Tag Archives: Faith

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.

WHEN NIGHTMARES COME TRUE: The Trumpet Judgments of Revelation 8 and 9

Revelation: Because the Time Is Near

Study #13: “When Nightmares Come True: The Trumpet Judgments of Revelation 8:1—9:21″

(To listen to or download the audio version of this lesson, click Audio.)

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1988 was the year Time magazine marked the beginning of the end. Every year until then, the magazine celebrated the New Year by naming a man or woman as their person of the year and printing their picture on its cover. But in 1988 they departed from tradition and named “Endangered Earth” as Planet of the Year.

They then invited thirty-three scientists and political leaders from 10 different countries to a 3-day conference in Boulder, Colorado, asking them to come up with a plan to save Planet Earth. Pointing to the destruction of the world’s rain forests, the depletion of the ozone layer, droughts in our own Southwest, and killer hurricanes in the Caribbean, Time concluded: “For decades, scientists have warned of the consequences of all this profligacy. No one paid attention. This year the earth spoke, like God warning Noah” of the Flood to come.

Lester Brown of Worldwatch, warned, “We do not have generations, only years, to turn things around.” John Eddy of the Corporation for Atmospheric Research agreed, “We’ve got to get the earth into intensive care, to monitor the vital signs of our planet.”

Of course, since then, fears have skyrocketed. Now there’s the concern of global warming, the melting of the polar ice caps, mammoth earthquakes, and dozens of other signs that the end is near. All of which is promoted by Hollywood on both the big and small screen in post-apocalyptic films and television shows like “The Fifth Wave,” “I Am Legend,” “Oblivion, and “The Last Ship.”

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But our question in this study is not what scientists and politicians think about things, but what does God say in His Holy Word? Are we, as Barry McGuire sang in the 1960’s, on “The Eve of Destruction?” The Bible says, “Yes,” not because of man’s abuse of the planet, but because of his rebellion against God. In Revelation 8 and 9, the Lord Himself describes the future of our planet, and the news is not good. The environmentalists’ worst fears are realized. Earth is devastated by plague after plague, leaving it virtually uninhabitable.

But the cause is not global warming, as some predict; it’s Jesus Christ, our Creator, who has reserved the right to judge this world in righteousness–a reminder that more important than our environmental efforts is the need to prepare ourselves body, soul, and spirit for His Return. To see why that’s important, let me emphasize three facts about His judgment.

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  1. HOW JUDGMENT IS INTRODUCED IN HEAVEN

In a previous study, we learned that the opening of the seventh seal marks the midpoint of the Tribulation and the releasing of seven trumpets of judgment. Now we see that for ourselves. As Jesus breaks the final seal, seven trumpets are handed to seven angels who are about to blow destruction on the earth. And yet, before they do, three merciful events take place in heaven.

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First, there is silence in heaven for about half an hour. Revelation 8:1 says, “When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.” What is the significance of this silence? John doesn’t say for sure, but I think it’s the “calm before the storm.” In fact, what’s ominous about it is that it’s preceded by billions of saints and angels singing God’s praises around His throne. But when the final seal is opened, heaven falls silent in recognition of the terrible judgment about to strike the earth. It is a moment of reverential silence for God’s majesty and sorrow for those who are about to die.

Second, incense is offered on the altar, meaning that we the Church are praying again. Verse 3 says, “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” For centuries the church has been praying, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But sometimes we wonder if our prayers are doing any good. “After all, the world doesn’t seem to be getting any better!” But here we see that our prayers do make a difference! In fact, not one prayer prayed for the coming of God’s kingdom is ever forgotten by God. He stores up every prayer in heaven and will suddenly answer at the opening of the seventh seal.

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Warren Wiersbe warns, “Like it or not, the prayers of God’s people are involved in the judgments He sends. The throne and altar are related. The purpose of prayer, as is said, is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but God’s will done on earth—even if it involves judgment. True prayer is serious business. So we had better not move the altar too far from the throne!”

Finally, the third thing that happens before the seventh seal is opened is that thunder and lightning pour forth from God’s throne. Verse 5 says, “Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.” These final phenomena are not intended to injure anyone, since they do not proceed from the trumpets. Instead, they’re a final warning to those on earth to repent before judgment falls.

The Apostle Peter reminds us, “God is not willing for any to perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Ezekiel 33:11 adds, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die?” says the Lord. The truth is, judgment is coming and sinners will be punished. But we can be pardoned of our wrongs, if we recognize our sinfulness and turn to Christ in faith. That’s how judgment is introduced in heaven. Now notice—

  1. HOW JUDGMENT IS ENACTED ON EARTH

Trumpet #1: 33% of Earth’s Vegetation Destroyed

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Verse 7 describes the blast of the first trumpet. “The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.” This is reminiscent of the seventh plague in Egypt. When Pharaoh refused to let God’s people go, hail and fire rained down from heaven and destroyed every man and beast left outdoors. But this plague is immeasurably worse, for it falls not on one nation, but on the whole earth, consuming one-third of the trees and all the green grass.

This Greek word for trees refers to “fruit trees,” which means that the world’s fruit production will immediately be cut by 33%. The destruction of all green grass will also bring an end to the world’s daily industry, cripple the world’s meat industry, and destroy the wheats and grains that give us our daily bread. Add to that the fact that 25% of the pharmaceuticals in use today contain ingredients derived from wild plants, and it means the new diseases  unleashed at this time will have little chance of being cured. Even now environmentalists worry about the medical repercussions of the world’s rain forests being destroyed. Biologist Daniel Jantzen of the University of Pennsylvania warned, “I know of three plants with the potential of treating AIDS. One grows in an Australian rain forest, one in Panama, and one in Costa Rica.” Add to this the fact that trees are the world’s oxygen-producers, and it means that mankind is in serious trouble.

Trumpet #2: 33% of Marine Life Destroyed

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Verse 8 continues, “The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” Exactly what this mountain is, John doesn’t say. It could be a comet, an underwater volcano, or something the world has never before seen. But it brings with it three disasters. 1) A third of the saltwater is turned to blood. This reminds us of the first plague in Egypt, which turned the Nile River to blood and caused all of the fish in the river to die. 2) A third of the creatures in the sea die. Whether this is due to a great explosion or the pollution of the waters with blood, the fishing industry will find itself on the edge of collapse, especially when—

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3) A third of all ships are destroyed. According to the most recent statistics, there are 87,483 ocean-going merchant ships and naval ships on earth. Imagine the economic shock waves if 29,000 of them were suddenly sunk! And what about their cargo? Some of you remember in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil, killing thousands of oil-soaked birds, polluting the coastline, and closing fisheries. That was the result of just one oil spill. Try to imagine the environmental impact if 1/3 of the world’s oil tankers were ripped apart at the seams all at the same time!

Trumpet #3: 33% of Freshwater Destroyed

Verse 10 adds, “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood.  A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.” Job 9 says that God has named all His stars, one of which is called “Wormwood.” Its mission? To fall to earth at the blast of the third trumpet and poison the freshwater of the world.

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The National Geographic lists 100 principal rivers on earth, ranging from the Amazon (4,000 miles long) to the Rio de la Plata (150 miles long). These and the countless streams, lakes, and springs comprise the lifeline of humanity. But at the falling of “Wormwood,”1/3 of them will become undrinkable. In fact, that’s what “wormwood” means. It means “undrinkable,” but many thirsty people will die from trying to do so, because there is no other source of freshwater available.

How could Wormwood be a literal star? If it were, wouldn’t that mean the end of the earth? Not necessarily. Evolutionary scientists have postulated for years that what killed the dinosaurs was a giant meteor that struck the earth 70 million years ago. Besides, if a meteor entered earth’s atmosphere, chances are it would split into countless pieces, raining down its poison on all the rivers and lakes of the world. But given that this is a supernatural judgment, we don’t have to understand how He will do it, for “with God nothing shall be impossible!”

Trumpet #4: 33% of Light Darkened

Verse 12 adds, “The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.”

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This is similar to the ninth plague of Egypt, when darkness fell upon the land, except in this case darkness covers the entire earth and lasts not three days, but until the fourth bowl judgment in Revelation 16, when the sun’s power increases scorching everyone who continues to reject Jesus Christ. Nor can this darkness be attributed to an eclipse, because it also affects both the moon and the start. Instead, it’s the cosmic phenomenon of which both the prophets and the Lord Jesus spoke. Joel wrote, “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”

If their light is diminished by one-third, it could mean that daylight will only be two-thirds as bright as now—like reading by the light of a 60-watt instead of a 100-watt bulb. Try that tonight and you’ll see the difference. Furthermore, the night will be a third darker than it’s ever been before, throwing the world into a panic. It will also create an energy crisis as the demand for electricity and other light sources increase. And it will lead to an unprecedented crime wave. Jesus warned, “Men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” The truth is most major crimes are committed under the cloak of darkness. So, if it remains dark all day long, imagine the immediate rise in robberies, vandalism, rape, murder, and other violent crimes!

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That, then, is how judgment is introduced in heaven and enacted on earth. Now let’s spend our last few minutes noticing how the suffering is exacerbated by hell.

  1. HOW JUDGMENT IS EXACERBATED BY HELL

In verse 13 we find yet another evidence of Christ’s mercy. Before He allows the final blasts of the last three trumpets, He sends an angel to warn the world of greater judgment to come. Some versions translate the word “eagle” instead of “angel.” Warren Wiersbe says this may be the living creature before God’s throne with the face of an eagle who is now sent on a final mission of mercy. John says, “As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!”

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The word “woe” is a strong word in Greek—a loud verbal warning that something terrible is to follow. The fact that it’s repeated three times emphasizes that the last three trumpets will bring on the most terrible suffering mankind has ever known. And yet, how many listen and repent? Not many. Why? The explanation is found in the phrase, “inhabitants of the earth.” This means more than “people who live on the earth.” The phrase is used 12 times in Revelation. Each time it describes a kind of people—those who love this world and give no thought to heaven to come. They will therefore die in their sins. In this study, we’ll look at the first two “woes,” because the third “woe” doesn’t come until Revelation 11.

Trumpet #5: Demonic Locusts

Revelation 9:1 begins, “Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him.” Who is this “star?” Verse 11 is clear. He’s an angel—“the angel of the bottomless pit,” indicating hell is his home. Have we met him before? Yes, he is the evil one described by Jesus when He said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18) At his initial rebellion, Lucifer lost his place as a covering cherub (Ezek. 28:14) who guarded the holiness of God. But according to Job 1 and Revelation 12, he still has access to heaven. He is the accuser of the brethren who accuses us “before our God day and night.” But at the midpoint of the Tribulation, that will end. Lucifer will be permanently banned from heaven, leading him to torment mankind in ways that defy description.

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The torment begins when he is given the key to the bottomless pit. You see, contrary to popular belief, the devil is not the king of hell. Nor does he enjoy unlimited power even in that evil place. For before he can release the demons from the “bottomless pit,” what must happen? Jesus must hand him the key. (See Revelation 1:8.) What then comes out of this pit? Two things: 1) Smoke “like the smoke of a great furnace.” This is a sober reminder to those who scoff at the idea of a literal hell, for both Jesus and John describe it as a “furnace of fire.” In fact, the smoke of this furnace is so severe it pollutes the air and further darkens the sun, which was already darkened by one-third at the fourth trumpet.

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2) Locusts sent to torment mankind. Joel warned in his prophecy, “Blow the trumpet in Zion . . . Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the Lord is coming . . . a day of darkness and gloom . . . a people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them . . . surely nothing shall escape them. Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; and like swift steeds, so they run. With a noise like chariots over mountaintops they leap, like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble, like a strong people set in battle array. Before them the people writhe in pain; all faces are drained of color.”

Revelation 9:7 adds, “The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men.  They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.  They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle. They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months.”

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Who or what are these locusts? The descriptions make it clear that they are not ordinary locusts. First, they have a king, something Proverbs 30:27 says is untrue of ordinary locusts. Second, they have stingers in their tails, something else normal locusts do not have. Third, they do not devour vegetation. Instead, verse 4 commands them not to “harm the grace of the earth or any green thing.” For the purpose of their existence is to torment those who reject the Lordship of Christ. What, then, could these locusts be? Demons! That’s evident not only from the identity of their king. The Bible often calls demons “the devil’s angels.” But it is clear from their origin. They come up out of the “bottomless pit.” What is the bottomless pit? It is the prison where Satan will be “jailed” for a thousand years during Christ’s millennial kingdom on earth (Rev. 20:3), and it is also the place where millions of fallen angels, who have never been allowed to roam the earth, are being kept until Tribulation. Peter explains, “God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness . . . reserved for the judgment of the great day.” (2 Pet. 2:4)

It’s frightening to realize that right now, hidden somewhere in the depths of the earth, are millions of vicious demons about to be unleashed on this earth like a massive plague of locusts, tormenting all who reject the love of Christ.

Finally, notice their power. Verse 3 says, “And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. And their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.”

Satan is a con artist who tells us that sin leads to happiness. But here is another example of how sin leads to suffering. His demons are not allowed to kill those on earth (Satan can only do what Jesus allows), but are allowed to torment men for five months. This is the normal lifespan of a locust (May to September). How do they do this? With scorpion-like stingers in their tails which inflict such unbearable pain that the victims will want to die, but be unable to do so.

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Hal Lindsey comments, “The sting will be so painful that men will wish they could die. History records that ancient Roman soldiers were famous for their ability to take pain without flickering an eye. But when several of them were stung by scorpions in the desert of Egypt, they screamed and writhed in pain. Scorpion stings are among the most painful wounds a person can endure.”

Finally, notice with me the sixth trumpet judgment and the suffering it brings.

Trumpet #6: Demonic Horsemen

Verse 13: “Then the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God, one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so they would kill a third of mankind. The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brim-stone.  A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.”

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The sixth trumpet releases four angels who are bound at the Euphrates River. They can’t be good angels, since there is no good reason for a holy angel to be bound. Instead, they are four super-demons who will lead an army of death across the earth! Why are they bound at the Euphrates River? Historically, the Euphrates is the natural boundary between Asia and the Middle East—a barrier that any conquering army would have to cross. But more important than that, it has an age-old spiritual significance. This was the sight of the Tower of Babel and Babylon, the “mother” of idolatry and false religion. Indeed, Revelation 18:2 says that during the Tribulation, Babylon will again become “a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit.” The point is, somewhere right now near the ancient city of Babylon, there is a group of demons waiting to be released, so they can lead an army which shall destroy mankind.

What army will they lead? Some say this is a symbolic reference to Russia’s invasion of Israel in Ezekiel 38-39. Others say they’re “the kings of the east”—200 million Asian soldiers who cross the Euphrates to fight in the final battle of Armageddon. But I believe when the plain sense of Scripture makes good sense, we should seek no other sense. Therefore, since nothing in the context suggests a human army (the description sounds demonic), I believe  like the first trumpet judgment, this is another attack by an army of demons who have been bound until now. How many in their army? John is precise. The Greek literally says, “10,000 times 10,000 times 2” or 200 million demonic horsemen. And then, to make sure we don’t spiritualize it, he adds, “I heard the number of them,” indicating that the number is to be taken literally.

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Imagine the destruction that would result if 200 million additional demons were allowed to join forces with the powers of evil already at work in the world! John describes their impact in verse 18 to 19. He says it will lead to three more deadly plagues—fire, smoke, and brimstone. The result will be the death of another third of mankind. In Revelation 6:8, John said one-fourth of humanity would die from the first four seals. In Revelation 8:11, he said “many” more will die. Now, as a result of these plagues, a third of the remaining population will lose their lives. This means at least half the world’s population, or using today’s statistics, 3.5 billion of the 7 billion people on earth will die by the end of the sixth trumpet.

But the saddest fact is how the survivors respond to these judgments. You would think that five months of torment would drive unbelieving sinners to their knees in repentance. But such is not the case. Verse 20 says, “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.”

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Their sins explain their lack of repentance. “Magic arts” is the Greek word pharmakia from which we get our word “pharmaceuticals.” In other words, the war on drugs will be lost. Those who remain alive will give themselves wholeheartedly to their addictions, seeking escape from the reality of God’s judgment. And in doing so, they will open themselves up to demonic possession becoming slaves to the millions of demons that have been let loose on the earth.

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Now think back on the judgments you’ve read about. It may seem fantastic, but every word is true and about to take place. Will you be prepared for it? Have you bowed your heart in repentance and receive Christ’s gracious gift of salvation?

The story is told of a prince traveling through France who visited the prison at Toulon where the most hardened criminals were kept. Because of his nobility, he was allowed to release one of the condemned men. So he went from prisoner to prisoner, inquiring why they were there. All claimed to be innocent insisting they were there by mistake. Only one admitted his crime. “My lord, as much as I long to be free, I’m guilty. I’ve committed many crimes and have nothing to say except I deserve to be here.” The prince listened and then in a loud voice shouted, “You miserable wretch! You should not be here among these ‘honest’ men. You are bad enough to corrupt them all.” Then, turning to the officer in charge, he commanded, “This is the man I’ve chosen. Release him at once!”

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The same is true of you and me. We have sinned many times and in many ways. We deserve judgment. But God in His mercy is willing to pardon us, if we confess our sin and turn to Jesus in repentance and faith. So, if you haven’t done so, turn to Christ today. Why face God’s judgment, when you can be forgiven and free!

(To download the written version of this study, click Written Message.)

Smyrna: Will I Suffer for Christ?

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Study #4: The Letter to the Church in Smyrna

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Debora Johnson Horse Picture of John Wesley

One of the best stories about John Wesley involves his expectation of persecution. One day he was riding along when it suddenly dawned on him that three days had passed without an egg or brick being tossed at him. But instead of than being happy about it, he worried. He slid down off his horse, knelt on the ground, and began to pray, “Lord, what’s wrong with me? Am I backslidden?” And for several minutes, he asked the Lord to show him the reason for his lack of suffering. Just then, an irreligious fellow looked over the hedge and spied the preacher praying. Recognizing him, the irreligious fellow said to himself, “I’ll fix that Methodist preacher!” and picked up a brick and threw it at him. The brick missed its mark and fell harmlessly to the ground. But Wesley saw it and leaped to his feet with joy. “Praise God!” he shouted. “It’s all right. I still have His presence.”

You may wonder, “Was Wesley crazy or just an old fool?” The answer is neither. He was simply taking literally what Jesus told us from the beginning. John 15:20, “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” 2 Timothy 3:12 repeats the warning, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Today one of the big debates among Christians is the Tribulation. Will the church remain on earth and go through the Great Tribulation? That’s a question that we will address in Revelation chapter 3. But regardless of the position you take regarding the Tribulation, there is one issue on which all Christians can agree. Every church and every Christian will go through some tribulation. The enemy of our souls will not be content to let us serve Christ without some sort of opposition. If he can stop us through official persecution, he will do it. And if the Lord does not return soon, we in the West may begin to face a degree of persecution we have never experienced before. But even when that avenue isn’t open to him, he finds other ways to hurt us—personal insults and injustices, rejection by family and friends, financial disasters, mental and physical disorders. Satan never ceases in his search for something to weaken our faith and destroy our effectiveness for Christ.

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But as great as his opposition is, let’s not forget. God has a purpose and a victory in our suffering. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” One of the best examples is found in Revelation 2:8-11 where we meet the church of Smyrna, who suffered intensely for Christ. But they did it to the glory of God, providing a timeless example that we can follow today.

By the way, I failed to mention something significant when we began our study of the churches. But I want to mention it now because, as you’ll see shortly, it becomes very important in the study of this letter. The seven letters to the seven churches follow a common pattern. First, the destination of the letter is given along with a description of Christ which is intended to encourage them or warn them. Next a commendation is given citing the good deeds of the church, followed by a word of correction from Jesus. Finally, each letter closes with an exhortation and a promise of blessing to those who hear and obey it. But as we study the church in Smyrna, one of these features is intentionally missing.  There is not one word of correction. Let’s learn why as we look at several key factors about this city. They will help us understand what is said in the rest of the letter.

  1. City

The letter begins, “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write.” Historians report three facts about this city. First, its beauty. The Romans called it the “ornament of Asia.” For it boasted the safest, most beautiful harbor of its day and was an excellent example of city planning, laid out according to the specifications of its founder, Alexander the Great.

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Second, it was a Roman city. Even though it was located 500 miles from Italy, Smyrna was infatuated with Rome, so much so that even before Rome became a super-power, they erected a temple in its honor at the center of their city. Later, due to their loyalty in war, Caesar also made it a free city, granting Smyrna all the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship. This was then followed by an even greater honor. In 26 AD, Smyrna was chosen as the site for a new temple in honor of Tiberius Caesar. This not only deepened their devotion to Rome, it also made it a center of emperor worship. This delighted all but the Christians in Smyrna, for now the choice before them was: Worship Caesar or suffer.

But the most striking thing about the city was its name. The word “Smyrna” means myrrh—a spice used as an embalming agent and as an anesthetic for pain. As such, it became a symbol and synonym for suffering. For example, when Jesus suffered on the Cross, it was myrrh He was offered to drink, and it was myrrh that was used in preparing His body for burial. It is fitting, then, that the suffering church of Asia should be found in the city of myrrh. In fact, what is interesting about myrrh is that it has to be crushed to give off an odor. And the more it is crushed, the sweeter its odor becomes. That was the experience of the Smyrnans. God let the devil crush them, but the more he crushed them, the sweeter their testimony became. I pray the same will be said of us when we go through trial or persecution.

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  1. Comfort

Notice also how fitting the description of Christ is in verse 8: “These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.” “First and the Last” refers to His eternity, reminding us that nothing catches Him by surprise. Whatever hardships or heartaches lie ahead of us, He has already previewed them and made sure they all work together for our good. (Rom. 8:28) Remember that was you await that medical biopsy, make that pivotal career decision, or pray for that long-awaited need. Remember that “the eternal God is our refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms?” (Deut. 33:27)

“Was dead and came to life” is, on the other hand, a reference to His resurrection and the reason He can say to us in verse 10, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.” Why needn’t we fear? Because regardless of what we suffer in this life, Jesus promises that we will live forever, “Because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19)

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Several years go, an ocean liner called the Empress of Ireland sank. On board were 130 Salvation Army officers, only 21 of whom survived, very few compared to the number of people on board the ship. Many wondered, “Why would God let so many of His children die?” When they examined their bodies, they learned why. Not one of those who drowned was wearing a life preserver! When interviewing the survivors, they said that when these brave souls saw there weren’t enough lifejackets to go around, they took theirs off and strapped them onto others saying, “It’s OK. I can afford to die. I know Jesus.”

Do you? Are you a follower of Jesus? Then you don’t need to worry about the future, because no matter what you suffer here, you’re going to live forever. And not only live forever, Jesus promised that whatever we give up for Him in this life—friends, family, or possessions—will be more than made up for in the life to come. What a comfort to those suffering saints in Smyrna. Now listen to His commendation of the Smyrnans.

  1. Commendation

In each of the letters to the churches, Jesus begins His commendation with the statement, “I know your works.” But in comforting the Smyrnans, He adds, “I also know your suffering.” That’s true, isn’t it? As the old hymn puts it—

Jesus knows all about our struggles, He will guide till the day is done;  There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus—No, not one! No, not one!

First, He says, “I know your tribulation.” There are many words for tribulation in the Bible. This one means “pressure from without,” referring not to physical illness or emotional stress, but to physical persecution from the world. Think of the torture of the first Christians—flogging, prison, mauled by lions in the arena, lit as torches in Nero’s garden, beheading by the sword. Yet Jesus says, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”

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Next He says, “I know your poverty.” The word means “destitute.” As victims of the “ten percenters,” the Smyrnans gave up everything for Christ. Roman law stated that when someone was turned in for being a Christian, 90% of the victim’s property went to the government, but 10% was awarded to the informant as a reward, leaving the Christians absolutely destitute. And yet, Jesus could say to them in verse 9, “You are rich!”

How could that be? How can a person be both rich and poor? Because God’s definition of riches is radically different from that of the world. For example, there are many in today’s Christian culture who will tell you that if you have enough faith and you’re in God’s will, you will never be sick or impoverished. God always wants His children to be healthy and wealthy. But I can tell you without apology that those who say such things know nothing about the Kingdom of God. As James corrected his readers, “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5) The truth is that God frequently lets His children go through lean times. Not because He doesn’t love us, but because He wants us to experience first and foremost of all the richness of knowing Him.

This reminds me of the Thomas Acquinas’ visit to the holy city of Rome. While there, the pope took him on a tour of the papal treasures. Smiling proudly, the pope said, “So, you see, Thomas, no longer can we say like Peter, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” To which the great man replied, “No, and neither can we say, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk.” You see, as American believers, we are rich when it comes to creature comforts, but I wonder, how wealthy are we when it comes to knowing God?

Third, He says, “I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” In Smyrna there was a large Jewish population who claimed to love God, but rejected Jesus His Messiah and did everything in their power to destroy His church. For example, when Polycarp the pastor of this church was sentenced to be burned at the stake, history records that it was the Jews who stacked the wood for the fire.

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Synagogue in Ancient Smyrna

Does this mean all Jews are Christ-killers and deserving of our contempt? By no means! Paul reminds us in Romans 11 that the Jews are still the apple of God’s eye and that one day all Israel will be saved. Therefore, whoever curses them will be cursed himself. Still, the Bible is clear that the greatest enemies of the saints are often religious themselves—Cain, Caiaphas, the Inquisitors. That has been the devil’s strategy from the beginning. He uses religion and religious people to discredit and persecute the people of God.

  1. Courage

So for what did Jesus correct the church at Smyrna? He didn’t. Unlike the other churches, the outstanding feature of this letter is they needed no correction. For one of the benefits of persecution is that those who have suffered for Christ normally demonstrate a deeper purity and loyalty to Christ than those who are comfortable in their faith. 1 Peter 4:1 talks about this, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Is Peter saying that those who suffer physically reach a state of sinless perfection in which they are no longer susceptible to sin? No. He is reminding that suffering can, if we let it, purify our values, break our infatuation with the world, and deepen our love for Jesus.

Hal Lindsey described a conversation with a European Christian who made frequent trips behind the Iron Curtain prior to the fall of communism. This believer witnessed amazing examples of faith and devotion to Christ. He added, “One church that was undergoing considerable persecution said they were praying for God to send persecution upon their Western brothers, so that they too might be purified.” That’s a little unsettling, isn’t it? To realize that God may be answering their prayers even now, as we experience more and more opposition in our country. But let’s not forget that suffering can be a blessing if it purifies and intensifies our love for God.

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Corrie Ten Boom talked about this in one of her books. She told about a group of Russian believers meeting behind closed doors. Suddenly two soldiers burst into the room with machine guns, giving the believers five minutes to renounce their faith and leave, or they would be shot on the spot. A few fearfully got up and left. Then the soldiers walked to the door, locked it, and announced, “We’re believers too! But we can’t risk worshiping with anyone who isn’t totally committed to Christ. May we join your fellowship?”

Jesus did not correct the church at Smyrna. He encouraged them. First, He said to them, “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.” Let’s see what we can learn about suffering from the Savior’s words.

The certainty of suffering. You say, “I’ve had enough suffering. Now it’s time for some peace and pleasure.” But who knows what’s coming? The testimony of those who are mature in the Lord is that trials are often constant. That’s what the word “suffer” in this passage means. It means to be “constantly suffering.” Listen to the words of Dr. Edward Judson at the dedication of Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Referring to the life of his father, Adoniram Johnson, the great missionary, he said, “Suffering and success go together. If you are succeeding without suffering, it is because others before you have suffered. If you are suffering without succeeding, it is that others after you may succeed.”

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The source of suffering. Jesus adds, “The devil is about to thrown some of you into prison,” making it clear that our suffering is not always the result of our sin. Sometimes it’s the result of doing what is right. You see, now that Jesus has ascended to His throne in heaven, the only way for the devil to show His hatred for Christ is by attacking those of us who love Him. But the Savior encourages us not to be afraid. Why not? Because of two more facts about suffering.

The purpose of suffering. “The devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested.” The word “tested” means to prove the value of something. In other words, Satan may mean it for evil against us, but one day, if you belong to Jesus, you’ll be able to look back on what you’ve suffered and say with the Patriarch Joseph, “God meant it for good. He used it to bring out the best in me and bless others in the process.” Or as Job the Great Sufferer put it, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

The brevity of suffering. Jesus says, “You will have tribulation ten days.” Those who believe the seven churches represent seven ages of church history say this refers to the ten Roman emperors who persecuted the church. That may be true. Others think it is an homage to Daniel and his friends. For when they were tested by King Nebuchadnezzar, how long did the test last? Ten days after which they were exalted to high positions in the king’s court. But whatever the reference, its meaning is clear. Our suffering will not last long. Life is like a mist that is quickly vanishing, and as we suffer the things of this life, 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

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  1. Crowns

You wonder, “Is it worth it to suffer for Christ?” Jesus answers that question in verse 10, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” That’s interesting, isn’t it? Jesus could have said, “Be strong or smart or successful,” something that would fit right in with our success-driven culture. But He didn’t. He said, “Be faithful.” Why? Because that’s what we lack—in our marriages, our families, our work, our churches. All it takes is a little opposition and we are ready to quit. Yet faithfulness is what God treasures most. Remember the master’s words in the parable of the talents, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you’ve been faithful over a few things. I will make you ruler over many things.”

But you say, “I’ve tried to be faithful, but I always end up failing.” Then try David Livingstone’s formula. The great missionary to Africa was standing before a group of students at the University of Glasgow, the signs of suffering evident in his body. Thirty different illnesses had left him emaciated. His left arm, crushed by a lion, hung limp at his side. But he offered the students hope for the trials they too would face. He said to them, “May I tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among people whose language I could not understand and whose attitude toward me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the world.’ On these words I staked everything and they have never failed me.”

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If that is not enough motivation, cling to the double promise in verses 10 and 11. The first half is found in verse 10. Jesus says, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The Bible talks a lot about crowns, promising that just as the ancient Olympic athletes won laurel wreaths to celebrate their victories, you and I can win imperishable crowns to signify our loyalty to Christ forever. One crown is the crown of glory, given to faithful elders. Another crown is the crown of joy, given to faithful soul-winners. A third crown is the crown of righteousness, given to those who look forward to the Lord’s return. But this is the crown of life, given to those who are faithful until death.

“Then it’s a martyr’s crown!” you say. “Something only martyrs can wear.” No. Jesus doesn’t say to be faithful in death. He says to be faithful until death. James makes the same point in James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” So it isn’t only martyrs. It’s for anyone who loves the Lord and proves it by being faithful under trial. That’s the real test of our faith – not how often we go to church, read the Bible, or pray. The real proof is how we respond to temptation and how faithful we are under trial. So ask yourself: How much do I love Jesus? Am I as holy in private as I seem to be in public? Am I as cheerful when things go wrong as when they’re going well?

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Verse 11 gives the second half of the promise—escape from the second death. “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.” What is the second death? According to the Bible, those who reject Christ die two times. The first death is separation of the soul from the body. James 2:26 explains, “The body without the spirit is dead.” But that’s not the end of it. The Bible says those who reject Christ will be resurrected one day to stand before Him in judgment, and because they’ve not given Him the worship in this life that He deserves, they will be separated from Him forever in eternity to come. Revelation 20:14 says, “This is the second death…anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

Those are two powerful reasons, then, why it is worth it to be faithful to Christ until death: 1) Because we’ve been forgiven and will live with Him forever in heaven; and 2) Because every act of loyalty in this life will be rewarded in the life to come.

Let the testimony of Polycarp inspire you. It was towards the end of February. His congregation urged him to get out of Smyrna and escape the persecution that was beginning again. But he didn’t want to leave. So they forced him. They hid him in a cave, certain no one would find him. But they did. And to the surprise of his captors, he offered them something to eat and drink when they arrived. When they finished, he asked if he could get them anything else. “No,” they said. So he asked for permission to pray. “What can it hurt?” they thought looking at the old man. Little did they realize that he would go on in prayer for more than two hours. Imagine his words. “Dear Lord, we know that all men are sinners, and that no one can come to God except through your Son, Jesus Christ.” And on and on he went, giving them a full-length presentation of the gospel.

Finally, they took him away, back to the city. The officer in charge kept urging him to recant. “What harm can it do to sacrifice to the emperor?” Polycarp replied, “Jesus is Lord, and I cannot compromise that fact.” On arrival, to impress the crowd, they pushed him out of the carriage and onto the ground. Then they led him into the amphitheater and made him stand before the pro-consul. The pro-consul said, “Have respect to your age, old man. Swear that Caesar is Lord. Swear once and I will let you go and die in peace. Revile the Christ. He cannot be Lord.” Polycarp said with fearless devotion, “Eighty and six years I have served Him and He has never done me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” The pro-consul persisted, “Swear by the genius of Caesar. I have wild beasts you know, and if you will not change your mind, I will throw you to them.” Polycarp was unmoved. He replied, “BID THEM BE BROUGHT!” (I love that!) But that angered the pro-consul all the more, so that he went on, “Since you despise the beasts, unless you change your mind, I will make you to be destroyed by fire.”

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Infuriated by the old man’s composure and eager to see him suffer, the mob began to gather wood for the pyre. Polycarp stood by the stake and said, “It will not be necessary to fasten me. I have strength from my Lord and Christ.” Then he prayed, “Lord, Almighty God, Father of Thy Beloved Son, Jesus, through Whom we have received knowledge of Thee, I thank Thee that Thou has thought me worthy this day and hour to share the cup of Thy Christ among the number of Thy witnesses.” Then the fire was kindled. But the wind kept driving the flames away, prolonging his agony. So finally, no longer able to stand it, a soldier drew his sword and put an end to his misery. Misery? He continued to praise Christ till the moment of his death.

That was the pastor of the church in Smyrna. He was faithful until death and is now enjoying the crown of life. Do you love Jesus enough to follow his example? The truth is: Nobody likes to suffer. But suffering is a fact of life. The only unresolved issue is: How will you respond to it? By God’s grace, let’s respond with faithfulness and love. For Jesus has promised, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

 

 

His First Sign: Water to Wine!

Do you believe that God exists and that Jesus is Lord? If so, what reason would you give to someone who asked you why you believe? Here is a list of the most common reasons Christians give for believing. See which one comes closest to your own: 1) Answers to prayer; 2) Reading the Bible; 3) Marveling at what He has created; 4) Seeing changes in the lives of believers; 5) Sensing His presence in the worship services I have attended.

Picture1I ask you that question because that’s our topic for this study. In John chapter 2, we come to a turning point in John’s Gospel. The purpose for everything John wrote, I’d remind you, was to prove that Jesus is God. He states it clearly in John 20:31—“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you may have life in His name.”

You see, according to John, it is only by believing in the Deity of Christ that you gain the eternal life He offers. For that reason, he have seen him call eyewitness after eyewitness in chapter 1, each one testifying to the Lordship of Christ. First, it was John the Baptist, then Andrew and John, then Peter, James, Philip, and Nathanael in that order. Six ordinary guys who became the greatest men who ever lived because they were willing to believe! Don’t get confused about that. The reason people go to hell is not a lack of evidence. There’s always more than enough evidence to believe if you’re willing to believe. The reason is a hardness of heart and unwillingness to believe the evidence God has given us.

Oxygen Volume 17But now in chapter 2, John moves on from the testimony of eyewitnesses to a second, even more convincing argument. He presents the first of eight great signs Jesus performed—each one something only God could do. He walks on water, creates new eyes for a blind man, creates food to feed 20,000 peoples, raises a friend from the dead whose body has been decaying for four days, and in the passage before us—John 2:1-12, if you’ll open your Bible with me—He turns water into wine.

I know it also helps sometimes to have a map of where you’re going, so let me do that briefly as we get started. Let me give you a short overview of John’s Gospel. It can be broken into four parts—chapter 1 which we’ve studied where John calls several eyewitnesses to testify to the Deity of Christ, chapters 2 to 11 where John describes the public ministry and miracles of Jesus, chapters 12 to 17 where he describes the private ministry of Jesus to His disciples on the last night before His death, and chapters 18 to 21 which describe His death for our sins and His bodily resurrection from the dead.

Picture2But here we are looking at Jesus’ first great sign described in John chapter 2:1-12 – water turned to wine. To guide our study, I’ve divided it into 4 parts—the feast, the faux pas, the feat, and the faith it gave His disciples as a result.

  1. The Feast

Have you attended any weddings this summer? I attended the reception of my niece and goddaughter a week ago Saturday, and it was beautiful! Beautiful bride! Beautiful decorations! Beautiful setting! It was held at her father-in-law’s 3-acre country with beautifully manicured lawn and garden, just outside of Monroe, Washington. And the food was delicious! The affair lasted all night for those who wished to stay. That was a little too long for some of us older folks. But nothing compared to weddings at the time of Christ.

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_WCA0116-1800Read verses 1 and 2 with me. Here John recalls where the wedding took place: “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.” The third day means it was the third day since He met Philip and Nathanael in Bethsaida. So if it was a Sunday they met, it’s now Tuesday—Sunday, Monday, Tuesday—which means everything we’ve read so far has happened in a week. They heard John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God, they stayed with Him all night, they walked with Him from the Jordan to Bethsaida where He met Philip and Nathanael, and now they’re at a wedding with Him in Cana of Galilee. So if you think your schedule is crazy, don’t imagine for a moment that you’re busier than Jesus. He was always about His Father’s business.

Cana was also the hometown of Nathanael according to John 21:2 and about 9 miles from Bethsaida with a population of maybe 100 at the time. So it’s no surprise to find Nathanael there, as well as Mary. Having lived in Romania for 5 years, I can tell you that in old-world rural areas, you not only know the folks in your own village; you have friends and family in the next village too. Joseph isn’t because he’s died by this time. He died during the silent years when Jesus was working in the carpenter’s shop to support His family as the Firstborn Son. We know that because later, when Jesus is dying on the cross, He commits His mother into the care of John the Apostle, who was her nephew, something that wouldn’t have been necessary if Mary hadn’t have been a widow and Joseph was still alive. And as you’d expect of the mother of Jesus, she was busy serving at the wedding, maybe as the wedding coordinator, because you’ll notice in a moment, she feels very free to tell the servants at the reception what to do.

Picture3But the most important fact is that Jesus was there and performed His first public miracle there to emphasize the sanctity and importance of marriage in His eyes. So pay no attention to those who say that marriage is just a piece of paper! They don’t know what they’re talking about! Weddings matter and marriage matters. Marriage is a holy covenant made between one man and one woman in the presence of God and their family and friends, vowing they’ll be faithful to love one another as long as life itself. For that reason no other relationship on earth is as important or wonderful as marriage. Peter calls it “the grace of life,” meaning that of all God’s common graces—the graces He showers upon all people whether they love Him or not—of all His common graces, marriage is the greatest, which means any society that honors marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman will be blessed, whereas any society that fails to honor marriage is headed for chaos, judgment, disaster, and destruction. So watch out, America, how far you go! God is watching and will not bless what you’re doing!

For that reason, weddings have always been the most important celebrations on earth. I wish I’d understood that better as a young pastor. I would have preached it with even more conviction. The ancient world, especially the Hebrew culture, recognized that fact and considered a wedding the most important event of the year. Romania, where we served as missionaries, was also an old-world country in many ways, and they believed the same thing. Weddings would start in the late afternoon with a two to three hour ceremony at church, followed by a reception that lasted all night long, for anyone who could stay awake.

Picture4So it was in Cana of Galilee! Weddings often began on a Tuesday or Wednesday and lasted until the weekend. Or if you were well-to-do, they could last all week. And everybody came! Everyone was aware of the couple’s engagement that took place the year before, because an engagement was a legal contract that officially bound the partners to each other and could only be broken by divorce, even though the marriage itself wasn’t consummated until after the feast. What went on during that year prior to the wedding? That takes us to point #2—

  1. The Faux Pas

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0530-1800All year long the bridegroom worked to prepare a place for his bride to live, often a room added onto his father’s home. And he was also responsible to pay the full cost of the wedding. All of this to prove to her father that he had what it takes, that he was could provide for her once she became his wife! You see where the story is headed. The feast is in full swing and everyone is enjoying himself when the wine runs out. And that presents a problem.

As John MacArthur puts it, “Maybe he can’t plan! That’s what all of us fathers who marry off our daughters fear. Maybe he’s all smoke and mirrors and doesn’t know how to earn a living? I hope my daughter isn’t going to have to bring home the bacon!” They ran out of wine in the middle of the greatest celebration this couple would ever have—a huge embarrassment and a big question mark hanging over the head of this groom and his family. So verse 3 says: “When they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’”

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Now why do you suppose she would she say that to Him? Most preachers assume that she wanted Him to do a miracle. But why would she expect that? Had He ever done a miracle? No! Not that He couldn’t, but verse 11 says this was “the first of the signs” Jesus did. So there’s no reason for her to expect Him to do something He’s never done before. Again I think MacArthur gives the best explanation for this. When Mary had a problem, who did she always turn to, especially after Joseph died? Jesus, of course! Think about it. He never had a bad idea or made a bad decision in His life! He always led her in the right direction and had the perfect solution to every problem. If anything ever went wrong in their home, He always knew why it went wrong and exactly how to fix it. He was the smartest, wisest, and most resourceful person who ever lived. And He grew up in her home. By the way, He was also the compassionate person who ever lived! So who else would she turn to with this problem?

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0694-1800But wait a minute, is that the way a son ought to talk to his mother! Listen to what He says to Mary in verse 4. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’” Why such harsh words to the mother He loved? First, they didn’t sound nearly as harsh to Mary as when we read them out of context. For one thing, this is something He said to her in private, not publicly so as to embarrass. Remember that the next time you have something hard to say to someone you love, especially to your husband or wife. Wait until you’re alone with them instead of saying it out loud for the whole world to hear. That’s Matthew 18:15. Go to them in private and try to resolve things between the two of you before you let anyone else know about it. Tone of voice also makes a difference, and I know Jesus said it as gently as He could. And He was polite! The word “woman” is the same word He used at the cross when He entrusted His widowed mother into John’s care. Pointing to John, He said to her, “Woman, behold your son!” We have no equivalent in English, but He was saying in effect, “Dear Lady, what does your concern have to do with Me?”

8Why didn’t He call her “Mother?” Because the relationship between them had changed! For 30 years Jesus had been about His mother’s business, doing whatever she asked of Him. But now, with the cross looming before Him, He has just 3 years to be about His Father’s business. His mother, like His disciples, didn’t really get that until after His resurrection. But it’s imperative to let her know that from this point on, His only concern is the mission for which His Father sent Him into this world and nothing, not even familial relationships—can stand in His way. He gave her a warning of this early on in Luke chapter 2, when He was 12 years old and they found Him asking and answering questions of the scholars in the Temple. She scolded Him for worrying her. So He reminded her, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

BoyJesusLater He had to remind her again when she and his brothers stood outside a home where He was teaching, waiting to speak with Him. “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” He said. Then stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He explained, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in Heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” That’s true, isn’t it? We who love the Lord Jesus and do the will of His Father in Heaven are His brothers and sisters and mother. You see He wasn’t being unkind. But it had to be said. “I am the Son of God and I’m on a mission of infinite importance, and I can’t allow anything—not even family relationships—stand in My way. And thank God He didn’t let them get in the way. For if He had, you and I wouldn’t be saved today!

Nor is Mary offended. She may not understand the implications of what He’s said. But she knows who her Son is, and she trusts Him. So what does she immediately do? Verse 5: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’” Wise counsel! Wouldn’t you say? Whatever Jesus tells you to do, do it! That would save us a lifetime of grief, wouldn’t it? So what does Jesus tell them to do? That’s the third chapter in this thriller. We’ve been to the feast. We’ve witnessed the social faux pas. Now let’s watch Him as He performs His first miraculous feat.

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  1. The Feat

Do you know what the truly marvelous thing about this miracle is? Even though it wasn’t his mother’s place to give Him ministry advice…By the way, we’re going to find that Jesus never took the advice of anybody when it came to ministry. Why not? I thought a humble man always seeks the counsel of others? Not in Jesus’ case! He was humble. No question about that! More humble than you and I have ever dreamed. Try hanging on a cross for a crime you didn’t commit without defending yourself or trying to get even with your enemies! The reason He didn’t seek the counsel of sinful human beings is because He couldn’t trust us and didn’t need it. For this is no mere man we’re talking about. This is the Holy God become Man whose name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. So though it wasn’t Mary’s place to give Him advice (nor do I think she was asking for a miracle), women’s intuition may have told her something wonderful was afoot. And it was! By God’s grace her concern, the need of that young couple, and God’s will all came together in one miraculous moment of time, leading to one of the greatest feats He ever performed.

Picture5You see contrary to popular belief, this miracle was not an unexpected and premature event, interrupting God’s plan for His Son, due to a well-meaning but interfering Jewish mother. This was Plan A from before time began—for the first sign of Jesus’ Deity to be a miracle performed at a wedding in Cana of Galilee for His mother, His family, and His friends. Wasn’t that gracious of Him? And here’s how it happened. Verse 6 says: “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.”

This wasn’t water for washing their hands or taking a bath. It was for ceremonial purposes. Before a Jewish family would eat a meal, they’d pour water over their pots, their pans, their plates, and their hands, not to get them clean, but to be ritually pure. So for a feast of several days, you had to have a lot of water. But why did He have them fill the jars to the brim? So there would be no question about something being added to the water. Skeptics always try to explain away a miracle. Remember Pharaoh’s magicians and how they tried to copy Moses’ miracles? So they filled the jars to the brim. Ought to last till the weekend, don’t you think? But why so much wine? To picture the super abundance of God’s grace—“Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, it will be poured into your lap.”

Picture6“And,” verse 8 continues, “He said to them, ‘Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.’ So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine…” Wait a minute, you say! I think I missed it. When did He do the miracle? In between the lines, there between verses 8 and 9! But then that’s how the Bible always describes the miraculous—very matter of fact. You really didn’t expect Jesus to make a big deal out of it, did you? Drum roll, please! “Tuh-dum!”

But what a miracle it was! Verse 9 says: “When the master of the feast (the headwaiter) tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew, (he) called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’” That’s true, isn’t it? When we invite guests for dinner, we get out our best china, put flowers on the table, pull out our best recipe, cook our best meal, and serve them in style. But if they stay a second or third or fourth day, it’s: “There’s the fridge. Try your luck! I think there are leftovers in the back if you look hard.” But in this case, it’s far different! The maître d says, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk too much, he serves the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Good wine! This was the best wine anyone ever tasted—like new wine freshly squeezed from the grapes of Eden!

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  1. The Faith

But we can’t leave it at that. We need to take a step back before we finish and ask the big question: Why did John tell us this story in the first place? Answer: To help us relive it with him and discover with His disciples who Jesus really is. Remember they’re only a week into following Him and this walking by faith thing is new to them. So Jesus performs a miracle, and John tells us about it, so that both they and we will believe. We have been to the feast. We have witnessed the faux pas. We have seen the miraculous feat He performed.  Now it’s time to solidify our faith in Him. That’s what this miracle did for them and should do for us. Verse 11 says: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0586-1800 Remember there are only 6 of them at this time: Andrew, Peter, James, John, Philip, and Nathanael—all of them good friends, fishing partners, and strong believers in the God of the Bible—but not one has ever seen a miracle. Nathanael got a taste of His omniscience when Jesus said to him, “Before Philip found you under the fig tree, I saw you!” But not one of them (or you either, for that matter) ever saw a miracle like this. We’ve seen some amazing answers to prayer, but nothing like the magnitude of this miracle! 150 gallons of water instantly turned to wine!

The impact was so great two things happened right away. First, all six of His disciples put their faith in Jesus. I know. I know. They already believed in Him. Or they wouldn’t have followed Him all the way to Galilee. They called Him “Rabbi.” They called Him “Messiah.” Then Nathanael said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.” But Jesus said they would see even greater things than these. And the first and one of the greatest was this—seeing their Creator make something out of nothing just as He had in the beginning. And for what purpose! So that both they and we would never doubt.

People-surround-Jesus-1024x744But even more important is the second thing that happened. John says they saw His glory! Isn’t that the purpose of our lives and what we’ve been longing for since we first met Him? I want to see His glory. And they did, at least in part! What glory? The eternal glory He shared with the Father before time began! You know the verse. So say it with me. John 1:14, “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And the best thing about is you didn’t have to be there to experience it. You can experience it this moment if you have faith to believe. As He said to Thomas, who finally believed and fell at His feet in worship saying, “My Lord and my God,” “Because you’ve seen, you’ve believed. But blessed (That means happy, elated, and overcome with joy!) “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed!” And so we believe without seeing, and we behold “His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus-Face-Paintings-01But someone will say, “I’d believe too if I saw a miracle like that!” Don’t be so sure. The Israelites witnessed 10 miraculous plagues in Egypt and the Red Sea splitting in half before them, and they still didn’t believe and died in the wilderness as a result! And the people of Jesus’ day saw even greater miracles than that. In fact, nowhere in the Gospels does anyone ever question Jesus’ power to do miracles. What His enemies claimed was that He performed miracles by the power of Satan, earning a place in hell as a result of it. The truth is Jesus performed miracle after miracle after miracle, day after day, for three years until virtually all disease was eradicated from Israel. But they still didn’t believe, because faith isn’t about evidence. It’s about a willing heart.

Jesus PleaThat means, if your heart is willing, you can know Jesus this very moment through simple childlike faith. So if you’ve never believed before, open up your heart to Him now as I lead us in a closing prayer. Say these words or words like them with me in the quietness of your heart and, if you truly mean them, Jesus promises that He will come into your life this very moment and live with you forever.

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