Acts 3:17-18, Foretold and Fulfilled.

17]  “yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  18] But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 

In our last post, we saw that Peter refused to take credit for the healing of the lame man, but rather turned the attention of his audience to what was important, namely, that they had rejected and crucified their Messiah, probably because He didn’t “measure up” to the expectations of the rulers and the people.  They though He would come in regal splendor, destroy the Romans and all other of Israel’s enemies, and set up the Davidic kingdom promised in the Old Testament.

They didn’t understand that there was a greater enemy to be destroyed and a greater need to be fulfilled.  They didn’t understand that they, themselves, needed to be redeemed.  True, they had been “redeemed” from Egyptian slavery and made into a nation and were known as God’s people, but that didn’t do anything about their sin problem.  Even though the Old Testament foretold that Messiah would give Himself as a Sacrifice for sin, that He would “suffer,” they really hadn’t focused on the idea.  As Peter put it, they were “ignorant” of God’s purpose.

This should give us something to think about.  Especially with the rulers, here were men who were well-versed in the Old Testament, probably beyond what any of us could hope to achieve.  These men, no doubt, knew the “letter” of the law, and yet had never spelled out its message.  So when the promised Messiah came, they put Him on a Roman cross.

However, and contrary to those who believe that God is done with Israel, it was through the very means of their rejection of Messiah and His death that Israel will eventually be redeemed and restored, Romans 11:26, Jeremiah 31:1.  Their sins had to be paid for, just like yours and mine.

At the same time, let us apply this personally.  Do WE know the Word, or do we just know ABOUT it?  A very small percentage of professing Christians have ever read the Bible through, yet that Word is the only place we can learn about God, about ourselves and about this world, both now and in the future.  Does the Word bear fruit in our lives?  Does it bring us in repentance and faith to the feet of Jesus?  I’m not talking about “being saved” over and over, but rather with dealing with the fact of our inborn sinfulness, as mourned over by Paul in Romans 7.

Yet it wasn’t Peter’s intent in Acts 3 to have the people focus on themselves, or just to beat themselves up.  His intent was to bring them to that One who had foretold the death of Christ, and then had fulfilled His Word.  As we said earlier, no power on earth or elsewhere could have put Christ on the Cross if He had not been willing to go there, and no power on earth or elsewhere could have kept Him from it once He decided to go.

It’s sometimes difficult for us to see the hand of God in the things of life among the many other “hands” with which we have to do.  Unbelievers and skeptics scoff at or deny that He exists at all.  Others seem to have the idea that He stands anxiously on the sidelines of our lives until we decide to send Him into the game.  But in this most evil of all events – the crucifixion of God incarnate, God was at work to fulfill His eternal purpose, Ephesians 3:11.  As Daniel, standing before the most powerful king of his time, said, He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.  No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”  Daniel 4:35.

He is faithful to His promise.

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Acts 2:40-46, “They Continued”

40] And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.”  41] Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.  42] And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.  43] Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  44] Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45] and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

46] So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47] praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. 

Verses 14 through 39 give us only a small portion of of what Peter said to the crowd who gathered as a result of the commotion surrounding the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  The thrust of what he said is found in v. 40, which says that with many words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.  His words didn’t fall on deaf ears as we read that three thousand souls were converted to the Lord.

The thing that I find interesting is the fact that they “continued” is mentioned twice, in vs. 42 and 46.  This is the great distinguishing mark of true believers in the Lord Jesus, for there are many who draw back unto perdition, Hebrews 10:39.  It’s the characteristic of His people mentioned by our Lord, John 8:31, Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”  He’s not saying that they remain His disciples, or that they become His disciples, but that they are His disciples.  This reminds us of an earlier incident in His life, recorded in John 2:23-25, Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what is in man. 

We have such a shallow view of salvation.  As long as one makes some sort of  “profession of faith,” or even might have, well, that seems to be enough.  I saw an example of this just the other day.  The media has been filled with the terrible events which happened in Las Vegas.  Of the man identified as the shooter, one pastor wrote, “Now it is possible that he was saved, that he had believed on Jesus at one point in his life.”  Then this pastor wrote, as this man was preparing to shoot, “in those moments, he was not right with God, regardless of his salvation.”

Now, I grant that, generally speaking, we can’t know for certain the spiritual condition of any particular person.  However, Scripture says, you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him, 1 John 3:15.  So, while it is “possible” that this man was “saved,” it doesn’t seem very likely.  He doesn’t seem to have been “continuing”.

We read of these early believers in Acts 2, that they continued, emphasis added.  Verse 42 gives us four examples.

1. apostles’ doctrine.  Since the apostles were still alive, this was possible.  The word translated “apostle” basically means “one who is sent.”  In that respect, any true Christian might say he or she is “an apostle.”  However, there are no “Apostles” in the sense that the twelve were Apostles.  There are no people giving new revelations of Scripture or “messages from God.”  Today, we have the Scriptures.  Our question must be, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3, not what does this or that preacher or teacher say?  What does “the church” say?

What does God say, as given in His Word?

2. and fellowship.  This seems to be tied in with the first item:  “apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.”  There’s an old saying, which I’ve turned around somewhat:  “the feathers with whom you flock show what kind of a bird you are.”  What kind of people do we like to be around, to associate with?  That’s a reflection of who we are.  These is Acts 2 wanted to be with God’s people.

3. in the breaking of bread.  Perhaps what we call communion or the Lord’s Supper and ordinary meals were together.  Our Lord instituted His Supper at the meal of the Passover, Matthew 26:26.

4. and in prayers.  The hallmark of the NT church.

Verses 44, 45 tell of another aspect of the early church:  they were together, and all things in common, and sold their possessions and good, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.  Karl Marx used these ideas as a basis for his views on government.  Many others have tried “communal” living of various sorts.  However, especially as it regards communism and other socialist ideas, there are some things to keep in mind about this “community of goods.”

1. It was voluntary.  There is no evidence that this was a “forced” sharing, as in communism.  The government wasn’t involved at all.  Nor does it have anything to do with the current idea of “making the rich pay their fair share.”  It was voluntary,

2. It seems to have been temporary.  We don’t read of this past chapter 6, though the NT is filled with efforts of Paul and others to relieve the necessities of the saints.

3.  It didn’t work, as we see in chapter 6:1, which tells us of the beginning of “deacons.”  We’ll have more about this when we get to that chapter.

It could be this came about because those early disciples believed that the Lord would return very soon.  They had no inkling of “the church,” at least as we know it, or of the time interval between the Ascension and the Return.  We still don’t know of that interval, though that doesn’t stop speculation.  Just a few weeks ago, there were two different such speculations of facebook, both saying that such-and-such was the date on which our Lord would return, and both were wrong.  You’d think, after nearly 2000 years of such misses, that folks would give up trying to figure it out.  He may come before I get done with this post.  He may not come until our grandchildren’s grandchildren are alive.  In the meantime, there are things for us to do.

Verses 46 and 47 gives us a final summary.  The split between Jew and Christian had not yet happened.  As we said earlier, the early church was Jewish.  It wasn’t really until Paul that the Gospel really began to be preached to Gentiles – usually with Jewish opposition.  It was still a time of Apostolic miracle and ministry, a time of generosity and grace.  A time of joy and happiness.  A time of great salvation, as the last verse tells us.  It was a daily occurrence, no special meetings or anything, just apparently the result of the way these early Christians lived.

They continued.

Acts 2:24-36, “…God Disposes.”

24] “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.  25] For David says concerning Him:

‘I foresaw the LORD always before my face,
For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.
26] Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad;
Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.
27] For You will not leave my soul in Hades,
Nor will you allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
28] You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’

29] “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  30] Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God has sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31] he, foreseeing this, spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.  32] This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.  33] Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

34] “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:

‘The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
35] Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ “

36] “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”  (NKJV)

One of the Scriptures for our last post was Acts 2:23, where Peter has accused his audience that they “by lawless hands, [had] crucified, and put to death” the Lord Jesus, even though it had been evident that His was no ordinary life.

Perhaps the religious leaders who were behind the crucifixion of our Lord rubbed their hands in glee at the idea that finally they were rid of this One who had been a thorn in their sides for three or more years.  Little did they know!  John 11:48 reveals some of their reasoning; they were concerned for their own prestige and power in the nation.  The “removal” of Jesus of Nazareth was considered necessary for the preservation of these things.  And for a few days, it seemed they were right.

However, God’s purpose concerning Christ is an eternal purpose, Ephesians 1:4; 2:7; 3:11, spanning from eternity past, if we can put it like this, into eternity future.  See also Ephesians 2:7.  The events of a few days, months, or even years, are just threads in the eternal tapestry God is weaving.

In thinking of the death of Christ, Peter boldly proclaimed, “It was not possible that He should be held by it, v. 24.  As proof, in vs. 25-28 he quotes Psalm 16:8-11, speaking in those verses of being in the Lord’s presence in heaven, v. 25, then that “his” soul would not be left in Hades, nor would “his” body see corruption, vs. 26, 27.

Just in passing, there are some who knock on your door who claim that “Hades” is merely the the physical grave.  This really isn’t the place to get into that, except to say this.  In Luke 12:4, 5, our Lord said, “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will show you whom you should fear:  Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him.”  It’s obvious from these verses that more than simple burying in the ground is in view.

Then, lest it should be thought that David was speaking merely of himself, Peter continues that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day, v. 29.  Obviously, his body had seen corruption.  In Psalm 16, Peter says, David wasn’t referring to his own body, but to the body of “the Christ,” the Messiah, who would indeed die and be buried, but not be there long enough for His body to begin to decay.  Hence, the importance of “three days and three nights” in our Lord’s death and burial.  Jewish tradition believed that the body didn’t begin to decay until the fourth day.  So Psalm 16 refers to our Lord, whose soul was not left in Hades, not did his flesh see corruption,  v, 31.

In addition, God had made some promises to David.  We read of these in 2 Samuel, where God said to David,

“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever….And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you.  Your throne shall be established forever,”  2 Samuel 7:12, 13, 17, emphasis added.

While it could be said that some of this refers to Solomon – who did indeed build a “house” for God’s name – David himself seems to have recognized something more was involved.  In v. 19, in praying to and thanking God for this overwhelming revelation, David said, “…and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come.”  

There’s some discussion about the phrase, “according to the flesh,” in Acts 2:30, but I don’t think it makes any difference.  According to Peter, David knew that the Messiah, a physical descendant of his – “the fruit of his body” – would one day sit on his throne.

Having been raise from the dead, Jesus ascended and, Peter says, “being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” v. 33.

Thus, the apostles weren’t drunk; they had been recipients of the promise made to them by the Lord Jesus even before He was crucified, John 14: 16-18, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”   This last He did in the person and power of the Holy Spirit.

But Peter isn’t quite finished.  As for the Lord Himself, He has been seated at the Father’s right hand, v. 34, “waiting expectantly” for the Father to put down His enemies, those, for example, who cried out for His crucifixion, whose spiritual descendants we see today all around us who demand the removal of any vestige of reference to Biblical truth.  Those who heard Peter were reminded that even though they had crucified the Lord Jesus, God had made Him “both Lord and Christ.”  One day, when He returns to this sin-ruined world, that will become obvious.

God is faithful to His promise.

Revelation 22:6-21, “Even So, Come, Lord Jesus!”

6] Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true,”  And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.

7] “Behold, I am coming quickly!  Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

8] Now I, John, saw and heard these things.  And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things.

9] Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that.  For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book.  Worship God.”  10] And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of this prophecy, for the time is at hand.  11] He who is unjust, let him be unjust still;  he who is filthy. let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”

12] “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every one according to his work.  13] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”

14] Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.  But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

16] “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches.  I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”

17] And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let take of the water of life freely.

18] For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19] and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

20] He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”

Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

21] The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen. (NKJV)

Verse 6 is a witness to the authenticity of Revelation.  It says a lot about the wickedness of human nature that, over and over, God has to assure us that He can be trusted and that His word is true.

The second clause refers to the Lord God of the holy prophets, reminding us of 2 Peter 1:21, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.  That’s why His word is “faithful and true.”  It isn’t just the product of man’s wisdom or imagination.  “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

The Lord refers to His coming three times in this chapter, in vs. 7, 12 and 20.  In v. 7, it’s in connection with the prophecy of this book.  This doesn’t mean that prophecy is something to speculate or argue about or to sensationalize or trivialize.  It’s to assure us that the future is in His hands and that He has everything under control.  In v. 12, it’s in connection with His purpose to give everyone according to his work.  It’s too easy for us to seek a reward in the approval and praise of mere men, but the only praise that will amount to anything is the commendation of the One who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.  The interesting thing is that He says it’s His “Reward.”  Unbelievers and skeptics, those who scorned Him at His First Coming and hanged Him on a Cross, and those down through the ages who have rejected Him or corrupted His teachings will discover that He is the Judge, not them!

Both the godly and the ungodly will find this to be true.  The godly, those who do His commandments, v. 14, will enter the city.  The wicked, described in v. 15, will never enter that city.  There will be nothing that corrupts or defiles allowed into that eternal paradise.

V. 15 says these things are to be testified in the churches.  Yet how seldom is this true, that churches are given the message in this book.  I know there is a lot of discussion, sometimes heated, about what that message is, but if nothing else, it concerns what is the emphasis in these verses:  that the Lord Jesus will return to this earth, that there is coming a time of reward or punishment, and that the invitation is freely given to “Come.”  I don’t have access to the original language at this time (I’m actually on vacation), but I wouldn’t be surprised if this word isn’t an imperative, that is, a command, for folks to come to the Savior.  This is similar to Acts 17:30, which says, God commands all men everywhere to repent.

There’s some discussion as to whether the Gospel is an offer or an invitation.  I think it’s actually a proclamation from the Court in Heaven that men are under condemnation because of their sin, but God, the High King of Heaven, has made a way of escape through His Son and those who repent of their sins and trust in Him for salvation will receive a full and complete pardon for those sins.

Verse 11 troubles some people:  He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.  Some might think that the verse means that God is ok with unjust and filthy lives.  Perish the thought.  We think our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 13 is the answer.  In this chapter, He is describing the Kingdom of God using various similes and pictures.  In vs. 24-30 he uses the analogy of a man sowing wheat in his field.  An enemy comes along and sows tares in that same field.  BTW, the NIV version saying “weeds” is terribly inadequate and misleading.  Our Lord isn’t talking about something like dandelions!  No, no, the idea is that tares are almost indistinguishable from true wheat until harvest, hence, the reference to harvest in v. 30.

The meaning is that we can’t infallibly tell the heart condition of anyone.  Some looked down on in “church” might actually be godly individuals, while some who have huge ministries but whose praise is from men might find that that is all the reward they will ever get, and the Lord will tell them to depart from Him, Matthew 25:41.  This does not mean that there can be no church discipline or that we can’t “judge” brethren whose lives don’t measure up to Scripture.  It does mean that we are neither infallible nor omniscient.

There is also a solemn warning against tampering with the contents of this Book.  There’s some discussion about whether this warning is only for Revelation or for the whole Bible.  I think it’s the latter.  This book is God’s Word, and it’s a terrible presumption and a great wickedness for anyone to believe that it can be improved upon.  There has been no revelation since John closed his writing and to say otherwise is a wicked sin.

We can have no better close for this  post and this series than the one John gave to his own writing:

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.

Revelation 20:1-6, It Can’t Possibly Mean That!

1] Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.  2] He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3] and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.  But after these things he must be released for a little while.

4] And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them.  The I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not receive his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.  And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  5] But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.  This is the first resurrection.  6] Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.  Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

Revelation 20 continues the events begun by the return of our Lord in ch. 19.  The events in this chapter conclude human history.  They include the binding of Satan, the 1000 year kingdom, the loosing of Satan for the final rebellion, and the Great White Throne judgment.  We’ll look at the first two in this post.

1. The binding of Satan.

We’re not going to spend a lot of time on this, just a couple of things.  Satan will be bound, not just “hindered,” as, say, by the preaching of the Gospel.  Some have the idea that he’s just going to be like a dog on a chain in the backyard, but still have a limited amount of freedom.  Scripture says he will be bound up and put away. Out of sight and out of mind.

Some object to the idea of a “chain” binding a spirit creature like Satan.  However one may choose to look at this, the teaching is plain:  Satan will literally be taken out of the picture, by whatever means God chooses to use.

2. The “1000 years”.

These verses are some of the most controversial in Scripture.  The very idea of “an earthly, carnal, kingdom” where the Lord sits on an actual throne in the actual city of Jerusalem is just too far beyond what some can accept.  According to this mindset, these verses can’t possible refer to an actual 1000 year period, but, as one writer put it, simply refer to our present Gospel dispensation of nearly 2000 years (!)

I think there’s a reason the Holy Spirit inspired John to use the phrase “1000 years” five times in six verses.  It’s to impress on us that He means 1000 years, not just some indeterminate amount of time!  Besides, isn’t it an insult to our Lord to describe any rule of His, regardless of where it is, as “carnal”?

Revelation doesn’t tell us a great deal of what will happen during these years, but other Scriptures give us some idea.

1. Satan will be bound.

We’ve already seen this.  The chief enemy of God and His people will be taken out of the picture.

2. Israel as a nation will be saved, Zechariah 12:9-14.  They will realize that this One whom they crucified is actually their Redeemer.  Some have objected that their sin shut them out of the possibility of being saved, but, in fact, it will be the means of their eventual conversion.

3. Israel as a nation will be judged, Ezekiel 20:33-38.  When our Lord come back, not every Jew will bow to Him as Lord.  Those refusing to do so will be purged out of the nation.

4. The living Gentile nations will be judged, Matthew 25:31-46, apparently on the basis of how they have treated the Jews.  This might have some reference to the invasion of Israel.

5. The curse will be removed from the earth, Isaiah 65:17-25.  This is the time Paul said that creation was looking forward to, Romans 8:19-21, where creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption.

Some have take Isaiah’s reference in  65:17 to new heavens and a new earth to mean eternity.  Revelation 21:1 also describes such a creation.  However, I don’t think Isaiah and Revelation refer to the same thing.  I may be wrong, but Isaiah says there will still be death in his vision:

“No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,
Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days’
For the child shall die one hundred years old,
But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed, Isaiah 65:20.

In contrast, John describes a place where “there shall be no more death, no sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away,” Revelation 21:4.

Considering the radical changes that will take place when the Lord comes back, I think it can safely be said that things will indeed be “new”.

The beast and his minions had killed those who refuse to bow down before him and receive his mark.  Here we find, though, that these same martyrs are resurrected and share in the millennial glory.  This isn’t simply “conversion,” as some teach, but an actual coming back to life of those who gave their lives for the Lord.

What about OT and church saints?  Paul taught that OT saints will come back with the Lord at His return and NT saints will be resurrected then.  These won’t be left out of the blessings.

Man longs for and dreams of a “utopia” in which everyone lives happily ever after.  That will not be realized in any real sense until our Lord comes back and establishes His kingdom on this earth.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 16:12-21: When All Hell Breaks Loose

12] Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared.  13] And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.  14] For they are the spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

15] “Behold, I am coming as a thief.  Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

16] And they gathered them together to the place called in the Hebrew, Armageddon.

17] Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”  18] And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.  19] Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell.  And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.  20] Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.  21] And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent.  Men blasphemed because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great

Perhaps the title sounds unusual, perhaps a little excessive, or even profane.  Sometimes the expression in it is used when some catastrophe or violence breaks out somewhere on earth.  It means something is really terrible.

In this case, however, it isn’t profane, but an expression of a solemn reality – hell will really break loose in one final attempt to defeat the purpose of God.  It will be “terrible” beyond anything this world has experienced.

There are two parts to this vision:

1. The Deception, vs. 12-16.
2. The Determination, vs. 17-21.

1. The Deception, vs. 12-16.

We’ve already been introduced to the dragon, the beast and the false prophet.  For more than three years, they’ve pretty much had the run of things, even though the dragon, that is, Satan, knows his time is running out, 12:12, hence the increased wickedness and violence.  Now, in this last few weeks, what turns out to be the final act begins.

For most of its existence, and certainly its recent existence, Israel has been the object of scorn and hatred.  Though it’s ancient history to a lot of people today, WWII was a nearly successful attempt to wipe out Jewry.  Though some today deny any such thing as the Holocaust, the times just after the war was over and the terrible pictures of emaciated men, little more than skeletons in skin, liberated from the death camps, or the piles of corpses found in those camps, the bodies of those murdered by the Nazis say otherwise.  Yes, it was real.

This will be far beyond that.

Satan hates God, and has tried to thwart Him at every turn.  He tried in the Garden of Eden.  He tried with Abraham.  He tried in Egypt.  He tried in the wilderness wanderings and after Israel entered the land.  He tried when our Lord walked the dusty roads of Palestine.  Even that very name – Palestine, a name given to the land by her enemies – is a denial of Israel and her claim to that land, a claim still vigorously and sometimes violently disputed.

At the beginning of our verses we’re told that the River Euphrates will be dried up so that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.  The longest river in that part of the world, the Euphrates has long stood as a barrier between Western Asia and the West.  Further, it is vital to the economy of the region, several nations being dependent on it for irrigation or hydroelectric energy.

Who are “the kings of the east”?  Older commentators understood them to be from China, with her teeming millions, or from other countries in the Far East.   That may be, but there are “teeming millions” much closer – in Syria and other nearby countries.  Because of overpopulation and overuse, the water table in many of these countries has dropped, in some cases severely, and the Euphrates itself has been affected to some degree, as its sources of water begin to dry up or are closed off with dams.  It may be more than Wiley the poet in the comic strip B. C. can understand, but there’s been more than one war started over water.  This may be the last one.  (And that no doubt by now obscure cultural reference may tell how old I am.  Oh, well.)

But there’s more.  And it’s not really a joking matter, though my sense of humor often gets in the way.  We read that the sixth angel will pour out his bowl over the River and what may have begun by natural and environmental forces will be finished all at once and the River will be gone.

This will open the door for much easier access into the Levant as, not only from the east but the kings of the earth and of the whole world, will gather for an onslaught against Jerusalem.  This will turn out to be Satan’s last attempt to destroy Israel.  We see his minions energizing the beast and the false prophet as no doubt they urge this invasion once and for all to settle “the Jewish problem,” v. 13.  I want to point out once more the Scripture mentioning that these demons perform “signs,” v. 14.  If he can’t get folks to deny the Word outright, then he’ll draw their attention to counterfeit things like “signs and miracles.”

But it isn’t just Satan and his minions and his subjects.  It isn’t just political maneuvering or racial hatred.  In Zechariah 14:2, the Lord God says, I will gather all nations to battle against Jerusalem,” emphasis added.  We never want to get the idea that somehow God is outside all this, or that He’s caught by surprise or unprepared for the doings of sinful men.  While I don’t want to get into the discussion over “free will” and God’s sovereignty, let me simply say that God is quite able to work His will in the context of His own creation.  This last battle is simply His preparation for the return of His Son.

There are other Scriptures which weigh in on this.  For example, Isaiah 66:16 says,

For by fire and by His sword
The LORD will judge all flesh;
And the slain of the LORD shall be many.

And further,

At His wrath the earth will tremble,
And the nations will not be able to endure
His indignation,
Jeremiah 10:6.

See also Ezekiel 39:17-20.

It’s interesting that in the midst of this description of one of the worst times in human history, the Lord Jesus interjects a promise, “Behold, I come as a thief,” Revelation 16:15.  But there’s also a warning:  “Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

I don’t know how this last part will play out, but it’s a solemn warning not to get so caught up in current events or in trying to decipher “the signs of the times,” that we forget our personal responsibility to live holy lives, lives looking for more than the transient things of this world.  See also 1 John 2:28.  Satan will not have the final word, no matter how desperate things seem to get.

2. The Determination, vs. 17-21.

The seventh angel pours out his bowl of wrath in the climactic act of judgment in Revelation.  These judgments include a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth, v. 18.  This is the last of several earthquakes recorded in Revelation, and is likely the one associated with the physical return of our Lord as recorded in Zechariah 14:

And in that day His feet will stand on the
Mount of Olives,

Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in
two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the
north
And half of it toward the south.
…All the land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon in the south, Zechariah 14:4, 10.

By the way, this will more than make room for the temple and its environs spoken of in Ezekiel 40-45.

Isaiah 24:20 says, the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard.  With the physical and geological catastrophes ravaging this poor planet, we can certainly see why!

Revelation 16:19 refers to the judgment of the great city, identified a little later in the verse as great Babylon.  Since more than two chapters are devoted to the destruction of this city, we’ll save further comments until later.  The “chronology” of the book skips from 16:21 to 19:11.  The portion in between is explanatory, the “director’s cut,” the idea that inspired the title for this series.

Verses 20, 21 continue the description of the judgment of the seventh bowl.  Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.  These catastrophes are accompanied by great hail from heaven, with hailstones weighing from 75 to 100 pounds each.

None of this moves men toward God, but further away.  They continue to blaspheme, to curse, not to repent.  It is the “great day of His wrath.”

Paul referred to the time of the beast in 2 Thessalonians 2:9,10:  the coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved, emphasis added.

You see, we’re not saved by faith in “signs,” but by faith in the Son, His perfect life and death, what He did for sinners on the Cross, taking their place and enduring the wrath of God against their sin.  They, and they alone, are saved.

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

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 map-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.