Tag Archives: Second Coming

Big City Dangers: Tower of Babel II

IMG_0050Revelation 18:1-24

A well-known Christian personality recently made an interesting comment. He said, “If I had it to do all over again as a parent, there is one thing I would do differently. I wouldn’t raise my children in Southern California.”

Does that surprise you? After all, Los Angeles is sunshine, beautiful beaches, Disneyland, and some of the finest schools in the country! So how could he say such a thing? Because Los Angeles also means Hollywood values, rock video role models, pornography, cults, drugs, witchcraft, gang violence, greed, and peer pressure in mega-doses that few young people are able to resist.

Of course, it isn’t Southern California only that challenges our family values and Christian faith. Today, any city of moderate size poses the same temptations. And not only for children! The same forces are at work seeking to undermine our integrity and lead us away from Jesus. Paul warned in Romans 12:2, “Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.” (Phillips paraphrase)

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How powerful is this pressure to conform? e.e. cummings, the American poet and painter, wrote: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

In fact, thanks to television and the internet, the smallest hamlet can now play host to big city values. But the point is, they originate in the city. 150 years ago, most Americans lived on farms and didn’t face these pressures. We were innocent and naïve. Three cheers for innocence and naïveté! But today, with 95% of our people living in cities, the pressure to conform has become almost unbearable.

In this study, we examine the causes and cures of this problem. The original cause is Babylon the Great, mother of big-city wickedness. The cure, on the other hand, is two-fold. Our duty in the short term is to separate from evil. But the final solution is God’s – the destruction of Babylon the Great. Listen carefully, then, as we read this chapter for we are about to hear four cries from heaven. The first is –

  1. The Call for Condemnation

John reports in Revelation 18:1, “After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by His splendor. With a mighty voice he shouted: ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’”

A. The Certainty of Babylon’s Fall

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The first fact this angel emphasizes is the judgment of Babylon the Great. This is in effect the end of Antichrist’s kingdom. Like many commentators, I find two “Babylons” revealed in Revelation 17 and 18. In chapter 17, it was “spiritual Babylon,” the false religious system that Antichrist used to unite his kingdom. But once he gained full power at the midpoint of the Tribulation, he destroyed it and took his seat in the Temple pretending to be God. That brings us to chapter 18 where political Babylon is in view. Here we are given a glimpse of the capital of Antichrist’s kingdom which will be destroyed at the end of the Tribulation. You can find evidence for these two “Babylons” in the phrase which begins Revelation 18:1. John writes, “After this (that is to say, after the events of chapter 17), I saw another angel coming down from heaven.” In other words, the events of chapter 18 follow the events of chapter 17. In chapter 17, religious Babylon is destroyed, followed by the destruction of political Babylon in chapter 18.

But someone may ask, if political Babylon is headquarters for Antichrist’s kingdom, what city is it? The passage does not say. The best we can do is piece it together from other passages of Scripture. For example, Daniel 9:27 identifies the Antichrist as the Roman prince, and since Rome was the great city in John’s day, known symbolically as Babylon (See this in 1 Peter 5:13, where referring to the church in Rome, Peter says “she who is in Babylon . . . sends you her greetings.”), it is my conclusion that the Babylon of Revelation 18 is the revitalized city of Rome, Italy. After all, how could Rome not be the capital of the revived Roman empire? Moreover, one fact is very clear. This is not the literal city of Babylon. Why not? Because, according to verse 17, this city is located near enough to the sea that the sailors can see the smoke of her burning, whereas ancient Babylon was located more than 200 miles from the sea.

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The best guess, then, come on is that this is Rome, which becomes Antichrist’s capital, but is destroyed due to her pride, her greed, her violence, and her godlessness. The reason for her judgment is given in verses two and three.

B. The Reason for Babylon’s Fall

Verse 2 says of her, “She has become a home for demons, and a haunt for every evil spirit.” In other words, she’ll look like an angel of light on the surface. She will be exciting, glamorous, and beautiful. But her appeal will come not from God, but from Lucifer who will use her glamour to blind people to the glory of Christ. That should not surprise us. The same forces are at work today. When you think of Hollywood’s grip on man’s fantasies, Las Vegas’ appeal to his passions, and San Francisco’s impact on his morals, is there any question from whom these cities get their power? If we looked beneath the surface, we’d find multitudes of unclean spirits working feverishly to keep people from even thinking about Christ.

How they are able to do this is explained in verse 3. John describes two weapons in the enemy’s arsenal: adultery and luxury. In our last study, we found that adultery is a symbol of false religion. Luxury, on the other hand, refers to the materialism which the city inspires. But then there is nothing new under the sun. In the Garden, it was the appeal of the forbidden fruit. In Gethsemane, it was the glitter of 30 silver coins. Today, it’s whatever new digital device money can buy. This is why Paul warns, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

Howard Hughes is a sad example. Having become one of the world’s richest and most powerful man, he died mentally impaired and utterly alone. His scraggly beard hung down to his waist, his unkempt hair reached to the middle of his back, his fingernails were 2 inches long, and his toenails hadn’t been trimmed for so long they looked like corkscrews. Most tragic of all, when he passed out of this life, he entered a Christ-less eternity. Why? Because he loved money more than Jesus. So be careful! If you’re looking for real riches, try switching kingdoms. As Jesus said, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6: 33)

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2. The Call for Separation

In light of Babylon’s judgment, God calls for separation in verse 4. “Then I heard another voice from heaven say: ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.’”

A. Reasons for Separation

Two reasons are given for separation. The first is temptation. God warns His people that if they do not “come out of her,” they may “share in her sins.” Sin is nothing to fool with. Many think, “I could never be tempted by that!” only to find themselves drawn toward the very thing they claim to hate. Our daughter was quick to learn this lesson. Invited to a party at age 15, her Christian friends chose to watch a video she knew we wouldn’t approve of. So, when it became clear they weren’t going to change their minds, she called us for a ride home. That didn’t win her any points with her friends at the party, but it multiplied our trust in her, knowing that she was able and willing to stand up for her convictions even when we weren’t around.

Compare that to the well-known Christian writer who was caught in adultery. He was heard to say for years that this was the one sin he could never be tempted to commit. Why was he vulnerable to it even after years of serving Christ? Because contained within our fallen nature is the desire for every wicked the thing this world has to offer. Not until we reach heaven itself can we afford to relax. In his book, The Best Is Yet to Be, Henry Durbanville issued this warning:

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With the mind at rest regarding the past, and the heart reveling in the consciousness of being at peace with God, you may have entertained the thought that all dangers are over, and that you will have no more problems as you journey to the Better Land. But that is not so. Scripture and human biography alike testify to the fact that old age has its perils. Noah, after long years of faithful walking with God, failed ignominiously. Moses, near the close of his career lost his temper. Samuel, the man of prayer and the prophet of God, put family interests before loyalty to God and His people. Solomon began magnificently, but ended disastrously. The records of all these good men, temporarily drawn aside from the path of fellowship with God, give point and urgency to the apostle’s warning, “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” The fact is that youth, adulthood, and old age – each period of life – has its own temptations and hazards.

Not only is there danger of sin, there is also the danger of judgment. To remain in Babylon will mean death for God’s people. Think of Lot in Sodom. 2 Peter 2:8 says he was “righteous,” which means his eternal salvation was secure. But had he remained in Sodom, he would’ve died with the Sodomites.

The same principle is just as true today. In your case, it may not be a city you’re asked to flee, it may be a church that no longer teaches the word of God; a romantic affair with someone who does not love the Lord Jesus; or a business partnership with someone who does not share your Christian ethics. No matter. Whatever compromising situation the Spirit calls you to leave, do it immediately and without delay! For fellowship with evil always carries within it the seeds of judgment – lost jobs, broken homes, sexual disease, even death. Don’t assume that eternal salvation will shield you from the present consequences of sin.

Many years ago, we attended the funeral of a young man who was involved in our junior high youth group. But in high school, he became involved with more “exciting” friends. After an evening of drinking, they began to chase one another in their cars at high speeds. Coming around the corner, our young Christian friend rolled his car in the ditch. He was the only one of the group who died. How happy we were to reassure his parents that he was in Heaven! But that didn’t spare him the shame nor them the pain of his needless death.

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The call for separation leads, in turn, to another warning. Verse 6 says, “God will pay her back double for what she is done.” Why? Two additional reasons are given for her judgment in verses 5 to 7.

B. The Reasons for Condemnation

The first reason is the persistence of her sin. Verse 5 says: “Her sins have reached to Heaven.” The word “reached” originally meant to put bricks together with mortar. This play on words is a reminder of the first Tower of Babel. God never forgets our sins unless they been covered by the blood of Christ. As verse 5 emphasizes, “God has remembered her crimes.” The truth is, what began at Babel with Nimrod’s rebellion has deceived mankind in every age culminating with the final wicked reign of Antichrist during the Tribulation. But God will put an end to her rebellion in this chapter, freeing the world from her sin.

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The second reason is the arrogance of her sin. Verse 7 adds: “In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as a queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.’” Babylon is so proud of her renewed power that she can’t imagine it’ll ever end. But verse 8 says, “In one day her plagues will overtake her: death mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.” Again, this is a reference to Babylon’s past, for after laying siege to the city for weeks, Cyrus the Great learned of a secret way. He diverted the course of the Euphrates River and in just one night he and the Persian army destroyed the great city.

Swollen with pride, Belshazzar, king of Babylon ordered his servants to bring the gold and silver vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem and defied the God of heaven by drinking from them at his drunken orgy. What was the result of this blasphemy? Before the night was over, God brought the city down around his ears, and Belshazzar died upon his throne. Heinrich Heine tells the story:

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Midnight came slowly sleeping on; in silent rest lay Babylon. But in the Royal Castle high, red torches gleam and courtiers cry. Belshazzar there in kingly hall is holding kingly Festival. The vassals sat in glittering line, and emptied the goblets with glowing wine. The goblets rattle, the choruses swell, and it pleased the stiff-necked monarch well. In the monarch’s cheeks a wildfire flowed, and the wine awoke his daring mood.

And onward by his madness spurred, he blasphemes the Lord with a sinful word; And he brazenly boasts, while the servile courtiers cheered and smiled. Quick the King spoke as his proud glance burned; quickly the servant went and returned. He bore on his head the vessels of gold, of Jehovah’s Temple the plunder bold. With daring hand, in his frenzy grim, the King seized a beaker filled to the brim, and drained to the dregs the sacred cup, and foaming he cried as he drank it up, “Jehovah eternal scorn I owe to Thee, I am the monarch of Babylon.

Scarce had the blasphemy rolled from his lips, ere the monarch’s heart was cold. The yelling laughter was hushed, and all was still as death in the Royal Hall. And see! And see on the white wall high the form of a hand went slowly by, and wrote – and wrote on the broad wall white, letters of fire and vanished in night. Pale as death, with a steady stare, and trembling knees, the king sat there; the horde of slaves sat shuddering chill; no word they spoke, but were deathlike still. The Magicians came, but of them none could read the flame-script on the wall. But that same night, in all his pride, by the hands of his servants Belshazzar died.

 The lesson for us? It’s as old as Proverbs 16:18. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

III.             The Cry of Lamentation

In verse 9, a third voice is now heard – a cry of lamentation by three groups of people, each group deeply impacted by Babylon’s fall. The first group are –

A. The Kings of the Earth

John says in verse 9, “when the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxuries. See the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her.” The word “mourn” means to carry on weeping and wailing with no relief in sight. Why will kings be so upset? Because all the economies of the world rely on her. She will be the great financial center of Antichrist kingdom. In fact, given our global economy and the complex computer systems, tying them together, it’s not hard to see how the collapse of one great city could send the stock markets crashing and leave the governments of the world in total chaos.

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B. The Merchants of the Earth

The second group of mourners are the “merchants of the earth.” They weep not because they are sorry for their sins or they sympathize with those who perish, but because they are materialists grieving their losses. Verse 11 explains, “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore.” They’ve lost all their customers in just one day their life of the luxury will come to an end.

Even more interesting is the products they sell. John lists 28 items including, among other things: precious metals, expensive clothing, costly woods, imported food, and livestock. But the most alarming commodity is found in verse 13: “bodies and souls of men.” In John’s day, they were 50 million slaves in the Roman Empire. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for as many as 10,000 human beings to be auctioned off in one day in the slave markets of Europe. Is John saying this will happen again during the Tribulation? Yes! n today, we see an ever-increasing loss of personal liberties – large corporations exercising more and more control over their employees; higher and higher taxes, giving government control over the private sector; private ownership of land becoming rarer and rarer. It is not difficult to envision worldwide slavery under the Antichrist. We’ve already seen that no one is allowed to buy or sell without taking his mark on their bodies. Henry Morris adds another explanation in his commentary on Revelation:

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“This probably refers to the so-called ‘white-slave trade.’ The Greek word slaves is soma meaning ‘body.’ The international traffic in forced prostitution, both of men and women, is a tragic but lucrative business of modern times and will become even bigger in the evil days ahead. These vice barons are venomous not only amassing great wealth for themselves, but destroying the bodies and souls of the helpless girls and boys under their control.”

But the wealth and security of this city will not last. Proverbs 23 warns, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” That’s a fitting reminder for modern, materialistic America. For what’s pictured on the back of the good old American dollar? An eagle with wings stretched out ready to fly out of our wallets. No matter how hard we try, we can’t buy security. The tighter we cling to what we have, the harder the fall when it is ripped away. And that happens here. In one day all the riches of the wicked are burned up, plunging them into inconsolable grief.

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C. The Sailors and Ship Owners of the Earth

The third group of mourners are the ship owners. Like the merchants, they will be ruined by Babylon’s fall. In fact, this judgment will lead to skyrocketing unemployment around the world. For in verse 17, it is not just the ship owners who mourn; it’s also their employees – the sailors. The verse says, “Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors and, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim . . .Oh great city where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin.”

4. The Cry of Celebration

While Earth is grieving, Heaven is rejoicing at the fall of this great city. Notice two facts John emphasizes about her judgment in verses 23 and 24.

A. The Rightness of God’s Judgment

Verse 23 reminds us that this is no ordinary city that is being judged. It is the Great Harlot who deceives “all nations” with her magic spells. That is to say, she deserves everything she gets and more. Her judgment will also be total and complete. Six times the King James version uses the phrase no more – no more music, no more craftsmen, no more grinding, no more marrying, no more trading, and no more light. It reminds me of Bill Gaither’s song:

“The Marketplace is empty, no more traffic in the streets; All the builder’s tools are silent, no more time to harvest wheat; Busy housewives cease their labors, in the courtroom no debate; Work on earth is all suspended as the King comes through the gate. Oh, the King is coming, the King is coming! I just heard the trumpet sounding, and now His face I see. Oh, the King is coming, the King is coming! Praise God! He’s coming for me.”

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 B. The Reasons for God’s Judgment

Someone may wonder, how can a Christian rejoice at this judgment? After all, didn’t Jesus tell us to love our enemies? Yes, but given the evil this city has caused, it’s only right to be glad about its destruction. Verse 24 says this is the city in which “was found the blood of prophets and the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.” Our joy doesn’t come from the pain of those being judged; it comes from the fact that justice is being carried out. It’s the relief we may feel at the execution of a Ted Bundy or Wesley Allen Dodd. God doesn’t want anyone to perish. That’s why He has delayed His judgment so long. But when we realize this city can no longer hurt anyone, how can we not be glad? This is why God commands us to come out of her and rejoice at her destruction.

C. The Danger of Compromise

Have you heard of the friendship that exists between two little creatures living off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef? One is the sea anemone, a little animal with a tubular body and a circle of tentacles. The other is the clown fish which attracts bigger fish to the anemone by darting in and hiding among its poison tentacles. The anemone immobilizes and devours all intruders except the clown fish which enjoys temporary immunity to its poison. Sadly, with time it too grows weak and loses its immunity. That’s when the tentacles close in on it as well.

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That is a picture of the Christian who ignores the danger of this present world system – a system born and bred in Babylon. Her charms are so inviting many forget that within her walls are heartache, sorrow, and death. But you don’t need to be fooled by her. You and I can remember who inspires these temptations and where she is in inevitably headed. Babylon the Great is falling, is falling! And when she does, “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never put her together again.” Praise his name forever!

(To listen to the audio message of this study, click Audio. To download a written copy of this message, click Written.)

GLIMPSES OF VICTORY BRING HOPE! (REV. 14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. THE LOCATION OF THE 144,000

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

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

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

B. THE SONG OF THE 144,000

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

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

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

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

C. THE LOYALTY OF THE 144,000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A Bittersweet Prophecy” (Rev. 10:1-11)

“REVELATION: BECAUSE THE TIME IS NEAR!”

Study #14: “A Bittersweet Prophecy” (Rev. 10:1-11)

(TO LISTEN to or download the audio version of this lesson, click AUDIO.)

Have you ever listened to the locker room interviews following the “big game?” The winners are delirious with joy, anointing each other with champagne and basking in the thrill of victory, while the losers suffer the agony of defeat.

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That fact came to mind several weeks ago as I watched a sports documentary about the Buffalo Bills, arguably one of the greatest teams in history. The 1990 to 1993 Bills were the only team to play in four consecutive Super Bowls. Sadly, they are also the only team to lose four Super Bowl in a row—to the New York Giants in 1990, the Washington Redskins in 1991, and the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993. Twenty-five years later, the sting of those losses has faded, but as I listened to the Bills players being interviewed, it was clear that the memory of those disappointments is still very strong. I came away from it wishing, though I was never a Buffalo fan, that both sides could have won. But that isn’t how life works. Whether it’s sports, politics, or spiritual warfare, there are inevitably two sides—the side destined for victory and the side doomed to defeat.

In spiritual warfare, which is the focus of this study, the winners are those of us who love our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. We look forward to His coming with great eagerness, praying “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But before we lose ourselves in the ecstasy of that knowledge, let’s not forget that there will also be some tragic losers in that day. Unbelieving friends, neighbors, and loved ones face excruciating judgment, making the Second Coming of Christ bittersweet. In Revelation 10, John describes it as tasting sweet to his mouth like honey, but turning bitter in his stomach. Why? Because the longer he pondered this great revelation, the more he realized that though it means eternal joy and glory for him, it will mean eternal death and damnation for millions who have never accepted Christ.

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This chapter is important to study, then, for two reasons. First, it includes several interpretative problems which could, if answered wrongly, undermine the doctrine of the Deity of Christ. Second, it provides us with a powerful reminder as we look forward to His Return. It reminds us that we have an obligation to do more than enjoy our salvation; we have a duty to rescue as many souls as possible before the fire of judgment falls. Let’s strive for both goals—comprehension and compassion—as we study what John has written.

JOHN MEETS A MIGHTY ANGEL

1. Who Is This Mighty Angel?

John says in verses 1 and 2, “And I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven … and he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land.”

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The first issue to resolve is the identity of the “mighty angel” in verse one. Many commentators say it is vision of Jesus Christ returning to earth. Their reason is the similar description of Jesus in chapter one (e.g., the rainbow on His head, His face like the sun, His feet like pillars of fire). But this claim is both wrong and dangerous. The danger is seen in what Jehovah’s Witnesses do with this verse. They use it as one of their proof texts for denying the Lordship of Christ. They say this “mighty angel” is Michael the archangel who is, in fact, Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus Christ is not Lord; he is a creature—one of God’s archangels. Given this distortion, we should be careful about identifying this angel as Jesus Christ. Two facts make such an identification impossible.

First, the meaning of the word “another.” John literally describes this angel as “another angel, a mighty one.” The Greek word is allos, which means “another angel of the same kind.” But that isn’t the word John would have used if he were describing Jesus. He would have used the word heteron, which means “another of a different kind.” For the Scripture indicates that Jesus Christ is uniquely different from every other being who has ever existed. For example, Hebrews 1:4-6 says that He is “better than the angels,” and that all the angels are commanded to worship Him. Furthermore, John 3:16 calls Jesus “the only begotten Son of God. That phrase means “one of a kind,” indicating that there will never be another one like Him.

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Second, the timing of the Second Coming. According to Zechariah 14:4, Jesus will “touch down” on the earth in much the same manner as this angel. But the question is: When will He do so? This angel stands on the earth just prior to the blowing of the seventh trumpet, whereas Jesus Christ will return to earth at the end of the Tribulation (Rev. 19:11-14), at which point the Mount of Olives will split in half, creating a new valley and freshwater source, and Christ’s kingdom will begin. Furthermore, when Jesus returns to earth, it won’t be as an angel but with angels surrounding Him like the clouds of heaven. (See Matt. 25:31.)

Who, then, is this “mighty angel?” It is possibly the archangel Michael who is not Jesus Christ, but one of the “mighty angels” of God. Daniel describes him as “the great prince who stands guard over” the people of Israel. (Dan. 12:1) John later describes him casting the devil and his angels out of heaven.

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But here he simply forewarns the Antichrist and his followers that Christ is about to repossess the earth for man. The place where he stands is also significant—“his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land.” In ancient times, the purchaser of a piece of property would show his ownership by putting one foot on what he already owned and the other foot on what he was acquiring. In other words, he is symbolizing God’s sovereignty—that the kingdoms of this world (including both the land and the sea) are about to become the “kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)

2. What Does The Angel Look Like?

John continues, “And I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a rainbow on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire.” (Rev. 10:1)

Picture5If this is not Jesus, but simply an archangel, then why does he look so much like Jesus? The simplest answer is usually the best. He is ministering in the power and authority of Christ. For example, Jude 1:9 says that when contending with the devil about the body of Moses, Michael did not dare to bring a reviling judgment against him, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you.” He stood in the Lord’s power and authority. Here that power takes on a visible appearance. That shouldn’t surprise us, for it’s not the first example of its kind. Exodus 34 says whenever Moses entered into God’s presence, his face shone with God’s glory, so he had to veil his face so as not to startle the people. Likewise, the same can be true of us. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Is this happening to you? Are you taking on more and more of the likeness of Jesus Christ? Nathaniel Hawthorne pictured what can happen in his story, “The Great Stone Face.” Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled so perfectly than when their great monarch died, the people determined that they would never have another king until they could find a man just like former ruler. Then, to keep his memory alive, they carved a great profile of their king on the side of a cliff. Beneath that cliff lived a little boy named Ernest. His mother assured him that one day another great man like king would come to rule their kingdom. But as the years passed and searches were made, no one like him was found. Then, one day, one of the king’s counselors stopped at the humble cottage at the base of the cliff and listened to a young man named Ernest deliver a discourse to his neighbors. Suddenly, in that young man’s face he saw the likeness of the king! How did the change take place? By meditating upon that great image day by day, as he plowed his field and cult his wood, the little boy grew to be like him, not only in the way he looked, but also in the way he thought and talked.

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This, the Bible says, is our goal as well—to be transformed into our King’s likeness by meditating upon His greatness.

3. What Is In The Angel’s Hand?

Revelation 10:2 says, “And he had a little book open in his hand.” This is the second interpretative question we need to solve. What is this little book in the hand of the angel? Some say it’s a new book that John is about to be given. But a better explanation is that it’s the same scroll we’ve been reading for the last three chapters. However, now that all but one of the seals has been opened, the scroll is described as a “little book open” in the hand of the angel. It is “little” compared to when we first read about the scroll in Revelation 5. Having read and released its judgments, all that remains of it now is the title deed to the earth, which gives Jesus the authority to reclaim and redeem the world for mankind.

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4. What Warning Is Given to John?

Revelation 10:3-4 continues, “and (he) cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars. And when he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices. Now when the seven thunders uttered their voice, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered and do not write them.’”

Notice two important facts here. First, the roaring of the angel. This is a symbol of God’s power and authority. Several Old Testament passages (Isa. 31:4-5; Hos. 5:14; 11:10; Amos 3:8) use it as a metaphor of His coming in glory. Whereas Satan often roars like a lion to frighten his prey (1 Pet. 5:8), this roaring is a declaration of victory. Standing in the authority of Christ, Michael lets loose with a mighty roar notifying the earth that the King is about to appear.

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The second fact is the sounding of the seven thunders. Why was John forbidden to write what they said? Because there are some things about the future that God wants to keep secret. This should be a warning to those who seek “new revelations” today. The truth is everything we need for “life and godliness” has been revealed to us in the Bible. (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17) Hebrews 1:1-2 further emphasizes that no “new revelations” will be given beyond what has been revealed through the prophets and apostles about God’s Son. He is God’s final word to mankind. In fact, the book of Revelation issues a strict warning on its final page. “If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18)

So be careful about anyone who claims to be receiving “new revelations” from God! The Book of Mormon, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, tracts left at your door by the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), and the teachings of Rev. Moon are not new information from God. They are deceptions from the devil designed to confuse your mind and lead you away from the one true Christ.

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JOHN HEARS GOOD NEWS FROM THE ANGEL

In verses 5 to 7, the angel announces the most important and welcome news the world has ever heard. Its significance is seen in two ways:

1. By the Oath Taken

Revelation 10:5 continues, “And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it.”

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The scene is that of a courtroom. The angel lifts his hand in a solemn oath that what he’s about to say is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” This should not surprise us. When God first made His promise to Abraham, He took a similar oath. (See Hebrews 6:10.) It’s not that God’s Word was ever in doubt; it’s that you and I are people who are given to doubt. Therefore, to help us trust Him, God puts His messenger on the witness stand, reassuring us that every word we are about to read is faithful and true.

Isn’t that interesting? American presidents will not testify in court during their terms of office because they feel it could be a threat to the independence of the presidency. Consequently, no president in modern history has appeared in court. Even Gerald Ford would not appear in court to testify against his would-be assassin. Instead, he appeared by videotape. But Christ has no such misgivings. The promise which is about to be given is so wonderful that He doesn’t want us to miss a bit of its blessing. He is so patient with our doubts that He orders His messenger to take a solemn oath, swearing to its utter veracity.

2. By the Promise Given

Revelation 10:6 adds, “… that there should be delay no longer, but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets.

The promise at the end of verse 6 is highly significant. The angel swears there shall “be delay no longer.” To what does this refer? He’s promising that the Tribulation is about to end and the long-awaited Kingdom is about to be set up. This is another evidence for the position I’ve taken earlier—that chapter 11 marks the end of the Tribulation and the beginning of the Kingdom. For notice, what does John say will happen when the seventh angel has sounded? “The mystery of God will be finished.” Or as Revelation 11:15 announces, “The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.”

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You see, down through the centuries, unbelievers have scoffed at the idea of the Second Coming, especially in this scientific age. Corrie Ten Boom told about a heckler who interrupted one of her meetings. He laughed, “Don’t tell me you believe that Jesus Christ is coming back to earth again! Fools have been predicting that forever!” “Yes,” she said. “In fact, I’m more certain of it now than ever. Your very words convince me that His coming is very near.” “What do you mean?” the heckler asked. “Well,” Corrie explained, “you’ve just fulfilled Peter’s prophecy. ‘Knowing this first, that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”’ So, you see, these must be the last days! Because you’re the very kind of person Peter was talking about.” Gulp!

Christians, on the other hand, believe this promise with all their hearts. And yet, even we wonder, “Lord, why so long?” That, you’ll remember, was the cry of the Tribulation martyrs in Revelation 6:10, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” Now the Lord answers both questions with a resounding, “No longer! There will be delay no longer. They mystery of God will be finished.” To what does the “mystery of God” refer? The word means “a sacred secret” which has been hidden to the world, but has now been made known to the people of God. The specific mystery to which John is referring is the age-old problem of evil. Why does God allow the wicked to prosper and the righteous to suffer? Just as in Job’s case, the answer to “why” is not given, but the final solution is. All sin and sorrow will now be put to an end by the return of the King of Kings!

Consider your situation for a moment. Have you allowed the disappointments of life rob you of your joy? Then arrest that joy-stealer by remembering the coming of Christ. Titus 2:13 counsels us, “Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Why is that helpful? Because when He comes, all tears will be wiped away.

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Oft-times the day seems long, our trials hard to bear, we’re temped to complain, to murmur and despair; but Christ will soon appear to catch His Bride away, all tears forever over in God’s eternal day.

It will be worth it all when we see Jesus, life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ; one glimpse of His dear face all sorrows will erase; so bravely run the race till we see Christ.

JOHN IS GIVEN BITTERSWEET INSTRUCTIONS

Chapter 10 closes with two bittersweet instructions to the Apostle John. First, he is told to eat the little scroll which remains in the angel’s hand. Second, he is told to prophesy again about several key topics and characters that are to be involved in the Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ.

1. John’s Bittersweet Reaction

Revelation 10:8-10 continues, “ Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, ‘Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.’ And I went to the angel and said to him, ‘Give me the little book.’ And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.’ And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth. But I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.”

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The eating of the scroll is important because it pictures God’s attitude toward judgment. In Ezekiel 33:11, the Lord says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” 2 Peter 3:9 adds, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing for any to perish but that all should come to repentance.” Here in verse 10 that attitude become visible as John eats the “little book.” At first, its news is “as sweet as honey” in John’s mouth, because he realizes that now the righteous will finally be avenged! But as he swallows it, it upsets his stomach realizing that though it means joy for him and God’s people, it also means death and damnation for millions of others.

Let that be your sentiment as you look forward to the Lord’s coming. Be excited about the blessings you and God’s people are about to inherit. But don’t be in a hurry for judgment to fall. Remember, there are multitudes who are to perish without Christ, multitudes who need your prayers. Will you do that for them? More than that, will you make a conscious effort to tell them about Christ’s love? The choice is up to you. Who will be the model for your life? Will it be John? Or will it be Jonah, who longed for God’s judgment to fall.

2. John’s Bittersweet Responsibility

Finally, Revelation 10:11 is a commandment to John, “And he said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.’” This is the most important verse for understanding the rest of the Revelation. As I’ve said before, chapter 11 marks the end of the Tribulation. As soon as the seventh trumpet sounds, “the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” (Rev. 11:15) You ask, “Then where do the rest of the chapters of Revelation fit in the chronology of events? Verse 11 is the clue. It reveals that following the seventh trumpet, John is to prophesy a second time.

 

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You’ll remember back in Revelation 1:19 John was instructed to “write the things which you have seen (his vision of the Glorified Christ in chapter 1), and the things which are (the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3), and the things which will take place after this” (the events of the Tribulation found in chapters 4 through 11.) However, before he can finish the first prophecy, a second assignment is given to him. In Revelation 10:11, he is commanded to “prophecy again about many peoples, tongues, nations, and kings.”

Don’t miss this point! The details in chapters 12 to 19 are not events that follow chapter 11 chronologically. Instead, they are topical studies about key figures and events that will occur during the Tribulation which was just described. John is approaching his work like an artist preparing a canvas. Having sketched the general outline, he is now ready to go back and color in all the details. And again, the reason it upsets him is because of the horror of judgment to come.

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Judgment is always a blessing and a tragedy. For those who love Jesus, it’s a blessing, because of the deliverance it brings us. The Bible tells us that the planet itself will breathe a sigh of relief at Jesus’ return. (See Rom. 8:19-22.) But it won’t be a blessing to everyone. This chapter reminds us that for those left behind at the Rapture, it will be a tragedy of eternal proportions.

The News Tribune printed such a real-life horror story. It described the events following midnight exercises in the Mojave Desert. The men were anxious to get back to base. To remain in the scorching heat ((1200)) and dehydrating humidity (4%) not only meant misery, but certain death for anyone left behind.

080306-M-8774P-051 U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Mendoza, of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, leads fellow Marines during a live-fire village raid exercise on Range 210 at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twenty-nine Palms, Calif., on March 6, 2008. Marines with the unit are participating in Mojave Viper, the Marine Corps’ premiere pre-deployment desert training. DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Chad J. Pulliam, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Chad J. Pulliam, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

So the trucks began to roll, carrying thousands of Marines back to the safety of Twentynine Palms Base. Everyone except Marine Lance Corporal, Jason J. Rother. He’d been assigned to direct traffic in the dark. Before the final truck pulled out, he was to be picked up and carried back to the base with the rest of the men. But signals got crossed. No one remembered Rother until it was too late. The Marine in charge of arms reported that his rifle was missing, but the officers assumed that he was AWOL. In fact, it wasn’t until two days later that they decided to return to the desert and search for him.

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Imagine the terror that gripped Rother’s heart as he watched that last truck disappear from sight? As the hours passed, he must have wondered, “What do I do now? Do I stay here and hope they come back for me? Or do I start walking while the night air is still cool?” No knows for sure how long he sat and waited and prayed, but finally he began to hike toward the highway 18 miles away. He made it 17 miles. Then overcome by the heat, he laid down and died.

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What a needless tragedy! What a horrifying way to die! That’s a small picture of the eternally greater tragedy that’s about to befall many unbelievers you know. Christ is about to call His troops home, and when He does, a time of suffering will begin the likes of which no one has ever seen. But you can do something to make the bitter news a sweeter. You can begin to pray for one of the unbelievers in your life, that God will use you to lead them out of danger to safety in Christ. Remember, wherever there’s a spiritual winner, anticipating the thrill of victory, there’s a spiritual loser suffering the agony of defeat. So act now while there is still time. It’s the only thing that makes sense in light of His grace and love.

(To download the written message, click on this link – WRITTEN MESSAGE.)

 

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.)