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.

Revelation 13:11-18, A Beastly Situation, part 2.

11] Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.  12] And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.  13] He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.  14] And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.  15] He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.  16] He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads. 17] and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

18] Here is wisdom.  Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man”  His number is 666.  (NKJV)

Here is the second “beast” of the two.  The word translated “beast” in both cases is “therion,” a wild beast, not a tame or domesticated one.  This one has been called, “The False Prophet.”  His role is to promote the worship of the first beast.  He is described as having two horns like a lamb, a harmless and inoffensive creature, but he spoke like a dragon.  There’s a lesson here for us.  Our Lord warned against “false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” Matthew 7:15.  And John wrote, Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try [test] the spirits whether they are of God:  because many false prophets are gone out into the world, 1 John 4:1.  It’s no good having horns like a lamb if one speaks like a dragon.

But not only does this individual have words; he has mighty works, to the point that even he makes fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of men, v. 13.  His ultimate work is to make an image of the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived, an image that is able both to speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed, v. 15.

This probably seemed like an impossible thing in John’s day, but with the advent of electronics and “special effects,” perhaps this will not be as hard as it might appear.  Regardless of how it’s accomplished, it will be a serious thing, to the point of death for refusal to bow down to the beast.  A final test will be to receive a “mark” on the right hand or forehead, a mark that will be required in order to “buy or sell.”  In other words, it will affect the basic necessities of life.

There’s something for us here.  There’s a lot of talk about “miracles” in our day.  Whole ministries are built around them.  Perhaps these verses could warn us not to place an undue emphasis on “signs and wonders”.

There’s been some discussion about what this mark is.  Some have suggested that it might be some kind of electronic chip imbedded under the skin, like a tracking chip in an animal.  That might be, but I believe that it will be a visible symbol, readily apparent to all who look at the person.  There will be no “secret” disciples during this time.  I further believe that it will be in answer to those servants of God who have His mark in their forehead, Revelation 7:3; 9:4.

Perhaps there will be some who reason that they will receive the mark in order to be able to live and even seem to worship the beast, but “in their heart” they won’t be agreeing to these things.  That dog won’t hunt, because the very act of receiving the mark itself will doom the person, cf. 14:11; 16:2.  One of the things spoken of those who are saved in this time is that they have not received this mark, 15:2; 20:4.  They “have not loved their life to the death.”

What about “the mark of the beast” or “666,” v, 18?  There’s a lot of discussion about this, and even the world recognizes the number.  I don’t know that it’s all that important at this time.  When it does become important, it will be readily apparent as to its meaning.  There will be no doubt.  There will be no hiding from it.

The mark or the number may have no meaning to us today, but there is something that does have meaning, a meaning that will affect eternity.  That is our relationship and reaction to the Word of God.  The phrase, “the word of God,” appears five times in Revelation:  1:2, 9; 6:9; 19:13; 20:4.  In Revelation 19:13, the phrase is given as the name of the Lord Jesus as He returns to this world.  The other times, it occurs in connection with another phrase.  In 1:2 and 9, it’s the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  6:9 records the cry of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.  In 20:4, we read of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast.

The Word is to be the ultimate measure of everything we believe and do.  It will not do to say that Dr. So-and-so is teaching this or that some preacher on TV preaches it.  It’s not enough that some “Study Bible” has notes about it.  Do not not get me wrong on this last; study Bibles can be very useful.  I have several myself.  Commentaries can be very useful, and the writings of men.  I even hope my posts are helpful.  But none of these in themselves are authoritative.

A Puritan whose name I don’t remember said this:  “There are only two things I want to know:  has God spoken, and what has He said?”  It’s not, “What do men say that God has said,” though some today (falsely) claim to be His mouthpiece.  What does God say?  And the only place we can find that is in the Scriptures, that is, the Holy Bible, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments.

But even the Scriptures have a purpose.  Our Lord spoke to some very serious Bible scholars of His day, men who would have died defending what they had of the Bible.  He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life,” John 5:39, 40.

The purpose of Scripture is not to make us scholars, but saints.  If we don’t know the One to whom the Scriptures point, then what we know of them, no matter how much, will only add to our condemnation.  At the same time, we can’t truly know Him apart from the Scriptures.  This may seem like a paradox, but it isn’t.  We have to know Scripture, not just for the sake of that, but for the sake of knowing the one to whom they point.  If our study of Scripture doesn’t ultimately take us to the Lord Jesus, we haven’t studied it correctly.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 5:1.

Revelation 12:7-17: Turmoil in Heaven.

7] And war broke out in heaven:  Michael and his angel fought with the devil; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8] but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.  9] So the great dragon was cast out, the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

10] Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before God day and night, has been cast down.  11] And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.  12] Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them!  Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea!  For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

13] Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child.  14] But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.  15] So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood.  16] But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.  17] And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Verses 7-17 give us some details about what verses 1-6 have to say.  For example, this “war” in heaven happens before the woman flees into the wilderness.  They also introduce us to two more of the seven beings in chs. 12 and 13, as well as giving us further information about “the woman.”

They are:

1. Michael, v. 7.

War broke out in heaven:  Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.

Daniel 12:1 refers to this event.  It says, “At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time.

Revelation tells us why there will be such a “time of trouble.”

One thing about this “war.”  Daniel 10:13, 20 tell us that Satan and his angels oppose and try to hinder God at every step, but that does not mean that they can in any way alter His purpose or ultimately prevent God from doing what He wants to do.  There is entirely too much of this idea, however veiled it might be, that God and Satan are equals, that the “forces of good and evil” are somehow evenly matched.  Or as one false teacher puts it, if the church doesn’t pray enough, then, in effect, heaven falters.

*sigh*

From the earliest record in Scripture, it’s taught that Satan has access to heaven, Job 1, 2.  And, as we see in the life of Job, he accuses the people of God.  This tells us the significance of 1 John 2:1: we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  And don’t overlook the significance of the fact that Jesus is called “the righteous.”  He appears before the Father as our Substitute, our Savior.  It’s His righteousness imputed to us through faith that we must have because we have none of our own.  Religion, yes, routine and ritual, bucket loads, righteousness that God will accept, not a bit.

Revelation tells us that there is coming a time when Satan will finally be thrown out of heaven and that will result in a time of trouble on this earth never seen before and never to be seen again, a time referred to in Jeremiah 30:7 as the time of Jacob’s trouble.

Lest there should be any doubt as to who this “dragon” is, he’s clearly identified as the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, v. 9.  Further, he’s characterized as one who deceives the whole world.  We could do a whole series just on this.  He deceives, he denies, he distorts, he counterfeits.  Do you really think that everything in our time that calls itself “Christian” is of God?  To say nothing of all the other religions in our world, or the cultural chaos that has engulfed society?

Woe is pronounced for the earth, though heaven rejoices that, at long last, this would-be usurper of the Throne, this interloper, is finally banished.  There is one thing these who rejoice say, and that is that, once thrown out of heaven, the devil knows he only has a little while remaining before he himself is judged.  It’s an interesting study in Scripture to see what the devil knows to be true and what he teaches about it, as, for example, the existence of God.

There are some things said about our brethren that we could spend a lot of time on, as well.  We’ll just touch on them.  Even though they possibly die, they are still called “overcomers.”  Three things about this in v. 11:

a. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb. Remember that John saw a Lamb as though it had been slain, Revelation 5:6.  This is where it all starts, because without shedding of blood there is no remission, no forgiveness of sins.

b. and by the word of their testimony.  We have a lot of misconceptions about the Devil in our culture.  Some people deny his existence altogether, some people run around rebuking him, other spend all their time worrying about him.  1 Corinthians 6:20, You were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.  What price?  This gets us back to the first point:  knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct…, but with the precious blood of Christ, 1 Peter 1:18-19.  We don’t overcome the Devil by “rebuking” him, but by living for God and eternity.

c. and they loved not their lives to the death.  Our Lord makes a promise to such:  “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life,” Revelation 2:10.  While that promise was given to a specific church, don’t you think it applies to those who were hunted and killed in their thousands by Rome and the Reformers and by groups like ISIS in our time?  Jim Elliot, who himself gave his life serving our Lord, said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”

2. The woman, vs. 14-16.

These verses amplify what’s already been told of this woman’s plight and persecution.  For example, she is given some sort of assistance in her flight.  John describes this as wings of a great eagle, v. 14.  By some means, she is enabled to flee quickly from her persecutor.  Again, her place is mentioned , vs. 6, 14, and a specific period, time and times and half a time.  This corresponds to the one thousand two hundred and sixty days, or three and a half years, mentioned in v. 6.  The devil sends a flood after her.  Ezekiel 38 describes an invasion of Israel from the north by many armies.  See also Zechariah 14:2.  Perhaps this is a contingent from that army pursuing the fleeing Jews.

The references to “her place,” the assistance given her when fleeing, the fact that she is nourished during her time of isolation, these all remind us of what Zechariah 14:2 tells us.  God says, “I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem.”  In all this God is in control of events.  He’s not sitting up there on His throne anxiously waiting for someone to take the first step so He can step in Himself.  That’s the only real hope any of us have as we see our world, perhaps maybe even our lives in one way or another, circling the drain – that there’s a reason, a purpose, for what’s going on around us.

The enemy sends a flood to destroy the woman, but, again, she is delivered:  the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood, v. 16.  If necessary, God can even marshal “the forces of nature” to aid His people.  Now, we’re not told exactly what this intervention is, perhaps an earthquake, as in Exodus 15:12, Numbers 16:31.  Perhaps it’s the result of the earthquake which accompanies the Lord’s invasion, Ezekiel 38:19, 20; Zechariah 14:4.  There are historical references of sandstorms burying armies.

Whatever this deliverance is, it introduces the last of the five beings or groups:

3. the remnant, vs. 17.

And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Jews are spread all over the world and even in the time of temporary peace for the nation that Daniel speaks of, not all of them will come back to the land.  Those who do not become fair game for the anger of the devil as he finds himself backed into a corner, as it were, knowing he has only a short time to do damage to Israel.  But it isn’t simply that the objects of his persecution are simply ethnic Jews; they are describes as those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

In short, they receive both halves of Scripture.

Some folks have difficulty with the idea that saved people, in this case, Jews, “keep the commandments of God.”  The whole subject of the Law is well beyond the scope of this post.  Just let me say that the Mosaic Law wasn’t simply the Jew’s “religion.”  It was his culture, his life.  True, if he “kept” it, it became a means of “righteousness” for him, but even after a Jew “knew the Lord,” like Paul, the Law was his culture.  It defined what he was.   He didn’t throw it out simply because he had found the One to whom it pointed.  He DID NOT look to the Law for his salvation, but then, neither did he abandon living by its principles.

We see an example of this in Acts 21.  Paul had returned to Jerusalem.  While he was there, he was told that his enemies had circulated rumors that he had been teaching “all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses,”  v. 21.  To counter this, he was advised, “therefore do what we tell you:  We have four men who have taken a vow,  Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law,” vs. 22-24, emphasis added.

But pay attention to the rest of what it said!  But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols,” etc, v. 25, emphasis added.  The whole story of this edict is found in Acts 15.

Once again, let me repeat, it was not a matter of salvation for the early church, which was, after all, composed almost entirely of Jews.  It was a matter of simply continuing to be who they were.

In the same way, this remnant is defined as made up of those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Revelation 12:1-6, A Damsel in Distress

1] Now a great sign appeared in heaven:  a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.  2] Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.

3]  And another sign appeared in heaven:  behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.  4] His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.  And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.  5] She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.  And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.  6] Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

In early days of man-making, when an area was unknown, sometimes dragons or other monsters were drawn in, with the phrase, “here be dragons,” or “here be monsters,” perhaps to signify the dangers of the unknown.  Truly, the chapter before us enters the unknown, because it talks about the spiritual world, and talks about forces and events far beyond our ability to discern.  In fact, with our eyes and ears and tactile senses, we’re able to “see” only a tiny, tiny part of what goes on around us.  Furthermore, unbelief and skepticism tells us there is no “spiritual” world, that the material universe is all there is.  There is no “spirit,” no “God.”

God says otherwise.  That, in fact, without Him, there would be no material world.

This chapter tells us something of the unseen happenings of this material world.

Chs. 12 and 13 introduce the first of a series of “7s” in the rest of the book.  There are: seven beings, chs. 12, 13; seven visions, ch. 14; seven bowls, chs. 15, 16; seven dooms, chs. 17-20; and seven new things, chs. 21-22.

Chapter 12 introduces us to five of the seven beings.  We’ll look at the first two in this post.  They are:

1. The woman, v. 1.

Many attempts have been made to identify this woman:  the church, the Virgin Mary, Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen G. White, a host of others.  It seems to me that Scripture identifies her in a description which reminds us of another, similar description in Genesis 37:9, 10:  And [Joseph] dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream.  And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”  So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed?  Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?”

“The sun, the moon, and the eleven stars.”

It seems to me that these two descriptions identify the woman in Revelation as Israel, but Israel from a particular standpoint:  in labor, that is, in childbirth.  A few verses later, more detail is given.

2.  The dragon, vs. 3-6.

This being is identified as Satan in v. 9.  Here again, though, there is a particular context.  The seven heads and ten horns identify a particular time, which we believe is yet future, as we’ll see, and the rest of these verses identify a particular theme: opposition to and attempts to destroy her Child, that is, the Lord Jesus.  Reference to His birth doesn’t change our view of Satan and that what Revelation tells us is still future; it simply tells us that it wasn’t just Herod trying to kill the infant Jesus, but Satan himself as well.  He has consistently opposed God’s revealed redemptive purpose.  It’s beyond the purpose of this post to pursue this study, but from the Garden of Eden onward, Satan has tried (unsuccessfully) to thwart God’s working.  All he’s managed to do is to further its accomplishment.

Two things only are said of her Child: that He was to rule all nations with a rod of iron, and that He was caught up to God’s throne.  It’s important to understand that Scripture never says that He was caught up to His own throne, or that this is just a reference to His headship over the church.  Cf. Revelation 3:21.  We’ve mentioned this before and will visit it again later in these studies.

Perhaps there is one thing:  how can we say the woman is Israel, and yet it was not “the nation” who gave birth to the Lord, but the virgin Mary?  For most, if not all of her history, Israel has yearned for the coming of the Messiah.  It was simply through this young woman, this virgin, that God brought the Messiah into Israel.  The fact that Israel rejected Him because He didn’t fit their notions of what the Messiah would do doesn’t alter the fact that God has a redemptive purpose for Israel, and that she’s not permanently put aside.  That purpose will one day be completed.

Between vs. 5 and 6 lies the whole church age.

In v. 6, the woman flees into the wilderness to a special place prepared by God, where she will be preserved, protected and provided for during a time identified as 1260 days, or three-and-a-half years.  More details are given later in this portion of Scripture.

Revelation 11:15-19, The Seventh Trumpet.

15] Then the seventh angel sounded:  And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”  16] And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17] saying:

“We give you thanks, O Lord God Almighty,
The One who is and who was and who is to come,
Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.
18] The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come,
And the time of the dead, that they should be judged,
And that you should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints,
And those who fear Your name, small and great,
And should destroy those who destroy the earth.”

19] Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple.  And there were lightnings, noises, thundering, an earthquake, and great hail. (NKJV)

Revelation 10:5 refers to the days of the sounding of the seventh angel and says “the mystery of God” will be finished.  We talked about this some, that this “mystery” has to do with the “problem” of evil and why God doesn’t do something about it.  Our text and chs. 12-14 give us some more of the answer.  It gives us something of the scene in heaven and chs. 12-14 tell us about what will happen on this earth during this time.

To start, “loud voices” utter a bold statement:  “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.”   Some of you have Bible notes that tell you that the word “kingdoms” is actually singular, that is, the “kingdom of this world,” etc.  The voices aren’t referring to individual nations like the US or Canada, but the governance of the world, that is, mankind, itself.  We don’t often think about this.  It’s usually thought to be the province of fringe groups and conspiracy theorists, but Scripture tells us that it is so – not the theories of men, but the fact is that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places, Ephesians 6:12.  It says the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one, 1 John 5:19.  It says that even believers once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others, Ephesians 2:2, 3.

I’m glad Ephesians 2:3 isn’t the end of the story for us – “children of wrath, just as the others.”  If men wrote the rest of the story, it would be something like, “but we turned over a new leaf and began to live right, and we all lived happily ever after.”

That’s not what it says.  It says –

But God….

“But God….”

Those words occur elsewhere in Scripture.  I leave it to you to find them.  It’s a rich study.

You see, contrary to much of modern thought, we didn’t take the first step toward God.  He took the first step toward us, though that’s really a terribly inadequate way to put it.  We were going the other direction.  If He hadn’t stopped us, we’d’ve kept on going to perdition.

Our text is a “but God” for this world.  Men might turn everything upside down: redefining marriage, redefining “male and female,” promoting wickedness and unbelief on every side, and nothing seems to be happening.  The heavens are silent. There is coming a time, however, when He will step in and it will be obvious that He has.

God has always been in charge, though it may not seem like it, and men question the idea.  He’s always been supervising and superintending what goes on on this ball of dirt.  It just isn’t always apparent, though the results of our transgressions are evident: poverty, violence, political and social unrest.  When the seventh trumpet sounds, it will signal the beginning of His obvious rule.

V. 18 describes this time.

1. It will be a time of rebellion, the nations were angry.  When God steps in and cuts out all the immorality and wickedness of this world, folks aren’t going to like it.  We see something of this in the “marches” and rioting and uproar that happens at even the mention of curtailing some of these things.

2. It will be a time of recompense, the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints.

Scripture tells us that there will be several judgments, not just a “final judgment,” which some say is what is mentioned in Revelation 20:11-15.

a. There will be a judgment of the nation of Israel.  In Ezekiel 20:33-37, God said to Israel, “As I live,” says the LORD God, “surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you.  I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out.  And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face.  Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the Lord God.
“I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel.  Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”

Then v. 40 says that those who do make it into the land, every one of them, will serve the Lord.  This is what Paul was writing about in Romans 11:26.  And, by the way, these are the “brethren” of whom the Lord speaks in Matthew 25, to which we now turn.

b. There will be a judgment of nations, Matthew 25:31-46.  After the Lord’s return to this earth, He’s going to gather the nations together – there won’t be that many  people left after all the judgments of the Tribulation Period.  They will be divided into “sheep” and “goat” nations simply on the basis of how they have treated the Lord’s brethren, vs. 37, 45.  This has nothing to do with the homeless and disadvantaged, as those who think the Gospel is about nothing but social issues claim.  We have responsibilities toward these, to be sure, but that’s not the issue in Matthew 25.  The issue will be how nations have treated the Jewish people during the seventieth week, the Tribulation Period.

c. There will be a judgment of believers.

I Corinthians 3:11-15:  For other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.  If anyone’s work which he has build on it endures, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

This has nothing to do with salvation, as the last verse tells us, but of reward or loss for our life’s work.  Contrary to the gospel saying, “every work for Jesus” will not be blessed.  There’s a great deal done in Christian circles “to be seen of men.”  Our Lord said that such already have their reward, Matthew 6:2, 5.  John was concerned about this.  He wrote that we should be careful, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward, 2 John 8, emphasis added.  There will be some who enter heaven with nothing but the clothes on their back, so to speak, their lives having been reduced to ashes.  That is a sobering thought in these frivolous and superficial times.

d. There will be a judgment of unbelievers, Revelation 20:11-15.

This will be a judgment of “works,” of how the life was lived, but the determining factor will be whether or not a person’s name is written in the Book of Life.  We’ll have much more to say about this later.

Evolution tells us that billions of years have passed, and billions will likely yet pass before the sun either flames out or burns out and life will be done on this planet.  Nice how they always put this way out there where no one who listens to them today will be around to prove or disprove it.  Kind of like what they do with our beginnings.  Nothing is going on now, it was all billions or millions of years ago, so that even though we can’t duplicate it today, that’s how it happened.

No one knows when the things spoken of in Revelation will happen.  Our Lord may come back before I get done typing this post.  He may not return for several generations.  Only He knows.

It really doesn’t matter.   Whether today, tomorrow, next year, or next century, the point is, we will all stand in His presence.  Only those who have received Him as Savior will enter heaven.  He Himself said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except by Me,” John 14:6, emphasis added.  The world may think that “all roads lead to heaven,” but our Lord says that’s a lie.  “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

Revelation 11:3-14, The Two Witnesses.

3] And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.  

4] These are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.  5] And if any anyone wants to hurt them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies.  And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.  6] These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

7] When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.  8] And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.  9] Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and will not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.  10] And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

11] Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.  12] And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.”  And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.  13] In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell.  In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.

14] The second woe is past.  Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.  (NKJV)

There are several things of interest in these verses.

1. The ministry of the witnesses, vs. 3-6.

First, there are two of them.  This is in agreement with Deuteronomy 19:15, which says, by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.

Second, they have unusual power, being able to bring drought or to turn water into blood.  These abilities have led some to believe that these two witnesses are Moses, cf. Exodus 7:20, 21, and Elijah, cf. 1 Kings 17:1, though they are never actually named.

What these powers do tell us is that this is a different time than the “church age,” that is, our own age or culture.  Cf. Luke 9:51-55, where the Lord rebuked His disciples for wanting to bring such judgment down on a Samaritan village which rejected Him.  Because it failed to make that distinction, history is filled with examples of “the church” doing things it never had the right to do.  The church was never given civil authority, that is, that it was the “power on the throne.”  When it assumed that role, it ceased to be a true church and began to persecute those actually were.  The Reformers could never have envisioned or embraced such a concept as “the separation of church and state.”  To their time and thinking, the church was the state.

Of course, the modern view isn’t any better, where the church is to be completely isolated from the state, and there’s no room in “the state” for “religious” thinking.  What the so-called anti-establishment clause in our Constitution means is that there will never be an “official” Church of the United States, as there is an official or “established” church in other countries.  It does not, repeat, not, mean that there is to be no Christian influence in our government at all.  I know that the Founding Fathers weren’t necessarily “Christian” in a Biblical sense.  Washington was a Unitarian.  Jefferson was a Deist and cut out large portions of the Old Testament which he found offensive.  This is known as “the Jefferson Bible.”  Ben Franklin’s greatest desire was for a society formed on the basis of reason.  I wonder what he would think of our society.  Nevertheless, these men had a respect for the Word of God that is sorely lacking in our culture.  When the Scripture was banned from public life, decay and depravity set it, resulting in what we see all around us today.  Many of these things were unthinkable in my youth.  We are truly reaping what we have sown.

One thing of interest isn’t actually there.  Verse 3 quotes God as saying, “I will give power to My two witnesses.”  In the original language, the verse reads, “and I will give to My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy….”  There is no word for “power”.  So what is it that God is going “to give” to His servants, His “witnesses”?  I think it’s open.  Not to what we want, but what we need to do the job God has for us, whatever that may be.  He will give to the witnesses in Revelation 11 what they need, and He will give to you and me what we need to serve Him.

Finally, we’re told that the witnesses’ ministry will last 1260 days, v. 3.  This comes out to three-and-a-half years.  I believe this will be during the first part of “the seventieth week,” what we know as “The Tribulation Period.”  I believe that it’s the first part because their murder gives rise to a man called “the beast,” and the time of persecution where Jerusalem is trodden underfoot for forty-two months.  Remember the seven-year covenant or treaty we wrote of in an earlier post.  I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the witness’ ministry is to denounce that treaty and to point people to the true God.

2. The martyrdom of the witnesses, vs. 7-10.

Here we’re specifically told that “the beast” kills them.  It’s what clinches his rise to power, cf. Revelation 13:4.  The world rejoices over this murder and now it’s time to celebrate!

Earlier commentators envisioned people making special trips to see the dead bodies of the witnesses, with special trains and excursions.  The advent of television changed that, so that people around the world could see all this in the comfort of their own living rooms.  Now, of course, with the ubiquitous cellphone, nearly everybody who’s there can take pictures and send them to their friends.

There will be a world-wide sigh of relief and joy that “these two bigots who dared to speak out against our wonderful leader have finally been silenced.”

3. The Miracle of the Witnesses, vs. 11-13.

For three days, the rejoicing and celebrating continues.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be vendors selling “I was there” T-shirts and souvenirs.  In the middle of the fourth day, suddenly, the dead bodies come to life and stand up!  Wow!  That’s not supposed to happen!  I can imagine the stunned silence.  Hilarity is replaced by great fear.  Then a voice, a loud voice, saying to the two men, “Come up here,” and the world sees them ascend in a cloud into heaven, like their Master did before them.

That’s not all.  Almost immediately, there is a great earthquake, which kills seven thousand people.  This results in people giving glory to the God of heaven.  This doesn’t mean that they were saved or any such thing.  It simply means that they couldn’t deny what happened.  At the same time, neither would they receive what really happened.  Cf. Acts 3, 4, and the healing of a man born unable to walk.  When Peter and John were arrested and brought before the authorities for this healing, the man standing there with them made it impossible for them to deny that a miracle been performed.  Did this cause them to bow to the Lord Jesus?  Read their own words from Acts 4:14, And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.  But these leaders, who couldn’t deny the truth, v. 15, would not receive it either, and forbade the disciples from further talking about the Lord Jesus, v. 17.

We have lots of people today talking about and looking for miracles.  Large ministries have been build around the “performing” of them.  But by themselves, miracles mean nothing, especially if those who witness the miracles remain unchanged.  A momentary excitement means nothing by itself.

4. The “Meaning” of the Witnesses, v. 14.

Their ministry is called “the second woe.”  This simply means that one more stroke has been taken toward the ultimate defeat and destruction of evil, and the third and final “woe” is coming quickly.  The seventh angel is about to sound.

Revelation 6: Unsealed.

Conquest, vs. 1, 2,

Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a loud voice like thunder, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a white horse.  He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

Violence, vs. 3, 4.

When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.”  Another horse, fiery red, went out.  And it was granted to him who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.

Scarcity, vs. 5,6.

When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.”  So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.  And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.”

Slaughter, vs. 7, 8.

When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.”  So I looked, and behold, a pale horse.  And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him.  And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

Martyrdom, vs. 9-11.

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.  And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  Then a white robe was given to them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of the fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.

Cataclysm, vs. 12-17.

I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sum became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.  And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.  Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.  And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of his wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”  (NKJV)

My, there is so much that could be said about this chapter, and the ones following.  There are books and books and books.  If you’re interested in such things, I highly recommend Alva J. McClain’s, The Greatness of the Kingdom.  McClain was one of the founders of Grace Theological Seminary.  Even though it’s a book I read in my youth, it’s still in print.  And because viewpoints tend to be recycled from generation to generation, it’s still relevant.  I suppose, too, that it’s online somewhere.  My son-in-law reminds me of such things.  I do find find online study valuable, but when it’s all said and done, give me a book.  I bought a Strong’s Concordance from a student at the Bible College I attended.  That book made a great “booster seat” for our firstborn son.  Do that with your smartphone!  That was a long time ago, but I still use it, milk stains and all – though not as a booster seat.

Enough of such reminiscences.  What shall we say about this chapter of Revelation?

Some say that these are just generalities, or that they’re always happening.  Some say they’re happening now, in this age.  And to a degree, that may be true.  The one thing Satan desires above all else is to be like God, to be worshiped, Isaiah 14:14; Matthew 4:8, 9; Luke 4:5-7.  Perhaps a good deal of the world’s history has simply been him trying to bring that about.  And I believe that Revelation shows his final and most successful, though ultimately futile, attempt to make that happen.

At the same time, because of v. 17, I don’t believe the particular events in Revelation 6 are happening right now.  Verse 17 says, “the great day of His wrath has come.”   According to 2 Corinthians 6:2, this is the day of salvation, not wrath.  Granted, terrible things are happening right now, and seem to be increasing, but these are simply the results of man’s own rebellion and wickedness.  We’ve pretty much told God to go away, and He’s just letting us reap the results of that.  Cf. Jeremiah 17:10.

One:  Conquest, vs. 1, 2.

Some believe this individual is the Lord Jesus, going forth to conquer the world and to set up His kingdom.  And Revelation 19:1 does describe Him as being on a white horse.  His description there is far different from this man, though, and He is clearly identified, v. 16.  This man is the last of Satan’s efforts to establish a world empire.  Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, Napoleon, Hitler, Communism, Islam’s goal of subduing the world – as successful as these may have been or might be, all ultimately must fail.  Matthew 24:5-8 give us our Lord’s description of what will happen at the time of the unsealing.

Two:  Conflict, vs. 3, 4.

This will be an unprecedented time of violence.  While there have always been regional strife, national conflict and even “world-wide” wars, this will be a time when peace will be taken from the earth altogether, v. 4.

Three:  Scarcity, vs. 5, 6.

Because of the violence, food will be scarce.  A denarius was about a day’s ordinary wages, so it will take everything a person has to be able to buy what food is available.  Those who are well-off will still be able to get what they need, though, as seen by the instruction not to harm the oil and the wine.  This is not to be seen as a condemnation of the rich, as is becoming common in our day, but simply a fact of life.  Even in the halcyon days of communism, when the shelves of stores were mostly bare for ordinary people, the party elite still lived well.

Four:  Slaughter, vs. 7, 8.

While the effects of the first three seals will likely be world-wide, it does seem that “a fourth of the earth” will be the special focus of the results of these events.  As to which “fourth,” I don’t really want to speculate.  I think these four seals fulfill what our Lord warned of in Matthew 24:4-8, and describe what He called “the beginning of sorrows.”

Five:  Martyrdom, vs. 9-11.

In Matthew 24:9, the Lord prophesied that the time will come when “they will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.”  Persecution of God’s people is nothing new.  This will be a time of unusual intensity, however, because, as Revelation 12:12 puts it, the devil knows he has but a short time before it’s all over for him.

Daniel 7:25 has a word about this: Then the saints shall be given into his hand, and then the verse goes on to specify a certain length of time.  Now, Daniel may be referring to the same event as John, or a different event; the thing is the devil can’t touch God’s people unless God gives him permission to do so, cf. Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6.

That’s even indicated here.  The martyrs are assured that it would only be until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, would be killed as they were, was completed.  There’s only so much the devil and his minions can do, and only so many to whom they can do it.

Six:  Cataclysm:  vs. 12-17.

This earthquake is one of several in the book.  Some think that they all refer to the same event in a sort of reiteration of things throughout the book.  Though I’ve had to change my thinking a little, I think they are separate events.  There’s so much discussion about the book because it is difficult to sort things out.  I expect when all is said and done, more than one thing will be done differently than men said it would be.

At His crucifixion, our Lord turned to ladies who were lamenting His suffering and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.  For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren….  Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ ”  Luke 23:28-30.

Not forever will this world thumb its nose at its Creator.  One of these days, we’re going to run into the end of God’s patience, and we’ll see His wrath poured on this wicked world.

In Revelation 5:6, John saw a Lamb as though it has been slain.  There is only one way of escape from the judgment of God.  That’s not to deny it, as many do today, but to receive by faith the One who bore that judgment for sinners.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.