Tag Archives: Antichrist

MYSTERY: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST WHO KILLS HER

Here’s a different kind of Pearly Gates Story. A man dies and goes to Heaven. St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates and explains, “OK. Here’s how it works. To get into Heaven, you need 100 points. So, tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I’ll give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you’re in!

“OK,” the man says. “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.” St. Peter says, “That’s good and certainly worth 3 points.” The man says, “3 points? Well, I also attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my time and tithes.” “Great!” Peter replies, “That’s worth another point!” “Only 1 point!” the man says. “Well, how about this. I started a soup kitchen and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.” “Terrific! That’s good for 2 more points!” Peter says. “2 points!” the man cries. “At this rate, the only way I’ll get into Heaven is by the grace of God!” “Right answer.” Peter says, “Come on in!”

There are several theological problems with that story. First, Jesus is the Judge of who will join Him in Heaven, not Peter. More importantly, the decision as to who gets into Heaven is made in this life, not afterwards. Finally, there is no point system for getting into Heaven. And yet, that’s the problem with every false religion. It is based on self-righteousness and works, rather than faith in the work Jesus did for us by His death and resurrection.

I begin with that reminder because our last case focused on false religion. We came across the mystery of a great prostitute who sits on many waters, which turned out to be a symbol of false religion and its power to deceive the people and rulers of the world. For more details about that, please review the first part of our study of Revelation chapter 17.

But now, having cracked the puzzle of the prostitute, it is time to unravel the second mystery that John encounters in Revelation 17:7-14. Here John gives us an explanation of the beast on which “Beauty” rides. This isn’t intended to shift our attention away from the harlot, but to emphasize how great her influence is and how she will meet her end.

  1. HER INFLUENCE

The angel says to John in verse 7, “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns.” Verse 9 then goes on to explain the heads: “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does, he must remain for a little while.”

The wisdom needed for understanding this verse comes from God’s Word, and when you study God’s Word—Isaiah, Daniel, and the other prophets—you find that mountains are symbols of kings and kingdoms. In this case, seven world empires ruled by seven dictators. Let’s remember to interpret this from John’s perspective. In John’s day, five kingdoms had arisen and fallen—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The angel also says that “one is,” referring to Rome and its evil emperor, Nero. Rome finally fell from within due to its decadence. Since then, no ruler has been able to solidify a kingdom that controls all the peoples of the world. Many have tried—Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler, etc.—but none have succeeded. The final world dictator is described by the angel as “the other” which is yet to come.

To whom does this refer? The wisdom to answer this comes from the Old Testament prophet Daniel, where in chapter 7:24 he is told that in the last days a union of ten nations will emerge in the same area as the old Roman Empire. Out of this union the Antichrist will build his kingdom. That’s why verse 11 says of him, “The beast who was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.” In other words, just as this new European union is solidified, Antichrist (who is one of its kings) will seize control of the government and set up the most brutal dictatorship the world has ever seen.

How he will do this is explained in verse 12. John continues, “The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast.” The ten horns symbolize ten kings who initially band together with Antichrist to form a revived Roman Empire. Many think they see the stage being set for this in the current European Union. The EU is a fact we have grown used to. But remember, prior to 1945, the nations of Europe went to war with each other not once but twice, drawing the rest of the planet into two world wars in 30 years. But no longer. Now there is a large confederation of European nations who have banded together based primarily on the profit motive. Some come and some go, depending on their individual interests. The United Kingdom, for example, voted last year that they would withdraw their membership in the EU by April 2019.

So, the situation is in flux. But one day soon, Jesus will return for His Church, remove the restraining power of the Holy Spirit who keeps evil in check on earth, at which point the harlot will draw the nations of Europe using two beguiling forces. She will inspire love for the beast. Verse 13 says they will “have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast.” She will inspire hatred for the Lamb. Verse 14 adds, “They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings.”

Just as false religion has influenced all of earth’s rulers, so she will serve as the unifying force behind Antichrist’s kingdom—until he tires of her and gives the order for her execution.

  1. HER EXECUTION

Verses 16 to 17 describe the end of the love affair between “Beauty and the Beast.” Though she has been courted by countless kings, she is now judged as a common whore.

First, notice who executes her. Verse 16 says, “The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin.” In other words, the very ones she rode on will become her assassins—the beast and his horns! Why will the beast turn on her like this? Two reasons: first, he was simply “using her” to gain power and approval. But now that he no longer needs her, he orders his henchmen to kill her; more importantly, John reveals in verse 17 that God will “put it into their hearts” to destroy this false religious system. No matter how it looks the surface, God is behind everything that happens on earth! He rules and overrules to accomplish His will, using even the wrath of man to praise Him. (Psalm 76:10)

When will this murder take place? The passage does not say. Some think it will happen at the midpoint of the Tribulation, when the beast demands the world’s worship. That sounds logical to me. But the fact that this vision is given by an angel with one of the bowl judgments may mean that it occurs at the end of the Tribulation as the final plagues fall upon the earth.

What is clear is how she will be executed. According to the Law of Moses, the penalty for immorality was burning. Leviticus 20:14 says, “If a man marries a woman and her mother, it is wickedness. They shall be burned with fire…that there may be wickedness among you.” So, it will be with the prostitute! Verse 16 says they will leave her naked, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. In fact, when we study the extended description of her judgment in chapter 18, it sounds like a nuclear strike. Perhaps the kings of Europe will agree to drop “the bomb” on this mecca of false religion, destroying both the city and the false religion she has inspired.

There is only one conclusion to make as we conclude this study: God hates false religion regardless of the form it takes. In our day and age, the feeling is that one religion is as good as another, if we’re sincere and loving people. So, we watch our neighbors play with horoscopes, practice Transcendental Meditation, talk about reincarnation, consult psychics, and chant New Age slogans about global unity and our unlimited human potential.

We have a friend like this—a dear lady who attends a mainline church with her family on Sundays, but consults a New Age medium every few months to have her fortune told. Asked about this inconsistency, she was very defensive. “After all, God is love. He wouldn’t judge me for these things.” She is right and wrong. God is supremely loving. That is why He sent His Son to die on the Cross for our sins. But He is also perfectly holy, and will one day judge this ancient Babylonian occultism and those who engage in it. Not because He takes pleasure in judgment. But because He deserves to have us worship Him with all our minds, souls, and strength. He is a jealous Creator who will not share our love with anyone.

Let God’s Spirit search your heart as we finish. Has any spiritual compromise crept into your worship? Remember, it isn’t your job to kill the prostitute. That’s something God will do in His own time and way. What He’s calling you to do is to “’Come out from among them and be separate,’ says the Lord, ‘and do not touch the unclean thing.’” 1 John 2 adds, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life—is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away and all its lusts, but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

  1. YOUR COMMITMENT

One of the first lessons I learned as a pastor was how important the church nursery is. Young parents want a safe place where children are lovingly cared for while they worship. This includes reliable furniture, background checks of nursery workers, a way of contacting mom or dad if their children need them, and a certain method of matching the right child with the right parent when worship ends. However, the most common complaint I heard, after many conflicts between parents was the need for proper sanitation. To be specific, parents don’t want to leave their lambs in a nursery with children sick with colds, the flu, and other illnesses. So, finally we had to ask parents to keep their children home if there was a danger of infecting others.

Did you know that God feels the same way about His children? He wants His Forever Family safe from sin and every form of evil. For that reason, no one who practices evil will be admitted to His Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem. He says in Revelation 21:27, “And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

Take time right now to examine yourself and see if there are any ways in which the great prostitute of false religion and immorality has infected you. If so, repent! For Jesus, our Heavenly Bridegroom is coming soon and we need to be ready— “a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27) in love.

(To download the written version of this study, click Read Message. To listen to or download the audio version of this study, click Listen to Message.)

Please pray that my Parkinson’s tremor won’t interfere with this online ministry. I’m finding that both the recording and writing is much harder than it was. But we give thanks in everything knowing this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.

BOWLING FOR JUDGMENT (Rev. 15 – 16)

What is your reaction when you hurt someone and sin against the Lord? Is it a mere shrug of the shoulders and a “Sorry, nobody’s perfect!?” Or is it a deep sense of regret and a desire to never do it again? The attitude of many is illustrated by this note printed in The New Yorker magazine. It was left inside a stolen Trans Am in Los Angeles, which was later recovered by police and returned to the owner. In the thief’s own handwriting, it read:

Your CB is in the trunk. The radio is gone because I couldn’t stop my friend from takin it (insurance will cover that). Sorry it had to be your car, but I was lookin for one and the car lot left the key in and it was unattented. Your back tire loses a little air at times. Your brake light sometimes stays on when you drive (CHECK YOUR BRAKES!). This sucker eats a lot of gas! Don’t know why you bought this kind. Hope this didn’t put you out takin your car. I’d have liked a dealer’s car. But this was all that was advable. Sorry. NEEDS GAS!

Nice, huh? He steals a car, then launches into a critique of what’s wrong with it with a couple half-hearted “Sorrys” thrown in. It’d be funny if it wasn’t typical. In many minds, all that is necessary to atone for our sins (from robbery to murder) is an “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. We all make mistakes. What gives you the right to judge me?” As a result, many offenders are shocked when sentence is carried out. “Where’s the mercy!” they scream, implying that society is just as wrong for enforcing justice. My question is, “Where’s the true repentance? And what happened to a “broken and contrite heart?” The kind God won’t despise.

Repentance isn’t something that comes easily to the human heart. Commenting on the subject, John Calvin wrote, “Let everyone search himself and he will find that he labors under this evil—that he would rather rend his garment than his heart.” How true! Most of are willing to say “Sorry” in a pinch, but to change our attitudes is more than we usually care to do.

A graphic example is Revelation chapter 15 and 16. For seven years, judgment has fallen on mankind, warnings from God issued by men and angels alike. But as the last seven plagues fall on the world, does man repent? No, he blames God for his suffering! That should be a warning when the Holy Spirit confronts sin in our lives. We need to remember that Christ is ready and willing to forgive everyone who turns to Him in repentance and faith. But we also need to remember that the sin most certain to blind us is our own.

  1. THE BOWLS JUDGMENTS INTRODUCED

Most of this study will deal with the bowl judgments in chapter 16. But before we get to the judgments themselves, let’s take a moment to notice how they’re introduced in chapter 15. Chapter 15 is the shortest chapter in the Revelation, but it highlights three important facts.

1. God’s Wrath Will End

Verse 1 reads: “I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues, which are the last because with them God’s wrath is finished.” The original Greek reads, “Seven plagues—the last ones!’ This means that this will be the last time that God will punish the world with plagues. The word “finished” reinforces the point because it is the same word that Jesus shouted from the Cross: “It is finished!” There He was announcing His final victory over sin. Here it refers to His judgment of the world. The world doesn’t deserve it, but God in His mercy will spare the world further judgment once the plagues are finished.

2. Heaven Will Sing at God’s Judgment

Did you know that we will sing in Heaven? That’s good news for those of us who have always wanted to join the choir, but couldn’t carry a tune. My mother-in-law was like that. Everyone in the family but she was blessed with the gift of song. But she claimed that in Heaven she would out-sing us all! And I have no doubt she will. And yet, even more important than that we’ll sing is what we’ll sing. John explains two things about our song.

First, he explains who will sing. Verse 2 describes a great multitude standing by a sea of glass mixed with fire. This means they are believers, for in the ancient world no one could cross the “sea” of marble before the king’s throne without the king’s permission. The same is true of our King. Only those who have had their sins washed clean in the blood of Christ have the right to enter God’s presence. Furthermore, the fact that they’ve been “victorious over the beast” means that they are Tribulation saints who have been martyred for their faith. But in the end, they will be the final victors. How? The secret is the word “standing,” In Jewish theology, that’s a metaphor for resurrection. In other words, no matter how we suffer in this life, we who love Christ will live forever. This was Job’s faith amid his suffering. He declared:

 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand at the latter day on the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job 19:25-26 KJV)

Second, he explains what they will sing. Verse 3 says they will sing the song of Moses. What does that mean? John is likening them to the ancient Israelites who were saved out of Egypt. So, what did they do once they got to the other side of the Red Sea? Exodus 15:2 says they sang a great song of praise for their deliverance. And in the same way, once these saints get to Heaven, the first they’ll do as they stand before the crystal sea is sing a great song of praise to God for saving them from the Antichrist and the Great Tribulation.

3. God’s Judgment Is Right

John says in verse 5, “After this I looked and in Heaven the temple, that is, the tabernacle of the testimony was opened. Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues.” In other words, the plagues come from the holiest place in the universe—God’s temple in Heaven. That’s significant for two reasons. First, what is the only thing that can come out of God’s temple? That which is holy! So, no more questioning the fairness of God! Second, it’s significant because of what it follows—3 ½ years in which the beast has desecrated God’s temple on earth, setting up His throne in that holy place and declaring himself to be God. But no more! God’s temple in Heaven now erupts in perfect justice repaying Antichrist for his blasphemy on earth.

Now on to chapter 16 and what these final bowls of judgment will hold.

  1. THE BOWL JUDGMENTS POURED OUT

BOWL #1: PAINFUL SORES

John begins, “Then I heard a loud voice (God’s voice) from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.’ The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.” The word “sores” is the word used in the Greek Old Testament to describe the boils that afflicted the Egyptians in Exodus 9. Various causes are suggested for them—radioactive fallout from a nuclear exchange, a runaway strain of “super-bacteria” released in germ warfare, or a new disease not yet known to man and for which there is no cure. But whatever the cause, three things are clear about it:

Verse 2 says it is intended to punish “the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.” Just as God protected the children of Israel who lived in Goshen from the plagues that fell on Egypt, so He’ll miraculously shield His people from the bowls of His wrath.

It will involve incredible pain. Anyone who has had a boil can tell you how badly it hurts. But imagine being covered with them from head to toe. A friend in high school named Doug suffered from boils on his face. Not only was it embarrassing, it was also painful. They burned. They itched. They wept. But in this case, there will be no relief from the pain. When we come to the fifth bowl judgment in verse 11, we find mankind still writhing in pain from these sores.

It will destroy human relations. Pain is a great revealer in that only a righteous person can handle it graciously. But the will be no “Jobs” afflicted in this day. It will be God’s enemies who suffer, and they will not suffer in silence. Verse 11 says they will curse God because of their pain. And if they’re bitter enough to curse God, imagine how they will treat one another.

Warren Wiersbe comments: “It is an awesome thought to consider almost the entire population of the world suffering from a painful malady that nothing can cure. Constant pain affects a person’s disposition so that he finds it difficult to get along with other people. Human relations during that period will certainly be at their worst.”

BOWL #2: THE OCEANS DIE

Verse 3 continues, “The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.” At the second trumpet in Revelation 8, a third of the sea and its creatures die. But now the suffering multiplies. All the seas now turn to blood and all its creatures die.

David Hocking comments, “Notice the sea actually ‘ becomes’ blood (literal language), ‘as’ that of a dead man (figurative language). This means that the sea truly becomes blood first, and the creatures die as a result. There is no naturalistic explanation for this supernatural event.”

We’ve seen the results of many oil spills in recent years. One of the best known took place in Prince William Sound, killing hundreds of thousands of birds, sea otters, and other sea creatures. Until then it was considered the last pure spot on earth—a destination of “preppers” in case of worldwide disaster. But then the Valdez ran aground reminding us that when God pours out His judgment on the sea, there will be no safe place left to hide.

BOWL #3: FRESH WATER POLLUTED

Verse 4 adds, “The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.” When the third trumpet was sounded, one-third of the rivers were polluted. But now all fresh water is turned to blood, leaving mankind nothing to drink. Think about that for a moment—how dependent we are on clean water? We learned this lesson years ago when staying at a friend’s cabin where the water was supplied by a small well. But the well ran dry, leaving us without any means of bathing, cooking, or washing our dishes. We had brought along enough soda pop to keep us from being thirsty. But soda pop does not last forever. Nor can you wash in it. Such will be the situation when the third plague is poured out—all that will be left for drinking, washing, cooking, and bathing will be blood.

Even more interesting is why this plague is poured out. Verse 6 says, “For they have shed the blood of your saint and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” One writer says, “In God’s government, the punishment fits the crime. Pharaoh tried to drown Jewish boy babies, so it was his army drowned in the Red Sea. Haman built gallows on which to hang Mordecai, but it was he himself who was hanged there. King Saul disobeyed God’s order to slay all the Amalekites, so he was slain by an Amalekite.” In the same way, Heaven gives the followers of Antichrist what they deserve. Since they have shed the blood of God’s people, it is only right that they should be forced to drink blood.

BOWL #4: SCORCHING HEAT

The fourth plague gives the beast’s followers a foretaste of hell. Verse 8 says, “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire.” In an earlier judgment, the sun was dimmed a third leading to darkness on earth. But now the sunlight and its heat is intensified scorching everyone with a blazing heat that no sun block can ease. Anyone who has been on the desert knows how merciless the sun can be. Add to this the lack of water, and the agony will be unbearable—a literal hell on earth. This should lead us to ask what the purpose of this plague is. John gives two reasons.

To punish beast worshipers. Verse 8 literally says, “The sun was given power to scorch the people with fire.” The definite article refers to a specific people we’ve already met. What people would that be? Those who have the mark of the beast. We are not told how, but any believers remaining alive at this time will be supernaturally be protected from judgment.

To prove that man’s problem is spiritual, not environmental. Notice, as painful as this plague is, not one soul repents. Instead, “they cursed the name of God who had control over these plagues.” Isn’t that interesting? It proves there are no atheists left on earth. Everyone knows there is a God in Heaven. But instead of humbly asking for His forgiveness, they blame Him for their punishment. “After all You could stop this if  you wanted to.”

This reminds me of Abraham’s statement to the rich man in Hades. Being in torment, he begged Abraham in Paradise to send Lazarus the beggar to warn his brothers of judgment. But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” “No, Father Abraham, the rich man begged, if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But Abraham said, “No, if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” How true! If the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not enough to win a person’s repentance, nothing will—not even a foretaste of hell.

BOWL #5: COMPLETE DARKNESS

The fifth judgment is also a foretaste of hell. Jude describes those in hell as “wandering stars for whom the blackness of darkness is reserved forever.” Verse 10 says the pouring out of the fifth bowl plunges the beast’s kingdom into total darkness. Just as in ancient Egypt, there was total darkness, but the Israelites in the land of Goshen had light; so, this too is a judgment that falls on unbelievers only. What is the outcome of this warning? Two things:

First, a further hardening of hearts. Rather than repenting of their sins and crying out for mercy, verse 11 says, “Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of Heaven because of their pains and sores.” This is proof that judgment doesn’t always lead repentance. According to a study by the Justice Department, 63% of inmates released from state prisons are rearrested for a serious crime within three years. Of those under the age of 25 who have had eleven or more arrests, 94% are reincarcerated. Thus, it will be in this final time of wrath, with this exception—not one hardened sinner will be reformed!

Second, a final prelude to judgment. As we’ll see shortly, this blackout allows the kings of the east to march into Israel leading to the battle of Armageddon.

BOWL #6: THE BATTLE OF ARMAGEDDON

To the human eye, the world’s armies may seem to be gathering of their own accord. But verse 12 gives us a glimpse behind the scenes. First, it credits the work of demons. It says, “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they got out to the kings of the whole world to gather them for the battle of the great day of Almighty God.” Furthermore, the last line of verse 14 adds something even more important—the sovereignty of God. In his pride, Satan forgets that God is so great that He can use even the greatest evil to further His will. That was true at the Cross. The devil’s greatest victory turned out to be his greatest defeat. So, it will be when he gathers the nations in the valley of Megiddo! His attempt to rule this world through Antichrist will be “the great day of Almighty God.”

Where will it happen? Verse 16 says, “Then they gathered the kings together to that place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” The name comes from two smaller words—Har meaning “hill” and Megiddo meaning “slaughter.” This is the hill country in southern Galilee that overlooks what Napoleon called “the most natural battlefield of the whole earth”—14 miles wide and 21 miles long. This is where Gideon defeated the Midianites. Here the Roman legions marched on the way to their ancient conquests. Here British General Allenby defeated the Turks in 1917. And here the world will wage its final war again God and man.

What makes this possible is the drying up of the Euphrates River in verse 12. This allows the armies of Asia to march into the Holy Land. Some mistakenly identify these soldiers with the 200 million horsemen in Revelation 9. But, in my opinion, this is a different army. That was an army of demons that kills one-third of mankind with plagues. But this is the final human conflict towards which mankind is headed even now. On September 2, 1945, while supervising of our peace treaty with Japan which ended World War II, General Douglas MacArthur warned, “We have had our last chance. If we will not devise something greater and more equitable than war, Armageddon will be at our door.” He was right!

Is there any hope? Yes, it is found in Jesus’ promise right in the middle of this judgment. He pleads with us in verse 15, “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamelessly exposed.”

BOWL #7: A MASSIVE EARTHQUAKE AND GIANT HAILSTONES

Finally, verse 17 describes the seventh bowl of judgment—an earthquake so massive that it will alter the topography of the entire earth. John says every major city of the world (New York, Tokyo, London) will be destroyed, every island (Hawaii, the Greek islands, the Philippines, all the Caribbean islands) will be submerged, and every mountain (Mount Everest, Denali, Mount Fuji) will crumble. Then, if that’s not enough, giant hailstones weighing 100 pounds each will fall from Heaven crushing men under their weight.

What will be the impact on men’s hearts? None whatsoever! Like Pharaoh in the Old Testament, the heart of every unbeliever will be so hardened that not one soul will turn to Christ. William Newell used to say, “If men are not won by grace, they will never be won.” We see that here. Instead of turning to Christ in repentance, John says they will curse “God because of the plague.” By the way, that is perfect justice at work. For in keeping with the Law of Moses, what was the penalty for blasphemy? Death by stoning! (Leviticus 24:16)

This raises a troubling question for many people. How can a loving God be responsible for such judgment? Doesn’t this confirm the bitterness of many unbelievers that God may be great but He isn’t good? My answer is: No! What it affirms is two things: 1) God’s loving desire that no one perish. 2) Man’s ingratitude towards God’s mercy and his unwillingness to repent.

R. C. Sproul shared an example in his book, Holiness of God. On the first day of classes at the Christian College where he taught, he told students that there would be three short papers due during the term. The first was due the end of September, the second the end of October, and the third the end of November. No extensions would be given except in cases of illness or a death in the family. Otherwise, late papers would receive an “F.” The students nodded their understanding. On the last day of September, 225 students turned in their papers, but 25 stood quaking in terror begging for an extension. In mercy, Dr. Sproul relented and gave them more time. The students expressed their thanks and promised that they had learned their lesson.

Then came the last day of October. 200 had papers; 50 did not. They were nervous, but not panicky. “Professor,” it was Homecoming. Besides it’s mid-term and all our other papers are due too. Please give us one more chance. It won’t happen again.” Once more he relented, but made it clear that this was it. “If you are late for the next paper, it will be an ‘F.’ No excuses. No whining. Is that clear?” “O, yes, Professor. You are terrific. We love you Professor Sproul.” So, what happened the last day of November? 150 students came with papers in hand. The other 100 strolled into class utterly unconcerned. “Where are your term papers?” One student said it all, “O don’t worry Prof! We’re working on them. We’ll have them in a couple days. No sweat!”

Dr. Sproul writes, “I picked up my lethal black grade book and began taking down names. ‘Johnson! Do you have your paper?’ ‘No, sir,’ came the reply. ‘F,’ I said as I wrote the grade in my book. ‘Muldaney! Do you have your paper?’ Again, ‘No, sir’ was the reply. I marked another ‘F’ in my grade book. The students reacted with unmitigated fury. They howled in protest, screaming, ‘That’s not fair!’ I looked at one of the howling students. ‘Lavery! You think it’s not fair?’ ‘No,’ he growled. ‘I see. It’s justice you want? I seem to recall that your last paper was also late. If you insist on justice, you will get it. I will not only give you an ‘F’ on this paper, but I’ll also change your last grade to the ‘F’ you so richly deserved.’ The student was stunned. He had no more arguments to make. He apologized for being hasty and was suddenly happy to settle for one ‘F’ instead of two. The students had quickly taken my mercy for granted. They assumed it. When justice suddenly fell, it came as a shock and they were outraged. This, after only two doses of mercy in the space of two months.”

So, it is with God’s mercy, except that He has been immeasurably more patient with us. But He won’t be forever. One day His judgment will fall, and when it does, no one will be able to find fault with Him. For if He gave us what we deserve, no one would be forgiven. Therefore, what should we do? Welcome God’s grace this very moment and receive Christ’s forgiveness while you can. For the offer will soon expire and only judgment will remain. Repentance does not come easily to the human heart. In fact, apart from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, no one ever repents. So, respond now to His offer of salvation and make peace with God while your heart is still soft. Of if you have repented and believed, then remember why He’s left you here on earth—to share His love with as many others as you can.

(To listen to or download the audio version of this study, click Audio. To download the written version of this study, please click Written.)

The Gospel Will Overcome All Its Enemies – Rev. 14:6-20

Do you worry about the demise of Christianity in our country? While it is true that most Americans still claim to be Christians, the facts say differently. For example, in a Barna survey exploring how many adults have a Biblical worldview, they discovered that only 9% do.

For the purposes of the survey, a “biblical worldview” was defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today. In the research, anyone who held all those beliefs was said to have a biblical worldview.

The definition given above is not only a concise description of historic Christian doctrine, it also reflects the values and thinking of those who are genuine followers of Jesus Christ. This likely explains why there is such a sharp cultural and political divide in our country. Half of our populations has abandoned the Judeo-Christian beliefs on which this nation was founded, while half are still trying to hold on to some form of it. What is especially alarming are the answers given when the Barna group interviewed people who call themselves as “born again Christians.” Only 19% have a Biblical outlook on life, as defined above.

So, we worry that the gospel has lost its power to penetrate our post-Christian culture and maybe the world beyond us. But we need not worry. Wherever the Gospel is preached (not a watered-down version found in many “seeker-friendly” churches), some reject it because its demands are so high. “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) While others open their eyes to the lies of the world and the truth of Jesus. “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.“ (1 John 2:16-17) See our last post where hundreds of Nicaraguans are receiving new life by believing in Christ.

In this study, we see the power of the Gospel illustrated in five messages from Heaven to the Apostle John. The first is the preaching of the Gospel exposing the lies of the Antichrist.

  1. THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL

Do you remember the promise of Jesus in Matthew 24:14? He said, “This Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come.” It is clear that this goal has not yet been achieved. The Church has sent missionaries far and wide, but not every people group has been reached yet. Some have interpreted this to mean that the Rapture of the Church cannot take place until everyone has heard about Christ. But I take a different position. For “the end” to which Jesus referred wat not the Rapture, but the Tribulation. Jesus was promising that the Tribulation would not end and the Kingdom would not come until every nation on earth has a chance to hear the truth and believe.

How will this task be achieved? Revelation 14:6 explains. Not only will the 144,000 canvas the world telling others about Christ, but it adds, “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” This is an amazing, one-of-a kind event.

Prophecy teacher, Hal Lindsey, comments, “For centuries, angels have wanted to get in on the act of world evangelization. Peter tells us that the angels are intensely interested in the whole story of redemption (1 Peter 1:12). They have been itching to preach the Gospel—but God has given that privilege to us. The angels would love to push us to one side and really get the job done right…Now at last the angels will have their chance!”

What will be the content of the angel’s message? Only a portion is revealed, but what is revealed is fascinating. It is a call back to the basics. The Antichrist has so confused the minds of those on earth, that it is necessary for him to repeat the spiritual A, B, C’s—that God, not the Beast, is the Creator, that He alone is worthy of out worship, and judgment is soon coming to those who refuse to do so. He says in verse 7, “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water’—the very target of His judgment thus far in the Tribulation.

By the way, does mankind need this message today? More than any other time in history. Man’s heart has become so ungrateful and his mind has become so darkened that he no longer even recognizes the existence of a Creator. Through the clear propaganda of many in the science community, Darwin’s evolutionary theory is now considered “accepted fact.” One cannot visit a museum or listen to a science documentary without hearing that the “universe is billions and billions of years old.” Consequently, if all we are is the result of chance plus time, then anything goes, doesn’t it? Abortion. Same-sex marriage. Euthanasia of the elderly. Without a Creator to hold us accountable, anything goes.

But if you think this pattern is widespread today, wait until the Tribulation. Crafty beyond belief, the Beast will include in his system New Age teachings promising man a radical leap forward in our evolution. Like the Serpent of old, he will urge us, “Ignore the voice of God and bite into this lie, and you will be like God.” People’s minds will be so confused it will take an angel from heaven to correct their atheistic thinking. How gracious of God to send him.

2. THE FALL OF BABYLON

Verse 8 continues, “A second angel followed and said, ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.’”

Here we find the reason for the success of Antichrist’s brain-washing efforts. It is Babylon the Great. To what does this refer? In chapter 17 and 18, we will find that this is a reference to both the false religious system and the economic structure that dominates the world during the Tribulation. There we will try to identify where this city is located. But here we rejoice with Heaven at the crushing of these two entities which form the basis of Antichrist’s Kingdom. Impressed with her great wealth and military might, this “great city” will assume that she is above judgment. But such is not the case! In one day God will bring her down.

Revelation 18:8 gives the details: “Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry, ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom come has come.’”

3. THE PUNISHMENT OF ANTICHRIST’S FOLLOWERS

Verse 9: “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he too will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.’”

Today both cult leaders and liberal theologians question the idea of eternal punishment. “After all,” they say, “how could a loving God send anyone to hell?” But this passage leaves no doubt about it. John says, “The smoke of their torment rises forever and ever.” Those are the very same words used in Revelation 4:10 to describe the eternity of God. This means that the Jehovah Witness’ idea of annihilation of the wicked has no basis in Scripture. The wicked will not merely be “zapped out of existence.” They will continue to suffer as long as God is God, having no rest day or night forever.

Another pastor writes, “When I was a teenager I used to say to the gals I went with: ‘I’m going live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse!’ Little did I know what hell was! My pals used to say, ‘I want to go to hell. All my buddies will be there and we’ll play poker forever.’ I used to laugh with them until someone asked me, ‘Have you ever seen anyone play poker in a blast furnace.”

And yet, even here notice the evidence of God’s grace. The Greek test of verse 9 literally says, “If anyone continues to worship the beast and his image. This means that even after being deceived by Antichrist, there is still a chance to repent and turn to Jesus. Why? Because God isn’t eager to send anyone to hell. Instead, 2 Peter 3:9 assures us, He is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Hell is never pleasant to talk about. But we must be true to Scripture, and the Bible is clear. There is a Heaven to gain and a hell to shun. In fact, no one ever talked more about hell than Jesus, whose Spirit is urging us even now to turn from our sins and be saved.

4. THE REWARDING OF BELIEVERS

In contrast to verse 11, which says there is no rest for the wicked, verse 13 says there is eternal joy for those who love Jesus. “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’”

That is comforting for two reasons. First, it reminds us that our suffering will not last forever. No matter what we endure in this life—illness, heartache, fatigue—the moment we leave this place all sorrow will immediately end. Absent from the body will be at home with the Lord. Second, John says, our “works follow” us. Why does that matter? It means that unlike our human bosses who often fail to take notice of or forget our faithful service, God never will. Jesus promised that even ‘a cup of cold water’ given in His name will receive a reward.

 

5. THE HARVESTING OF THE EARTH

In Revelation 14:14-20, John pictures the punishment of the beast and his followers in terms of a harvest. Actually, there are two harvests seen here, each one intended to portray something about the final judgment of the earth.

The first harvest is a harvest of grains. Verse 14 says, “I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one ‘like a son of man’ with a crown of gold on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.’ Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to Him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So He who was seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.”

This first harvest anticipates the separation of believers and unbelievers at the end of the age. Right now God allows saints and sinners to grow up side by side within the same home or church, so that it is sometimes difficult to tell the two apart, since many sinners know all the right religious terminology. I have served in churches where such people were present. As long as we stressed love and fellowship, they were “with us.” But the moment we called for personal repentance and commitment, they doused our zeal with opposition or indifference. Jesus spoke of this danger in the parable of the wheat and the tares. He said the enemy would sow tares (weeds) to hinder the growth of the good grain. But He also warned that nothing should be done about it until the harvest, lest we “uproot the wheat with tares.”

Well, the harvest has almost arrived. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, is about to separate the wheat from the weeds. He Himself will not do the dividing. Matthew 13:41 says He will send His angels to do the reaping, gathering the wicked for judgment and leaving the righteous to enter the Kingdom of God and repopulate the earth that has been destroyed.

The second harvest is a harvest of grapes. Verse 17 continues, “Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, ‘Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.’ The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.

This is a preview of Christ’s final judgment at the battle Armageddon. There Revelation 19:15 says He will “tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of God.” Two other facts are worth emphasizing here. One is the place of judgment. Where will this great bloodbath take place? “Outside the city,” indicating that Jerusalem will be ground zero for God’s final blast of judgment. Speaking of the same event, Zechariah 14:2-3 says that the Lord “will gather all nations against Jerusalem” and then “the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle.”

The second fact to notice is the extent of judgment. Verse 20 says the blood of this winepress will rise “as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.” How far is that? If you look in the margin of your Bible, you may find the answer. My Bible says, “180 miles!” It is grizzly to think about, but the whole valley of Armageddon down to the Gulf of Aqabah will be filled with the blood and bodies of those who have followed Antichrist and rejected Jesus the Savior. It will be a terrible time of judgment, but what follows will be worth it. For it is not until these enemies are finally dealt with that God’s Kingdom can come and His will can be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

An old TV ad asked the question, “How do you spell relief?” Their purpose was to see a certain brand of antacid guaranteed to stop the pain of heartburn.

A similar question could be posed as we come to the end of this study. Having endured the heartache of life’s trials, we may wonder, “How and when will I ever find relief?” John’s visions of the future remind us that there is only one lasting solution to life’s troubles. We need Christ! Only when Jesus comes will there be lasting peace and rest. But that day is coming soon. So, hold on! When life’s trials begin to make you sad or mad, think back to these glimpses of the future and let them give you hope. For Christ is coming soon to give you an everlasting vacation from all the sorrow, stress, and suffering that you are currently enduring.

(To download a Word document of this lesson, click Word. To download a PDF file of this study, click PDF. To listen to or download an mp3 audio version of this lesson , click  Audio.)

Updated: “Spirit-filled Preachers Bring Victory” – Rev. 14:1-16

I tend to be an intense individual. Two of my greatest assets are my ability to concentrate for long periods of time without distraction and my commitment to the tasks at hand. That’s true of my studying. That’s true of my planning. That’s true of my teaching. It’s also true of my praying. Whatever I do, I tend to be all in. Those are my strengths. But with every strength comes a corresponding weakness. In my case, I can be too intense at times and forget that not everyone is built like me, particularly members of my own family.

The first time this struck home our daughter was 3 years old. Rebecca hadn’t seen much of me for two weeks. Every time she tried to get my attention, I was headed out the door to a meeting. What she didn’t know was that I was busy for her. We were about to leave on a long vacation to Orlando, Florida, which meant I had to finish several projects before we could go.

But she didn’t know that. All she knew was she hadn’t see her Daddy for two weeks, and that made her sad. When I finally saw how sad she was, I decided to have a talk with her. I got down our calendar and explained to her in 3-year-old terms that we were about to leave on vacation and she was going to have me all to herself for 3 weeks. But first, I had to finish my work. To my surprise, she got it right away. “3 weeks with no church people to bother us?” “Yes,” I said, and showed her on the calendar when we’d leave and how long we’d be gone. Her attitude instantly changed. Instead of being mad or sad, she was excited! Why? She got a glimpse of the future and what lay in store for her and our family.

God’s children are like that. We labor long and hard, often enduring great disappointment in the process of pleasing our Heavenly Father. So, from time to time, He renews our hopes by giving us a glimpse of what is ahead. That is the purpose of Revelation 14. Our last two studies focused on bad news. Revelation 12 pictures Satan’s wrath poured out on the earth after being cast out of heaven. Chapter 13 then follows by describing the suffering brought about by Antichrist and the False Prophet. But now in chapter 14 our Father give us a refreshing break from the gloom and doom. The message is serious but full of hope.

John writes, “Then I looked and behold…” This is the eighth time he’s used that phrase in Revelation, and each time it’s a prelude to something awesome he’s wants us to see. In this chapter, it occurs three times and introduces three great visions—the victory of the 144,00, the victory of the gospel, and the victory of believers in the day of judgment.

  1. VICTORY #1 – THE 144,000 OVER THE ANTICHRIST

The first vision is a touching scene of the Lamb reunited with His sheep on Mount Zion. For seven years of tribulation, the 144,000 have been hunted down by Antichrist for their faithful preaching of the Gospel. What has kept them faithful? Their longing to see the Jesus face to face. Now that day has arrived! The Lamb is reunited with His sheep and the Kingdom is about to be set up. Notice three facts John emphasizes in describing their reunion:

A. THE LOCATION OF THE 144,000

John says, “Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with Him 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.”

Where at the 144,000 at Jesus’ return to earth. They are waiting to meet Him on Mount Zion. That’s significant because Isaiah 2 and Zechariah 14 say that Mount Zion (the hill on which Jerusalem stands) will be the capital of Christ’s Kingdom. The fact that the 144,000 are there to greet Him means each one has survived the tribulation and are ready to take their places of service in His Kingdom. What a tribute to the power of God to protect His people. Think of it! By this time, half the world’s population has been destroyed by plague and persecution. The 144,000 Jewish evangelists (see chapter 6) have meanwhile been hunted and starved due to their refusal to worship the beast and receive his mark. But when Christ returns, they are alive and well. What is their secret? Instead of “the mark of the beast” (see chapter 13), they have the seal of God on their foreheads, reminding us of God’s power to protect us even amid grave danger.

Felix of Nola found himself in similar circumstances while fleeing persecution. Calling on God for help, he took refuge in a cave. Scarcely had he entered it than a spider began to spin a web over its opening. Seeing it, his enemies didn’t even bother looking inside. They assumed that no one could enter the cave without disturbing that lacy curtain of silk. So, they road on and the life of one of God’s great servants was spared. Later, Felix summed it up like this. “Where God is, a spider’s web is a wall; where He is not, a wall is but a spider’s web.”

B. THE SONG OF THE 144,000

John continues, “And I head a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.”

Why are the 144,000 the only ones able to sing this song? Because their experience has been unique. No other group has endured the hardships they will endure. Of everything on earth, only they will come through the tribulation alive, unscathed, and completely faithful. This makes their testimony different from all other testimonies that have ever been given.

As a pastor, it’s been my privilege to listen to the testimonies of hundreds of Christians over the years. In doing so, I have discovered that there is something unique about the faith story of one who has suffered for Christ. Such a believer not only radiates a love for Christ, which goes beyond understanding, but he or she is also able to give supernatural comfort to others.

Cheryl and I learned this firsthand when our daughter Heidi contracted cancer. We appreciated the support of all God’s people. But it was a couple whose child had died of cancer who gave us the most comfort and hope, that “no matter what happens, God will carry you through this.” Likewise, the song of the 144,000 will be an eternal reminder that God’s grace is sufficient for every trial.

C. THE LOYALTY OF THE 144,000

The most outstanding characteristic of this group is their loyalty. John gives three evidences of it. First, their holiness. Verse 4 says, “These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure.” The words “did not defile themselves with women” doesn’t necessarily mean that all 144,000 are bachelors, though being constantly hunted and on the run, will make marriage difficult at that time. Paul uses the same term in 2 Corinthians 11:2, where he says to the church at Corinth, I want to “present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” The point is not that they are unmarried or that being single is superior to being married. The Bible says that both can be pleasing to God, that “marriage is honorable among all and the bed undefiled.” (Hebrews 13:4) The point is at the end of the sentence where John adds, “for they kept themselves pure.” They are fully devoted to Christ, using all their time and energy to preach Christ to others, and refusing to succumb to Antichrist and his temptations.

Second, he emphasizes their truthfulness. Verse 5: “No lie was found in their mouths.” What a contrast to Satan’s tactics! Antichrist’s power is the power of deception. And of his spiritual father, the devil, Jesus said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) But not the 144,000! No matter how the world tries to take advantage of us, God’s people fight fair. 2 Corinthians 10:4 says, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” In other words, no matter how personally threatening it is, we’re to speak the truth in love and trust God to defend us.

Is that true of you? As Jesus commanded, “Is your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ ‘no?’” Or do you leave “loopholes” in your promises and sprinkle your words with half-truths and little white lies? “Tell whoever is on the phone, I’m not here!?”

Third, he emphasizes their witness. “They follow the Lamb where He goes” and “were offered as first-fruits to God and the Lamb.” The term “first-fruits” carries with it the idea of a harvest to follow. For example, when the ancient Israelites offered their first-fruits in the Temple, it was an act of faith symbolizing their confidence that God was going to bless them with a bountiful harvest to follow. In the same way, the 144,000 are just a foretaste of the innumerable multitude that is going to be saved through the ministry of the 144,000. That promise is seen in the phrase, “they follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” For what did Jesus say would happen when we follow Him? He said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

The lesson? You cannot please Christ without caring for souls. That doesn’t mean we should knock on doors or pass out tracts on streets corners. If God calls you to do that, by all means do so! But it does mean that we will be witnesses for Him. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be My witnesses.” (Acts 1:8) What about you? Have you passed that test of loyalty? Is your greatest desire in life to help reach others for Him?

I wonder, have I done my best for Jesus, Who died upon the cruel tree? To think of His great sacrifice on Calvary! I know My Lord expects the best from me.

How many are the lost that I have lifted? How many are the chained I’ve helped to free? I wonder, have I don’t my best for Jesus, when He has done so much for me?

 (To download the written message as a Word document, click Word. To download it as a PDF file, click PDF. To listen to or download the audio message, click Audio.)