Revelation 14: The Patience of the Saints

1] Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads.  2] And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder.  And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.  3] They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.  4] These are the one who were no defiled with women, for they are virgins.  These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.  These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.  5] And in their mouth was no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.

6] Then I say another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people – saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”

8] And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”

9] Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and that image, and received his mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10] he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured  out full strength into the cup of His indignation.  He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  11] And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

12] Here is the patience of the saints; hear are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.

13] Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”

14] Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.  15] And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  16] So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17] Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.

18] And another angle came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.”  19] So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  20] And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs. (NKJV)

After reading the verses for our post, the title seems strange:  patience in the midst of such troubles as will happen in this world.  The fact is that Scripture has a lot to say about patience, or endurance.  It talks about the patience of Christ, 2 Thessalonians 3:5, the patience of God, Romans 15:5, the exercise of patience in God’s people, as in Hebrews 6:12.  The English word occurs 23 times in the New Testament.  Its occurrence in Revelation 14:12 is the last occurrence.  It shows us the ultimate reason for the patience of the saints.

Perhaps it also answers the vexing question of the unfairness and inadequacy of earthly justice to punish crime and sin.

“Punish.”

We don’t even like that word anymore.  We want to “rehabilitate” those who have committed the most heinous or numerous sins.  We want to let them out to wreak havoc again.  They’ve “paid their debt to society.”

What’s forgotten is their debt to God.

I’ve told before of the individual who had been guilty of twelve incidents of rape and assault, and the puzzlement of law enforcement officials as to what to do with him because “at some point you run into the constitutional rights of the offender.”

Sorry, but there is no “constitutional right” to be an offender.  And, yes, I know that’s not what meant by the idea.

What do you do with a man who assaults twelve women?

Human justice in some cases can’t really punish crime.  Only God can.

That’s the reason Scripture says, It is appointed to men to die once, and after this the judgment, Hebrews 9:27.

Revelation 14 gives us some instances of this judgment to come, both as to the individual and to society in general.

Of course, this brings up another difficulty – the whole idea of eternal torment in fire and brimstone, v. 10.

One of the local cults has a series of “Bible studies” at their church next week.  One of the topics listed in the flyer they left in our screen door was titled:  “Is God criminal?”  Then they ask the question, “If God is almighty, then why does He allow evil and then suffering with hell fire?”

Leaving aside the whole problem of a “Christian” implying that God might be a criminal, to say nothing of the existence of evil, why is there a “hell” at all?

Our Lord answered that:  it is “prepared for the devil and his angels,” Matthew 25:41.  Scripture also reveals that it is the final stop for those who die without the Lord Jesus, Revelation 20:5.

The idea of God punishing sin is so far removed from our thinking.  But look at it from this angle.  If someone kills a fly or an insect, few people think anything of it.  if someone kills an ordinary citizen, that’s worse.  However, if someone were to kill a ruler, that would be serious indeed.  Justice is related to the seriousness of the offense.

Sin is an offense against God.  Even if it’s against another person.  Cf. Joseph’s response to Potiphar’s wife:  “How then can I do this great wickedness [by doing what she wanted], and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9.

In all this, we forget God.

Sin against God is sin against an infinite Being.  It requires an infinite, that is, eternal punishment.

I’ve also related the story of the Bible class which was discussing the attributes of God, and the teacher’s discomfort with the idea of the strictness of God’s justice and judgment.  But God’s justice is as real as His love.

We’ve forgotten that.

The time is coming when that won’t be possible.

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Hell is Real

A few years ago, there was a book titled, “Heaven is Real.”  It related the story of a young boy who was said to have gone to heaven.  The gist of the story is that, because of the experiences of this lad and his family, we can be assured that “heaven is real.”

In my last post, I said that, because of our sin, we have no claim on God, but He has a claim on us.  I said, “That claim concerns His justice.  We have broken His Law.  We have come under its penalty.  We have incurred a debt.  That penalty involves eternal separation from Him.”  Then I said I would have more to say in a later post, Lord willing.

This is that post.

Based, not on experience, but on the clear and authoritative teaching of our Lord, we can be assured of another truth about the future:  Hell is real.

There is a lot of discussion about the existence of Hell.

To some people, it’s nothing more than a curse word.

To some, who deny any existence beyond death and the grave, it doesn’t even exist.  Neither does heaven.

To some, the bad experiences of this life are hell.  One place I worked, one of the ladies there said she believed this life is hell.  Based on the difficult place we worked, I could understand her feelings, though I didn’t agree with her.  It’s the only job I ever held that, when I woke up in the morning, I was sorry I wasn’t sick, so I could call in.

To some who will knock on your door, “hell” is just the grave.  If that’s true, then why did our Lord warn us in Matthew 5:27-30 that if a part of our body leads us into sin, it would be better to cut off that part, rather than your whole body be cast into hell”?  Hell is not just the grave.

To some, hell is just about remorse and sorrow that one has missed out on the blessings of salvation.

In contrast to these ideas, our Lord gave a different view.  In Luke 16:19-31 (NKJV),He said,

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.  But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and say Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’  Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’.”

There’s some discussion as to whether this portion tells a real story or is just a story, a parable.  I think it’s real, but that doesn’t really matter.  Even if this is only a parable, well, Jesus’ parables were designed to teach and illustrate truth.  There is truth here.

1. There is existence after death.

If we had only the phrase, the rich man also died and was buried, we might be able to say that was the end of things for him.  But we have the account of the death of Lazarus and what happened, as well as the conversation he and the rich man had afterward.

This is in agreement with other Scriptures.  Hebrews 9:27 says, …it is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgment….  There is an “after” as far as death is concerned.  It isn’t the end of things.

This portion also tells us –

2. There is a time of reckoning after death.

…after this the judgment….  Matthew 5 doesn’t tell us everything about what happens to people after their death.  It’s designed to warn us that there is something after death, and that what happens in this life isn’t necessarily an indication of what will happen then.  The rich man lived a life of luxury and plenty, yet he wound up being tormented; the beggar lived in sickness and poverty, yet he wound up being comforted.

It’s widely believed that there is only “a better place” out there after death.  According to our Lord, that is not true.  There is also, if I may put it like this, “a bitter place.”    There is a time, and a place, where the things of this life will be examined and judged, a time when those who have “gotten away with it” will discover that, no, they haven’t.

3. There is a place of torment after death.

Luke 16:22b-24 says, The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”

This isn’t the only place where the Lord mentions such things. In Mark 9:43-49, He said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  For everyone shall be seasoned with fire….”

This is perhaps the hardest thing to accept, especially in this day when the Word of God is generally held in such low esteem, and when faulty views of God are so prevalent.  How can a “God of love” send men and women to a place of torment?  People just can’t reconcile this idea with the idea that God could do such a thing, and so, reject it.

Our Lord teaches otherwise.

You see, as I said above, we have broken God’s law.  We are guilty and under sentence of its punishment:  eternal separation from God.  Though the body dies, the soul lives on, and the body will one day be resurrected, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation,” or as the KJV put it, “the resurrection of damnation,” John 5:29.

Don’t misread that “good” as though there are some who will go to heaven because of it.  Our Lord was speaking from the viewpoint of being under the Law, wherein there were some who were considered “blameless,” for example, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.  Luke 1:6 describes them as both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

“Blameless.”

Even the Apostle Paul, before his conversion, considered himself “blameless,” Philippians 3:6.  But, as he put it, “I was alive once without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died,” Romans 7:9.  This has nothing to do with his “fellowship with God” being broken after his conversion, but rather, the cataclysm that occurred in his life as he traveled toward Damascus with the sole purpose of rooting out and destroying those who followed Jesus of Nazareth, cf. Acts 26:9-11.  Afterward, he looked at those things of which he had been so proud as no better than the refuse of his own body, Philippians 3:8.

Later in life, he wrote, There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside, Romans 3:10-12.

“None righteous” –

None who measures up to the standards and requirements of God’s holiness.  There is a lot of “religion” among men, but, apart from the Lord Jesus, there is no righteousness for all that.

“None who understands” –

None who understand that we come short of what God requires of us.  None who understand that nothing we can do measures up to what God requires of us.  Indeed, some are offended at the very idea that God can “require” anything of us.

“None who seeks after God” –

None who understand that the only place to get that righteousness God requires is from God Himself.  That righteousness is the righteousness of Christ imputed to those who believe on Him.

Apart from that righteousness, we all stand condemned in the sight of God, John 3:18, He who does not believe is condemned already.  In a very real sense, to the unsaved person, this life is little more than a cell on death row, waiting for the day of execution.  For the unbeliever, a place in hell is as assured as a place in heaven is for the believer.

But how can that be?  How can that be “just”?

We question the “justice” of this because we minimize sin.  Let me put it this way.  If one swats a fly, nothing is thought of it.  If one were to assault me, well, that might be considered more serious.  If, however, one were to assault the President of the United States, that would be considered very grave indeed.  Why the difference?  Because of the dignity and position of the person assaulted.

Sin is an assault against God.  Since we have brought God down to a level below us (in that we believe that we can confound His will and prevent His purpose), we don’t think of it like that.  However, because God is infinite, acts against Him bear infinite consequences.

Sin brings an infinite consequence:  an eternity in hell.

When the Lord Jesus died on the Cross, He suffered that consequence.  That doesn’t mean that He actually went to Hell; He did suffer that separation from God that is the essence of hell, Mark 15:34.

With our sanitized crucifixes and pictures, our superficial, “contemporary” Christianity, we have no idea whatever what that means.

It means that there is no salvation apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It means there is no escaping our sin and its eternal consequence apart from Him.   Apart from Him, everything we do is sin, Proverbs 21:4, even the providing of the necessities of life.  Why is that?  Because we do it with no thought of Him.

And, apart from Him, there is no hope, Ephesians 2:12.

This is why Scripture urges us to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, because there is no salvation anywhere else, only condemnation, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 4:12.