THE REAL RETURN OF THE KING

 

(notes on Revelation)

 

January 4 – February 1, 2004 ~ Westney Heights Baptist Church

(modified for presentation over the internet, original version can be found here)

 

all Scripture references from the New King James Version

 

Salvation and the Eternal Kingdom

The Timing of God

Signs and Wonders

War Against God's Saints, God's Victory Assured

The Glory of God, His Righteous Judgment

The Coming of the Kingdom, the Glory of God Among Man

 

Salvation and the Eternal Kingdom

 

John 1:1-4, 14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

These opening words of John’s gospel are a triumphant echo of the first words of the Bible:

 

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

 

and build upon them to show that it was through the Word, whom John reveals to be Jesus the Christ, that all the things that are have come to be: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” John also affirms that Jesus is the light of the world and that it is through His coming in the flesh, in human form, that mankind could be saved: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” These words also echo Isaiah’s prophecy over seven hundred years earlier:

 

Isaiah 9:2 The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.

 

Isaiah also provides a glimpse into the nature of the role that Jesus would play in history:

 

Isaiah 9:6-7 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

 

In order that we do not begin to believe that God’s hand was forced, that God was required to change His mind and institute a plan for salvation after Adam and Eve’s rebellion against Him, the prophets make it clear that God’s plan for creation and our salvation predates creation itself. They tell us that Jesus merely altered the form of His existence in Bethlehem rather than coming into existence and that the plan of which Jesus is the center was instituted before creation itself came into being:

 

Micah 5:2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.

 

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew that Micah is referring to the promised Messiah, this is made abundantly clear in their response to the wise men who came to Herod’s palace to search for a King.  The religious leaders used this passage to direct the wise men to Bethlehem where they worshipped the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Like Isaiah giving the name “Everlasting Father” to Jesus, Micah also makes the tremendous statement that Jesus’ nature is eternal, that He is without either beginning or end and that He has always existed. The phrase “From everlasting” indicates a kind of backwards forever, a forever that runs back into time and on past its beginning. In a similar sense we now look forward to an eternity in heaven, where we will worship God forever, on into the future beyond the point where time has its end. “From everlasting” means the same thing but on into the past beyond the point where time had its beginning. What is clearly meant by Micah’s words is that the one who would be the Ruler in Israel, who would come out of Bethlehem existed before the first verse of the Bible ever happened. He is from eternity and to eternity and this is what Jesus meant when He said:

 

John 8:58 Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."

 

and in Revelation where He tells John that:

 

Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End," says the Lord, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."

 

These words and others, and the New Testament author’s interpretation of them, show us that God’s plan of salvation was not developed in response to an unexpected event but that God knew what the outcome of His creation would be before He spoke the first atom into existence. He knew that Adam and Eve would rebel when He gave them the ability to choose between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and He established the method of their, and our, redemption before they were made:

 

1 Peter 1:17-20 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you

 

He knew that because of their rebellion (and the ongoing rebellion of their children) it would be necessary for Jesus to come, suffer and die in our place for our salvation:

 

Isaiah 53:1-12 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

 

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked—But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

 

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

 

He knew the manner of His death:

 

Numbers 21:8-9 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live." So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

 

John 3:14-15 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

 

He knew who would betray Him:

 

John 6:64….71 “But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him….He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.

 

He knew before He began that when He created His creation would become corrupt and that He would have to redeem it. He knew it all and still He created what would be destroyed. He put the plan into place before creating where He, the eternal God, would step into His creation as a newborn baby, the infinite God becoming a finite being for the sole purpose of redeeming rebels to Himself. Jesus had this to say to those who witnessed His conversation with Zacchaeus:

 

Luke 19:10The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

 

That mankind needed to be found, that rejection of the salvation available through Jesus allows condemnation to remain upon us is made clear through Jesus’ teaching of Nicodemus:

 

John 3:14-19  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

 

It is through faith in the effectiveness of Jesus’ sacrifice in our place that we obtain salvation. Through faith in His sacrifice our condemnation is removed from us.

 

We have spoken at length of Jesus’ mission as our Saviour but Jesus’ sacrifice is not all there is of God’s plan, if it were then death would still be the end for us. The prophecies of Jesus’ coming in human form and His ministry as our eternal High Priest bear within themselves the necessity for the establishment of an eternal, incorruptible kingdom. This incorruptible kingdom is made necessary because the promised salvation could never be completely applied to creation in its fallen state, mankind could be forgiven but this current realm of creation still suffered under the curse and remains subject to decay and death. Jesus taught His disciples that this eternal kingdom would be established when He returned to take His followers home and He and gave them signs by which they might realize that His return was near. That Jesus rose from death back to life and was taken by God into heaven is a promise that we likewise would rise from the dead and be taken into heaven who believe in Him. It is also a promise that our resurrected bodies, transformed from corruptible flesh to incorruptible perfection, would have an incorruptible realm to inhabit. Our resurrected bodies could not inhabit the current corruptible realm any more than our current bodies could inhabit the floor of the ocean; they require an incorruptible creation because they themselves are no longer subject to corruption.

 

1 Corinthians 15:51-57 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed——in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The promise of our resurrection was sealed by Jesus’ resurrection, the promise of the incorruptible kingdom is sealed by Jesus’ ascension and promise to return. On the night before His death Jesus made this promise to His followers:

 

John 14:1-3 Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

 

He promised His disciples, and His followers today, that He is preparing a place for us in heaven and that He will return some day to take us to it. The angels who accompanied the disciples on the Mount of Olives confirmed the promise by stating that Jesus would return to earth in the same way that the disciples saw Him taken to heaven:

 

Acts 1:9-11Now when He [Jesus] had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

 

We have, then, an idea of Jesus as an eternal being, God, who took on human form, leaving eternity to live with us in time for a short period of time, to save a humanity lost in rebellion and ascended into heaven with the promise that He would return to take those who believe in Him to live with Him in eternity. It is an idea of God living with us, suffering as we suffer, yet overcoming all temptation and trial to become our perfect sacrifice, the One who would be punished unjustly so that we could escape the punishment we deserved and who rose from the dead and into heaven as a promise of our own resurrection and life with God in heaven. In the Gospel of John Jesus’ taught His followers that:

 

John 5:25-29 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth——those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

 

It is here that the Revelation begins, describing the events that surround the righteous judgment of God upon rebellious earth. Just as the nation of Israel had for centuries anticipated the promised Messiah we now anticipate the promised return of the Messiah.

 

The Timing of God

 

The book of Revelation is often thought to be a hopelessly complex series of prophecies making use of symbolism completely beyond the capability of modern Christians to understand. While in some sense this may be true, since John and his immediate audience understood their historical situation more intimately than we would ever be able to and actually saw the fulfillment of some of Revelation. Yet in an other sense it is completely false to believe that Revelation cannot at least in part be understood; and it is clear from the opening words of Revelation that John assumed that his readers would understand what he wrote:

 

Revelation 1:1-7 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants——things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.

 

What is often overlooked as we read Revelation is that John was writing a letter and that he was commanded to do so by Jesus to reveal to the seven churches what would come upon the earth:

 

Revelation 1:17-19 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”

 

John was writing what Jesus told him to write, what God showed him, to seven real churches in seven real cities, composed of real people with real desires, dreams, hopes and failings. While Revelation is filled with symbolism it is also written in common language such as we would use today. The symbolism itself may be beyond our understanding without the guidance of God but they convey ideas that are easily apparent to all. Revelation is first and foremost a book of prophecy and like all prophecy it speaks both of the glory of God and of the human condition. God, through Moses, had established that a prophet would be confirmed by the fulfillment of their prophecy, with the understanding that in some sense at least the prophecy could be understandable to the human mind.

 

Deuteronomy 18:21-22 And if you say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?” — when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

 

The prophet’s audience would witness the fulfillment of at least a portion of the prophecy which would confirm that the prophet spoke in the name of God and would also confirm that prophecies not yet fulfilled would be fulfilled at some other time. Some prophecies, such as the prophecy of the bronze serpent mentioned above, would also have several levels of fulfillment and would not speak so much of a series of events that would occur in sequence but of a single event that would occur on more than one occasion. In the case of the bronze serpent the immediate fulfillment, its first occurrence, was that any Israelite who looked at it would live and did not die. A second level of fulfillment for this prophecy, its recurrence, is made clear by Jesus’ application of this prophecy to His crucifixion, that He would be lifted up for us to look upon and live just as Moses lifted up the serpent for the Israelites to look upon and live.

 

Therefore, from the preceding discussion it should be understood that when John wrote that “the time is near” he was not necessarily stating that all of his prophecies would be fulfilled in the near future but that they would begin to be fulfilled in the near future and that some of his prophecies could potentially have several levels of fulfillment as in the case of the bronze serpent. The near fulfillment would establish John’s credentials as a prophet, therefore validating the truth of the prophecies not fulfilled in the eyes of his immediate audience and confirm to them, and to us, that their fulfillment is sure.

 

Many have read Revelation, and other prophecies of the Second Coming and God’s judgment of the earth, in order to gain fame for themselves by claiming to be able to predict the time of the Second Coming. Generally, most of these predictions have a date for the Second Coming that is in the near future, and almost certainly within the anticipated lifetimes of those making the prediction. These teachers seem to be more concerned with obtaining glory for themselves than with giving glory of God. Many of these interpreters of Revelation, and of the Bible as a whole do not have our best interests at heart, some are deceivers sent by Satan to destroy whom they might. Many others are mistaken, abandoning sound principles of Bible study to interpret the holy word of God as they see fit and in such a manner as to encourage belief in their own ideas rather than belief in the ideas of God.

 

Luke 21:8 Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am He,” and, “The time has drawn near.” Therefore do not go after them.

 

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

 

John acknowledges that these are the anti-Christ:

 

2 John 1:7-9 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8  Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. 9  Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.

 

and he further warns us that:

 

2 John 1:10-11 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.

 

In the midst of deceptive teaching, and teaching from those not equipped by God to teach the truth, how are we to determine where the truth of the prophecy of Revelation lies? How will we know with any certainty that  these prophecies have been, or  are about to be fulfilled? For John and his readers the time of fulfillment of this prophecy was near and throughout the New Testament there is the idea that the return of Christ would be very soon, it was an event that was awaited with eager anticipation. Jesus said that:

 

Matthew 24:34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

 

And through all the ministry of the early evangelists and teachers this is the recurring theme: That Jesus Christ is returning and that He is returning soon. So how do we reconcile the apparent conflict that exists between this teaching and the reality that almost two thousand years have gone by since these prophecies first were made and we still await His return?

 

One understanding is that Jesus has already returned, that He came in 70 AD and that all the prophecies relating to His return were fulfilled at that time. There are several problems with this understanding of history the greatest of which is: The Bible does not teach that there would be an extended period of mankind living upon the earth subsequent to the return of Christ. An objection out of history is that there is no historical record of any event of this magnitude having occurred. Even the relatively minor event, to secular historians, of Jesus’ crucifixion finds some small mention in various documents of the period. Surely so tremendous event as the second coming and the sudden disappearance of multitudes of believing men, women and children would have received some mention. But there is none. In fact, in his letter to the Thessalonian Christians Paul writes to confront the fear that the Second Coming has already occurred:

 

2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

 

An other understanding of early Christian belief in Jesus’ imminent arrival is that the generation of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 24:34 is not a biological generation but a spiritual generation. In other words, where we can understand a biological generation to refer to the period of time between the maturity of parents and the maturity of their children we can also understand that spiritually both the parents and the children are of the same spiritual generation since each is referred to in the Bible as being heirs with Christ:

 

Romans 8:16-17 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs——heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

 

And of Christ the Bible teaches that He is the firstborn of many brethren:

 

Romans 8:29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

 

While the spiritualization of Jesus’ reference to generation is apparently valid it does tend to ignore the clear meaning of the text within its context, in which Jesus seems to be actually speaking of a biological generation.

 

This leads us to a third possible understanding of the nearness of Jesus’ second coming and which builds upon the previously discussed manner in which prophecy was fulfilled. As Matthew 24 is read it becomes apparent that Jesus is warning His friends of a danger that is soon to come upon them personally. His hearers would have understood Jesus to have been speaking directly to them about troubles that they themselves would soon experience. Jesus, in addition to His current status as our Priest, His coming status as our King, had during His earthly ministry the status of Prophet. He is the Prophet of whom Moses spoke:

 

Deuteronomy 18:15-19 The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.” And the LORD said to me: “What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”

 

And, as discussed previously, in the same passage Moses gives a sign by which a prophet was to be recognized as truly speaking the words of God:

 

Deuteronomy 18:21-22 And if you say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?” — when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

 

Jesus, as a prophet, as THE Prophet, would have had His prophecies evaluated under the same criteria as the words of any other prophet would have been evaluated: Did they come true? His hearers would have looked for a fulfillment of His words in their lifetime to confirm the truth His teaching for the future. That there was also to be a future fulfillment of His words as well may have been understood by some but for Him to have any validity as a prophet at least some of Jesus’ prophecies had to be fulfilled in the sight of the people to whom He spoke. Jesus’ words can therefore be understood to refer to both an event in the near future and to an event in the distant future, the first of which would confirm His ministry to His hearers and confirm the subsequent fulfillment in the distant future to all. It is believed that the immediate confirmation of Jesus’ prophecy occurred in 70 AD when the Romans utterly destroyed the city of Jerusalem, killing millions of Hebrews in the process and dispersing the remainder throughout the Roman Empire and that much of Matthew 24 and its parallel passages describe an ongoing period of persecution and hardship from that point on into history. If we look into the past we can see that there have been many events that seem to fall into the category of disasters of which Jesus was speaking:

 

Matthew 24:4-14 And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

 

I believe that we are today experiencing the opening of the seals of the scroll given to the Lamb in Revelation 5.

 

Revelation 5:1-5 And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?" And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals."

 

In our own memory we can recall Jim Jones and David Koresh, false prophets who led their followers to destruction. In the memory of our parents we can recall wars that killed tens of millions of people. In our history books we can read of plagues such as the Black Death through which one third of mankind died. Wars have occurred for centuries. Famine kills millions each year. Just last week tens of thousands died in the earthquake in Iraq. It has been estimated that in each year of the twentieth century 150,000 Christians have been but to death for their faith. I believe that these events show that the events in Revelation are not all taking place in the future but are happening daily all around us. We read of them in our newspapers and see them enacted in government policies. But the times in which we live are not the worst that have ever occurred on earth and they pale in comparison to what is yet to come (which will discussed further next week). Many of the prophecies in Revelation have been fulfilled but there are some that are still outstanding, the most significant of which is the rise of the anti-Christ of whom Paul writes:

 

2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

 

Personally I believe that we are currently seeing the opening of the fifth or sixth seal of the scroll and that worse events than those which have already happened are coming and so we have the difficulty that Jesus Himself says in Revelation that He will come soon. I believe that the only way in which we can properly understand this is to realize that God’s idea of soon is considerably different from our own. Last week we saw that His plan of salvation was made before the universe was made. For six thousand years He has been allowing it to work through human history. Four thousand years after He was first promised the crushing of the serpent’s head in Genesis 3:15 Jesus came to live among us. When we hear the word soon we begin to anticipate something in the near future and at the very least within our own lifetime. God’s idea of soon does not have to align with ours and may in fact mean that since the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf has finally been accomplished the pivot upon which the consummation of Gods’ plan revolves has been established and the second coming may therefore occur, or begin to occur at any time. What is of ultimate importance to God is not that we personally witness the Second Coming in our lifetime but that as many of the lost as possible be found.

 

2 Peter 3:9-10 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.

 

His delay is not a sign of His incapacity to do what He said but a sign of His mercy to those who remain in a state of rebellion against Him. Judgment is not forgotten but delayed.

 

2 Peter 3:3-7 Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation." For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

 

Peter continues by writing what will be used this evening as the closing words of our study:

 

2 Peter 3:11-18 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation——as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen

 

SIGNS AND WONDERS

 

Revelation is a book of wonder, a book filled with the visual images of the vast acts of God that take place in the last days of earthly history. As has been mentioned earlier Revelation seems to make use of a symbolic style of writing to relate these events to we who read the book. When studying prophecy we must remember that symbolism is used to convey ideas that may be beyond man’s finite capacity to understand in a manner that would describe things as they really are but in a context that would be more easily understood. Thus Jonah was used as a symbol by Jesus, in which Jonah’s temporary stay in the belly of the whale was symbolic of Jesus’ temporary stay in the grave:

 

Matthew 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

 

What is important to realize is that symbols describe something as it really is and in this sense they can be taken quite literally. Thus when we are confronted by John’s use of symbols in Revelation we can rest assured that John is describing things as they really are, as they really have been and as they really will be but described in a sense that would make sense to us. Reference has been made earlier to the description of both Ezekiel and John of a vast war against the saints of God. In both descriptions reference is made to weapons of war that were in common use at the time and which are still easily understood today. This does not necessarily mean that when the armies of the anti-Christ rise up in rebellion they will be using swords and spears but could very well mean that God showed both Ezekiel and John the final war in a context that they and their readers would understand. It may well be that swords and spears will be used at that time but it could also be that weapons of mass destruction will also be in use but how would God have conveyed the idea of nuclear war, machine guns or any of our multitude of destructive weapons to a man of the first century?

 

The point that I am attempting to make with all of this is that we are often tempted to spiritualize the events described in Revelation when it may be more valid to take Revelation literally.  We tend to treat a symbolic account of an event differently than we would a straightforward newspaper account of the same event, frequently treating the symbolic as something beyond our capacity to understand. But as has been said previously, symbols are not beyond our capacity to understand, they may describe something that may be greater than our minds, but they are given to us to be understood.

 

That being said the question remains: “Is Revelation truly composed of symbols or is John describing things as they actually were revealed to him?”

 

I tend to take Revelation literally while allowing that John, who uses word images to far greater effect than any other New Testament writer, would continue to do so as he wrote Revelation. Thus, when he speaks of a beast rising out of the sea with seven heads and ten horns we can, following the interpretive examples found later in Revelation and also in the book of Daniel, understand that John may not necessarily be describing an actual physical beast but an order of government that stood in opposition to God. When John speaks of a scroll with seven seals we can understand that an actual scroll was being opened since no interpretive keys are given to indicate that the scroll is anything but a scroll. It may not be proper to consider Revelation as entirely literal but it is also not proper to consider Revelation as entirely symbolic. Some of what John was shown in heaven may well have been beyond his ability to understand. How would he, for example, understand our modern methods of warfare? It may well be that the battles he was shown will take place with bow and arrow, shield and spear; it may also be that God, in His mercy, showed John battles in the far future in terms that he could understand. This does not change the fact that a great battle will take place at Armageddon as the emphasis of the Bible’s description of that battle is not upon the weapons of war that are used in it but upon the fact that the war is the result of man’s rebellion and that God will have the ultimate victory.

 

WAR AGAINST GOD’S SAINTS, GOD’S VICTORY ASSURED

 

One of the overriding characteristics of the last days is that of conflict. In a specific communication to one of the seven churches John speaks directly of the persecution that would come from the Devil:

 

Revelation 2:8-11And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, “These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: ‘I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.’”

 

Elsewhere John speaks of anti-Christs who have left the Church and have begun to spread lies about the faith and those who hold it:

 

2 John 1:7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

 

John is here referring to the opening moves in a battle against God that has endured these two-thousand years and which, in the last days, will escalate ever further as the Devil seeks to destroy those who have faith in Christ. In Revelation the final outcome of this battle, the ultimate defeat of the Devil and his followers, is shown. But it appears that he will first be allowed to have his own way for a period of time. Paul refers to a restraining influence, God personally opposed against the evil one, who would be “taken out of the way” allowing the man of sin to have free reign on the earth and to deceive those who did not receive the truth of the gospel:

 

2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

 

We encounter this strong delusion today in the closed-mindedness of many who have rejected the truth of God for the lie of the Devil. This again is further evidence of the truth of Paul’s statements in the above passage. But the Devil not only seeks to deceive those who perish but also those who do not. Peter has warned us to:

 

1 Peter 5:8-9 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

 

The imagery of a roaring lion prowling the earth seeking something to devour is very similar to that used by John later in Revelation:

 

Revelation 12:13-17 Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

 

In each of the preceding texts there is some great power at war against those who love God but in what form does this war take place? How is the work of the Devil against us made evident? While I do not believe that the Church has as yet experienced the Great Tribulation, in which all the powers of the Devil are directed against the Church as a whole and the only question of importance is “Are you a believer or not?” I do believe that the Church has experienced tribulation. In this tribulation the work of the One who restrains the man of sin is evident in that while the Church is persecuted such persecution does not seem to be the single overriding aim of the world at large. Here in Canada, though there is a general trend toward Godlessness, we are still relatively free to practice our Christian faith as God has directed us. We do not suffer economic hardship, social stigma, or threats against our wellbeing because of our faith. Much good work of God is being done in Canada and God is visible, for the most part, in the lives of His saints. But we are still under attack. We have each at one point or an other experienced something that we would not have experienced had we not been Christian. This is a form of persecution and is evidence of the prowling lion of which Peter speaks. There is other evidence of the Devil’s opposition to the saints and his influence over us which is made plain any time a man makes a joke at his wife’s expense or a woman speaks to others about her husband’s behaviour. His influence is again shown when men have difficulty walking past the magazine rack without glancing at the pornography present there, when a five dollar bill lying upon a desk becomes a temptation, or when alcohol becomes a drug. We experience the effects of this war when we struggle to keep our faith in the face of great adversity.

 

In so many ways the Devil works through the world around us to minimize the witness of our faith. Who will believe a man who speaks of Jesus’ love who also laughs at his wife, how is Christian love evident in this? Who will believe a woman’s ministry of kindness who also has sharp words of her husband, how is Christian charity evident in this? Who will believe a person claiming forgiveness by the blood of the Lamb who gives in to any temptation, where is the reverence for Jesus’ sacrifice in this? Who will believe a Christian's hope of everlasting life if he shows overwhelming concern in earthly life. In countless ways we are distracted by things which, if we give in to them, will draw us further from our God and reduce the effectiveness of our ministry in His name. And it is only going to get worse. It has been worse in ages past, it will be worse before the end is accomplished. Christians will become more and more the outcasts of the earth. The question is not so much “How and when will this happen?” but “Will you stand firm in your faith in God?” If we loose all we possess for our faith, what does it matter our eternal home awaits us. If we loose our friends and families for our faith, what does it matter our eternal Father has promised to comfort us. If we loose our lives for our faith, what does it matter through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we are promised eternal life. What is of ultimate importance is not that we retain the blessings of this life but that we inherit the blessings of eternal life.

 

John speaks of such tribulation in the second and third chapters of Revelation as he records Jesus’ specific communication to each of the seven churches. In all but two of these Jesus’ recognition of some  Christian quality in the church is followed by the words “But I have this against you” or “nevertheless,” which in turn is followed by some evidence of the church in question having given in to temptation. In each of these cases the same encouragement is given: “If you overcome you will receive the reward.” I am sure that each one of us can picture ourselves as having the characteristics of one of these churches:

 

Ephesus – Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love (Rev. 2:4).

Smyrna – Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

Pergamos – But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality (Rev. 2:14).

Thyatira – Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols (Rev. 2:20).

Sardis – I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God (Rev. 3:1-2).

Philadelphia – I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name (Rev. 3:7).

Laodicea – I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ ——and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:15-17).

 

Each of us is either overcoming or being overcome. Each of us is under attack from the Devil and that attack is either being successful or it is failing. Each of us receives the same encouragement from God that Jesus gave to His disciples:

 

John 16:31-33 Jesus answered them, "Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

 

Our encouragement is not a step-by-step plan of attach against our adversary that assures success only if each step is carried out. Our encouragement is that the One in whom our faith is placed has ALREADY overcome the world, He is ALREADY victorious over the Devil. This is again made plain in Revelation:

 

Revelation 12:7-12 And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the Devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time."

 

The emphasis of this passage is not so much that the Devil is cast down to the earth but that he has been cast down because of the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross and His resurrection from death. His anger is unending and his hatred is for all mankind but specifically for the saints of God. Yet in the face of such hatred and devotion to destruction Christians are not encouraged to flee we are encouraged to stand firm and to overcome.

 

But God has a battle plan as well, His is the ultimate victory, of that we are continually assured for throughout the Bible God speaks of His adversaries as though their time is limited. In both Ezekiel and Revelation is the description of a vast army gathered against the saints of God that is completely destroyed without human intervention. In each description God is pictured as gathering the armies from the remotest ends of the earth specifically that they may be destroyed. Ezekiel actually goes so far as to say that God’s intent is not only for the destruction of the enemy but also that His glory will be displayed for all to see:

 

Ezekiel 39:1-7 And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal; and I will turn you around and lead you on, bringing you up from the far north, and bring you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will knock the bow out of your left hand, and cause the arrows to fall out of your right hand. You shall fall upon the mountains of Israel, you and all your troops and the peoples who are with you; I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. You shall fall on the open field; for I have spoken," says the Lord GOD. And I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in security in the coastlands. Then they shall know that I am the LORD. So I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel, and I will not let them profane My holy name anymore. Then the nations shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.’”

 

In Revelation John echoes this proclamation and describes two battles of such a magnitude as to dwarf anything that we have yet seen on the earth. The first battle, where the human army is destroyed for the birds of the air to feast upon, appears to be the battle of which Ezekiel is speaking. It is in this battle that the beast and the false prophet are cast into the eternal lake of fire and the dragon (the personification of the Devil) is imprisoned for one thousand years in the bottomless pit.

 

Revelation 19:11-21 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, "Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great." And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.  Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.

 

The second battle takes place after the thousand year reign of Christ with His saints when the dragon is released and once again gathers the armies of the earth together to destroy the followers of God:

 

Revelation 20:1-10 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The Devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

 

It is only at this point that the war against the saints will finally be over with the victory going to the saints because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There is no other reason for the victory than Jesus. Were it not for Jesus the war of the Devil against us would have been successful. Were it not for Jesus each of us would die to live no more. Were it not for Jesus we would have no hope.

 

Revelation 5:9-10 You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God.

 

THE GLORY OF god – HIs Righteous Judgment

 

Preoccupation with the events of Revelation, their order and their timing can cause us to loose sight of the reason for the events. Upon the opening of the sixth seal we receive an indication of why these tremendous things are happening:

 

Revelation 6:12-17 I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and 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 His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"

 

Malachi also prophesied about the great day of the Lord, both in the context of the Messiah’s arrival and in the context of His return at the end of time. He speaks regarding that day that among those who await the day of judgment there would be many who would be surprised that the judgment of God would be against them:

 

Malachi 3:1-2 “Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming," Says the LORD of hosts. "But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s soap.”

 

Amos says much the same thing to those who believed themselves to be followers of God but who’s faith was false and who only looked upon God as a fire escape from the flaming building in which they loved to live:

 

Amos 5:16-20 Therefore the LORD God of hosts, the Lord, says this: "There shall be wailing in all streets, And they shall say in all the highways, ‘Alas! Alas!’ They shall call the farmer to mourning, And skillful lamenters to wailing. In all vineyards there shall be wailing, For I will pass through you," Says the LORD. “Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! For what good is the day of the LORD to you? It will be darkness, and not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion, And a bear met him! Or as though he went into the house, Leaned his hand on the wall, And a serpent bit him! Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it?”

 

Revelation teaches that the Day of the Lord will be a day of reckoning, a day of settling of accounts, a day in which the only joy is among those who worship the King of heaven and a day in which the rebellious experience the ultimate reward of their rebellion. Their rebellion is in fact not merely rebellion but their final renunciation of the salvation offered to them through Jesus Christ. Their rejection of this gift in the face of the wrath of God confirms that they are indicating their complete and utter devotion to the enemy. Thus when the bowls of God’s wrath are finally poured out upon the earth there will be no room for sympathy; their decision has been made, is irrevocable and they are now reaping its most deserved reward. This is reminiscent of the stubbornness of Pharaoh when he was confronted by Moses in the struggle to release the people of Israel and how his punishment and that of his nation was the direct result of his attitude toward God (I believe that the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh, the Israelites and the Egyptians, is in some ways itself a symbol the final confrontation between God and those who oppose Him in the last days):

 

Exodus 7:2-5 You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall speak to Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.

 

But, while Revelation deals at great length with the Day of the Lord and the final separation of those who love the Lord from those who despise Him, the point of Revelation is not to scare us. It is not so that we can frighten non-believers with the immediacy of the terror of Christ’s return. It is not so that we can feel smug in our security while all the world around us is being destroyed by the wrath of God. It is not to entertain us. It is to show both us and the world at large that the wrath of God, His righteous judgment of a rebellious mankind, will at last fall upon those who have rejected every opportunity for redemption that God in His mercy has given them:

 

Revelation 16:9 And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.

 

This is an eloquent summary of a similar situation that occurred in Israel centuries before when God punished them on account of their rebellion for the purpose that Israel would return to Him and confirms that the reason for the suffering was to call their attention once again to their creator and give them yet an other opportunity to accept salvation:

 

Amos 4:6-13 ”I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities. And lack of bread in all your places; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. “I also withheld rain from you, When there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, And where it did not rain the part withered. So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, But they were not satisfied; Yet you have not returned to Me," Says the LORD. "I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, Your vineyards, Your fig trees, And your olive trees, The locust devoured them; Yet you have not returned to Me," Says the LORD. "I sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt; Your young men I killed with a sword, Along with your captive horses; I made the stench of your camps come up into your nostrils; Yet you have not returned to Me," Says the LORD. "I overthrew some of you, As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, And you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; Yet you have not returned to Me," Says the LORD. "Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; Because I will do this to you, Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" For behold, He who forms mountains, And creates the wind, Who declares to man what his thought is, And makes the morning darkness, Who treads the high places of the earth—The LORD God of hosts is His name.”

 

The repetition of the phrase “Yet you have not returned to Me” in Amos and of “and they did not repent” in Revelation shows that like Amos John’s purpose is to show that these things will happen for the glory of God and for the salvation of all who will respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and shows that God is not only concerned with judging the earth, He also is concerned that His glory is shown in all that He does, not because He needs our praise but because it will remove the final reason for any complaint against Him and so that the doubt of many may be removed. In Romans Paul refers again to God’s work against Pharaoh:

 

Romans 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth."

 

And further God’s own commentary on His intended destruction of Pharaoh’s armies:

 

Exodus 9:17-18 And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.

 

The outcome of God’s actions against Egypt is not a petty pleasing of His arrogance but a sincere desire that those who did not fear Him would fear Him. Repeating an earlier quotation from Peter where he responds to those saying Jesus will not return, we find also that His delay is so that as many as can be saved will be saved:

 

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

 

Being human we tend to get caught up in those things which immediately surround us. It is natural, therefore, that our interest be captivated by the immensity of the events that John is describing for, as we saw earlier, these events are being reported daily in the media. We see these events occur around us and we wonder: “Could today be the day? Is today the day that Christ will take us home?” While we are right to long for our eternal home it is wrong not to long for God’s will to be done in our earthly home. It is wrong not to long for God Himself. We too often fail to see that Revelation is not so much a proclamation of our hoped for joy as it is of the righteousness of God and His coming judgment. The mistake that this results in is that we sit down, we wait, we long for our reward, we take care of ourselves. This is not the goal of the Christian calling. Paul rejoiced that he was being poured out for others:

 

Philippians 2:17-18 Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.

 

His joy was in the performance of his Father’s will and the salvation of others. The question I would pose to you is this: How can we say we long for the coming of Christ when there are so many millions who are lost yet for whose sake the coming of Christ is being delayed? Surely this is a most selfish attitude. Go home tonight and look at your neighbour’s homes. Think of the people living in them. Realize that Jesus died for them as well and that without the knowledge of His gift of salvation they are condemned to hell. This is why God has not yet come because our neighbours are not saved, they have not heard the gospel and they do not know their terrible destination.

 

There is coming a day, the great and terrible Day of the Lord, when every act, every word, every thought will be judged. On that day the wrath of God will be poured out upon those who have rejected Him. We ought not to long for that judgment but to long for even one more person to escape judgment. Surely our mind ought to be in line with the will of God that all who can be saved will be saved.

 

The coming of the kingdom – THE GLORY OF GOD AMONG MAN

 

The greatest single hope of the Christian faith is the hope of everlasting life in the presence of God. It is our hope in times of trouble and our comfort in times of despair. We look upon earthly joys as but a shadow of the joys that await us in heaven. We know that Jesus returned to heaven to prepare a home for His followers:

 

John 14:2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

 

We know also that Jesus promised to return to take us to be with Him:

 

John 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

 

And the angels who spoke to the disciples at Jesus ascension confirmed that He would return:

 

Acts 1:10-11 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”

 

And Jesus said further that His followers both knew where He was going and the way there themselves:

 

John 14:4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.

 

But what kind of home is it that Jesus will return to take us to. What appearance will our eternal home have? Our popular culture applies the term “heavenly” to anything especially perfect or pleasing. And we ourselves all have our own ideas of what heaven might be like. When I was a child I had an image of heaven as Christians sitting in white robes with angel’s wings and golden harps on fluffy white clouds (that this image was based in part on the children’s cartoons that I grew up with didn’t seem to concern me at the time). Later, as an adolescent, I had the idea that it would be totally boring if all we did was stand around and sing praises all day long for years without end but even so knew that I definitely wanted to be there, no matter how boring it was, rather than find myself in hell. On into adulthood, as I began to experience sincere fellowship with other Christians and take part in activities devoted to the glory of God, I began to realize that even if all we did was to sing eternal praise to God it would be far more exciting than the happiest time I could remember enjoying on earth. After all, I am perfectly thrilled to spend the rest of my life with my family so what could be better than to eternally say “Thank you!” to the One who loved me so much that He was willing to die in my place. This is approximately what I believe today, that praise itself will be an essential component of whatever we find ourselves doing in heaven. But I also believe that we will be doing a great deal more than sitting around and singing.

 

In Revelation John speaks of the creation of a new heaven and earth to replace the current heaven and earth:

 

Revelation 21:1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.

 

That the original heaven is destroyed along with the earth indicates that it too suffers from the curse God placed upon His creation after the rebellion of our first parents;

 

Genesis 3:17-18 Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field.”

 

Concerning its recreation, Paul writes in Romans that:

 

Romans 8:20-22 …the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.

 

Heaven and earth will be recreated and will be our eternal home, an incorruptible habitation for bodies no longer subject to corruption.

 

1 Corinthians 15:51-57 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed——in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

We began this study with the creation of all that is through Jesus Christ and we see here again that it is through Jesus Christ that we have our victory over sin and death and hell and through Him that we have our hope of incorruptible life. That the present heaven and earth is corrupt is without question, that the new heaven and earth are without corruption is beyond doubt. Every description of the new creation is glorious. Each detail given describes a place where the ills that plague us here are not permitted. Throughout the Bible we are taught that God will prepare a place where mankind is finally free from the curse:

 

Psalm 36:8 They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.

 

Isaiah 25:8 He will swallow up death forever, And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken.

 

Hosea 13:14 I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction! Pity is hidden from My eyes.

 

In Revelation we are also shown that heaven will be a place of freedom from pain and sorrow:

 

Revelation 21:3-4 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."

 

But notice as well that God is also shown to be living with mankind, no longer distant or approachable only through prayer or vision but in the same place as man. This is a remarkable change from the fear that is the hallmark of man’s encounters with God in the Old Testament. Isaiah, when confronted by the glory of God, feared for his life:

 

Isaiah 6:1-5 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!" And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts."

 

Yet even in the Old Testament there was the promise of a future redemption, as show by the fact that even though Isaiah had a legitimate fear God took his sin away:

 

Isaiah 6:6-7 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged."

 

Of which heaven is the culmination for those who have had their sin removed through the blood of Jesus:

 

Revelation 7:9-17 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen." Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?" And I said to him, "Sir, you know." So he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

 

Heaven has been promised to the children of God throughout the Bible and was foreshadowed even in Genesis when God planted the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden:

 

Genesis 2:8-9 The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

and when He prevented Adam and Eve, and their offspring, from eating from the Tree of Life after their rebellion:

 

Genesis 3:22-24 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" —  therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

 

And in Hebrews a comparison is made between God’s promise to the Israelites of rest from slavery in Canaan and God’s promise to all who love Him of rest from sin in heaven:

 

Hebrews 4:7-18 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’" Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

 

So the new heaven and earth that God creates after the final Satanic rebellion is defeated is a place of rest that is the completion of the promise given to the Israelites of the land of Canaan and of the implicit promise of the way that creation could have gone had Adam and Eve obeyed God in the Garden of Eden and eaten from the Tree of Life instead of rebelling against Him. But notice that Adam and Eve were not expected to do nothing nor were the Israelites in Canaan promised a life filled with leisure. In each case there was work to be done that was consistent with the economy of the environment. That this is equally in heaven is shown in the final chapters of Revelation where John writes of the New Jerusalem that:

 

Revelation 21:23-26 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.

 

By stating that there will be nations on the earth which will “bring their  glory and honor into it” John appears to confirming that there will be nations made up of righteous people who will apparently carry on with daily tasks much as we do today. A professor at the Bible College I attended in Grand Rapids actually went so far as to say that he believed that the new heaven and earth would be very similar to the current heaven and earth with the exception that it would be perfect and God would no longer be remote. I think that he had a point since that appears to be what Adam and Eve did as well. God created them to have dominion over His creation. That that dominion was corrupted in the Fall shows that it would have been perfected if they had obeyed God rather than disobeying Him. If the new heaven and earth are the fulfillment of that promise of perfection then it stands to reason that you and I will have work to do when we get there.

 

Now concerning the city of New Jerusalem John gives us an astounding picture:

 

Revelation 21:9-27 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, "Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

 

The picture is glorious. The city is 2,500 kilometers in length, width and height and is therefore slightly smaller than the moon. Its gates are single pearls, each bearing the name of one of the tribes of Israel. Its foundations are precious gems, each bearing the name of one of the apostles. And the glory of God would be its light. It is a truly beautiful picture but not only is the image spectacular, the name itself is magnificent. Jerusalem, in most opinions, can be interpreted to mean “The foundation of peace.” While in our current situation Jerusalem has rarely been with peace in the new heaven and earth New Jerusalem will be without war of any kind. The peace of God will truly be experienced in His holy city and in the new creation of which it will be a part.

 

Revelation 21:2-7 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son."