Tag Archives: Revelation

AN OFFER YOU CAN’T REFUSE!

“AN OFFER YOU CAN’T REFUSE!”
Revelation 22:1-21

(To listen to this audio message, please click here.)

Some time ago, my wife and I were invited to a birthday party. When I received the invitation, I had no idea what the evening would involve. All I knew was the location – a retreat center called Faraway on the Longbranch Peninsula. But the fact that we were going to be with friends made it appealing. So, we said, “Yes!” Then the evening arrived. To our delight, transportation was arranged for us, so that rather than driving ourselves, we were able to relax in the comfort of a friend’s “Caddy.” But there was more! Stepping out of the car, we found ourselves facing one of the most beautiful waterfront mansions we’d ever seen. The evening then began with a tour – delicate antique furniture, embroidered bedspreads from China, precious inlaid tiles in the bathroom. Each room was a masterpiece of interior design. Then dinner was served – one of the most delicious meals we’d had in months. It truly was an evening to remember.

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As I reflected on it, I couldn’t help but compare it to another invitation we have received. On this trip transportation is also provided; we will be surrounded by Christian friends; and we will dine in the most glorious mansion anyone has ever seen. But there will also be some striking differences. This time we won’t have to return home afterwards. For we will be at home forever! This time we can eat all that we want without worrying about our waistlines. And best of all, the Lord Jesus will be our host at this meal! As I reflected upon it, I wondered, how could anyone in their right mind refuse an invitation like this?

The invitation I’m referring to is the one given in this, the final chapter of Revelation. The key word here is “come.” This is not a new word in the Bible. When Noah finished building the ark, God invited him, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, and be safe.” When Israel turned to idols in Isaiah’s day, God urged them, “Come now, let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” When John baptized Jesus, he said of Him, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Andrew and Peter wanted to know more. So, they asked Him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus invited them, “Come and see.”

The Bible is full of invitations to “come.” But the invitation in Revelation 22 is unique. Actually, there are two invitations in this chapter. The first is Christ’s offer to sinners, “Come . . . take the free gift of the water of life.”

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The second is John’s reaction to everything he has seen: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” Isn’t that a wonderful way to end such a serious book? For weeks, we have witnessed many terrible, heartbreaking truths. But now the curse of sin is lifted and “whosoever will” may come and freely enjoy the glory of God’s kingdom. No one need suffer the judgments mentioned in this book. That’s something people bring upon themselves because of their unwillingness to repent and turn to Jesus. Everyone is invited to enjoy the blessings of this offer. So, to help us understand what it involves, John emphasizes three key facts about it.

1. THE BLESSINGS OF THE INVITATION

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young once sang a song about man’s craving to “get back to the Garden.” While we may not recognize it in ourselves, that desire is real! Every philosophical, political, or religious movement is nothing more than man’s feeble attempt to recover what was lost in Genesis 3. But the good news John announces in this last chapter of the Bible is that Paradise Lost will soon be Paradise regained! What we forfeited due to sin, God will restore by His grace. To illustrate that, John describes four blessings we will enjoy in the New Jerusalem.

First, the fullness of God’s Spirit. John says in verse 1, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.” This is a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit who is poured out on everyone who believes in Christ. One reason for this conclusion is the origin of this water. It comes from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Another reason is the promise of Jesus in John 7:37, ”If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me . . . streams of living water will flow from within him.” To what was Jesus referring? John explains, “By this He meant the Spirit, Whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.” In other words, just as Jesus will be the light of that city, so His Spirit will be our source of physical and spiritual life.

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Second, access to the Tree of Life. Verse 2 continues, “On each side of the river stood the Tree of Life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Someone has said that the history of mankind revolves around three trees – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which brought death upon all of humanity when our first parents broke God’s commandment and ate of its fruit in the Garden. The second tree is the Cross of Calvary on which our Savior died to pay for our sins. The third tree is the Tree of Life that will grow along the River of Life in the center of the city. Those who have read Genesis 3 will remember this tree. For it was from this tree that man was banished. God posted cherubim at the east of the Garden with a flaming sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life, so that man could not eat of its fruit and live forever in his fallen condition.

Consequently, the presence of the Tree of Life in new Jerusalem is one of the strongest testimonies to God’s full forgiveness and our complete salvation from sin. For what was taken away from us because of sin now brings eternal life to everyone who enters this city. Other details about this tree are also interesting. One is its fruit. It bears twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month of the year. That means there will be food in heaven – delicious food, of which we can eat all that we want without any worries of getting fat. In fact, it is in eating this fruit that we gain power to live forever.

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Another detail is its leaves. It says they will be for “the healing of the nations.” What does this mean? Will there be disease in heaven? No, the word can be translated “health.” That is, just as its fruit gives life to all who eat it, so its leaves maintain the health of those already healthy. Finally, look at its abundance. Genesis makes it sounds as if there was only one tree of life in the Garden. But not in New Jerusalem! This tree will flourish throughout the city!

Henry Morris writes, “The tree is not rare but prolific, growing in profusion all over the world. In the New Jerusalem, it grows along the esplanade in the center of the golden streets and lines both banks of the cascading river. Presumably, outside the city, it grows along the shores of all the tributaries of the mighty river, as they spread out around the world. The need to continually partake of its life-giving fruit will be a testimony to the people of the New Earth that our Creator and Savior is Himself the source of life and breath and all things. This knowledge and requirement will never become a burden but will always remain a joy and a delight.”

Third, fulfillment in our work. People wonder, “What will we do in heaven? Sit around and strum our harps forever?” Certainly, music will play a major role in heaven’s worship. But John says we will also be busy doing other things. First, he says we “will serve Him.” What does that mean? Are we going to have to work in heaven? Yes and no. Yes, we will be actively engaged in serving Christ. That’s been our calling from the beginning. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Those who like to garden can appreciate what a pleasure that was, especially without weeds to frustrate their efforts. Thus, it will be on the New Earth! It will involve none of the drudgery involved in today’s work. For what turned man’s work into labor and sorrow was the curse. But Revelation 22:3 promises that there will no longer be a curse. Hal Lindsay says that the service we give to the Lord will be as laborious as a Bride making the bed for her new Groom on their honeymoon.

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Compare it to your hobbies. Most of us have activities we enjoy doing in our spare time – sewing, painting, reading, writing, playing an instrument. These activities are pleasant because there is no pain or stress involved in doing them. So, will it be in heaven! God will let you explore interests you had in this life, but never had the time or money to pursue. Or maybe He will give you brand-new talents you always wished you had and let you cultivate them for His glory.

By the way, this is one reason we can afford to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and forego other things we’d like to do. Personally, I would love to have season tickets to the Seattle Seahawks’ games, a summer cabin at the ocean, a boat to enjoy on the weekends, and every evening free to spend with my family. But, like many of you, I forego those things. Not because they are wrong, but because there isn’t time in this life to do both everything I want and everything I should. Does that make me sad? No, and why not? Because I’m going to live forever and have all of eternity to pursue the things I enjoy. In fact, given that this is the only life in which we can sacrifice ourselves for Christ, wouldn’t it be foolish to try to get everything I want today? Remember –

Only one life, ‘twill soon be passed; Only what’s done for Christ will last!

The second thing we will do is “reign forever and ever.” There’s no indication here over whom we will rule, but I’m convinced that these are more than idle words dropped onto the page. If John says that we will reign with Christ, then there must be someone who needs ruling. 1 Corinthians 6:3 gives us a hint, for there Paul writes, “do you not know that we shall judge angels?” Another writer suggests that there may be intelligent life on other planets that God will reveal in eternity. In his space trilogy, C. S. Lewis imagines Perelandra and Malacandra, two planets with intelligent creatures living on them who have not rebelled against the will of God. But, of course, the definite answer to this, like so many other questions, won’t be answered until we arrive in heaven.

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Finally, the presence of Christ. This will be our greatest joy in heaven. John says “we will see His face.” Theologians call this the Beatific Vision, for there is no sight more beautiful to human eyes than the face of God. You ask, “Is it the face of God the Father or God the Son?” Jesus answered this in John 14:8-9. Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus explained, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Colossians 1:15 reiterates this. Referring to Jesus, it says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” God is Spirit, and therefore invisible. But that won’t detract from your heavenly joy. For in Christ “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9)

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Fanny Crosby, the writer of “Blessed Assurance” and many other great hymns, said she didn’t mind being born blind because in heaven, the first thing she would see is the face of Jesus. In fact, in giving her testimony at a conference where Dwight L Moody spoke, she shyly admitted, “There is a hymn I’ve written but never published. I call it my soul’s poem. I repeat it when my heart is troubled, for it brings comfort to me. She then recited it while the audience wept: “Someday the silver cord will break, and I no more as now shall sing; but O, the joy when I awake within the palace of the King and I shall see Him face to face, and tell the story – saved by grace!” At age 95, her wish was granted. She awoke in heaven and the first face she ever saw was the face of Jesus. Imagine her joy!

2. THE CONDITIONS OF THE INVITATION

John continues in verse 6, “Then the angel said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the profits, sent His angel to show His servants the things that must soon take place. Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.’” First, the angel emphasizes the trustworthiness of this invitation. In fact, he confirms the reliability of the entire Bible by emphasizing that the same God who inspired this book inspired the prophets of old. But, he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to pinpoint two conditions for enjoying the blessings of this book.

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The first is: Keep the words of the prophecy in this book. This means more than keeping a copy of the Bible on your bookshelf or nightstand. It means to stand up for the truth of this book and put it into practice. In fact, to demonstrate how vital our loyalty to this book is, John adds in verses 18-19, (Let the followers of Joseph Smith and other cult leaders beware!), “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the Tree of Life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

This was a common practice of scribes when recording royal decrees. Anyone who added to the King’s words was warned that he would stand before the king in judgment. But this warning label is far more severe. John warns us that our very entrance into God’s kingdom is at stake, determined by what we do with this book. Will we believe it and obey it? Or will we ignore it to our eternal hurt?

The second condition is: Worship Jesus alone. John himself is corrected about this. He confesses in verse 6, “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, ‘Do not do it. I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers, the prophets, and all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” The only acceptable form of worship in heaven is that which is directed toward the Father and the Son. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” He also added in another place. “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father. (John 5:23) John’s experience points out two eternal dangers that are at work today.

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The first is the danger of hero worship. Most leaders are by nature charismatic personalities. Otherwise, people wouldn’t be likely to follow them. But there is a danger in admiring them too much. And that’s what’s happening in Christian circles today. People are so hungry for someone to follow that they develop little fan clubs around their favorite religious artist or Christian speaker. And that’s wrong! Not only does it rob God of the glory that He alone deserves; but we inevitably discover that our idols have feet of clay. I once attended a Bible study where a woman said, “O, I don’t know what I’d do if I ever heard my pastor swear! I think I’d lose my faith!” And I thought, “Then get ready to lose your faith, sister, because I know some things about your pastor you’d never believe.”

The second is the danger of being carried away by emotion. One of my seminary professors used to warn us prospective pastors, “Gentlemen, do not entrust the ministry of the church to artsy people.” I wondered how he could be so harsh. But now I understand his concern. Human emotions are so powerful that unless brought under the control of godly wisdom, they can lead to all sorts of dangerous behavior – worship of angels, visions of giant “Jesuses, as well as unethical and immoral behavior. More than once I’ve heard Christians excuse their immorality by saying, “It feels so right; it can’t be wrong!” But that’s when we need to remember that Satan is an angel of light who can just as easily counterfeit our emotions to deceive us as he can false doctrine.

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3. THE ASSURANCES OF THE INVITATION

Finally, in verses 12 to 19, John moves from blessings and conditions to assurances of Christ’s return and our invitation to heaven.

His first assurance is that it is near. Three times in this chapter, Jesus promises, “I am coming soon!” One example is verse 12 where He promises, “Behold, I am coming soon. My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the Tree of Life, and may go through the gates into the city.”

This confuses people. “After all,” they think, “it’s been 2000 years since Jesus made this promise. If He was coming soon, why hasn’t He arrived yet?” The answer is found in the meaning of the word “soon.” The word means “suddenly.” Jesus wasn’t promising that He’d come immediately. He was warning us that when He does come, it will be suddenly and without warning. It is what Paul meant when he said that the Day of the Lord will come without warning “like a thief in the night.” In other words, when the things predicted by this book begin to happen, they will happen rapidly, leaving no time to repent. So, repent now!

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That also helps to explain Jesus’ statement in verse 11: “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” Jesus isn’t advising people to continue in sin and be lost. The Bible says He is not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. The point here is that when He returns, there won’t be any time for repentance. Those who have chosen to be holy will continue to be holy forever, whereas those who refuse His invitation will be lost forever. So, again, the time to repent is now, not then!

My next-door neighbor told me about an experience he had. He was helping his friend repair his roof when suddenly a piece of lumber knocked him off balance and sent him crashing to the ground. The fall fractured his collar-bone and nearly broke his neck. I asked him, “What did you learn from the accident?” He said. “I learned one thing for sure. I’ve always heard that a person’s life flashes before their eyes at a moment like that. But that isn’t true! I didn’t have time to think about anything. If I hadn’t known the Lord, I could have died and been lost forever! I realized that the time to make your peace with God is now!”

His second assurance is that it is free. Verse 16 says, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright Morning Star.” And then He adds in verse 17, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let them take the free gift of the water of life.” In other words, there is absolutely nothing you and I can do to earn our way to heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Titus 3:5 adds, “Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us.”

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In fact, notice how the Bible ends in verse 21. John says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” That’s very different from how the Old Testament ends. There Malachi warns that Elijah is coming and will “strike the earth with the curse” unless his readers repent. The Old Testament speaks of law and judgment, but here we read of grace. Why? Because it’s only through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that anyone can be saved. Salvation is a free gift of God that can only be received humbly by faith.

Yet, even though salvation comes freely to us, it came at a high price to God who gave the life of His Son to purchase our salvation. Furthermore, there is often great soul-searching and spiritual wrestling before a genuine commitment to Christ is made. Some Christians give people the impression that all they have to do is bow their heads, say a quick prayer, and “presto- chango,” you’re on your way to heaven. But that is not true. Verse 17 says it is those who are “thirsty” who may freely drink of the water of life. That means there must be a genuine recognition of our need for Christ and a sincere hunger for the salvation He can give us, in order for the change to be real. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus said, “for they shall be filled.”

By the way, be sure to notice from whom the invitation comes. John writes, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’” That’s a reminder of our partnership with God in the work of evangelism. The Spirit is God, and He faithfully does His part by convicting the people of sin and drawing them to Christ. But we, the Bride of Christ, also have a part to play in the salvation of others. We are to be witnesses to Christ and invite others to believe in Jesus as often as we can.

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Or put another way, William Carey’s pastor was wrong! When the great missionary suggested taking the Gospel to India, he was abruptly told, “Sit down young man. If God chooses to convert the heathen, He will do it without the help of you or me.” But that’s bad theology! Here God reminds us that if someone gets into heaven, it will be because we’ve invited them. We are tools of the Holy Spirit, and our words, if they are God’s Words, have great power over people. Therefore, whatever the Holy Spirit accomplishes, He will accomplish through us. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’” Therefore, prayerfully look for someone who needs that invitation and extend it to them today.
Remember, there are only two things that you can take to heaven with you: 1) Your Christ-like character developed over a lifetime; and 2) Another person with whom you have shared the Gospel and invited to heaven.

(To download this written message and its discussion questions, click here.)

 

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.

MYSTERY: THE MURDER OF A PROSTITUTE

Have you noticed the great divide growing not only in our country, but also among the peoples of the world? On the one hand, there are those of us who believe that there is great evil in this world and this evil finds its roots in the heart of man. This, of course, makes the other side angry, for they are optimistic. They believe man is born good with an unlimited potential for saving our planet. As Michael Jackson sang, “We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones to make a brighter day.” The Dalai Lama adds, “My true religion is kindness.” Mahatma Gandhi advised, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean. If a few drops become dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

What is behind this hope for the future? One powerful factor is the New Age Movement, which is a smorgasbord of beliefs and practices from which each New Ager can fill his tray with whatever he finds appealing. As such, it is inherently self-centered—a “Have It Your Way Religion” perfectly suited to the tastes of modern man. Most of its beliefs find their roots in Eastern religion such as the belief that God is in everything (pantheism), that all is one (monism), that each person is his own god (idolatry), that each person’s experience is the test for truth (not an outdated book like the Bible), and that there is no evil in the world (only spiritual immature acts paid for through the process of  reincarnation.)

Among its promoters are Stuart Rose, Deepak Chopra, and Oprah Winfrey who was raised a Baptist, but no longer believes Jesus is the only way to God. This is the great weakness of the movement—their denial of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We ourselves have had many blasphemous comments posted on our website recently cursing God and His people. Why? Because of the evil spirits that have turned so many hearts against the Lord and His Christ, promoting in their place a new age religions and practices.

All of this makes it clear that the New Age Movement is nothing new. It is ancient Babylonian occultism in modern dress—the false religion which has controlled the world since the beginning, and is now fighting for a foothold in the Church and hearts of Christians, while at the same time paving the way for Antichrist. So, do not be taken in! No matter how convincing the lies, remember: There will never be a brotherhood of man without the Fatherhood of God, and we will never enjoy the Fatherhood of God apart from the love of His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

How does God feel about this movement? In Revelation 17, He condemns it calling it “Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes.”

  1. THE MYSTERY OF THE PROSTITUTE

In keeping with his assignment to “prophesy again about many people, nations, tongues, and kings,” John flashes back to another dynamic behind the Beast’s kingdom. One of the angels with charge over the bowl judgments urges him to see “the great prostitute who sits on many waters.” From this we immediately know that it is no mere woman John is describing, for no woman could sit on many waters. Normally, the rule of interpretation is “When the plain sense of Scripture makes good sense, seek no other sense.” But in this case, the plain sense of Scripture does not make good sense, leading us to look for another explanation. When we do, comparing Scripture with Scripture, it is clear that God is using this woman to symbolize false religion. That is not unusual. In the Old Testament, Israel was pictured as the wife of Jehovah. In the New Testament, the Church is called the Bride of Christ. Therefore, it should not surprise us to find a prostitute masquerading as false religion. This is a common metaphor for both idolatry and witchcraft in the Bible. To appreciate her wickedness, notice four facts about her.

A. Her Influence

How powerful is false religion? One thinks of headhunters in the Amazon jungle, animists in Papua New Guinea, and the spiritually naïve in our own country who sell their souls to cult leaders like Jim Jones. But the picture John paints is far more pernicious. He emphasizes that in every age and every place “the great prostitute” has reigned supreme, controlling the worship of everyone who rejects Christ. Three details make this clear.

She sits on many waters. What does this mean? John explains in verse 15, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages.” In other words, whether they realize it or not, everyone has been affected by false religion. Unbelievers often take pride in the fact that they have made it through life without the “crutch of religion.” But they are deceiving themselves. As Freud said, “Man is incurably religious.” We may reject the God of the Bible. But when we do, we invariably open our heart to something else—humanism, materialism, scientism, etc. The hold that false religion has over the unbelieving world is absolute. She “sits” on everyone who rejects Jesus as Savior.

She seduces many kings. Verse 2 adds, “With her the kings of the earth committed adultery.” Pharaoh did so. Each time God displayed His glory through miracle after miracle, Pharaoh hardened his heart. Why? Because of the Satanic miracles of Jannes and Jambres, his court magicians. Nebuchadnezzar did the same. He filled his court with astrologers and built a huge idol in his own image. The Caesars took it a step farther, calling themselves gods and forcing everyone to burn incense in their honor. But the most flagrant example will be Antichrist whose very kingdom will be built on false religion. More on that in a moment.

She intoxicates the people of the earth. All of us seek comfort for the heartaches of life. But when Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor and Great Physician is rejected, the only thing left to turn top is drugs and false religion. One example is the beautiful actress, Linda Evans. Hurt by two broken marriages and deprived of the child she always wanted, she spent more than 15 years searching for inner peace. She explained in an interview, “I’ve tried a lot of things along the way—psychotherapy, TM, Science of the Mind. I don’t know where the answer is.” So finally, in an attempt to find it, she moved to the Pacific Northwest where she now lives near her dear friend and New Age psychic, J. Z. Knight. How sad!

Another graphic example is the false religion of Hinduism. Thousands of children lie starving in the streets of India, while half a billion cows (That’s half the cows on earth!) gobble up and trample their crops. Why not simply butcher them and feed everybody hamburgers? Because that’s against their religion! In the Hindu thinking, cows are even more sacred than children! You say, “A person would have to be drunk to think like that!” You are right. But that is what false religion does. It intoxicates the people of the earth.

B. Her Appearance

Verse 4 continues, “The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.”

Two facts are emphasized by her appearance. The precious jewels show the wealth enjoyed by false religion. Hindu temples, Buddhist shrines, and Islamic mosques do not lack for gold or jewels. (Nor do the multiple homes of many television preachers.) But their worshipers are often forced to beg for their daily bread. That was one thing that turned Martin Luther away from the Roman church. When he saw the opulence of the Vatican, he knew it was something that Jesus would not commend. (See Revelation 3:17-18.) The woman’s clothing, on the other hand, symbolizes her immorality. In Rome, no common person wore purple or scarlet. Only two groups could afford such a thing—aristocrats and prostitutes. Paul made this contrast in 1 Timothy 2:9 where he said that godly women should dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not like immoral women with “braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.”

C. Her Origin

Where does this prostitute come from? Three clues are found in her name.

She is a mystery. This doesn’t mean she is mysterious. When you see the word “mystery” in the Bible, it refers to a divine secret which only God can explain. For example, in Ephesians 3, Paul says this about the Church. In the Old Testament, it was a “mystery” in that its future creation hadn’t been revealed. The same is true of “Mystery Babylon.” Until now, the Bible hasn’t said much about her. So, rather than speculating about her, let us pay close attention to John’s explanation. Here he points out two important details about her.

First, she is a city. The angel explains in verse 18, “The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” To what city is he referring? Two explanations are given. Verse 5 says her forehead reads, “Babylon the Great.” In the early church, that was a code word for Rome. You can see this in 1 Peter 5:14 where speaking of the Church, the apostle says, “She who is Babylon, chosen together with you, sends her greetings.” The literal city of Babylon did not exist in Peter’s day. So, he was likely sending greetings from the Church in Rome, where he served and was eventually martyred. To support this view, many point to the “seven hills” in verse 9, reminding us that Rome was built on seven hills.

The second view is that it refers to the literal city of Babylon, which no longer exists, but will be rebuilt during the Tribulation. Some object to this based on Jeremiah 50 to 51, which say that once destroyed, Babylon will never be rebuilt. But the question is: Have Jeremiah 50 and 51 seen their final fulfillment? The answer is “No!” When Babylon fell to Persia in 539 B.C., it wasn’t utterly destroyed, as Jeremiah prophesied, but continued to be populated and productive for centuries. Nor is it without inhabitants today. Speaking about Babylon, L. Glynn Dairos, the assistant secretary of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, said, “There are three modern settlements situated inside the walls of ancient Babylon. The government of Iraq does indeed plan to restore much of Babylon and has made a start on certain buildings.”

So, which view is correct? I think it is foolish to be dogmatic about either position. Daniel describes Antichrist as the Roman prince yet to come (Daniel 9:26), which means he may set up his capital in the city of Rome. However, Zechariah 5:11 hints that there may be a second Tower of Babel built in the last days in the literal city of Babylon. Consequently, like so many prophecies, we need to take a “wait and see” approach, knowing that wherever the Beast erects his headquarters, God will have the final say and burn this evil city to the ground.

She is a mother. Verse 5 adds, “The Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the Earth.” She is the mother of all that is spiritually depraved. Her history began in Genesis 10 when the world’s first dictator erected the world’s first center of false religion. His name was Nimrod (meaning “we will revolt!”) and is described as a “mighty hunter in defiance of the Lord.” Under his leadership in the days following the Flood, mankind rejected God’s command to “multiply and fill the earth.” They gathered instead in the plain of Shinar to build a tower “whose top would reach into the heavens.” These people weren’t so naïve as to think that they could build a stairway to Heaven. This was likely the world’s first astrological observatory, for centuries later, when God condemned Babylon, He said “she had labored with sorceries and astrology from her youth.” (Isaiah 47:12, 13) So, God confused their languages and scattered them across the face of the earth, where they took their false religion with them.

Dr. David Hocking describes how false religion even affected the Roman Church. He writes, “The wife of Nimrod (who himself was a son of Noah’s grandson Cush) was Semiramis the First, the high priestess of the Babylonian mystery religion. It was claimed that she had a son, Tammuz, born in a miraculous fashion, who supposedly was the promised deliverer. This was the beginning of the ‘mother and child’ religion of Babylon that eventually found its way to Rome. There it flourished under priests who wore head mitres in the shape of a fish (honoring the fish-god Dagon), and eventually took on the title ‘Pontifex Maximus.’ This title was adopted by Julius Caesar and passed down through the succession of emperors including Constantine, who assumed the role as head of the church at Rome. From there, the title was conferred on the bishops of the church at Rome, and is still borne by the Pope today. . . Other mystery motifs include purgatorial purification after death; salvation by sacraments; sprinkling of holy water; offering round cakes to the queen of heaven; and celibacy (of the priesthood).”

Babylon’s influence on the Roman church is undeniable. But, of course, it hasn’t been confined to Rome. Her “children” have spread her influence wherever false religion is found, even trying to worm its way into today’s Bible-based churches. Furthermore, one day this mother herself will come alive again in the plain of Shinar, where mankind will make one last effort to “reach into the heavens” apart from God. Only this time Babel will not merely be scattered. Verse 16 says she will be brought “to ruin,” left “naked “and burned “with fire.”

B. Her Guilt

Verse 6 explains why she will be judged. Not only is she the source of false religion, she is the motivating force behind the persecution of the saints. John says, “I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.”

Today, we think of radical Islamic terrorism and the hundreds of thousands who have died because of that false religion. But false religion has also been at work within Christianity as well. One example is the Inquisition. Instituted by Pope Innocent III, it was the Papacy’s weapon for fighting the Reformation for almost 500 years. Those suspected of heresy were subject to torture without even being told the names of their accusers. If convicted, they were turned over to civil authorities for imprisonment or burning. Imagine! Priests and monks directing with heartless cruelty the torture of innocent men and women, all by order of the “Vicar of Christ!” In France, between 1540 and 1570, 900 thousand Protestants were killed. Things were worse in Bohemia. In 1600, the population was 4 million (80% Protestant). But by the time the Jesuits and Hapsburgs were finished, only 800 thousand were left—all Roman Catholics.

But her bloodthirstiness isn’t confined to history. If statistics are correct, more believers are being martyred today than in all previous centuries combined—by communists, Islamists, Hindus, animists, and every other false religion. But then, what has happened in the past and is happening today will seem mild once the Tribulation begins. For at that time, the Prostitute will inspire a bloodbath extending to believers from every tribe, tongue, and people. No wonder God will burn her with fire! What she has done to others will finally be done to her.

In our next lesson, we will finish this study of Revelation 17 and Babylon the Great by investigating the details surrounding her murder.

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

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.)