: Romans 11:28 “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Israel is depicted in the Epistles of the Christian Scriptures as the divorced wife of God that is awaiting her restoration to Him in a future time that will come about because of a terrible Tribulation.

She will one day be broken by God’s chastising, and only then see her Messiah as Zechariah foretold: Zechariah 12:10 “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”

Third, the woman has a stunning wardrobe. The relationship of her clothing  -the sun and moon under her feet – is also completely consistent with the covenant God made with her. What does the sun, moon and stars have to do with Israel?

  • Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, … “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. …35 Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: 36 “If this fixed order departs from before Me,” declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.” 37 Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the LORD. 38 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the city will be rebuilt for the LORD …(it) shall be holy to the LORD; it will not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.” God promised that Israel’s existence and security was the wrap of the sun moon and stars. Her promise to continue in His sight is her garment.

Fourth. the woman was crowned with twelve stars. Again, it is nearly impossible to miss the connection with Israel, that was known through the ages as “the twelve tribes of Israel”. In the dreams of young Joseph in Genesis 37:9 Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

Fifth, the woman gave birth to a Son. This child was born of a NATION and for a NATION– but He was not a mere child… He was a Divinely appointed RULER. As God’s appointed ruler, he HAD to be born of that nation – for Israel was forbidden to appoint one of another nation over themselves (Dt. 17).

Sixth, God prepared an escape hideaway for the woman. There came a period of 3 and one half years when Israel only survived the attacks against her, because of the protective hand of God over her. She found her estranged husband her protector against her illicit lover – and life became very strange for her. Jesus warned concerning the Tribulation period: Matthew 24: “So when you see standing in the holy place “the abomination that causes desolation,” spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress [great tribulation], unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again (Matthew 24:15-21).

The first sign was Israel as a woman estranged from her God. Having birthed a child of her former husband and having been promised His love for all the ages, she was finding protection from Him while the nations and their false gods and value systems no longer tolerated her.

Sign #2: The Child of the woman is set for great things.

Revelation 12:2 “and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth… 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.

Three descriptions of the child and His work help identify Him:

First, He was ruler appointed by God. God’s specific promises to David through Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel 7 (later summarized in 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 and 2 Chronicles 6:16) represent an unconditional covenant in which God promised Israel that first, He would not withdraw His hand from the Davidic line regardless of the performance of the kings in that line, and second, that the Messiah would eventually come from the line of David and establish a kingdom that would endure forever (2 Samuel 7:10-13).

2 Samuel 7:10 “I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly … 12 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. … 16 “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’

Second, He would come FROM Israel, but RULE ALL THE NATIONS one day. This seems in keeping with what we saw in the last lesson: Revelation 11:15 Then the seventh angel sounded; 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 will reign forever and ever.” The rod of iron with which He would rule is identical in wording to Revelation 19:15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

Third, He would be caught up to God’s throne room. Certainly, no Bible student could miss that description so common to John and the other Apostles. Did not the book begin with a vision of the Risen Christ in the throne room of God in chapter 1? Did not Acts 1 show Jesus being “taken up to Heaven”?

The second sign was the Messiah that had been born of Judah in the line of David, but was caught up to God until the time of the end, when He would return to rule all nations.

Sign #3: The dragon wants to kill both the woman and the Son.

Revelation 12:3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.

There are four descriptions, but we will look more at them in the next lesson. Just touch the description lightly for now:

First, he is a great red dragon. Ha-satan occurs 13 times in the Masoretic Text, in two books of the Hebrew Bible, including Job 1–2 (10x) and in Zechariah 3:1–2 (3x). Biblically, he was behind the attempts at Israel’s destruction in Haman’s plot, and his fingerprints were on Herod’s killing spree of the babies of Bethlehem.

Second, he took a third of the stars and threw them to the earth. When Satan rebelled, something changed about his characteristic lodging in heaven, because we read: “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12). Jesus made a glancing reference to it when He said: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). It could even be that the STAR that fell to earth in Revelation 9:1 was that of Satan himself – though that is not certain. We are told that an “innumerable company of angels” was created by God (Hebrews 12:22), and here one third of them chose to rebel with him.

Third, he had seven heads and ten horns. If you follow the pattern of Daniel’s visions, like that of Daniel 7, a head was a national kingdom, and a horn was a ruler of that kingdom. This dragon is the “backer of nations and rulers” that will become more a part of the story in the next chapter. Satan built a national coalition through human surrogates – but it is nevertheless HIM behind it all!

Fourth, he stood before the woman to devour the child. A good reference point could be simply Matthew 2:13, where God thwarted the attempt of Herod to kill the baby Jesus.

The third sign was Satan and his harassment of the woman before the Messiah’s birth – as he tried to stop God’s program. He attempted to destroy the child, but God intervened and whisked the infant to safety in Egypt.

Stop for a second and think…

The remainder of the chapter is about Heaven’s victory over the dragon in a cosmic battle that cast Satan to earth in the midst of the Tribulation – and the havoc he brings when he gets to earth. He has been “an accuser of the brethren day and night” in Heaven, and his voice is no longer welcome there. Michael, the “guardian of the Jewish people” in Scripture (as revealed in Daniel 10), is given the cue to help him to the exit (12:10):

Revelation 12:7 And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, 8 and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 Then 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 brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. 12 “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”

Michael is clearly an archangel that apparently got his name from the dispute that Satan caused. In Hebrew, Michael means “who is like God”  – a rhetorical question, that stood in opposition to Satan’s attempt to show himself to be exactly that – like God (see Ezekiel 28). Satan will be put out, and the earth will face a shock wave of new BLOOD LUST and POWER CRAZE. Satan is running out of time by the mid point of the Great Tribulation. But, if you listen closely… you can already hear him getting stirred – and the nations that puppet his deception are already speaking out.

We will come back to the scene, but let’s not exit without making clear why God took the time to pull the curtain back for us to see this scene.

God has an ultimate plan for both the believers of the church age and the Jewish people – the people of Israel. God’s future for Israel does not guarantee that all they do in their current unregenerate state is acceptable behavior, but we must wise up to the rise of an increasing wave of ANTI ISRAEL thinking that is putting even churches in opposition to any future for that people. Replacement theology and Arab Liberation theology – both which hold that the church is the new Israel – is reaching into churches and denominations and moving them to enmity with Israel and any future plan of God specifically for them.

  • I dream of a church that will uphold a literal view of God’s Word  – and will not bow to networks, nations or religious leaders that will preach hatred and destruction to the Jewish people.
  • I dream of a church that will support Israel’s self development – by helping them to care for all their people – both Arab and Jewish – to the end of producing the best society that unregenerate man can… because God is working a plan in them.
  • I dream of a church that will form its ethics FROM the Word of God, and not reinterpret the Bible in some liberation theology that saddles its own sense of ethical boundaries on the people of God.
  • I dream of a church that will not be backed into a corner called “politics” when God’s Word and its understanding are at issue, thwarting her ability to speak out on behalf of the apple of God’s eye.

I dream of that church, because that is the church Jesus began. That is the one that should be awaiting His trumpet call. The estranged bride of the Father should feel our love and learn of the God she has drifted from because of our living witness. If she does not, we are not fulfilling an essential role left to us. God made it clear… The signs tell the story – but we have to learn to look at them and understand both the blessing of their warning and the truth of their message!

The End of the World: “Here Come the Judge” – Revelation 11:15-18

I have a shocking confession to make that will likely set some of you back… I was never a big fan of Motown’s music. It isn’t that I disliked the IDEA of allowing young African American singers to break into a career that was dominated by people who look like me. In fact, that is the part that I liked about the studio. What I didn’t like was the sound of many of the artists. Their world and mine were as far apart as I am from British Comedy today. I understand that SOMEONE thinks it is funny – but it just isn’t my taste.

I mention this hard and personal truth today, because the title of my message was borrowed from a young man that was promoted under the Motown label, while I was just a little boy. His name was “Shorty Long” and he died much too young in a tragic boating accident in 1969. By the time of his death, the song: “Here Come the Judge” and made its way onto the charts, and soon after even onto a spoof on network television. What began as a “smack down” answer to a tough minded judge in the segregated south, ended as a comedy routine on night time television. “Here Come the Judge” showed the inequities of the system if you were young, black and lived in the south.

I am using the title because the statement is true. The fact of the matter is that a judge is coming – but He is a perfect judge. He is coming to a world that is not prepared, and to believers that should be prepared. The Bible teaches that he is not going to judge followers of Jesus of their sin – for that was fully judged at the Cross and our trust in the work of Jesus alone covers us from any future penalty for our sin. The lamb paid for all of our sin. God has been clear. At the same time, the performance as a believer is going to be judged when the Savior comes– and I should walk every day with that coming review in mind. Let me show it to you in the context of the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:

Revelation 11:15 Then the seventh angel sounded; 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 will reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. 18 “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

Key Principle: When I stand before Jesus – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years will evaporate into the smoke as the fire of His eyes burn through my life’s work. What is left after all the selfish, ego-driven, stubborn, hard-hearted, gossip-laden, flesh colored work is gone – is what Jesus can BEGIN to celebrate. Mature believers keep that day in their minds eye – and never lose sight of it. 

The voices of Heaven – likely the angels that serve our God- cried out that Jesus was about to draw the end curtain of humanity down on the world below. His uncontested and rightful place over the world was about to be fully made manifest to all who walked the alleys of planet earth. Kings and Kingdoms would yield all authority to the One who created them. His title “king of kings” would be shown in its completion.

Then another set of voices was heard… that of the twenty four elders – the believers of the church age as we identified them back in our study of Revelation four and five. You may recall that when we studied Revelation four and five, we concluded that these twenty-four appeared to relate to the PRIESTHOOD serving at that time in  Heaven. We saw that John was likely seeing what the prophet Ezekiel had long before seen in his earlier vision into Heaven, in Ezekiel 8:16; Ezekiel 11:1, a priesthood in Heaven that served in the Heavenly Temple. The twenty four reminded us of the courses of the priests. (1 Chronicles 24:3-19). The elders seemed to FUNCTION as priests in God’s Temple, but that wasn’t all –their description clued us into their identity:

  • By their praises in Revelation 5:8, we can glimpse into their PAST. They were from all tribes and nations, and they were redeemed.
  • They were made priests of Heaven BEFORE the Lamb opened the book and brought on the Great Tribulation (Rev. 6:1).
  • They sat on thrones apparently denoting judgment, and had been judged themselves. They were crowned with a STEPHANOS or “victor crown”, not a DIADEM or “ruler crown”.  Paul warned the church at Corinth that a future job of believers would include judging even angels in 1 Corinthians 6:1
  • They were clothed in White Robes: This is the garment of the priests. It is also the marker of those who have been judged as “righteous” (like in Rev. 19:14 “And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.”)

After all is considered, it appears as though John has dropped in on the worship ministrations of the Redeemed of the Church Age, who have already been JUDGED, and now served as Priests and Ministers before the Holy One on the throne. They praised God for His SAVING WORK on their behalf in Revelation 5. Now their anthem was renewed. It was not the same as that of Heaven’s host – because their experience with Jesus was entirely different. They were SAVED by His blood. They were RESCUED by His obedience to His Father. They were CHANGED by His love. They offered two observations as ex-earth dwellers:

  • First, You (Oh Lord) raised up the dead ones and they were judged and rewarded as those who feared your Name.
  • Second, You (Oh Lord) wrought judgment on the earth and have taken up your cause against a rebellious planet with people that are destroying, through their resistance, the world that You have created.

John mentioned a judgment for the believers that already had taken place. Jesus had previously revealed the truth of that PERFORMANCE JUDGMENT for His people in previous revelations to the Apostle Paul – particularly in 1 and 2 Corinthians. For the balance of our study in this lesson, I want us to look at what was shared by Paul – so that what John opened up in Revelation 11:18 has its proper context. After this, our next study will continue into Revelation 12.

1 Corinthians in context

Before we look at the Judgment of believers over their performance, let me set the passage in 1 Corinthians 3 in the context of the letter it is found within. The first letter to the Corinthians can be easily divided into two major sections: chapters 1-6 are about the division that was evident in the church and was communicated to Paul through the household of Chloe – as one of the church’s biggest problems. The balance of the book, chapters 7-16, are responses to questions the church posed previously – they requested instruction. Since the issue of division is the immediate context of chapter three, it is important to keep in mind Paul’s goal: Help believers see the importance of the church’s work so that they would not divide it or belittle it.

In chapters one and two, Paul pleaded with the people of Corinth to heal their division. He argued that the church was unique. Its STANDARD was the Eternal Word of God and its CENTRAL TRUTH was the work and Word of Jesus. Over emphasis on the WORKER as celebrity was harming the body. He pressed further in the second chapter, stressing that there is nothing like the church of Jesus Christ. The rules of how to do what we do are set in fences that are unique to this work. The church could not simply depend on flashy methods, high words, celebrity personalities, passive hearers and un-surrendered hearts. It was an operation of God’s Spirit – not of slick marketing and up beat themes.

The church exists to exalt Jesus Christ as the gift of His Father to men. We are to seek HIS GLORY – not our own. Someone has said: “No one goes to the Grand Canyon to increase SELF ESTEEM.” We are to search the pages of His Word and grow in His grace. We are to reflect His glory to the nations. Since the fall in the Garden men have been starved for the glory of God, and the church is to be the screen on which glory is projected.

Paul made clear that while people may criticize, mock and play with the Church of Jesus Christ – they do so at their own peril. They do this because they do not truly comprehend how God feels about their casual attitude – he had in mind in particular those believers in Corinth.

Paul called them to stand together as a sign they understood the value of God’s Church. They needed to understand with God’s spiritual discernment – but that required surrender to God’s Spirit. Paul wrote: 1 Corinthians 3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. God’s truth is spiritually discerned, while life on earth is physically discerned. Spiritual discernment is based on maturity – and that is a matter of the Spirit’s work in the born again believers, and based on their conscious surrender. Un-surrendered Christians are selfish and flesh oriented Christians. They trade the ability to really grasp the things of the Spirit for their hunger in this physical world. They cannot really comprehend what God wants, because they are living in a different world by a different standard. Because of their stubbornness, Paul told them he could not feed them as adults (3:2). He could clearly see immaturity in their congregations by their DIVISIONS (1 Corinthians 1:3-4).

As the Apostle James said, battles between us come from battles within us. Hurt people hurt people. Refusing to be healed by God will eventually spill over into wounds we will give another – it is inevitable. Either I can take my wounds to the Cross and have them healed there – or I will wound others with my stubborn and failed self-reliance. This church was divided, because people in this church refused to grow up in Christ and yield to Him. Many a church conflict can be summarized in that same way.

Paul called them to stand together as a sign they understood the true place of God’s servants. Understanding the place of leaders as servants of God and His revealed truth forced believers to see the impossibility of dividing over their service to Him, since they were mere servants and all served the same Master (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). We need not be confused. Paul had a proper and healthy self-image. He knew he was one that Jesus gave His precious blood to save – so he did not feel worthless. At the same time, he did not inflate himself with visions that his gifts made him more valuable than others with other spiritual gifts. He saw himself as we should see ourselvesthose who serve Jesus by serving one another. He saw himself as one who labored alongside others who had differing roles – but the same goal – to be used by God to honor Him through the growth of His kingdom.

He said that “neither the planter nor the water bearer were anything” – for we are not indispensable, irreplaceable or the key to the future of the Kingdom – only Jesus is. Following a man is fine if he is following Christ. If not, he is leading you away from God’s direction – because Christ is always on the right path.

People who serve Jesus well aren’t pulling people to THEM – but they are pulling people to JESUS. At the same time, they are excited when a person is following Jesus well even if they are being led by another godly person. Competition in churches is often an ego battle of immature people masquerading as godly leaders. We must be MORE and MORE careful to uphold our brothers in Christ – to speak well or simply refuse to speak at all. My brothers in ministry deserve my love, encouragement and help – with as little criticism as I can possibly offer. The exception to that is when someone wants to deliberately corrupt the truth of the Gospel – but that, in my experience, is quite rare. It happens, but not nearly as much as gossip and criticism about other men of the Word occurs – sadly.

Paul called the to stand together as a sign they understood that God was watching what believers are doing on earth. Here is the heart of the truth we need to recall today. We must understand that God has given us the days of our lives. How we treat our ministry and faithfulness today will be accounted for in the future. Even though believers don’t lose salvation when they refuse to obey God in their walk – they do lose reward, and that will one day become plain to see. We will be judged in our performance by Jesus. Look at these words closely:

1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.

In a moment of self-reflection, Paul recognized that God’s grace was the operative power behind his accomplishments in ministry. Who among us can say differently? He recognized that he was in need of a constant flow of grace from the time of his salvation through the whole process of honoring God in ministry. He also openly acknowledged the difference between a good plan for establishing a ministry, and a BAD plan. He said he was a WISE master builder when he placed the foundation stones. Others built upon his work, but Paul outlined the whole building with a foundation of Jesus Christ.

When Paul said there was “no other foundation” he was indicating that there was no other PROPER foundation. Men build ministry on many things that are not Christ. Some build them on EGO (believing that only their denomination or group can bring the truth), others on FAME (using a prior reputation and methods that draw crowds by their stunning approach, but are not directed by the Spirit of God). These may result in churches, but at their core they are not about serving Jesus Christ. The day will come when that will be clear – either at the judgment seat of Christ, or even before that time.

Paul the zeroed in on the judgment seat of Christ in 1 Corinthians 3:14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

The real test of ministry is not its temporal popularity, but its spiritual endurance at the scrutiny of the Master. If Jesus doesn’t deem it a correct and healthy work – than it simply isn’t one. Heaven isn’t a place where a vote will be cast by the members of a theological academy or angelic choir. We serve only ONE – a Master Who will inspect all of the work that we have done. There is NO OTHER treasure higher than HIS SATISFACTION. At the same time, His satisfaction is often paired by the satisfaction of other godly men and women. People who have a healthy walk with God can “sniff out” teaching and leadership that is healthy – because we have the selfsame Spirit within.

Someday Jesus will take all of my labor and place it between us. He and I will look at the number of hours I have labored to know and teach His Word. We will look at the way I communicated that Word to people. He will examine the time I have spent caring for people – and He will give the TRUE and PERFECT evaluation of me. If I have done well in His estimation – the trial of my work before His fiery eyes of scrutiny will survive. If I have not done well – that work will evaporate – with no opportunity to relive my life on earth.

Let me repeat it again: When I stand before Jesus – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years will evaporate into the smoke as the fire of His eyes burn through my life’s work. What is left after all the selfish, ego-driven, stubborn, hard-hearted, gossip-laden, flesh colored work is gone – is what Jesus can BEGIN to celebrate. Mature believers keep that day in their minds eye – and never lose sight of it.

What does it mean for a believer to “SUFFER LOSS”? In the text it is clear that there is no issue of salvation or eternal destiny at stake in the argument – this is a judgment in the life of a believer. Everyone is judged TWICE by God – once for sin, and once for performance of work. The sin judgment determines one’s destiny. The performance judgment, measured strictly against what God has made us capable to complete – is about REWARD. Heaven is the HOME of the believer – but some level of REWARD before the Savior is a conditional blessing to those who live their lives for His glory. For each of us, Jesus will scrutinize our work, and we will see the real truth of our lives – what we were really about. Jesus told his parents when they sought Him in the Temple as a youth, “Did you not know that I would be about My Father’s business?” Perhaps they should have known – but I am not always sure that I could claim that same obvious exclamation. Beloved, I fear that many of us spend much of our lives on ourselves, and not on His honor and glory – can that be? May we see it now and avoid the sadness of loss later…

Paul insisted that believers take seriously their individual lives – but don’t forget the context. This was about the place of GOD’S CHURCH. It is clear in the passage that God wanted men to understand that the church of Jesus Christ is not just another organization to be criticized, gossiped about, and slammed at will. This organism is a living body created by a Victorious Savior. It has His fingerprints, His DNA and was purchased with His blood. It not only COST Him plenty to create, it was created with a God ordained DEFENSE system. Criticize it lightly, and God will censure your life’s work easily. Be careful, when you speak of the church… you speak of GOD’S CHURCH.

  • Did not God’s church reach into the sin sick lives of men and women of the Roman Empire at the expense of being thrown to lions, being crucified or beheaded? It was NOT to win a theological argument – for the early Christians were really trying to offer hope to hopeless people.
  • Did not God’s church reach the poor in many nations long before ever being considered by the rich among them? It was not to become WEALTHY  – for even today there are many who handle the broken in skid row and hungry in India’s streets for no other reason than to show their love for and obedience to their Savior.
  • Did not God’s church begin some of the great universities of our world? It was not to become ERUDITE – for though they now shudder at the idea, the great schools of Princeton and Yale were begun to train men to share Jesus and His Word with accuracy and scholarship.
  • Did not God’s church open hospitals in many cities of our world? It was not to gain control of health care legislation – but because they saw the sick as needy and the needy as open to Christ.
  • Did not God’s church feed the poor in many places, offer addiction counseling and group meetings, help single parents with support, care for elderly and widows? Yes, sure it has… and it is just beginning its work. There is much MORE to do. We, His church, may not have been perfect, but we have not been FILLED WITH EMPTY WORDS EITHER – there is a track record and a history.

Where we have failed, we will seek to have God renew us. Where we have resisted, we will learn to submit to the Gentle Chief Shepherd…. But know this… this is God’s church in many places, under many names – and He has promised to be her defense when she is attacked – so tread lightly. Hold back quick words about the intent of others –even if their denomination or fellowship doesn’t completely agree with yours.

Listen to Paul’s later words to this same congregation. He reminded them that mature believers feel torn between Heaven’s home and earth’s mission of love. He said in 2 Corinthians 5:9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. …14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

There is a coming PERFORMANCE REVIEW of our Master. No believer can avoid it – but we can GET READY FOR IT NOW. We can allow God’s Spirit full control to accomplish His holy purposes in us today. He dominates where He is fully invited. When we open a room to surrender, He fills it up with Himself. Like air itself, when a vacuum seal is broken – the air rushes in with a wisp of pressure. The lid “pops” and the air displaces the vacuum. The natural state in our world is full of air. The natural state of Heaven is filled with the Spirit. Believers are people in transition – opening bit by bit through surrender to our new “natural state” the fullness of God. We will not fully get there in this body – but we will not need the body when we are fully there!

The Judge is coming. Believer, Jesus is going to look at our lives. We will face a real performance review as believers. Mature followers of Jesus keep that day of measure in their minds eye – and never lose sight of it.

When Jesus comes, we will know the TRUTH. They’ll be no confusion- like this little story…Two little boys were the best of friends. As they grew up, their friendship only deepened. One became a preacher and the other a priest. And they would meet each week for coffee at the local Starbucks, no matter what else might be happening. After one such meeting, they shook hands and started to part ways. One was parked in front of the store and the other behind the store. They went to their cars and when one of them came around from the back, the other was turning from the front … and they collided. There they were, stuck in the street with both cars smashed up. After making sure the other was safe, the preacher begged the priest that this incident would not hurt their lifelong friendship. The priest agreed, reached into the glove box, and pulled out a small flask of whiskey and two communion cups. He poured one full and handed it to the preacher and said, ‘Here, let’s drink to our friendship.’ The preacher said, ‘Here’s to our friendship,’ and turned it up and drank it. As the priest put the whiskey back in his glove box, the preacher asked him if he was also going to drink to their friendship and the priest said, ‘Yes, but I am going to wait until after the police leave first.’

The End of the World: “The View from Afar” – Revelation 11

It was the 1970’s, and the rage in the Universities across America was educating new teachers for what was now known as a “Social Science” curriculum. New Math was showing its first graduates – and its first deficits. The so-called “Dr. Spock effect” was truly being felt as new teachers who were trained to believe that children grow up better in “less discipline oriented” and “more reasoned approach” began replacing the more rigid “old school“ teachers of American youth. Two perspectives began to emerge and profoundly clash – an older and a younger look at the way forward. Our nation had been born in struggle and based on advocacy – the ability to argue one’s position. The open teaching format advocated in my youth has now seen its outworking. In fact, forty years later, our perspective may be a bit different. We live in a surreal world, where the hippies of the sixties that once thumbed their noses at the establishment, now run the very corporations that drive our economy. Those who once sprawled out on blankets at Woodstock now occupy chairs in company board rooms. All we can say as we lose the color of our hair (and perhaps our hair itself) is: “The times they are a’ changin’!”

Out of the textbooks of that era, Claude Levi-Strauss’ book The View from Afar occupies a special place in the world of now aging textbook series. It was an avant garde social science set on anthropology and physical sciences, deeply rooted in naturalism – the notion that no single Creator was involved in our history, and no single purpose exists for our story. The world has always wanted to believe they were the god of their own destiny – and they were their own rule makers. Now it was codified in a textbook series, and youth were educated to believe that it therefore must be true.

There are two perspectives – two world views that affect decision making all around us today – naturalism and revelation cosmogony. They provide different ideas about how we came to be, why we are here, and what our destiny will be. The assumptions drawn from those world views seep into everything from economic and social policy to public education. The two perspectives are more responsible, in my view, for the deepening gap in American society than a simplistic red state and blue state divide – some of these ideas are the REASON for the color of those states, and the platforms and policies of political leaders of today.

This isn’t a message on POLITICS, but rather a message on PERSPECTIVES, drawn from a story of two views of the end of the world. I don’t intend to spend as long pummeling the end of naturalism, though our text does this convincingly well. Instead I will push through the first half of Revelation 11 – where God’s judgment of those who foolishly clung to their own man made religion of naturalism played out. I will press to a place that I hope will leave every believer that looks at the passage closely with tingling with anticipation and excitement. This is a story about two kinds of celebration, and two kinds of people that participate in them. It is a story about two perspectives on the Tribulation judgment – and the God who will bring it about.

Key Principle: God’s finish for human history will reacted to by men in two very different ways.

While lost men rage against God’s attempts to reach them and His right to judge them, God’s people celebrate His bringing all things to an end in a singular TRUTH – He truly is the Master of all. The chorus of Heaven does not celebrate man’s fall – but God’s ascendance to an unchallenged right to tell the truth about the universe and His mastery of it. All lies will be stripped bare, and God will open the eyes of all men to His majesty.

The View: John was told to look at two scenes and measure what God was doing:

The Apostle was given an instruction that showed him something many of us have never stopped to consider. He saw the two ENDINGS of man. John was told to look carefully – to “measure” it. Revelation 11:1 Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it. 2 “Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.

Did you ever get to the carpet store and try to guess at the size of the room? When we MEASURE something, we take out a standardized devise and look intently at the place. We don’t guess and we don’t round up or down – we get precise and careful about our observation. That is what John was supposed to do – MEASURE what was shown him. What he saw was a temple of God – apparently in operation on earth (because it was “trampled down by the Gentiles” for a time).

He looked carefully, and what he saw was a place of worship in Jerusalem at the site of the Temple, functioning in a way familiar to a Jew of the first century. He saw a great outer court – just as the Temple of Herod the Great had when John was a young man. It was by far the most vast court, mostly open to the sky (with the exception of its porches) and could hold thousands of men and women. The difference in this vision from that Temple was the court was not simply “occupied” by Gentiles – it was CONTROLLED by them for a three and one half year period. It is as though the holiest place to the Lord God was compromised in some way – allowing Gentiles to dominate in a way that was not at all familiar. As he mused about this, God called his attention to the streets of Jerusalem, to see two very important witnesses that God provided to reach people with a message of His forgiveness and love…

Scene One: God sent a way of escape to a scarred and floundering planet – two important witnesses (Rev. 11:3-14).

John’s attention fell on two witnesses because he couldn’t figure out why or how Gentiles were dominating part of God’s Temple. He heard a voice that put the scene into perspective…  11:3 “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

This picture made sense to John in a way that it may not be quickly apparent to you. Let me explain. What John saw was two men that witnessed prophetically for God during the Tribulation for three and one half years – the time that the Gentiles dominated the outer court of the Temple. They were described as olive trees and lampstands. If you are familiar with the fourteen chapters of Zechariah, as I know the students that studied the passage this week with me are, the image is simple.

Zechariah is a book that straddled the return of the Jewish people to the land of their ancestors from Babylon, during three waves of return over a 94 year period from 538 to 444 BCE. The first wave was that of Sheshbazaar and Zerubbabel under King Cyrus’ decree in 538 BCE (Ezra 1-6). The next wave of return was that of Ezra (Ezra 7-10), and the final one was that of Nehemiah (recorded in the Book of Nehemiah 444 BCE). When Zerubbabel came in that first wave, the people worked for a time on the Temple to rebuild it, but by 520 BCE they had stopped. A combination of internal issues like apathy and discouragement, coupled with external struggles of intimidation and governmental delay brought the project to a halt. In Ezra 5:1, God raised up two prophets: Haggai (whose name means “festal”) and Zechariah (or “Yahweh remembers”).

Zechariah is a book with two major parts. The first part was a series of visions about the present days of his time – and the need to see things from God’s perspective to renew passion for His Temple and its completion, found in Zechariah 1-6. The second part, written about 38 years later and found in Zechariah 9-14, told of Messiah – His first coming in 9-11 and His second coming in 12-14. The picture of the lampstands and olive trees was taken from the chapter four, amod the GET BACK TO BUILDING THE TEMPLE section. It was designed to encourage the leader that God would accomplish something by empowering a work that could not be done without Him. It is from this section that we read these words in Zechariah 4:6 “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.

We need not look at Zechariah 4 in detail for this study. Suffice it to say that God’s vision to Zechariah was to bring a message of assurance to the Jewish people and their leader to complete the task using the empowering of God’s Spirit. It was a time when they felt DEEPLY INADEQUATE for the task they were charged to complete – and God said that He would supply the OLIVE OIL – a shout out to His Spirit – to keep them empowered.

Since we have left Revelation 11, you may be lost. It seems that God sent to empowered two very special prophets to encourage the Jewish people at a time when their Temple was not completely theirs – an awkward rendering – but the best we can do. What did these two do and who are they? I am glad you asked. The passage in Revelation continues: 11:5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. 6 These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not 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 plague, as often as they desire.

They are two men – that is clear. They have God’s enabling to defend themselves with FIRE. They are weather faucets for the clouds of Heaven, and they can turn water into blood, and bring out a bag of plagues that will keep people from getting too sassy with them. Even to the casual observer, they appear to be Moses and Elijah – just by the description of their works. What is even more interesting is they may be ACTUALLY Elijah and Moses. God seemed to have some reason to take special care of their bodies at the end of their respective lives on earth. In the case of Elijah, he got that special chariot ride (2 Kings 2:12ff). For Moses, he died and was buried at Mt. Nebo (Dt. 34) but there was a demonic fight for his body (Jude 1:9). Jude tells us: “9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

Now, I like Moses as much as the next guy, but what could you do with his used body? Satan evidently had plans, but so did God! We may well have evidence that the two witnesses are Elijah and Moses, back again. Why not a resurrected body – a 2.0 body like from 1 Corinthians 15? Simple, their assignment is to come back and DIE again – something you cannot do in a resurrection 2.0 body. Take a look:

Revelation 11:7 When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. 8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9 Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. 10 And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

Now we see the truth that John needed to carefully consider. Men that have decided there is not God, HATE those who desire to proclaim the truth of that God. They do not WANT a moral measure in their lives. They do not DESIRE a relationship with a CREATOR. They want a perverted freedom – a sense that they can do what they want any way they want – and be right with the cosmos. The problem is, they don’t want the TRUTH.

Three days pass – and God pulled out of His back pocket a “thousands of years old” story of third day turnarounds. Dead and laying on the street – a scene repeated a thousand times and burned into the consciousness of everyone on earth as only CNN can do… they GOT UP! Take a look:  Revelation 11:11 But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them.

All celebrations over the final defeat of the God of the Hebrews, put off since the time of Haman in ancient Persia, were shut down. The Christmas like scenes of gift giving turned to horror, as the people that were so smug, so in control, got interrupted by the God of Heaven once more. The irony of another “Third Day” story from Jerusalem emboldened the believers of that time. The two champions arose, and Jerusalem stood speechless as the men floated upward, and a terrible earthquake set in.

Revelation 11:12 And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13 And in 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. 14 The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.

John stood back and saw where all the posturing, mocking and defiance of mankind brought them – to ruin and sadness. Mocking was turned to mourning. In the face of a deteriorating planet, with agonizing pain and clenched fists – lost man chose not to accept directions to Heaven’s gates – because they brought with them the constraints of morality and a personal God.

Scene Two: Heaven rejoiced at the truth – His unchallenged reign was to begin!

Oh, but John wasn’t left in gloom. The call to eat the scrolls and continue to tell the truth of God’s greatness amid the Tribulation was buttressed by another view of Heaven. Just as John saw the end of naturalism and rebellion, the visions he was instructed to measure showed him something else – the open mouths of praise that marked believers that saw God’s absolute justice and un-paralleled splendor.

The room was electric. No performance of Handel’s Messiah could ever match the choir that sang the mighty words that day: 11:15 Then the seventh angel sounded; 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 will reign forever and ever.” The words echoed on and on and on…just as Handel heard them generations later.

These words should bring enormous JOY to those of us who have followed Jesus. Let me unfold the story using a bit of poetic license…

From long before there was time, Yahweh’s presence filled all that was. At some moment, He had a thought – He decided to make a world… and so He did. He called on His Son – and told Him that it was His work to perform. The Son knew it would bring JOY to His Father – so He began to whip up a universe. It was filled with creatures – millions of them! They were made in elegant varieties – Cherubim to sit below the Father’s throne… Seraphim to guard above the throne and cry out the greatness of His Father. An archangel was created, and ranks filled with angels.. the Heavenly Host. The Father was overjoyed with the new world.

Time passed… perhaps ions… when one day a great tragedy struck. A cherub from beside the throne desired to take that throne from the Father. He was beautiful and cunning, and a third part of the Heavens believed he was able to dislodge the Father from His precipice. A failed plot began that split Heaven. The Son watched with confidence as the Father – the Magnificent Ruler of all – decided rather than to react – to tell a story. The angels drew near. The Father beckoned – and again the Son began His work. Another universe – one much more varied than the first was made. Color, texture, taste, light and sound – all were woven into this new tapestry and offered from the Son to the Father – from the Father to his servants. Angelic eyes opened wide.

Thousands and tens of thousands of lights were hung in the fabric of the new universe, as the angelic touched the heavens and sang at the wonders they saw! Around the lights were flung planets – all in swirls of color and beauty… all according to the plan the Father made to set His Divine story. Then the Son delighted as one small rock in space was given water and earth – and from them was drawn animals and trees, mountains and meadows. God then beckoned His Son to create another wonder – and man was formed from the dust of the Garden. He was the keeper of this new small world – and as this page of the story of the Father began –the angels watched in wonder… with no clue of what lay on the page beneath.

God’s enemy – that Fallen Cherub – was allowed access to take up residence on that new little world. He was allowed to tempt and draw in the new creation, to take hold and dominate his world. He was allowed to take the Son’s beautiful dawn and darken it. Light colors were altered – and a dark curtain descended, the once ordered and beautiful page was a scribbled mess. Yet the Father did nothing. Man had fallen – and His world was now in the hands of the Prince of Darkness. Man languished under the brutal strain of his new master. He cried for help. Yet, the Father eased back in the throne and Heaven waited…tension mounted in the angel’s ranks. Then, after a time, the Father called the Son. He told Him the time had come to reveal His story. He promised to save man from the grasp of darkness. Only the Son was able to really comprehend what would bring back His Father’s honor to the whole host of Heaven – so the plan was set in place. Heaven’s ranks and hell’s hoards had no idea what was coming next.

A Savior was promised to man – that was clear enough. But how? A light was to shatter the hold of darkness. He would be born both of woman’s pain and of Heaven’s glory. He was the Wonderful One – the Word of Life – the Witness of the Father. All eyes in the universe were laid on Him as the Son took up His new post in the story’s marvelous next frame. From eternity to time He fell. Immortal took on flesh. Promise took on the mantle of a common physique. The Vine began to yield branches. The door began to open. Hearts of men were tugged by the long missed sound of Heaven’s truth  – the Words of life spoken through the lips of this seed of David.

Time passed… and the enemy grew impatient with the Savior’s voice. The Truth became the subject of a great lie. Darkness crept in to envelope the light… A beating. A mock trial. Crushing blow upon crushing blow. Nails. A Savior rejected and in agony – writhing pain. His eyes closed, His voice raised to the Father. “Forgive them, they do not know what they have done! It is finished”…and the story was wrecked. Angels awaited the Father’s command to rescue – but no command came. – they could not understand. A dark night passed on earth, and Heaven was restless to see a resolution to the Father’s tale. Another night… a third morning. The Father smiled. A wave of His hand and the dead body of the Son was alive! He was awakened from the tomb and the stone was rolled back. The Prince of Life conquered death… and from His new life He drew in a breath from earth’s mists for a last few moments.

Before leaving the earth, the Gentle Shepherd began to gather His flock. He took them from every nation, and drew them into the vast family of those who chose to walk away from the dark lord into the light of the Morningstar. One after another was called. Rooms of the Father’s mansions were filled with them – the Redeemed of the ages. The magnificent work of the Father, born through the peril and pain of the Son was unfolded until the last words were spoken.

Here we are in our story. The room of Heaven is bound up in the Glory of the Redeemer. The vast choirs of Heaven together with those whose lives have been redeemed begin to sing of the saving work of this Rock of Defense, their Deliverer. They know the Bread of Life – for He was fed to the hungry, and they were filled. The enemy’s once unchallenged hold on the kingdoms of the earth is now broken – and inch by inch, the ground is pulled from his clutches by a force that is stronger than anything that adversary can muster. The truth is more powerful than the lie….the Light more powerful than the darkness. Cold is blanketed in warmth. Heaven knows it. Earth feels a sense of anticipation.

The choir’s voices are raised in that room because of the Magnificent One, the Savior… the Son. The choir’s tones are lofty, because they must reach the precipice on which the Magnificent Father sits, above the crystal sea. The choir echoes the words…  It is Done! The kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Anointed One. His reign shall once again be unchallenged in the skies. Oh, hear their music! Listen to their words! The end of man is the beginning of Heaven. The end of the enemy’s rule is the beginning of a walk – hand in hand – with the Father of all… because of the Savior. Heaven knows it well. Listen to their words:

11:16  And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.

Yes, Heaven knew God’s love, but they also knew something else. They knew that the darkness that still lay over many on the earth had stirred and twirled into a foam of rage. They wanted NOTHING to do with this Savior. Their song reminds:

11:18 “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” 19 And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.

There it is… the whole story. God unfolded on earth and across the universe a take to show the angelic host of Heaven WHO HE IS. His rebellious creation should learn of Him as He redeems another rebellious creation. Angels should see the story of man and learn… Judgment opposes the mutineer. The insurgent will meet his match.

The end of the passage is highlighted the truth – not everyone will respond to the Savior the same way. Some harden when the King comes into the room. They will not yield to Him. They want NOTHING to do with His presence or His power. They want to do what THEY want to do. Yet – they will meet Him. They WILL know WHO He is.

Others, like many who hear these words today – LONG to meet Him. They KNOW of His love, and long for His Power to be made clear. They await the song yet to be sung… and they tune their voices. God’s finish for human history will reacted to by men in two very different ways… How will YOU finish? It depends on whether you see Him as an obstacle to your happiness, or the key to it.

The End of the World: “Sweet and Sour Scroll” – Revelation 10

We’ve all heard the saying: “The truth hurts!” Usually it is said to us in the context of some lack in us that is being pointed out by someone who may be a bit less than sensitive to our feelings. We MAY KNOW something is true – but we don’t LIKE that it is true. Truth comes in both sweet and sour sauces…

 Some Biblical truths are incredibly sweet – it may just be that we aren’t focused properly.

Melvin Newland wrote this story:  “Have you heard the story of the farmer who was discouraged with his farm? So he decided to sell out & move somewhere else. He engaged a realtor to look the farm over & prepare a sales ad. But before putting it in the paper, the realtor called & read the proposed ad to him, saying, “See if this meets with your approval.” The ad spoke of a good location, a well maintained house, sturdy barns, lush pasture lands, a beautiful pond, fertile soil, & a great view. The farmer listened carefully, & then said, “Read that to me again, slowly.” So the realtor read it to him again. Finally, the farmer said: “No, don’t print that ad. I’ve changed my mind. I’ve always wanted a place like that. I’m not going to sell.

We do have positive truths that we need to recall. We have great and precious promises in God’s Word to be sure, and sometimes we are too swift to pass over their power as we are distracted by the darkness of this current world. 2 Peter 1:4 reminds: “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”

Peter loved the word “precious” and used it concerning: Precious Faith– (1 Peter 1:7, 2 Peter 1:1), Precious blood– (1 Peter 1:19), Precious stone– (1 Peter 2:4-6), Precious Lord– (1 Peter 2:7) and Precious promises– (2 Peter 1:4). He emphasized to the beleaguered followers of Jesus that God had great things for themBECAUSE HE DOES. They were precious promises ROOTED IN GOD’S NATURE and BACKED BY GOD’S POWER:

  • In Numbers 23:19 and the story of Balak, the Word of God tosses out this nugget: “19“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said it, and will He not do it? Or has He ever spoken, that will He not make it good?
  • 2 Peter 3:9- “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
  • Eph. 3:20,21- “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

I read words of God’s promises and I am lifted. I see more clearly His power, and His love. He hasn’t left His people poor and without hope… yet those promises are not the only ones that I read about – especially when I open the last book of the Bible. These  truths of the Word – equally true in all eternity, are not sweet. They hurt us deeply inside. They make us sick to think about.

On many an occasion I have stood above the six foot hole as the casket was lowered down into it. I have led in prayer and celebration of a believer’s life – it is one distinct privilege I have as a Shepherd. Death is no foe, and it is not a point of fear to those of us who have trusted Christ and His Word. Yet, I have wept both inside and out, when the casket contains one who stubbornly and vocally refused Christ and salvation. The thought that all their chances to know Him are gone makes me sick.

Key Principle: Sometimes the truth hurts – but God has called us to speak the truth.

We must not be unloving, but we cannot dismiss the truth and act like the judgment of God is not as real as the blessing of God. Believers of every generation have been tempted to do so, but the whole counsel of God shared in His Word is sacred. We cannot pick and choose.

Let me show you the story of a man in the first century who got sick on tough truth. Our story began with a time of silence in Heaven – as the angels and living creatures before the throne were silenced at the coming of the judgment on the earth.  As silence slipped away, Heaven thundered and the earth shuddered at the blast of the Trumpets– one after the other, and brought a succession of pummeling judgments to our planet. Grass and trees across one third of the earth were consumed by the falling of fiery hail. The seas of salt water were impacted, as one third of them were poisoned by a volcanic type eruption that began from a mass thrown from above. A star called wormwood embittered the fresh drinking water streams and springs. Just when it looked like there was nothing that could be worse, the darkness and light that men had counted on – sunrise and sunset –were disrupted by the ash clouds that blocked the sun and moon from shining onto the fragile and struggling planet.

As if life on earth hadn’t already become a living hell – hell’s demons were released from the bottomless pit. We don’t know what they were, but we know whose they were – the locusts with the faces of men worked for the Wicked One. There is no question that at his direction, they hurt and maimed – causing despair and drawing men and women to cry out in agony. In the face of their terror, another judgment was released. Poised on the edges of the lands of the eastern cultures of Mesopotamia – where God originally called forth Abraham and much of the Bible’s first stories unfolded… were angels that were set to draw the final curtain to one third of mankind. Billions of lives hung in the balance as God’s emissary released word to unleash a 200 million strong army on the weakened sons of men. From their mouths and from their tails, they spit an agonizing sting that crippled their victims.

Was this a poetic description of a Satanically backed army of a nation? It is impossible to be sure. We can know what their impact, however. They brought such indescribable suffering that it is unimaginable men and women would not repent… but the text is clear. People held on stubbornly to their pagan beliefs – like a man whose logic has evaporated: as Revelation 9:20 reminds: “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; 21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.”

For a few moments, John stopped the progression of judgment to offer a personal note about his experiences. Revelation 10:1-11:14 is actually a parenthetical vision. This isn’t the first time John employed this technique. When the story of the seven seals was played out in Revelation 6 and 7, John stopped after six seals while the seventh seal was not yet open – and offered a picture from two visions (7:1-8; 11-17). In the case of the trumpets, he does it again, and the seventh trumpet is preceded by two visions of what he saw (10:1-11; 11:1-14). In the midst of the judgment, Jesus had him focus on something else – the consolation and encouragement of believers in the grip of the downward spiral of the planet. There are only eleven verses:

Revelation 10:1 I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire; 2 and he had in his hand a little book which was open. He placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land; 3 and he cried out with a loud voice, as when a lion roars; and when he had cried out, the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices. 4 When the seven peals of thunder had spoken, I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken and do not write them.” 5 Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven, 6 and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, WHO CREATED HEAVEN AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE EARTH AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE SEA AND THE THINGS IN IT, that there will be delay no longer, 7 but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His servants the prophets. 8 Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard again speaking with me, and saying, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” 9 So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said to me, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. 11 And they said to me, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”

The very last sentence reveals the problem of the passage… John was sick by what he saw, and the Lord had to PUSH him to keep telling the whole story. We are no different today than our older brothers and sisters in the faith. Many want the “LIGHT BIBLE” – the kind with only six commandments and a 3% tithe. We want the celebration of Heaven without the punishment of Hell – the joy of prosperity without the lessons of leanness. We get beat up in the world, and we don’t want to hear negative words in church. “I come here to get lifted!” one lady said…. And I totally understand. The fact is that so do I. I want to say positive and fun things more than you want to hear them! The problem is, sometimes the TRUTH HURTS, and we are only served by being honest about that.

Go back to the beginning of what we read. The “strong angel” of 10:1 is one character that is described in 5:2, here, and in 18:21. We cannot tell if the being is the same, but we can tell that there are varying degrees of power committed to angelic beings. Perhaps a few own BOWFLEXES and it is more obvious they use them. With streets of GOLD, perhaps GOLD’s gym has franchised in Heavenly places – I just cannot say. A four-fold description of this angel is included: Revelation 10:1 …clothed with a cloudrainbow was upon his head… face was like the sun… feet like pillars of fire.

 (1) He was “clothed with a cloud” – a Hebrew reference that denoted God’s presence in the case of the Temple’s dedication, or Sinai’s Law – that spilled into Revelation usually in the context of God’s wrath and judgment – in Revelation 1:7, Jesus will come again “with the clouds” (cf. Dan 7:13).

(2) He had a “rainbow upon his head” – an apparent Hebrew reference to the glory of God as in the words “As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD” (Ezekiel 1:28). Revelation 4:3 says that God has such a rainbow encircling His throne.

(3) “His face was like the sun” may be a Hebrew reference to the authority or boundaries of God, as in the words . “And God made two great lights; the greater light [the sun] to rule the day” (Genesis 1:16). In Revelation 1:16, Jesus’ face “shone like the sun”.

(4) “His feet like pillars of fire” may well allude to the strength of the being to reap judgment.  Clearly the fire throughout the book is a powerful graphic allegory of God’s judgment. The  “pillars of fire” are reminiscent of Israel’s wilderness guidance system, where God provided a “pillar of fire” to guide the Israelites at night and a “cloud” by day (Exodus 13:21-22). We should remember that the pillar of fire not only guided them, but also protected God’s people (Exodus 14:24) as directed by God.

The angel announced with God’s presence, God’s glory, God’s authority and boundaries, and God’s enduring strength – the time for the last set of judgments was at hand…

Revelation 10:2 moves our eyes to his HANDS AND FEET. In his hands, he grasped a little scroll.  With his feet, this colossus spanned both the earth and the sea. One Pastor wrote: “This angel would win any game of Twister hands down.” The angel appears to be taking final possession of God’s stolen kingdom. Final judgment will claim the world for Christ, as God takes back what is rightfully His (Ps 2:6-8). This is powerfully encouraging, but the price of the takeover is sickening to John.

The little scroll may well be different from the scroll Jesus Christ unrolled in 5:1, mentioned again in 6:1, simply because John used a different word to describe it. In fact, he chose a Greek term not used elsewhere in the letter… we just cannot know for sure.  More than likely, the bulk of judgment completed – this was a fragment of the balance of the last set of judgments that were yet to happen – a piece of the same scroll.

Revelation 10:3 looks like the scene of one about to give a testimony in court – as they “raise their right hand and swear to tell the truth!” His opening cry brought calamitous sound in Heaven – again showing his power. Lions roar and all the animals know the King has spoken. “The king’s wrath is as the roaring of a lion…” (Proverbs 19:12). There were SEVEN PEALS of thunder… and by now you are getting used to the idea of the seven. Here is may refer back to Psalm 29:3-9 where seven thunder peals are portrayed as the voice of the Lord:

Psalm 29:3 “The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; The God of glory thunders, The LORD is over many waters. 4 The voice of the LORD is powerful, The voice of the LORD is majestic. 5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; Yes, the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. 6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, And Sirion like a young wild ox. 7 The voice of the LORD hews out flames of fire. 8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; The LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 9 The voice of the LORD makes the deer to calve And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everything says, “Glory!”

Seven peals of thunder responded to the roar – but John was told NOT to write down what was revealed. Not everything he saw and heard were offered for prophetic delivery. Just as Daniel was told in Daniel 12, God has not revealed in Scripture all the judgments that will take place on the earth during the great tribulation. God’s Word is all true, but not complete – by His own intention. In 2 Corinthians 12:4 Paul shared that he “was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak”. Prophetic revelation is only partial (1 Corinthians 13:9), so we must interpret with caution and humility.

This angel “lifted up his right hand to heaven” -a gesture offered to demonstrate an oath (cf. Gen 14:22; Dt. 32:40; Dan. 12:7).” The oath carried a message that was CHILLING to John… The delay of God’s judgment was no more.

The God who IS was about to act. The God who created all things, was now claiming His creation. It is no accident that the key philosophical issues of our time revolve around these two truths—the existence of God, and creation

Our world cries out that all things were put here in random chance… there is no God and there is no purpose. Naturalism has won the hearts of our universities and our museums – but NOT the hearts of our people. The church stands yet today, proclaiming in the public square that a fool believes there is no God. A fool believes that man evolved and the world is getting progressively more enlightened. A fool seeks pleasure – much more than truth. We will not slip quietly into the night – our job is not yet finished. Fools may have found a following, but God’s Word stands sure. The cold night of naturalism will bring about a brutish society, bent on personal fulfillment and drowning in lust. The night comes, so we work with the truth – there IS a God in Heaven, He DID create what we are and see… and every eye will one day see Him.

The angels cried out “Time is up“—like a teacher administrating a test. Time for pencils down. Evils defeat is about to be unsealed. God didn’t even want the details to leak to His enemy – so they are unrecorded. He is going to do something that will blindside the wicked one – something none of us have even thought of – but it IS coming.

Judgment isn’t a sweet truth to the stomach. John was told to take the scroll and eat it. The initial taste wasn’t sour, but when it hit his stomach, it was sickening. He was given a commission to KEEP GOING with the truth of the Word. Don’t stop speaking out My Word, said the Lord… “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” Was it easy? No. Was it essential. Yes.

Not all truth is sweet. We must take God’s Word to the nations, but not until we have digested it and it has become part of what we are. Weak believers, unsure of the Word and its power need not apply to go elsewhere. They need to chew some more before going anywhere. In our mad dash to get people who are zealous, we must not jump to sending out those who have not digested the truths of the Word. The Bible is to be taken INSIDE. It is to do a transforming work. It will sober up the silly – and ground the flaky. We are struggling today as God’s church because we simply want to resist the process of learning God’s Word. We want the bullet point, fortune cookie, quick fix version of the truth. We can’t reach a world until God’s Word reaches US.

We possess the astounding privilege of a personal Bible to read – something most believers never had in history. Yet most wait for someone to spoon feed them truth. Men and women, God doesn’t force-feed His Word – but rather requires us to take it in hand, and ingest it in heart. The Word of God is called bread (Matt 4:4), milk (1 Pet 2:2), meat (1 Cor 3:1-2), and honey (Ps 119:103). We are supposed to be pouring it into our lives… and the lack of it will show in the anemic, un-resistant church. Often Madison Avenue has more influence than our Bible – because our people haven’t done their work.

Even more often – it isn’t YOU – it is US…those who open the book and teach it. We have backed down and made it easier than it really us.

Messages of the modern church abound but far too many of them are sweet. We are preaching messages about success and fulfillment, a positive outlook and a healthy self-image, but frankly there is little about sin and God’s holy wrath. We secretly hope that the Pastor will turn us to a “happy passage” on Sunday. Here’s a question posed by one Pastor: “ If judgment was near enough that the apostle John needed to be hardened by the eating of that scroll, should we not be more direct and more pointed in speaking to men and women about the realities of sin, righteousness, and judgment?”

To every teacher that is listening to these words, I want to tell the truth – being a true spokesman of God is no easy task. It requires a man or woman to be willing to tell people what they don’t want to hear. Don’t compromise truth to win a crowd – or you will lead them away from God’s purposes. Don’t skip the stomach ache- it comes with the book. God loves us. He wants us to know Him. He has made a way of escape. Yet, equally true is this: Jesus said most people won’t take the door of salvation and a walk with Him. Most will go the way well worn, and hope for the best.

Sometimes the truth hurts – but God has called us to speak the truth. We must not be unloving, but we cannot dismiss the truth and act like the judgment of God is not as real as the blessing of God. Believers of every generation have been tempted to do so, but the whole counsel of God shared in His Word is sacred. We cannot pick and choose. Remember these words from 2 Chronicles 36, at the end of the Hebrew Scriptures:

15 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; 16 but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy.

Don’t delay. Respond. God is waiting for His church to take Him seriously. Time is running out – and there are still many who will respond if we will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The End of The World: “The Septet of Sadness” – Revelation 8-9, 11:15-19

There is a popular saying: “Its not over till the fat lady sings”. This is an expression based on the perception of Grand Opera, where a stereotypically overweight soprano finishes the with the curtain falling. We will keep using it until the ACLU picks up a defamation suit on behalf of the “Metropolitan Opera Company female employees union” and then we will all stand corrected, no doubt.  For the moment, this saying has become a well worn staple expression used by sports announcers and racing fans alike. The idea is clear: It isn’t over until it is over. Don’t quit too soon. Don’t give up when there is more to see.

The problem is, there is a time to give up. There is a time to realize that the path I have been traveling is… well, simply WRONG. When judgment falls like rain on our lives – and we can clearly see it – the sound of the fat lady isn’t far off. Sometimes surrender is the best option… and always up against God it is the best option! Today we won’t hear the fat lady, but we will listen to the blasts of the “Septet of Sadness” – as God brings the curtain slowly down on human history.

Key Principle: The longer I hold on to things that don’t please God the harder it is to release those things – even when it is obvious that I truly need to!

God takes no delight in the judgment of mankind, nor of you and I as individuals. The volume of messages of judgment in the Bible are a testament to the grace of God – He wants us to CHANGE before we face the judgment we have created in our mutiny against His rightful place at the throne of our lives.

So, why don’t we just CHANGE? Well, it isn’t that simple. Like Samson in a dungeon after he played with the power God put within him, we need to realize that sin BINDS. There he stood, tied to two pillars in the Philistine temple. Not only was he bound, but his eyes were put out… because sin blinds. It is that blindness that we encounter in Revelation 8 and 9. This time it isn’t a believer that is blind and bound, but a rebellious planet.

Silence in Heaven

The church is gone now, there is no retaining influence of her statements of morality from bygone days. The Spirit’s use of God’s people is finished. This is a time for the reapers… the angels. They are set loose to push like a second wave into a work that began in the record of Revelation 6. They are reapers – and they aren’t charged with making nice and showing mercy. There were many days for that – just like today – when a man or woman could have chosen to soften and kneel to Jesus… rather than hardening and excusing themselves from response to His gentle call.  The stage was all set, and all went quiet and the MAESTRO of Magnificence took His rightly place on the platform to begin direction of another terrible wave of judgment…the room was quiet as He arranged all things for the coming performance.

Revelation 8:1 When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.

Why silence in Heaven? Silence seems to be the appropriate response to Divine judgment.

  • Psalm 76:8-9 the psalmist wrote, 8 “You caused judgment to be heard from heaven;        The earth feared and was still. 9 When God arose to judgment, to save all the humble of the earth..”
  • Habakkuk 2:20 declared, 20 “But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.”
  • Zephaniah 1:7 declares: 7 “Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near, for the LORD has prepared a sacrifice, he has (chosen) consecrated His guests.”
  • Zechariah 2:13 commands 13 “Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD; for He is aroused from His holy habitation”.

Why silence? The silence in Heaven comes from the acknowledgment of GOD’S ABSOLUTE RIGHT to execute judgment. All arguments are stopped. All petitions are stilled. This is not a day for debate or an argument… this is the appointed day for the dispatching of the reapers and the playing of the trumpets of judgment.

The Septet Sets Up

Listen to the words of the text, as we hear the players of the “Septet of Sadness” from Heaven taking their places and getting set up to play:

Revelation 8:3 Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. 6 And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them.

We do not know the identity of this “other angel” in verse three, but no matter. The emphasis is not on his IDENTITY – but on his PURPOSE. The angel was given the incense associated with the smell of prayers in the Hebrew worship of Tabernacle and Temple – and was to mix that incense with the prayers of God’s people already rising from the altar.

What prayers were they?

  • These were the prayer of missionaries that wept over the lost of their place, as they were deceived by the wicked one and committed horrid acts at the evil ones bequest.
  • These are the prayers of the parents who cried out in searing pain as their children were ripped from their arms and slaughtered because the family followed Jesus.
  • These were the prayers for Satan and his minions to be destroyed – and for evil to be trampled by the One who is GREATER within us.
  • These were the martyrs prayers for sin to be defeated and their deaths to be avenged.
  • They were not prayers for REVENGE… they were prayers for RIGHT. They were agonized cries for Christ to come and save people from the maddening spiral of darkness. These were offered by those who held fast to their faith during trials and tribulations, persecutions and pummelings.
  • Anyone who has ever cried out to God in the face of EVIL, anyone who has ever stood alone for Jesus and suffered from the hands of scoffers – their prayer was added to the mix.

Thought it does not say who gave the angel the incense, the verb didomi – translated “was given” – is often used in Revelation to refer to something given by God (as in 6:2,4, 8, 11).

The First Trumpet Solo: Grass and Trees Burned

The time had now come. The silence was about to be broken. The judgment was unleashed anew. Revelation 8:7 The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.

The trumpet was truly one of the most significant musical instruments in Scripture. Among the Hebrews, trumpets summoned the people (Num 10:2) called them to war (Num 10:9), announced the commencement of religious feasts (Num 10:10) and on occasion announced news (1 Samuel 13:3). They played the anthem of kings (1 Kings 1:34,39), and were used in the worship of God (1 Chronicles 16:6, 42).  Paul reminded us that a trumpet will announce the calling of the Church to God’s prepared banquet hall (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). Here the trumpet is associated with the judgment of God on man. The first trumpet left one third of earth burned and desolate from something that fell from the sky. Whether it came direct from Heaven, or was fired by some men on another at the behest of Heaven’s stirring is not known. What is known is that in the wake of this judgment, much of earth is scortched by the destruction.

The Second Trumpet Solo: Salt water

With the earth smoldering, the second trumpeter plays a new solo part. From Heaven comes the direction for a great volcano to spew into the sea a great flow of sulfur, pyroclastic materials and magma from within the earth’s crust. Revelation 8:8 The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, 9 and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.

The sea was polluted with the flow, and one third of the water of the sea was completely contaminated – with both vessels and marine life destroyed. The LIVING SEAS become the open sore of the ailing earth passing away slowly in judgment. The earth is bleeding out its inner juices and collapsing living systems in the stench and death of its flow.

The Third Trumpet Solo: Wormwood in Fresh water

The fresh water was apparently unaffected by the volcanic flow, but the next trumpeter poisoned that as well. Revelation 8:10 The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. 11 The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.

The embittering of the water was like that of Marah when Moses brought the people there, or like Jericho, when God fouled the water to put an endorsement stamp on Elisha. In those cases, God’s man healed the ailing water. In this case, no relief is found. A thirds of the earth’s fresh water is destroyed and people NAME the cause from the Heavens as WORMWOOD. It came from above and polluted fresh water – and that is all we know about it from the text.

The Fourth Trumpet Solo: Darkness

In rapid succession, another soloist comes to the fore.  Revelation 8:12 says: “The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way.”

Darkness. The disruption of the atmospheric heavens by a world that seems to be coming apart at the seams. They barely had time to organize the food efforts to send to the places where the earth was scorched – and a volcano caused catastrophic deaths at sea. Before they could mount a rescue of those another volley from the heavens wiped out fresh water on many places of the earth. Starving, thirsty, angry and alone… many people looked to heaven and saw no mercy… no compassion. They missed all those stories. Heaven didn’t seem to care for them anymore. The God of Creation seemed to forsake them completely…and now they lay in pain with darkness. Nights of darkness. Days when the sun did not shine… they couldn’t take much more. Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse… Revelation 8:13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”  If you will excuse the poor grammar – This is the sound of YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET!

The Fifth Trumpet Solo: The locust swarm

Revelation 9 unfolds the story of two more trumpet solos of judgment. Truly, during the tribulation period, hell has a holiday.  On one particular day you see it more clearly than any other… it is the day when the earth opens up and pressing out from within it are the hoards of warriors of filth.  Revelation 9:1 Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. 2 He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit. 3 Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4 They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. 6 And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them. 7 The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. 8 They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. 9 They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle. 10 They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months. 11 They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon.  12The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things.

Smart people had enough… they just wanted to die. This was too hard. Darkness, hunger, thirst and the stench of death had all happened before – but this day brought a couple of months of something NEW – a demonic hoard of wounding warriors. Smart people just said, “LET ME DIE!” Unfortunately, then – as now – death isn’t a pleasant negotiator.

The Sixth Trumpet Solo: Angels of death

With all the tragedy and sadness – we are not finished with the bombardment of God on the evil one that stole away His Creation. Revelation 9:13 Then the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14 one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15 And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind. 16 The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. 17 And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. 18A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.

A mighty army was released… and people were slaughtered – one third of the earth. People perished in mass numbers. If this were today, one third of what was left on the earth after the seal judgments would be about another 1.75 million people. Again, all of China and all of the US population together – another round of judgment and endless another pile of bodies.

OK, you say… I get it. Things are really, really bad. People are dying and those who are left are wishing they could join the dead. They keep going, but they are almost broken. That is a fine assumption… but if you look more closely, you will be amazed at the RESILIENCY OF STUBBORNESS and the depth of DEPRAVITY in man: Revelation 9:20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; 21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.

Are you kidding me?

They can’t see that it is pointless to cling to EVIL? How can that be? It is because of one truth: The longer I hold on to things that don’t please God the harder it is to release those things – even when it is obvious that I truly need to!

He was a miserable old man. Anyone who knew him could tell you that he was nasty. His hair was thin but unkempt. His breath smelled of strong garlic. His clothing was tattered, and had the distinct odor of moth balls. His teeth were rotting in his head. His face was angry, and the lines of bitterness were etched deeply in his brow. His fingernails were long and yellow. He barked orders at people and literally sounded like an insane babbler. He was one of America’s richest men, but jealousy, anger, suspicion and a course lifestyle had robbed him of any joy. He lay dying, and a very well known preacher came to visit, unsolicited. The preacher told him that God loved him, and that God was ready to welcome him with open arms into His Kingdom –with only the simple request coming from his heart, past his lips. He needed only to ask, and he could receive…. But the man scoffed, and had the preacher removed. He had lived his life on his terms… and he would die on his terms. As he left the preacher only said these words…”That is fine, but on whose terms will you face judgment?”

The Seventh Trumpet Solo: A New Tune is Playing!

In order to finish the seven trumpets, we must skip some verses that we will see in a later study. We have to move all the way to Revelation 11, where the last trumpet player played until a choir responded in a thunderous chorus. This member did not play a brash sound of judgment, nor the sultry sound of the blues… this member of the Septet played a tune that is unlike all the others… It was a worship chorus… and it drew voices into an incredible crescendo of praise! Revelation 11:15 Then the seventh angel sounded; 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 will reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. 18 “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” 19 And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.

You see, it doesn’t have to end badly. WE POSSESS RIGHT NOW WITHIN OUR GRASP – A CHANCE TO CHANGE! Those who surrender to God’s power and purpose on earth see His GRACE in this life and will see His GLORY in the next. You don’t have to face judgment over sin – for Jesus took that for any who will trust in Him alone!

Jesus knows that you cannot be GOOD ENOUGH to enter Heaven. The Bible says “there is no one righteous, not even one.” Even if you are a GOOD man or woman – you are not RIGHTEOUS a man or woman – because that standard is set in perfection. The Bible says two things that make the nicest of us pause: First, in Romans 3:23 “..for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”…and second in Romans 6:23: “…the wages of sin is death..”

People may be GOOD, but that isn’t enough for a perfect God – they need to be RIGHT BEFORE GOD. The Word says that righteousness comes only through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Paul shared it in Philippians 3:7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11i n order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

If there is another way to Heaven, Jesus was wrong when He said: John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. Luke was wrong when he wrote and Peter was wrong when he spoke the message in Acts 4: 12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.

The way to Heaven, according to the Bible is very simple, but very difficult. It is simple – because we need not work for it to be acceptable to God. In fact, listen to the Scripture in Romans 10:8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, …the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

Why, then do I say it is DIFFICULT? Because we don’t like to surrender! We want to run our own lives, choose our own friends, make our own schedules, spend our own money and have our own entertainments. Any attempt to get us to yield these things will be met with resistance. The problem is this: the longer I hold on to things that don’t please God the harder it is to release those things – even when it is obvious that I truly need to!

The End of The World: “The Agony of God” – Revelation 7

She grew up in a good home, loved by her parents…They gave her everything they could afford. They tried their best to discipline her well. They offered every incentive to do right… but evil’s enticements seemed too strong for their efforts. She slipped away from them – they could see it happening. Like a bad dream, she repeated one failed strategy of rebellion after and another, and from every thing in her life that she declared as a “freedom” became a new prison. It was obvious to those around her, but it was impossible for her to grasp what she was doing to herself and her family. Her choices, each one, were excruciating for her parents. They would do just about ANYTHING to get her to wake up. They tried counseling, doctors, medication, intervention and a regular amount of pleading – but nothing helped. Their once obedient child simply didn’t want to do right anymore. They tried balancing love with a careful amount of applied disciplinary measures… yet the slide away from their grasp seemed sealed. Other families didn’t understand their “tolerance” of all her antics. They whispered behind the back of the family members that they were far too easy on the wayward child. Sound familiar? It does to God as well...I am not talking about any parent in the room. I am not talking about any parent that I have read about. I am making a direct, if feeble, analogy to the God of Creation as He deals in patience toward lost men and women – because He loves them.

Believers have asked down through the centuries the question of the martyrs under the altar of the fifth seal, found in Revelation 6. Last week, as we looked through the record of the seven seals broken by the Lamb that released judgment upon the earth from Heaven, we stopped for only a moment and peered back into the throne room – gazing under the altar. What caught our attention (and John’s attention) was the sound of human voices.

Revelation 6:9: “When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.”

The question was respectfully posed, but incredibly simple: “How long are you, God, going to put up with the injustice of this world that brought about our martyrdom? How long will you let evil seem to win against good. How long will you allow the abuse of your Word and your people by unprincipled and lecherous children of wickedness?

Frankly, if you’ve been paying attention in the last fifty years, you are probably, at least on occasion, tired of God’s patience. It took no effort to pull stories from this week’s news to illustrate God’s patience with the evil around us:

  • Vicious banter continues about the “damaging influence” NFL football player Tim Tebow is having on the sport by “trying to drag church onto the field of football”. “It is just offensive to many of us that want to watch our favorite pastime without have GOD thrown in our faces.” One fan said. My reply: “Yes, I can see that Tim showing his own personal faith should be seen as a blow to an American sports scene so filled with illegal steroid use, dog fighting, gambling, and illicit sex, with teams that destroyed record numbers of motel rooms by raucous team players in the various leagues – it is obvious that the bowing of a quarterback to Jesus will just ruin the sport if we don’t put a stop to it!
  • Also this week, the GOP tries desperately to define a conservative position on the family by choosing from among men who have been accused of philandering (which have been removed from the contest) and men who have actually been caught philandering (who are still in the contest). Don’t get mad, I am not declaring a political position – just illustrating the funny way we have been led to compromise on the most important parts of our lives.
  • The USMC is now deeply involved in a video of alleged marines urinating on corpses of the Taliban. Deeply embarrassed at the alleged breach of well-known discipline in the ranks – the part of the discussion that caught my attention was NOT the marines that have been accused, but the number of people, some who claimed to know Jesus, who thought that such actions “served them right” for being our enemies. We seem to have forgotten that how we treat our combat enemies in our society will open the door to how our captured US soldiers will be treated.  We seem to have lost touch with the fact that such behavior is always wrong.
  • Penn State University President Rodney Erickson was desperately trying on Friday to distance the school from the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the campus by saying: “It grieves me very much when I hear people say ‘the Penn State scandal.’ This is not Penn State. This is the (Jerry) Sandusky scandal,” he said. Yet crowds “booed” as he tried to explain why Assistant Coach Paterno, who knew of the abuse and allegedly did not immediately bring the details to light, was still on the payroll as a full tenured faculty member.

Now don’t get mad at me if you think that Paterno is innocent, the Marines are falsely accused, the divorced and remarried politicians are the best for the next election, or you just don’t like the look in the eyes of Tim Tebow – you will have missed my point. We are being bombarded daily with stories of moral compromise on the one hand, and attack on any kind of godly testimony on the other. These were just pulled off the banner of CNN this past Friday morning.

Don’t you just get tired of all this? Why… why in the world, why in the universe is God content to let evil men wax worse and worse? Why doesn’t he MOVE IN and cut the timeline. If you are not sure… ask any parent of a wayward child. It is a flawed analogy, I know, because God knows what broken hearted parents do NOT know. At the same time, the point is valid – God is a patient parent. He is a LOVING parent. He longs, hurts and hungers for His wayward Creation to return to His arms. In fact, God loves men so much, that He has TOLD US as believers TO MAKE THEIR RESCUE OUR TOP PRIORITY!

Key Principle: God values the eternal life of the lost of the earth more than He values the comfort of the saved. If that were not true, Christianity would lack not only martyrs – but missionaries.

Watching as His creation kicks and pulls away to its own destruction is no easier for Him than for any parent – it is agony. It is for that reason, that God continues to offer salvation to a humanity hell bent on pulling away. His patience comes from a parent’s broken heart.

If you have found rescue in Jesus Christ, He has asked you to GIVE YOUR LIFE for the Gospel, whether in faithful service or in painful sacrifice. That is not a theory – that’s in daily choices of our obedience. He truly wants YOU and I to put the call to reach others above the call to LIVE WELL and RETIRE IN COMFORT.

Let me explain from the Scripture. In any dramatic series, you are introduced to characters before there is a complete explanation of who they are and what they are all about. Revelation introduced the martyrs of the Tribulation, but only after gives you their “back story”. In Revelation 7, we get the fuller picture of who these martyrs are, and what God did in their lives. Who are these people? In Revelation 7, John focused in to tell their story for a few verses before the seventh seal opened to silence and the distribution to TRUMPETS for the second round of judgment. In these first few verses, we are able to pick put some of the details about the identity of the people referred to in this passage. Before we know their parentage or purpose, we know about their PROTECTION.

A Protected People

Revelation 7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. 2 And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”

Revelation 7 is chronologically set at the beginning of Revelation 6 – BEFORE the angels were positioned at the compass points of the winds of the earth, holding back the judgment of God that was about to blow down from Heaven. The angels were to reap the harvest of judgment, as Jesus promised in Matthew 13… the angels are the reapers. Yet, in Revelation 7:1 they are held back by the command of God. Revelation 7:3 reveals clearly and concisely that GOD HOLDS THE TIME OF JUDGMENT under His command. No less than the “Author of Patience” Himself holds the briefcase with the button of final destruction.

Look closer at 7:3. God is almost ready to let the judgment fly, but something isn’t quite ready… He still has witnesses positioned to share rescue in the final hours. Who but an agonized parent would still hold out a life line to an angry, nasty and boisterous sinner? He is not unwilling to judge the earth, but He wants one last round of rescuers that will share His love before the curtain falls.

A Particular People

The chapter continues with the specific identity of the witnesses:

Revelation 7:4 “And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 5 from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.

God’s team of rescue messengers sent into the time of Great Tribulation are none other than men and women taken from the hated Jewish people – the object of current world anger and future world hatred. If you were to arrive on planet earth from Mars today and access the records of legal proceedings of the UN, you would be amazed to discover that Israel is a place barely the size of New Jersey especially in light of the fact that overwhelmingly the most UN resolutions ever enacted for sanction are against them. In 2006, for instance, the UN passed on making a condemning resolution against Sudan in spite of the Darfur genocide, but put forward no less than nineteen anti-Israel resolutions.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying – I am sure the Israelis may do some things that are not “kosher” (their own democratic free press says so) – but I hardly think a case can be made that they have proven themselves to deserve more than three quarters of all the condemning admonitions of the UN resolutions  – when that same illustrious body has failed to cite the violations of North Korea at all and –until recently, wouldn’t consider one against Iran or Syria. Anyone who argues the UN doesn’t have an unbelievable bias against Israel simply isn’t reading the sheer volume of resolutions and balancing them against real global threats. One of the evidences for the LITERAL RENDERING of the prophetic Scriptures is simply that God says that as the end approaches, more and more hatred will mount against Israel… soon you may well see many in the church world chiming in.

Nevertheless, look at the verses closely. There are 144,000 people that are chosen from the tribes of the Jewish people. Some may argue that “we don’t know the tribes of the Jewish people today.” That would be a true observation. Yet, the seal wasn’t determined by a human committee – it was placed by God’s emissaries on the heads of the “chosen-chosen”! A number of commentators take the time to share that they are not sure these people are Jews – but rather represent “Christians throughout the ages”. I can only say this: God isn’t on a cat and mouse game. He took the time to speak of things in the future, and I believe the clarity of reference to Jewish people by taking the time to name tribe after tribe is laborious EXACTLY BECAUSE He knew how much clarity people would need to get the identities correct. If He is NOT trying to say JEWISH PEOPLE, this isn’t only picturesque – it borders in misleading. I think it is clear by the fourth or fifth named tribe – these are JEWS set to witness in the Tribulation.

Now that presents its own problem. Why would God choose His witnesses from among the very people that are the object of so much wrath during these seven years on the earth. If you stay with the series until the end, you will see the incredible anger and wrath of earthly nations against Israel. Why not choose people who were more likely to get a hearing among the lost world’s elite? The answer to that question can be found in God’s “modus operandi” throughout the ages:

1 Corinthians 1:26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29so that no man may boast before God.

God isn’t interested in choosing men and women that can claim that others followed BECAUSE OF THEM. Let that sink in… God isn’t simply interested in making us more popular or famous to get the attention of others. He wants us to put our full attention on HIM and allow Him to direct our steps to the path that He will use in our lives. We don’t have to be TALENTED or the smartest kid in the room. We have to be surrendered to His purpose, and in love with His receiving the glory!

A Praised People

The thanks of Heaven will be exclaimed over these witnesses. Those who have been abused on earth will be lauded in Heaven! They have suffered on earth, but they will be like the selected Levites and Priests in the fabulous Temple of Heaven. The martyrs of the earth are Heaven’s best servants – for they gave their lives like the Savior and will be exalted in His work! Drop down to verse 13 and take a closer look:

Revelation 7:13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. 16 “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

These are martyred men and women. They have passed through judgment in 7:13 (because verse seventeen says they are wearing white robes – and Revelation 19 reminds us “for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” They are clearly believers, and they gave their lives IN THE TRIBULATION period – as is demonstrated in 7:14. They suffered during their earth lives. Some were hungry, some thirsted, some were burned by the sun, some tortured by physical heat – but all of them shed tears. They suffered for the testimony of the Cross. They bled and they perished, but they were prepared to celebrate the One they bore in Testimony.

They weren’t the first Christian martyrs – but they were going to be the last. Go back and thumb through the history of the church, and the company of martyrs is no small one. The New Testament opened the subject with Stephen, a deacon preacher killed for preaching the cross. The first Roman documented case of imperially-supervised persecution of the Christians began with Nero (ruled 54–68 CE). After the great fire of Rome in 64 CE that destroyed portions of the city and economically devastating the populace, Nero fastened guilt on a hated class called Christians. The Annals of Tacitus XV reported:

“…a vast multitude, were convicted, not so much of the crime of incendiarism as of hatred of the human race. And in their deaths they were made the subjects of sport; for they were wrapped in the hides of wild beasts and torn to pieces by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set on fire, and when day declined, were burned to serve for nocturnal lights.”

In the Tribulation, such barbarism appears to be revived. Yet, we should not be surprised… the number of martyrs in the modern period has been steadily increasing around the world. During the Tribulation, God has a particular and protected people that He has suited for His search and rescue operation in the Tribulation. They will, for a time, be protected. Then, as the Tribulation moves forward, many of them will lose their lives in the struggle to bring people to God and to freedom from the grasp of sin’s destruction.

When they die, those in Heaven will not blame God. Heaven will not curse the enemy. Heaven will understand. God is a parent that will not let go without a fight. Men and women of all ages will stand before the throne. How many parents will condemn? Not one. They’ll get it.

Look at the record of the future, as secure as if it had already happened:

Revelation 7:9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Can you see it? Heaven understands that God’s rescue team was expendable on earth – because the value of ONE SOUL to God was worth it all. Heaven didn’t weight the “time they lost” because of their death. That isn’t the point of lifeto have more time on earth.

Down through the ages, believers have surrendered this life for the call of Heaven… and Heaven is calling still. God is looking for those who want to rescue others from a world lost in sin. He isn’t asking if you will consider being a missionary – because if you know Jesus,  and if you have tasted the freedom from sin that you got when Jesus washed you white as snow, YOU ARE A MISSIONARY. The only thing Heaven is waiting for is for YOU to acknowledge your identity.

  • A man is LOST even if he grows up in the shadow of a mega-church. He is LOST if he doesn’t ask Jesus to come into his heart, wash away his sin and take what remains of his life to use for God’s glory. In other words, Jesus died to make SALVATION AVAILABLE. Yet, many do not know it is available, so they do not grab onto it. They remain lost.
  • In the same way, many Christians are unaware of their calling to rescue the lost with the Gospel. They may have heard they should care, but many have come to believe that God saved them to keep their body healed, their bank full and their blessed life fulfilling. They have lost track of Heaven’s impulses. They have forgotten they were BLESSED to be a BLESSING to their lost neighbors and their dark communities. They have taken refuge in “fortress church” and become annoyed at the needy lost neighbors who keep mucking up their country with pluralism and relativism. They aren’t only unaware of their mission, they are annoyed at the object of God’s affection.

Men and women, God is calling a generation to step out and become uncomfortable. He is turning up the sound of marching hoof beats and sending signs in the sky. You can hear the hoof beats in the winds of the strange weather of our time. You can feel the rumble beneath your feet in the moral decay splashed across the pages of our newspapers. The thunder of the hoof beats can be heard in the desperation of America’ broken families and floundering family courts. We can tremble with the cadence of the rising hatred against Israel – a nation still in their unredeemed state, but with an unshakable promise.

You see, when the fifth seal was broken –  no horseman roared forth. No Living Creature thundered. All that was heard was a loud group of voices crying out for JUSTICE over the COST of their testimony. They were found beneath the altar in the Heavenly Temple –  a place where ashes fell in a sacrifice. They wanted to understand something about God’s plan. They wanted to know HOW LONG it would be until their cruel martyrdoms were remembered! They were affirmed when they were given white robes – a representation of their judgment as “righteous” and then told to be still for yet a little while – the killing fields were not yet full.

  • God longs for lost men and women to return to His arms.
  • God waits for believers who will feel the burn inside their heart for lost people around them.
  • God aches over each one who is desperately struggling to live a life on their own. We cannot find what we are looking for apart from Him!

I read to my students this quote from The Confessions of Saint Augustine the other day as a reminder: “Sin comes when we take a perfectly natural desire or longing or ambition and try desperately to fulfill it without God. Not only is it sin, it is a perverse distortion of the image of the Creator in us. All these good things, and all our security, are rightly found only and completely in him.”

We cannot be well without the Savior at the center of our lives. Lost men are held in lonely bondage when He is not enthroned in them. Saved men are rendered senseless – absent from their true purpose of love – working as Heaven’s hands, feet and voices to rescue others.

Someday soon the response of Heaven will show that they understand God’s patience with men. We will not fret about God’s patience with evil. We will know that God was RIGHT … even to put witnesses in the killing fields – that some souls would be harvested to GLORY. My God values the eternal life of the lost of the earth more than He values the comfort of the saved. Watching as His creation kicks and pulls away to its own destruction is no easier for Him than for any parent – it is agony. If it doesn’t hurt US, we may have lost our hearing… the sound of the hoof beats is approaching. Why is God patient with the evils of our world? Ask any parent what length they would go to in order to bring their straying child back home.”

The End of the World: "Round One of Judgment" – Revelation 6

In 1898, America was in the grips of the Spanish-American War, though its troops were decimated after the Civil War thirty years before.  The United States Army enacted the “First United States Volunteer Cavalry” that history would remember as “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.” President William McKinley called upon their 1,250 volunteers to fight in the Cuban war for independence. The Rough Riders were comprised of native Americans, college athletes, cowboys, and ranchers. One of the training exercises that Buffalo Billl used in his wild west show years later was attributed to Roosevelt and the Riders. The men were to form a line and charge on horseback over the barricade of the enemy lines, firing from their pistols in both directions. It had both the unnerving effect of collapsing a barricade wall and starling the men inside their fortification, causing them to scatter. The resulting dust and dirt, along with the confusion, often meant the enemy ended up shooting many of his own in friendly fire confusion. The men would approach at high speed, and just before breaking over the wall, they would cry out, according to some scholars, something like: “Incoming rider!”

Today, I want to move our eyes from Heaven to the earth, and charging the barricades of mankind, a wave of attacking “incoming riders” pummeled the earth. They were not sent by President McKinley – but by the Creator of the Universe. We begin to look at the period in the book Bible students call “The Great Tribulation”.

The writings of the Apostle John are structured in specific plans. His recorded Gospel included seven “I Am” statements of Jesus, along with seven “I Do” miracles of Jesus to give evidence to His Divine claim. In this book, their appear to be seven views of Heaven, along with seven views of earth and its activities. In the opening chapter of Revelation, we saw the first EARTH SHOT, with John on a penal colony island called Patmos, when Jesus appeared before him. The earthly view continued through chapters two and three – as John wrote down letters from Jesus to the seven churches of western Asia Minor, addressing them in the order of the ancient postal route.

By chapters four and five, our eyes were moved from the first view of Earth to our first view of Heaven. John was pulled into the magnificent throne room scene we have been reveling in for two lessons – one in Revelation 4 and one in Revelation 5. In that first HEAVEN SHOT, we saw seven personages in the almost indescribable throne room: 1. John; 2. Father on Throne; 3. 24 Elders: Representative, regal (stephanos), redeemed and resurrected; 4. Seven spirits; 5. Four seraphim; 6. Michael (5:2 cp. Dam 12:1) ; 7. Lion – lamb

Heaven froze for a moment when a great question pealed through the throne room: “Who has attained the right to open the scroll of the end?” John wept, and an elder corrected him for doing so. Gazing to one who stood before the believers near the throne, a wounded Lamb cames forth to open the scrolls and unfold the time of the three profound waves of judgment shared carefully in chapters 6-19. The scroll contained the three judgments of the Tribulation Period, called “The Seal Judgments” (Revelation 6:1-7:3 and 8:1), “The Trumpet Judgments” (Revelation 8:6-9:15 and 11:15) and finally “The Bowl or Vial Judgments” (Revelation 16).

Why did God tell us about the coming judgment in such detail? There are multiple reasons. First, God wanted people who pass into these events as witnesses, to have God’s Word as evidence of the events surrounding them to increase the effectiveness of their witness. Second, believers down through the ages – just like you and I – need the ability to keep the end in view.

Key Principle: God pulled back the curtain of the future to change the way we live in the lost world today.

Look at the story of the Seal judgments:

The First Seal—Dominator

6:1 Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” 2 I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

When the first seal was opened, the THUNDEROUS sound of one of the four living creatures peeled loudly – COME. One was being ordered out of the midst of all others. He was a Conqueror, but not the Rightful Righteous Lord of Creation. Both Jesus and this conqueror are introduced as garnering a white horse – Jesus (in Revelation 19:11) and this conqueror. It is as though this one WANTED to look like the Savior, but he was not. The details would not escape anyone in the Roman period, as the Roman populace was familiar with the POMPA Processions of Caesar after a conquest. In ancient Rome, the pompa circensis (“circus parade”) was the official procession to the ludi (“sponsored games”) held in the circus as part of religious festivals and commemorative occasions. Julius Caesar added to the imagery by joining the procession – usually in a chariot drawn by a white horse with a crown held above him and an archer beside (an addition to the simple rider on a white horse). The route of the procession was added to and adjusted over the next one hundred years, but by the time of John, such processions were commonplace and as well known as fireworks on the fourth of July. The procession meant a conquering hero, celebrated by the crowds for a new area brought under Roman rule. Here it is a conqueror, called out to destroy and take captives. He comes with a bow, but no arrows – suggesting he expanded his acquisitions without the use of force – by treaty.

Clearly the one was CALLED by the Living Creature, and the victor crown (stephanos) was given to him – God GAVE him authority. Why do I say “God gave it to him!” ? Look at Revelation 17:17 “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” God will directly or indirectly convince some of the the rulers of the world to give a pact of power to the conqueror. In my view, this one is the Antichrist – a figure familiar from both Daniel and 2 Thessalonians as well as Revelation 13, 17 and 18. We will take more time to investigate his workings in another study – he will take some time. For the moment, just remember this: When the church is removed, the trouble starts when the Antichrist makes an agreement and gains power. We’ll call him the “Dominator”.

The Second Seal—Division

6:3 When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” 4 And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.

In the wake of the Dominator, comes the reaction of the world in Division, as the red horse was called and dispatched. Though the dominator comes with a covenant of peace, not everyone is content with that peace. In fact, the stirring of the world pot comes from on High. The RED HORSE is reminiscent of Mars, the god of war. Remember, the Romans called themselves “sons of Mars” since the War god was the mythical father of Romulus and Remus – the founders of Rome.

At the point that the Dominator makes a treaty, the church is already gone. The Biblical world view is all but a memory for most in power. The message of Jesus becomes totally passé – a relic of failed western powers. The work of the Spirit – the Comforter and Restrainer is no longer commonplace. Brutality and hatred become the order of the day. The family bonds disintegrate. There is confusion, chaos and conquest by sword – as the earth finds itself unable to work out problems peacefully.

The Third Seal—Depravation

6:5 When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.

The black horse is summoned to inflict the earth, as a blistering time of economic disaster and starvation spreads across the world. The ability to exchange, buy and sell represented in the scales of the Roman market show scarcity. A measure (khoy’-nix: less than a quart of dry measure) of wheat or three measures of barley will be measured against a Roman coin worth 53 grams of silver – a common designation for the standard day’s wage for a Roman soldier by the early first century. In essence, during the tribulation scarcity will force a full day’s labor just to cover the cost of that day’s bread. If that seems strange to you, more than one third of the world is living in this situation RIGHT NOW.

Great protection seems to be afforded the “oil and wine”. Whether these are LUXURIES or a reference to HEALING DRUGS is uncertain. What is certain is that the horseman was told not to be careless with these items.

The Fourth Seal—Death

6:7 When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” 8 I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

The fourth horseman was summoned to break forth onto the earth. He was simply called DEATH. He was “pale” (“chloros” from Greek word that underlies both chlorine and chlorophyll today. It is a pallor of ghastly green … like a rotten and decaying body. At his arrival, one fourth of the world’s population will succumb to death. If it were today, that would be “one and three quarter billion” people. That would equal ALL of modern China PLUS all of the US. They will die of WAR, FAMINE and some of even “natural” means – like living beasts or organisms.

  • Dr. Frank Holtman, Univ. of Tennessee’s bacteriological department said, “While the greater part of a city’s population could be destroyed by an atomic bomb, the bacteria method might easily wipe out the entire population of the earth within a week’s time.”
  • George Borgstrom in Hungry Planet said, “It is sobering to realize that no part of the world, in the event of serious crop failure, is more than 1 year away from critical starvation. And even in the rich United States, with all it’s surpluses, we are not more than 2 years away.” (from Pastor Jerry Shirley at Sermon Central illustrations).

The Fifth Seal—Doubt

6:9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

The fifth seal was broken and this time no horseman roared forth. No Living Creature thundered. All that was heard was a loud group of voices asking in harmony a single question. They were found beneath the altar in the Heavenly Temple –  a place where ashes fell in a sacrifice. They wanted to understand something about God’s plan. They wanted to know HOW LONG it would be until their cruel martyrdoms were remembered! They were affirmed when they were given white robes – a representation of their judgment as “righteous” and then told to be still for yet a little while – the killing fields were not yet full. We will be looking at these dear future brothers and sisters in our next study, but let me only remind you of this one truth: God values the eternal life of the lost of the earth more than He values the comfort of the saved. If that were not true, Christianity would lack not only martyrs – but missionaries. He has asked you to GIVE YOUR LIFE for the Gospel, whether in service or in sacrifice. That is not a theory – that’s in daily choices of our obedience.

The Sixth Seal—Destruction

6:12 I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?

The sixth seal seems to unleash at least three types of destruction: first, the earth’s crust is moving; second, the sky is darkened with particles that block the sun and discolor the moon’s glow; third, a pummeling from the heavens of what appear to be heavenly bodies. This may be atomic war and its reaction, or a God ordained natural phenomenon – there is no way to really tell. What is clear is that it causes DREAD and people seek SHELTERS below ground – consistent with either scenario. The destruction appears to FOLLOW the mass death of the fourth seal, and may add to that fraction of one fourth.

Before the seventh seal, there was a regressive look at some people God wanted to protect in chapter 7– His holy witnesses – but we will look at more thoroughly in our next study. For now, keep reading and we will see the seventh seal emerge

The Seventh Seal – Distribution

Revelation 8:1 When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.

The last seal was opened and SILENCE fell upon Heaven. No more stars were cast to the earth. There was a time of calm. All heaven awaited God’s next move. Seven trumpets were handed out – they were to be the next round of devastating judgment – worse than what we have just seen.

The second EARTH SHOT that began in Heaven as the scrolls were opened and judgments leapt to the earth in the form of “Incoming Riders” – ended in a massive physical and environmental disruption that caused men to move to shelters below ground. By that time the church was already removed from earth, and the restraining influence she had before was removed from the ethical debates, the political parties and the educational tenets. God’s representatives on the earth were removed in a moment – leaving a Christ-less world to imagine its own moral standards.

Jesus warned in Matthew 24:21 “Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world, unto this time, no, nor ever shall be.”

Think of all the pictures and videos of wars you have ever seen! Peel open books on the trenches of the WWI. Look at the Time photo series of the aftermath of death camps and bombing blitzes of WWII. Gaze into burned out tanks in the Iraqi desert and look at the destroyed bits of an Afghani cave. Follow the images of swollen bellied children and the leveled earth in a tsunami aftermath. Think of human atrocities that have become part of human history from the time of Adam and Eve until today…and Jesus said none of it compares to what the world is about to experience in The Great Tribulation.

What is the unbeliever’s response to this message? Consider this: God takes no delight in pummeling His Creation. He will violently take back what has defected away in self centered mutiny. At the same time, you should know the truth – God is not WEAK and He is not UNENGAGED with your affairs. He knows you and I. He knows what we are doing. Let me say it plainly: The purpose of history is for God to tell HIS STORY – Who He really is – and He is not the “mamby pamby” harmless chaplain “do gooder” above that He has been played out to be – an emasculated and harmless dotty old man in the sky.

He is the God of the Prophet Nahum:

Nahum 1:7 The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him. 8 But with an overflowing flood He will make a complete end of its site, and will pursue His enemies into darkness. 9 Whatever men devise against the LORD, He will make a complete end of it. Distress will not rise up twice.

Why does God tell us this? Because of His nature… Nahum 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet.

But that is not the only person that needs to hear about the end. What about the believer? As we look over the edge and peer into the end, what is the believer’s response to the end times prophecy that we are looking at? First, we should be able to identify both the descent into paganism of our world. Second, we should be able to spot the apostasy of the church around the world.  We must be able to pick out the changes from the small to the great. We must be vigilant but not caustic and negative. We are not the people of NO!

How do we keep from such negativity?

  • We rely on the magnificent power of God! No church can defeat the enemy. No parent can fell him. No country can destroy him. God, and God alone has put the end of the evil one in His plan. When we are discouraged by his inroads and advances, we fall back into the arms of our God and remember that He is inside us and He is greater in power.
  • We stand wholly on the absolute truth of the Word of God. It isn’t theory, it is God’s practical letter of what He wanted us to know. We learn it, memorize it, study it and measure all ideas and ethics against its timeless truths. We examine the message of naysayers, but don’t entertain their criticisms as equal to God’s Holy Word. We learn truth and answer compromise and deception with truth.
  • We rest in the peace of the Holy Spirit – for God is not caught off guard in the rising tide of evil in our world. In the midst of sharply learning His Word, we don’t become ungracious or unduly aggressive. People are the object of God’s affection, not an argument to win or a project to be brought in line.
  • We practice a circumspect faith – that is we look at what God is doing in many places, not just keep out eye on evil and its advance. The sun may be setting in some parts of the west, but God is raising that same sun in powerful ways in parts of the east. We look at the whole board – not just our part of it. When God raises Japanese believers by the hundreds to take the Gospel to the lost of Asia, we celebrate their valor and applaud their faithfulness.
  • We practice a tough faith –one that is joyful (trusting God) and resilient rather than defensive and angry. We don’t try to argue people into the Kingdom – but that simply won’t work. We don’t gripe at every wave of immoral legislation that afflicts our once more Biblical founded country – we challenge false ideas with truth and live in such a winsome way that people desire to hear our answers.
  • We make it our increasing priority to keep the end in front of us – shaking us out of the lulling influences of our own comfort. Jesus is coming soon. All pleasures of earth are fleeting. This devastating and deceptive idea that we should engage in every pleasure possible rather than sharing Jesus with others is challenged in our minds and hearts. Our lives are NOT just about our families – they are about a lost world and a coming Christ. Our work is NOT just about our provision – it is about sourcing God’s Kingdom.
  • We face the reality that time is running out and plan to make a difference daily among unbelievers – showing love in practical ways, while learning and using new ways to make the Gospel plain. We don’t keep believing that we will do it when it seems convenient – because we know the master deceiver will always place an obstacle. We will open our mouths today for our Savior, for the eastern sky is gathering its clouds soon.
  • We keep our eyes on the long view – the eternal perspective. We talk about Heaven, and share about the joys Jesus is preparing for us already. We know that it is a certainty of the next like, but we don’t try to make life HERE and NOW into Heaven. We KNOW that No election will stop the Gospel. No political move will change the sinfulness of men. We participate that we might be faithful to HIM, not that we may fix the problems with political solutions. We also know that some things won’t happen until we finally reach our homes. We fight injustice, but we know that it will not be defeated until the King clears it all away.
  • We pray more and more for the work of God in our families, our church and our community. We know that God has called us to ask Him for His enabling. We cannot plan our way into growing a healthy church without praying all the way through each step of the plan. We don’t want to simply teach about prayer, admonish people about prayer, talk about prayer, share about prayer… we need to PRAY! Our families, our church, our community, our county, our State and our nation are our opportunity to collaborate with God’s Spirit and prayerfully and dependently push ahead in love.
  • We spend more time practicing righteousness and supporting righteousness than complaining about unrighteous deeds of those around us in the world. The world doesn’t understand moral thinking and doesn’t care what we don’t agree with – they want to freedom to destroy marriage – though they lack the ability to pay the bill for broken homes and they lack to understand to deal with the tsunami of broken children coming from them. They want to freedom to destroy purity – though they have no idea how to cope with the devastating emotional fallout of the brutal families that emerge from the lust-fest. We MUST live differently, or we blunt our message and silence our advance.

In the end, We are God’s church. We are the Body of Christ – the hands and feet to this time and this place. We are called to worship deeply, surrender thoroughly, pray fervently, love sacrificially,  and hope unflinchingly. We are God’s church – and He isn’t done with us until the door to Heaven opens. We cannot rest in the warmth of luxury while the neighbors home is consumed in blazing flames. We can do more, we must do more and we will do more… by God’s grace and in God’s power. God pulled back the curtain of the future to change the way we live in the lost world today.

The End of the World: “The Quiet Power” – Revelation 5

When I was young, we used to watch the original series “Kung Fu” with David Carradine. A TV series of the early 1970s, the story followed the wandering travels of a Shaolin monk named Kwai Chang Caine. This monk traveled the American West in the time of the cowboys, armed only with his spiritual training and his skill in martial arts. The journey was driven by Caine’s search for his half-brother in a west that held only disdain for the Chinamen that built the railroads for the great rail companies of yesteryear. What impressed me most about the part that Caine played was his “quiet power” – in the simple robes of this humble spirited monk lay the power of a mighty warrior. In virtually every episode, Caine was sorely provoked by men who were entirely unsuspecting of his power – until his feet and hands were released to form an unstoppable force. His patience was mistaken for impotence- until he showed the truth.

There is a scene in the book of Revelation that is just as surprising as Caine breaking into a fight before the dull sensed cowboys of the old west… it is found in Revelation 5. In that room, a lamb that was wounded and abused by Creation begins to roar like a full grown and massive lion. The time for evil’s victory was about to be crushed. The High King of Heaven had been patient long enough. It is a story of encouragement.

Key Principle: There is a reason to hold up our heads in the midst of a rising tide of darkness – it is temporary and our Savior’s victory is secure. It has already been revealed!

I confess that I am not rushing to Revelation 6 to get to the juicy details of the earth’s pummeling… I am walking deliberately through this passage concerning Heaven. We are in no rush, because there are profound lessons in Heaven’s throne room Heaven is our HOPE and our PROMISE. It is our encouragement to live with light tracks on this earth – trusting in another place as our home. The great lessons of Heavenoffer the deepest encouragements – and secure God’s people through waves of darkness.

Surfers learn the rhythm of the waves of the sea. The worst thing a surfer can do when caught under the punishment of the down thrust of a powerful wave is PANIC. If they pull in their extremities, hold tightly their breath and wait… sometimes in what seems an eternity… the power of the thundering wave will pass by – and they will be able to make their way to the surface again.

In the same way, the Bible makes believers aware of times of evil domination, on our way to eventual righteous relief. I mention this because in my lifetime many believers have expressed increasing dismay at God’s patience with evil. They keep longing inside (and occasionally expressing outside) for overwhelming displays of God’s power so that people will see that WE are on the winning side. Strangely, God appears content, much of the time, with the appearance of weakness. How do we respond when it appears that evil is winning and most people are on evil’s side? How can we be encouraged when God appears weak in the face of profound and rising evil?

If these are your questions… you have found a place in God’s Word to draw encouragement! In the chapter before this one, John struggled as he described his view of Heaven  – beyond any words he could easily form or share. He saw the Most High God, seated on the throne at the center of the Heavenly throne room. He sat unchallenged and unmatched as the Supreme Ruler of all the universe. All might, power and authority emanated from that single place. Surrounding that throne were four strange looking living beings that John could not adequately describe from within his own earthly experience. He encountered the believers of the church age, fresh from their Bema seat of judgment – and experienced worship that overwhelmed his senses! He continued in the description of this passage with a series of encouraging words:

Encouragement #1 (5:1): God alone will initiate final judgment.

Revelation 5:1 I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.

The plan is in God’s hand of authority. Man will not define the final steps of the planet, nor determine the timing and method of the end – it comes from the only wise God, perfect in knowledge. The scroll of history is detailed (wrote before and behind) with much information. Note also it is multiply sealed awaiting God’s move in time and God’s appointed opener.

The term for the scroll (βιβλίον) simply means a roll, scroll, or volume. It is variously used: (a) to denote Torah law, Hebrews 9:19, 10:7; (b) the Book of Life, Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 21:27; (c) the Seven Letters, Revelation 1:11; (d) certain legal documents, as a bill of divorce, Matthew 19:7; Mark 10:4.

Note the similarity to another prophetic scroll described in the prophet Ezekiel’s commissioning scroll: Ezekiel 2:8 “Now you, son of man, listen to what I am speaking to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.” 9 Then I looked, and behold, a hand was extended to me; and lo, a scroll was in it. 10 When He spread it out before me, it was written on the front and back, and written on it were lamentations, mourning and woe. 3:1 Then He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and He fed me this scroll. 3 He said to me, “Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.” Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth. 4 Then He said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them.

The obvious conclusion is that the scroll is a legal document that is owned by God. In the coming chapter, we will see a correlation between opening the seals of the document, and judgments that are declared upon the earth. This scroll was evidently the things which “would shortly come to pass” in Revelation 1:19 – but they could not come to pass before the judgment against the earth was fulfilled. God wouldn’t keep going with things as they were – but demanded legal judgment to be levied. Why do we consider this judgment idea an encouragement? Because God is in control:

  • Man can’t force God’s hand into doing things – we need to humbly bow to Him Who is on the throne. The end is not focused on man and his sinfulness, but on God and His Righteousness. As we study the book, we must constantly remind ourselves that we are to understand Jesus better – the book reveals HIM as well as the future.
  • Man cannot unlock all the details of the Word’s final judgments – we need to be humble in our pronouncements of understanding of the coming writings of the book. As we study the book, we must admit that we know only what God has revealed – and that is limited by the words and our comprehension of them. The big parts of the truth are not so much in question, but beyond the largest fixtures revealed we must be careful not to arrogantly assert that we understand all that is contained therein. It is ok to admit we don’t see it all clearly!

Consider the words of the Bible commentator Matthew Henry: “We need not weep that we cannot foresee future events respecting ourselves in this world; the eager expectation of future prospects, or the foresight of future calamities, would alike unfit us for present duties and conflicts, or render our prosperous days distressing. Yet we may desire to learn, from the promises and prophecies of Scripture, what will be the final event to believers and to the church; and the Incarnate Son has prevailed, that we should learn all that we need to know.

There is one over-riding fact that offers both comfort to the afflicted and courage to the broken… there IS a scroll. There IS a plan. It resides for the moment in the right hand of the Master of the throne room. Soon it will open because of the gentle tug of a bloodied lamb. Seals will break open. The end will come. There IS a plan, and there IS One worthy to complete its final demands. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock I stand… all other ground is sinking sand.”

Take courage, dear friend. Man will not pollute the planet into oblivion. The Mayan calendar notwithstanding – no “natural” calamity will cause the destruction of this beautiful and fascinating planet. God will determine the end of time, just as He did the beginning of it. It is a true statement: “Our times are in HIS HANDS”.

Encouragement #2 (5:2-5): God has deemed worthy an agent to bring final judgment.

Revelation 5:2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. 4 Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; 5 and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”

God has chosen the right person to bring about the end.  The specific agent God will employ to finish human history is the very One that redeemed man – the Messiah. His intimate knowledge of the struggle of physical life amid the fallen system under the wicked prince and his minions uniquely qualifies Him. His perfect sacrifice on behalf of fallen men uniquely qualifies Him. His intimate bonding of Heaven and earth as God-man uniquely qualifies Him. In other words, it is not only God that finishes the program, but God does so through His Son – He who died to purchase fallen and estranged Creation.

When we read carefully verse two, the question is not “Who should reveal the destinies of God’s people?” Rather the question is this: “Who has the Divinely ascribed POSITION to initiate judgment and thereby open the future of creation?” The answer is offered by a knowledgeable elder of the room: “Jesus the Messiah, called the lion of the tribe of Judah, alluding to Jacob’s prophecy (Gen. 49:9-10).

Genesis 49:9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? 10“ The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

Jacob foretold that One of Judah would bring judgment. He would wait patiently as a lion waits. The line of rulers would be long, but the scepter would be passed into the Lion’s hands. He would eventually show up, and people would obey Him. Keep your eyes on the skies… for this is on its way.

At that time in the passage, a problem arose: John began to weep because it appeared no one was worthy to open the scrolls. He knew HE was not worthy. He was drawn in to the scene as we can be tear-filled in a sad movie – he could not help the scene, but he hurt over it. As he wept, he was told there was a CONQUEROR – an overcoming lion. He turned to look for this Great One, but what he saw was something other than he anticipated… a wound filled lamb. One that bore the marks of slaughterers upon Him.

Pastor Rodney Buchanan wrote it well: “John immediately turns to see this great lion that has just been described to him, but he does not see a lion. He sees a lamb. And not just any lamb, but one with death wounds. John can see the blood and the open wounds with which he has been inflicted. What a shock it must have been for John to look for this great lion who would rip the seals with his great claws, only to see a small wounded lamb. But it is the lamb who walks up to the One seated on the throne and takes the scroll. A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true. Here is a paradox. How can a lion be a lamb? The two are opposites. One is the hunter and the other the prey. One is placed in a cage with iron bars; the other in a petting zoo. (The answer lies in this one truth): God’s strength is disguised as weakness.”

God disguised His power many times! Don’t you recall how men treated the Messiah?

Matthew 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. 28 They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him… 35 And when they had crucified Him …38 At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.

Peter later boldly proclaimed after a man was healed in the Temple:  Acts 3:13 “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16 “And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.

Let me renew the question I posed earlier: “Why does God not simply WIN all the time? Why allow evil such a path of victory? Perhaps immediate victory does not suit His ultimate purpose… is that possible? Sure it is! Think of it this way… What if good always triumphed and doing the right always paid tremendous dividends? It seems obvious that most everyone would flock to God and follow him. At the same time, we must consider that people would come to God because it benefitted them personally – a selfish motivation. Would they love God for Who He is or for the benefits of standing beneath the warmth and light of His power? God’s weak appearance in the face of evil sifts out those who want to use God for their own purposes.

We may think of a small, young lamb as harmless – but not this One! Observe what happens when the Lamb opens the fifth seal: “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Revelation 6:15-17).

Don’t forget… His patience in opposing evil is a temporary condition. God has deemed One worthy to pull the judgment scroll open… and open it He will! Despite evil’s rage, judgment is coming. Wrong will be made right. Abusers of the weak will be held accountable. The power of the mighty will fail them before the Father’s ultimate power… God has chosen well the agent of the end.

Encouragement #3 (5:6-14): The Messiah’s visible qualities that show His entitlement will be completely understood.

Revelation 5:6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” 13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” 14 And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

People won’t second guess God when they see His judgment. When John tightened his focus on the qualities of the Son that made Him the righteous choice (worthy to open the scroll with seven seals) – it became OBVIOUS that He alone was the right choice to do so.

  • First, He stood as the intermediary between the throne of God and the elders – the mediator of the saved. Revelation 5:6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing…
  • Second, He appeared with the wounds of payment – a lamb slain. Revelation 5:6b “…as if slain…”
  • Third, He appeared in full and complete authorityhorns denoted full authority. Revelation 5:6b “…having seven horns…”
  • Fourth, He was fully encompassed by and in harmony with the Spirit of God –minutely aware of the happenings of the earth. Jesus (who began the story in Colossians 1:16-17) paid for the right to finish the story. Jesus was granted all authority from His Father to do so after His act of obedience (Matthew 28:18). Revelation 5:6b “…seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.”
  • Fifth, He knew His role, and at the appointed time – He took the scroll to unfold it. Revelation 5:7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.”
  • Sixth, all Creation acknowledged the choice God made in giving Him the scroll – no one opposed His claim. This included the Elders (5:8-10), the angelic host (5:11-12), every created being in Heaven, earth, beneath the earth, on the sea and from beneath the sea (5:13-14)!

The lamb stood alone at His beating. He was nailed alone at the Cross. He had no one intervene on His behalf…. And one day soon, He will stand alone as JUDGE. It is the reason He stood silent before his captors.

His humility was born out of confidence in the truth… and so it YOURS. He could be silent for a time when He knew the end of all things…. And so can YOU! We don’t have to WIN right now, because He will win for us in the days ahead. Sometimes we look around at the world and it seems like evil is winning, but we forget that God has the scroll, and He wins in the end. God is in control. Current appearances are deceiving.

On October 30, 1974, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman squared off in the boxing ring in Zaire. Ali had dubbed it “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Foreman was heavily favored, and considered the hardest puncher in heavyweight history. Ali did something in that fight that no other fighter had ever dared to try. He held up his arms against his face and leaned back against the ropes allowing Foreman to punch away at him for eight rounds. The strongest boxer in history beat on Ali until he could punch no more. When the right moment came, Ali bounced off the ropes and knocked out Foremen, sending him into retirement. Ali called his technique “rope-a-dope.” Even though it looked like he was losing the fight, and losing badly, he was in control the whole time. He took all those punches because he knew he would deliver the final blow.” It appears as though God may be using Ali’s “rope-a-dope” technique on the evil world and its prince of darkness.  (Rodney Buchanan, Sermon Central illustrations).

God need not be overly interested in appearances today – because the power of evil is only a fleeting illusion. God deals in the REAL.  Consider this: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. . . . But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27-29).

Look closely at the bill of goods evil is serving – its ultimate power is only an illusion. It is a counterfeit power. The Lion stands at the ready to emerge and bellow its roar. Read the end…The Lamb wins. There is a reason to hold up our heads in the midst of a rising tide of darkness – it is temporary and our Savior’s victory is secure.

The End of the World: “A Pilgrim’s Promise”- Revelation 4

Did you know…“Nearly nine out of 10 people in the United States say they believe in heaven, according to a recent ABC News poll.” The pollster went on to ask this: “But what exactly do people think of when they think of an afterlife and what do they believe is required to get there?” …Isn’t it interesting that people believe in the PLACE but struggle with the DOOR. It has always been that way.

Never out of print since its first publishing in 1678, one of the very important pieces of English literature from the jailed John Bunyan, was The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come. John was persecuted for meeting with other believers – that put him at odds with the ruling Church of England. From his cell, he wrote… The story was written as a Christian allegory divided into two parts – the first part released in February 1678, and a second Part in 1684. The story opens with the main character named “Christian” and records his journey from his hometown to the “Celestial city”. Christian travels weighed down by a great burden (the knowledge of his sin), exposed from his reading of “the book in his hand” (the Bible). Feeling lost, he is directed by once called “Evangelist” toward the light, and that requires the forsaking of family and friends – for they will not follow the directions given to him. Friends like Obstinate and Pliable go along to try to draw him back, but Christian refuses. He is stuck for a time in a bog, but Help rescues him. He is diverted for a time by “Mr. Worldly Wiseman” and his friends, but he continues toward his goal when Evangelist rescues him on the way to a self-righteous visit to Legality’s home.  Many other struggles ensue. One especially notable diversion was a time when Christian and a traveling companion called Hopeful met a lad named Ignorance, who believed that he would be allowed into the Celestial City through his own good deeds and not solely as a gift of God’s grace – a belief that caused Ignorance’s destruction. Crossing the dangerous Enchanted Ground and preparing for the River of Death, Christian makes his way, helped by Hopeful. The Second Part of is much more than a mere sequel to the earlier volume. This part was focused on the pilgrimage of Christian’s wife and their sons (along with a maiden named Mercy). The frailty of believers along the journey is explored as they struggle through the Christian life. On the whole, it is an excellent look into the walk of a believer from a time when the Christian world view was pervasive. Follow the story all the way through, and you will conclude that john Bunyan’s Christian believed the journey, with all its hardships, to be utterly worth it. He sacrificed, and was imperiled, but he always knew the journey was LEADING SOMEPLACE INCREDIBLE…. And so do believers that study God’s Word today.

Key Principle: Heaven is our encouragement through the storms of life. Its promises are rich and its coming is certain – because God told us about the place!

Heaven is not described many places in the Bible. Paul spoke of it in the context of the Jewish reflection of the three heavens: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago– whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows– such a man was caught up to the third heaven.” (2 Cor. 12:2).  The three included the firmament (atmospheric heaven), where such as the “fowls of the heaven” (Gen 2:19; 7:3, 7:23) dwell. It is this atmospheric heaven that is referred to as “with doors” – a natural expression of an agricultural society dependent upon the rain. In fact, one of the Hebrew words commonly used fro heaven is “shemayim”, which can be literally translated “there is water there”. Other terms like “shahak” are rendered in our English text as “sky” or “clouds”. Beyond that is the “starry heaven” (the astronomical heavens) where God spread out the planets (Deu 17:3; Jer 8:2; Mat 24:29). In that case, the Hebrew writer preferred the word “rakia” which was a term that referred to stretching out a tent as it was assembled and camp was set up. It is a great term, because it reflects how God looks at the world that He stretched out across the galaxies – a vast but temporary covering for the family of men. The “third heaven” is referred to as the Divine abode (Deu 10:14; Kg1 8:27; Psa 115:16; Psa 148:4; Co2 12:2).

It is the third Heaven we think of when we speak of the place today – the place of spiritual excitement and thrill of God’s magnificent presence. It is referred to as the place of “everlasting blessing”, but it also has many allusions in the Word:

  • Jesus referred to Heaven as a PLACE, not simply a “state of mind” as some suggest. He called it simply His “Father’s house” (John 14:2), “Paradise” (Luke 23:43) and the “kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 25:1). He mentioned amid His teachings that His followers will “sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and alludes to the place as “in Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22; Matthew 8:11).
  • The Apostles referred to the “eternal inheritance” (1 Peter 1:4; Hebrews 9:15), the “eternal kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11), the “better country” (Hebrews 11:14-16) and sometimes “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 3:12). The Apostles spoke of “reigning with Christ” (2 Timothy 2:12) and enjoying “rest” (Hebrews 4:10-11). The unending nature was often referred to in expressions like “life everlasting” and “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). The positive nature of the place was  underscored in references that it will be devoid of suffering  and evil (2 Corinthians 5:1-2) away from the wicked (2 Timothy 4:18) – a place of unending JOY (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 1 Peter 1:4, 5:10; 1 John 3:2).

“Six Encouragements from Heaven’s Gates”

Turn your eyes for a few moments to one of the great passages of Scripture that describes what is going on in the house of Jesus’ Father. It is the vast throne room of Heaven. To set the scene, we have dropped in after the believers in Jesus have been brought up to be with their Savior. The church’s work, as we saw in our last study, was completed. This is a glimpse forward in time, and the Father is receiving the praise of the Redeemed of the Church Age. The redeemed have been judged for their works as believers – and they are now in God’s presence – telling God that He has done all things well. Here is the description:

Encouragement number on is that Heaven is RESTRICTED – a place with a door.

It is a place one must ENTER, and that is by invitation. In John’s case, it is offered to him in order to give us a glimpse: Revelation 4:1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.

Why would a door on Heaven be an encouragement? Because Heaven is the place where God has limited the access to those He lets in. Wait, Pastor… shouldn’t we be MORE excited if it was the place for EVERYONE? I MEAN, IF God lets EVERYONE in… doesn’t that seem like a happier end to the story. That is what we are led to believe… the tolerance message has deeply scored even Jesus’ redeemed.

Clark H. Pinnock (1937—2010) was a Canadian theology professor and author who died last summer. In his book A Wideness in God’s Mercy, Pinnock contended for a position known as inclusivism. He wrote:

“…we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation [while they were alive on earth], though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound.” …”How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself.”

It sounds so cruel that God would do the things Pinnock charges. It seems so reasonable to the modern mind to simply scowl at verses in the Bible that suggest such things, relegating them to angry musings of ancient Jews. On closer inspection though, a moral system that precludes judgment is not a moral system at all. A moral system that offers no reward and no punishment is the socialist view of Heaven – everyone gets the same thing… no one is truly responsible for anything.

Consider this: What if you created an entire race of beings. What if you placed them in a beautiful place and offered them peace, blessing and a daily walk with you that would offer them wholeness and intimate security. What if they then decided to follow after one that hates you, and one that has created nothing but rebellion and evil. What if that one offered them victory, but delivered misery and servitude. What if he enslaved your creation…and it broke your heart.

What if you offered your most precious relationship – your only son – to go and pay for their rebellion with his own blood? What if you stood horrified as the object of your affection on earth was bruised, crushed and mistreated by those he came to offer a renewal of your love? What if he paid all the penalty of the rebellion for your lost creation through his perfect self-sacrifice?

Now fast forward. What if the creation decided it didn’t LIKE the gift you gave. What if they decided they had a better plan? What if their plan included religious invocations they made up, traditions they required obedience to that were not part of any requirement you gave them? What if they decided that your gift was not as good as what they could invent, and some who carried faithfully your message were tortured and killed by them. What if they wreaked havoc and evil and put your name on it. What if they openly lied about your Word and your promises – and blamed you for not letting them all have a free pass for their sin?(RS)

Consider these wise words: “Neither the Christian Ministry, nor the Christian church, are responsible for the doctrine of eternal perdition. It is given in charge to the ministry, and to the Church, by the Lord Christ Himself, in His last commission, as a truth to be preached to every creature.” William Shedd.

Heaven is a place God prepared for those who are DECLARED RIGHTEOUS found in His BOOK OF LIFE. Though many people have come to a belief that suggests they will be declared righteous because the DID MORE RIGHT THINGS THAN WRONG. John Bunyan personified that belief in his character IGNORANCE – believing he could EARN points to go to Heaven by doing right – but that isn’t God’s way to get there. They are simply ignorant of God’s Word. He has been clear.

I am encouraged that Heaven is a place with a DOOR, because Heaven’s owner has made clear how to enter. He wrote: 1 John 5:11-12: And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life. He said it is possible for us to lay our head down on our pillow and KNOW that we will be in Heaven – and it doesn’t depend on our GOOD DEEDS outweighing our bad ones. I am encouraged, and I can sleep better!

Second, Heaven is LASTING a place where the spiritual and eternal dimensions are the essence – not the physical and temporal.

Revelation 4:2 says: “ Immediately I was in the Spirit…” I am encouraged that though Heaven cannot be easily perceived by us in this world, it exists along with this world as a permanent and REAL place, with real occupants. I am encouraged that the physical world, with its pollution and decay is not the end of things. I am encouraged that this body that I live inside is not my final home. I am encouraged that Heaven offers me a NEW and LASTING PLACE, and its natural inhabitants are incredibly impressive when we get a glimpse. When the angels of the “Heavenly Host” were revealed to the shepherds at the announcement of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Heavenly beings were unmasked before men:

Third, Heaven is CLARIFYING – a place where God the Father shows a display of Who He is:

How exciting to know that the God of the Universe, to whom we have prayed and sought throughout this life, will be made plain right before us! Revelation 4:2b “…and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. (skip to verse 5)… 5 Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. 6 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal…”

Can you imagine this great appearance? God is personified upon Heaven’s throne. What He truly is cannot be grasped by man – but this is the image He chose to project of Himself. Look at this picture and smile. In our fallen world where evil rages and good men and women are mocked – in a world where the moral choices are weakening like ours, God alone will not cave in to popular opinion. He will not allow His integrity to slip and slide about.

  • God is good. He is distinct from any shadow of evil.
  • He is absolutely pure, and entirely distinct.
  • His power is unbounded (Pantokrator, translated “Almighty” is all-powerful).
  • He is always the God of NOW – He was and is, and is to come.
  • He does not change  and does not weaken.
  • He was at the beginning, and He will triumph over all  – the last One standing.
  • The Psalmist reminds that (Psa 45:6) “Thy throne, O God, [is] for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom [is] a right sceptre.
  • He is unmoved by winds of political fortune.
  • He is unshaken by the deeds of men.
  • He has set up and removed the rulers of kingdoms.
  • Men can swear He did not make them, and rather blame the universe on a biological accident.
  • Man can shake both his fists at the Almighty.
  • Man can hate and blame His church.
  • No matter – All will be righted before His throne. His throne is set on high!

Before we leave our gaze on Him, look at the “Crystal Sea” placed before the throne. It appeared to John to be a broad, flat and smooth place. The term translated SEA could also be a container – as the laver was called in Solomon’s Temple. It was like the large water container that stood before the inner building of the First Temple, just outside the porch of the Most Holy Place – a vast water pool now called a laver that was used to cleanse the priests. That same idea was later used in the imagery of the New Testament – a parallel use:

Eph 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (26) That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, (27) That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Surprisingly, the laver imagery was used in Ephesians as an image of the WORD OF GOD.  Here, John may be using the sea as a descriptive image (what it LOOKED LIKE)– but it may be that it is a symbolic one (AN IMAGE OF GOD”S WORD going out before His throne). Could it be that the THRONE of God was depicted as standing on the promises of God! Psalm 119:89 For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.

  • Remember this, when we stand before His throne – all doubt will vanish.
  • No more will God’s Word be debated and questioned.
  • Not one voice will dare mock, misquote or muzzle the Word of God – His throne is built upon it!

I love that about Heaven – it clarifies everything!

Fourth, Heaven is ENLIGHTENING – a place where the dark things of the Spirit of God are clearly seen in all the Spirit’s marvelous facets:

Standing before the throne of the Father is the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit. He has seven titles in Isaiah 11, all of which help turn on the light of God’s person and work. Rev. 4:5b “…And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;

Gaze at the lamps, the seven Spirits of God (cp. Isa. 11):

  • The Spirit of the LORD – the lamp that shows us God is our MASTER.
  • The Spirit of wisdom – the lamp that shows us how to LIVE for God.
  • The Spirit of understanding – the lamp that shows us how to DISCERN truth.
  • The Spirit of counsel – the lamp that offers DIRECTION amidst uncertain days.
  • The Spirit of strength – the lamp that pulls from God’s STRENGTH into our bodies.
  • The Spirit of knowledge –the lamp that makes CLEAR the unclear.
  • The Spirit of the fear of the LORD –the lamp that REMINDS us of God’s Holy fierceness.

Heaven lights up with truth flooded from the Spirit doing a work in us! Heaven is not darkness- it is light!

Fifth, Heaven is FOCUSED – a place where the Holy Seraphim cry out God’s Holiness continuously:

Listen to the sound of Heaven. It is not many voices shouting orders and running the universe. It is calm. It is singular. It is deliberate. The message is unmistakable…

4:6b “…and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7 The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.” 9 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,

Encircling the throne are four living beings (zôa- “living ones” –we derive our word “zoology” from this word). John finds these guardian voices intriguing. They are full of eyes indicating their ceaseless vigilance and intense intelligence. They have supernatural discernment… and they see in every direction…taking in God and everything else. Theologians suggest the four faces represent “the noblest, strongest, wisest and swiftest beings in nature”.

Angels were created before the earth, and sang at it’s creation (Job 38:4-7). They don’t die (Lk. 20:36), and there are a large number of them. (Dan. 7:10). They are considered a “higher form” than man. Note Heb. 2:6-7). They are primary servants of the throne room in heaven. (Isa. 6; Dan 7). They appear to be beings of hierarchy.

Now stop and listen: HOLY, HOLY, HOLY. A message intended to make God’s distinctiveness clear to all who stand before Him! All focus is on HIM!

Sixth, Heaven is a HAPPY – place where those who have been redeemed offer praise to the God that sent their Savior (4:9-11) and cast victory crowns to their Father who led them to overcome! (4:10):

4:4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads…10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Though the elders sit on thrones, God alone is the Sovereign of Heaven. Elders bow, fall before Him who sits on the throne. They are seen casting crowns – their life accomplishments before Him – and they are REJOICING AT THE PROSPECT! How different than this world where men strive to gain the treasures of accomplishment for themselves to be happy.

All Heaven showers praise on God because He is the center of everything. No matter how godless this world may seem – our God has a plan and He is working His plan out for His purpose. I said it in our last study, but it bears repeating on this final message in Revelation 4. Beloved, there is a day coming soon, when the next great move in the Heavens will change things dramatically here on earth. It is not EARTH that forces HEAVEN – it is the other way around. We are NOT primarily physical beings… we are spiritual beings. The physical world is the illusory one… it will vanish one day like a mirage on a hot roadway. I am not making it up… the Bible made it plain long ago. It is the HOPE of every believer. It is our SUSTAINING TRUTH… we are not at home here on this earth, and we need not feel like we have missed a thing when we turn from things offered here that would not delight our Savior.

  • We have a home.
  • We have a future.
  • No amount of suffering can take that from you.
  • No word of cancer can remove that solemn promise.
  • No painful rejection by one that you have faithfully loved can mar that reality.
  • Because we have a SAVIOR, we have a HOME.

Heaven is our encouragement through the storms of life. Its promises are rich and its coming is certain – because God told us about the place! Keep your eyes fixed above.

The End of the World: “We Shall Behold Him” – Revelation 4

Prop the door open to Heaven, and excitement spills out! Sometimes only a song writer can capture the truth in a way that stirs us deep within! Listen to the words:

The sky shall unfold, preparing His entrance. The stars shall applaud Him, with thunders of praise. The sweet light in His eyes, shall enhance those awaiting, and we shall behold Him, then face to face! The angel will sound, the shout of His coming, and the sleeping shall rise, from there slumbering place. Then those who remain, they shall be changed in a moment… and we shall behold Him, then face to face! O we shall behold Him, we shall behold Him, face to face in all of His glory! O we shall behold Him, yes we shall behold Him, face to face, our Savior and Lord! (written by Dottie Rambo, sung by virtually everybody!)

Another Gospel song writer wrote of his own experience in Heaven through the eyes of a dream:

I dreamed of a city called Glory. It was so bright and so fair! As I entered that gate, I cried “holy!” All the angels met with me there. They carried me from mansion to mansion, and oh, all the sights I saw… but I said “I want to see Jesus! He’s the One who died for all!” When I entered the gates of the city, my Loved ones all knew me well! They took me down the streets of heaven. All the saints… were too many to tell! I saw Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. I talked with Mark, sat down with Timothy… but then I said, “I want to see Jesus… for He’s the One who died for me!” I bowed on my knees and cried “Holy!” I clapped my hands and sang “Glory! Glory to the Son of God!” (Words and music by Jimmie Davis).

For the follower of Jesus –  there is a day coming soon, when the next great move in the Heavens will change things dramatically here on earth. It is not EARTH that forces HEAVEN – it is the other way around. We are NOT primarily physical beings… we are spiritual beings. The physical world is the illusory one… it will vanish one day like a mirage on a hot roadway. I am not making it up… the Bible made it plain long ago. It is the HOPE of every believer. It is our SUSTAINING TRUTH… we are not at home here on this earth, and we need not feel like we have missed a thing when we turn from things offered here that would not delight our Savior.

  • We have a home.
  • We have a future.
  • No amount of suffering can take that from you.
  • No word of cancer can remove that solemn promise.
  • No painful rejection by one that you have faithfully loved can mar that reality.
  • Because we have a SAVIOR, we have a HOME.

Key Principle: God told us what is next for us. We are headed HOME! No matter what the world does to us, no mater how hard life appears – it is temporary here.

John saw it. He walked there in his spirit. He revealed it by the permission of our Savior…. And God carefully preserved it since the first century when it was written down in a penal colony in the middle of the Aegean Sea. He recorded it in the fourth chapter of Revelation:

Revelation 4:1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.”

Don’t skip the truths in the midst of the excitement of the passage. John looked UP. He heard a voice, but it was the sound like a TRUMPET. The believer that was here on the earth – the writer who informed us of the seven churches that were offering a testimony of Jesus Christ, spread in different cities of the world of his time, now saw what was to come after the church’s mission was over. He had been told what to write in Revelation 1:19. He was to write about the brilliant and unmatched vision of the Risen Savior. That is what the church of Jesus needs today – a clear view of the Risen, powerful, majestic ruler of our lives. He is not just JESUS – He is God the Son – Master of my heart. If the church can embrace that one truth now, we will live differently than the world about us, not because of a LIST, but because of a dynamic relationship with a LIVING. RISEN and EMPOWERING CHRIST.

Next, John was told to write to a cyclical letter God’s church. It included encouragement, but it included sharp warnings to walk with God. Chapters two and three are filled with God’s desires to reach lost people through the espoused bride of the Son, that awaits the trumpet call for her wedding. Now, finally… we enter the last part of the Book of Revelation, where John was commanded to write the things which come “meta tauta” (literally “after the things which are”) – the story of God’s next step after the church’s flawed but essential work was complete.

Don’t skip the timing of these things… it was after the church had run her course. Don’t skip the place of this… it was from Heaven above. Don’t skip the last words of the verse… WHAT WAS UNFOLDING MUST TAKE PLACE after the church did her work.

When you look carefully at Revelation 4:1, you recognize the passage tells us that a door opened in Heaven – initiated by the owner of the Celestial city –  a “trumpet sounding call” beckoned the believer who was recording the vision upward – and the room he entered was clearly the very throne room of the God of the Ages.

God is not aloof, and He is not unaware of our situation. God is not responsive to what man is doing, the plan is in His hand – not ours. The next great move, when the church has completed her work, is His to initiate. Heaven’s doors open when Heaven’s king opens them.

This vision of John wasn’t completely strange news to the believers of the first century. The Apostle Paul apparently had the experience of going to Heaven in his spirit (which, by the way, is the way we will all go!). In 2 Corinthians 12:2 he wrote “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven.”

On first glance it looks like Paul was speaking of someone other than himself, but most students of Scripture accept that Paul is writing about his own experience either on the road to Damascus years before (Acts 9:1-9, 22:6-11) or subsequently. Paul asserted the claim that he had seen the risen Christ both in his conversion and in his training (1 Cor. 15:1-10, cf. Gal 1:12). Not to get off track, but… Why didn’t he just say it was HIM who went to Heaven? There is a simple explanation. Because the church at Corinth was being bombarded with questions concerning Paul’s real authority in his absence from them (1 Cor. 9:1-14, 2 Cor. 10-11) and the questions were being fired by those who claimed intimate spiritual revelation through ecstatic experiences (see 1 Cor. 3, 4 and 12). Paul was cautious about using his experience to assert authority, though he seems to admit he was this man (12:7 “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!).

Not only was the idea of glimpsing into Heaven not new, but the idea that Heaven would invite believers to the open door was also not new. Again, God used Paul to explain how believers were gathered into the throne room of God from the churches around the globe. Paul was writing his first Epistle that God put within the Christian Scriptures – the First Letter to the Thessalonians. Paul was in his mid-forties, and his writing career was a response to the problems he encountered in the second mission journey, recorded in Acts 15-18. Paul was forcibly removed from Thessaloniki and later dislodged from Berea by attackers, and he fled the believers before he was assured of their strong foundation in Christ.

To that church he offered what became the first three chapters of the letter – a short autobiographical note of what God was doing with him (1 Thess. 1-3). In the last section of the letter (1 Thess. 4-5), Paul offered a series of instruction on the difference between a believer and a non-believer in their actions and world view. Three important instructions were made plain:

  • Believers should be characterized by a life of sexual purity. In an Empire that was rife with sexual perversion, legal prostitution and public degradation – believers should stand out. They should stand out in their speech about sex, their loving and enduring marriages, their faithfulness to their covenants and their spouses. Real love is PURE love (1 Thess. 4:1-10), Paul argued.
  • In the same way, believers should be characterized by faithful and constant attentiveness to their work on their job. They were to work to care for their own needs, and not seek the benefits of the government or others in the society. They were to be GIVERS and not TAKERS (1 Thess. 4:11-12).
  • Finally, believers were to be characterized by a whole different view of DEATH. They were allowed to sorrow and mourn, but not like people in the world. They were to understand that those who died in Christ were not DISADVANTAGED. They were not “MISSING OUT” on life – they were living the BEST life. Here is what Paul shared:

1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. …15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”

Did you hear that? The VOICE of the Archangel sounds like what musical announcing instrument? That’s right – a TRUMPET. Paul recorded that a trumpet voice, an archangel voice will someday – maybe today – sound aloud. The bodies of those who have died having received Jesus as Savior while on earth will come up from the earth. The matter of the bodies will somehow Divinely be reformed and repatriated to the spirit that has dwelt with the Lord since they left the earth.

When a man or woman who has trusted the work of Jesus on the Cross for salvation dies he or she is “absent from the body” but his spirit is consciously in the present of Jesus (2 Cor. 5:8). They await the restoration of a body – but a resurrected body devoid of the ravages of the sin nature and its effects. They get the body that was theirs in the heart of God before the Fall in the Garden ever occurred. It is a perfect, new version of them. Same personality – different nature.

God back to John’s description in Revelation 4:1. He is called up to Heaven the way we will be called there. He is an “advance man” that tells us what will happen on our arrival.

Revelation, as a letter, was an experience out of its TIME. God allowed John to do what you and I will do, but to do it in the Spirit BEFORE, so that the future will be familiar if we take the time to study it, and be blessed by it (Rev. 1:3). Look at what John saw, and we will see ‘WHEN’ in the future he dropped into the scene:

Revelation 4:2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

Before we move to far into the throne room, it is possible to know at what point in the story of God’s redemption of man we have locked on. John enters to worship already going on. John enters a program already in progress… First, One is sitting on the throne, seated above the colorful glass sea that surrounds it. He appeared as the blood red jasper stone or another stone like it called the sardius stone (used later as a symbol judgment, cp. Rev. 6:4). A bow of green (perhaps denoting life) surrounded His throne – or perhaps it is the full spectrum of color, but the SHAPE was of a tooled emerald (as in surrounding the throne). This is God the Father, the Judge of all, the Life giver to all, the complete circle of beginning and end! Though these words help us to anticipate our Father, they don’t help place the timing of the story.

For that, we must see the others who are in the room. Keep reading: Revelation 4:4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.

Note that surrounding the throne of God are the TWENTY FOUR ELDERS SEATED ON THRONES. Look at what they are wearing. That is the clue we need to set their identity and the timing of this interruption in Heaven by John. They were twenty-four in number. had on white garments and were crowned with gold. If you kept reading in the scene, they were singing praises as redeemed ones from all over the earth in Rev. 5:8. They were enthroned.

Their description has left the door open to some debate about their identity. Let’s consider carefully the noted description:

Because they were Twenty-four in number, there are many who attempt to indicate this must be saved people of all ages – Jewish and Gentile. That does not fit the scene unless this event was contemporary to after the time of the Tribulation, for Daniel 12 was clear that Jewish believers who died prior to Jesus’ coming would not be resurrected with those IN CHRIST that we looked at in 1 Thessalonians. Rather, they would be raised AFTER the Tribulation:

Daniel 12:1 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. 2 “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. 3 “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. 4 “But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.

Daniel was told that after a prolonged time of Gentile domination (described in Daniel 11) Michael, the angel characteristically associated with the Jewish people in the Heavens, will stand up to defend the beleaguered Jewish people. A time of TRIBULATION will pummel them, but those who are in the Book of Life will endure to the end. Zechariah and Paul both say that all the Jewish people “will be saved” that outlive the Tribulation, marked by God and in belief of Him “whom they have pieced”:

  • Romans 1:25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” 27 “THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.
  • Zechariah 12:8 “In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the one who is feeble among them in that day will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the LORD before them. 9 “And in that day I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. 10 “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. 11 “In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo.

The point of the Twenty-Four appears to relate to the PRIESTHOOD serving at that time in  Heaven.

Ezekiel, who also describes a vision into Heaven, in Ezekiel 8:16; Ezekiel 11:1, saw twenty-five men between the porch and the altar, with their backs toward the temple, and their faces toward the earth. Remember that the priesthood of the Temple was divided into twenty-four “courses” (1 Chronicles 24:3-19), and Ezekiel also saw the High Priest – making the total number 25. Remember that 1 Peter 2:9 specifically calls the church age believer a PRIEST. Remember that Hebrews 4:14 says “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession…”

We can see them doing the work of priest in Revelation 5:8ff.

By their praises, we can also tell something about their PAST. Revelation. 5:8 says: ”…the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” They have been redeemed FROM MANY NATIONS of the earth. They are the priests of Heaven BEFORE the Lamb opened the book and brought on the Great Tribulation (Rev. 6:1).

The fact they are sitting on thrones must denote judgment. They are crowned with a STEPHANOS or “victor crown”, not a DIADEM or “ruler crown”.  Paul warned the church at Corinth that would be a future job of believers: 1 Corinthians 6:1 Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?

They are clothed in White Robes: This is the garment of the priests. It is also the marker of those who have been judged as “righteous” (like in Rev. 19:14 “And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.”)

After all is considered, it appears as though John has dropped in on the worship ministrations of the Redeemed of the Church Age, who have already been JUDGED, and now served as Priests and Ministers before the Holy One on the throne. They praise Him for His SAVING WORK on their behalf. They have OVERCOME in this life, and now LIVE BEFORE GOD!

What an exciting scene. John got beckoned to Heaven, but he missed how the believers were called there. He missed their trumpet sound. He missed their judgment…. But if you know Jesus as your Savior, YOU WON’T MISS IT!

God’s Word says that every man and every woman faces two kinds of judgment: one for SIN, and one for WORKS. The believers and the unbelievers will face BOTH. For the believer, SIN was judged at Calvary, and we will see experience the results of that in STAGES.

  • First, when you are saved, you are given the SEAL of the Holy Spirit and the INHERITANCE PROMISE of Heaven.
  • When you DIE, your spirit immediately goes to be with the Lord, while your body awaits your eventual redemption of the FLESH.
  • At the moment God decides to begin His work on the people of Israel, a trumpet will sound and call both living and dead believers in Christ to the marriage supper of the Son.
  • Believers in Christ will stand before the JUDGMENT SEAT of CHRIST, in order to have awards, recognitions, and judgment of our works (a good word of this is found in 1 Cor. 3 and 2 Cor. 5).
  • Believers like David, Moses and Daniel await the redemption of their bodies until after the celebration of the Son’s wedding in Heaven, (according to Daniel 12). Their resurrection and judgment marks the beginning of the Great Kingdom of Jesus in Revelation 20, when God literally fulfills all His Kingdom covenant contract with the Jewish people.

To close the scene, go back to Heaven and stand there with John. See the flashes of lightning and hears the peals of thunder. Gaze at the lamps, the seven Spirits of God (cp. Isa. 11). The Spirit of the LORD; The Spirit of wisdom; The Spirit of understanding; The Spirit of counsel; The Spirit of strength; The Spirit of knowledge; The Spirit of the fear of the LORD.

Watch your role as you praise the Lord for His redemption and cry out to Him WORTHY IS THE LAMB THAT WAS SLAIN. Listen to the voices that echo ‘YOU CREATED ALL THINGS’. No doubts about the beginning. No fears about the end.

Look hard at your white robe. Are their crowns in your hand to throw to your King? Have the works of YOUR LIFE been judged at the BEMA seat worthy of His love, His magnificence, His faithfulness. Are there TEARS in your eyes for you have “suffered loss” when the works of your life were burned and found selfish, deficient and worthless? ARE YOU READY FOR THE KING TO TAKE YOU HOME? My friend, the KING IS COMING, and YOU SHALL BEHOLD HIM!

THE KING IS COMING (Bill Gaither – Gloria Gaither – Charley Millhoff) © ’71 Gaither Music

The market place is empty – no more traffic in the streets… All the builders tools are silent …no more time to harvest wheat. Busy housewives cease their labors… in the courtroom –  no debate. Work on earth is all suspended… as the King comes through the gate!

Happy faces line the hallways – those whose lives have been redeemed. Broken homes He has mended… those from prison he has freed! Little children and the aged hand in hand stand all aglow! Those who were crippled, broken, ruined dressed in garments white as snow! I can hear the chariots rumble, I can see the marching throng! The flurry of God’s trumpets spells the end of sin and wrong! Regal robes are now unfolding! Heaven’s grandstand’s are all in place! Heaven’s choir is now assembled … they start to sing Amazing Grace!

Oh the King is coming! The King is coming! I just heard the trumpets sounding and now his face I see! Oh the King is coming! The King is coming! Praise God he’s coming for me!

You see, God told us what is next for us. Believer, we are headed HOME! No matter what the world does to us, no mater how hard life appears – it is temporary here.