Archive for the ‘Bible Study – Revelation’ Category

You’re all doomed. The world will be ending shortly, and Bill Shorten is the Anti-Christ.

Not really.

But it got your attention. So read on…

It occurred to me that in all the discussion and debate around so-called ‘marriage equality,’ I haven’t seen many Christians quoting from the book of Revelation. So I thought I’d give it a go.

The book of Revelation is a book that is profoundly relevant to both first century Christians and twenty-first century Christians, and in fact all Christians in between. I believe that both those who confine it to a first century milieu (sometimes called ‘Preterists’) and those who see it as largely a yet-to-be fulfilled end time scenario (sometimes called ‘Futurists’) have a faulty way of interpreting the book.

Revelation contains images that communicate the truth about a reality (‘apocalyptic’). The visions John sees are not literal previews of actual historical events to come, but an ‘uncovering’ of the true nature of God and His work in the world through Jesus Christ, and the true nature of the worldly system of rebellious human beings, in partnership with Satan, trying to undermine and overthrow God.

The original readers would have understood the book to be describing their exact situation, and giving them hope to see that behind all the tumultuous events of their time, the Father is seated on the throne and overseeing it all, and that his Son is the true King and saviour in home they can rely 100%.

Revelation helps us as Christians to not be surprised when we see a great divergence between ourselves and the world; when, as Jesus himself predicted, the world hates us, tries to shut us down, and even kills us. In this age our cry is not, ‘Will you save us?’ but ‘How long until you do?’. The book gives us a sure hope for the future culmination of God’s plan to make the kingdom of this world into His Kingdom, when we will see Him face to face and know the gentle touch of his hand as He wipes the tears from our eyes.

“The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” (Revelation 13:15-18 NIV)

John’s terrifying vision of a dragon and beasts is an expose of Satan’s strategy to undermine God by mimicking His work in order to lead people into idolatry (ie. worship and service of anything that is not God). The Dragon of 13:1 is the Devil, the ‘Father of lies’, who attempts to usurp the Father; He brings forth from the sea a beast which mimics Christ (often identified the ‘Anti-Christ) and claims to be a powerful, resurrected saviour. The second beast is the first beast’s PR machine: it points people to the first beast and leads people to worship it, as it mimics – you guessed it – the Holy Spirit.

Having the mark of the first beast is a sign of ownership and loyalty. It marks the person out as one who was a worshipper of the beast; one who has surrendered their rights and privileges in order to be part of the worldly system.

Those who don’t have the mark – who refuse to give in to idolatry – are marginalised by the world, unable to even buy or sell in order to make a living and feed their families. Christians at the time were literally facing this exclusion, as they refused membership in trade guilds that demanded a pledge to the trade’s patron deity, and as their refusal to honour Caesar as God resulted in their execution.

The message for Christians was not ‘Whatever you do, don’t take the mark!’, but something much more comforting: after an unfortunate chapter break, in 14:1:

‘…there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.’ (Revelation 14:1 NIV).

Do you see the parallel? The redeemed already have a mark on them – the name of the Father and of the Lamb! Christians are owned by the Father, who has purchased them with the precious blood of Christ:

‘Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.’ (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NIV)

So what we see in this passage is a call for Christians to stand firm on the grace of their salvation, knowing a rock-solid security in Christ, as the world around them seems bent on going to hell in a handbasket.

Notice that the 144000 are not called to fight the beasts or lobby for their downfall. That’s the job of the Lamb, their champion, who will lead the charge and defeat the beasts; and they can rest assured that they will share in his victory. (What a counter-cultural image – three ferocious monsters defeated by a lamb!).

‘What’s this got to do with gay marriage?’ I hear you say. Well, if you’ve persevered this far through my very long introduction, you’re about to be rewarded with the application.

Christians do not fit into the world today any more than they did 1900 years ago. It should come as no shock to us if our faith in Christ results in us being ostracised, demonised or even ultimately killed. Jesus’ promise  of hatred from the world was not just for his immediate disciples, but for anyone who would be his disciple.

Sadly, the church in the west today often seems more interested in winning the approval of the world than in standing with the Lamb and risking losing everything. When the world says to us, ‘If you don’t support marriage equality, you’re disgusting bigots!’ we seem eager to jump through any hoops the world wants us to, even to the point of agreeing with them when they tell us, ‘Jesus never said anything against homosexuality, so it must be OK.’ or ‘Jesus hung around with ‘sinners’ and didn’t judge them.’

By doing this, we are giving in to the campaign to set up an antichrist. An antichrist is not necessarily one who is explicitly opposed to Christ, but is a rival, or alternative christ. It is a christ made in the image of the father of lies; a christ that is appealing to a world filled with people who are rebels at heart and who will do anything but worship the true and living God. A christ that says, ‘Your sin is not that bad after all; in fact, you’re all OK doing whatever you like! See then kingdoms of the world? I will give them all to you if you simply bow down and worship me.’

So it is no coincidence that in a number of countries that have already legalised same-sex marriage there are a growing number of Christians who are being fined and forced out of business, simply because out of loyalty to the true Christ they are refusing to participate in same-sex wedding by providing their professional services. Already a church has already faced legal action for refusing to perform a gay wedding. Already Christian ministries are facing disadvantages for not complying with ‘anti discrimination’ rules, and are being labeled ‘homophobic’ even if they have said nothing publicly and explicitly about homosexuality.

How are Christians to respond to something that many are saying is inevitable? While different Christians have various views on this issue, as well as on how involved we should be in lobbying against the change, I think one thing is sure: Christians in the West who hold firmly to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality will find themselves increasingly marginalised as our culture moves step by step further away from the Christian values imbibed in it from the era of Christendom.

But it’s not cause to panic. And, in my view, it’s not cause to go out with placards and protest and demand that the beast of human rebellion and haughty independence not be worshipped.

Do we really believe that the Father is sovereign over the rise and fall of kingdoms and cultures? Do we really know that the only thing that is ultimately inevitable is the victory of Christ and the uniting of all things under Him? Are we willing to accept the truth that the decline of a culture into immorality is simply a sign of the wrath of God that is upon it, and is designed so that the grace and kindness of God may be even more magnified as He redeems people from the miry pit of their hard-hearted sinfulness?

We should not overlook what happens next in John’s vision:

‘Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth —to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water. (Revelation 14:6-7 NIV)

As he stands gazing, at on one hand the seething mass of rebellious humanity revelling in its worship of the beast, and on the other hand the glorious risen Lamb with his redeemed people, he hears of the one thing that can bridge the vast gap between the two: the Eternal Gospel. It is a Gospel that calls people to repentance in light of the unavoidable fact of God’s judgement in and though the One He has appointed – Jesus. It’s a Gospel that calls people to true worship of the true God, who created all things, including – and this is easily overlooked – the ‘springs of water.’ In 7:16 we see these springs mentioned:

‘“…the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’ (Revelation 7:17 NIV)

So the Gospel is also a call to sinners to come and drink at the springs of living water that God’s grace and mercy provide.

This is the main task of the church, and even more so as we feel like we are being assaulted from every side. We are not called to preserve or reform the social and political structures of the world; they are only temporary and are doomed to pass with the rise and fall of civilisation under the hand of the Father. It is only as we faithfully proclaim the Gospel that we will see hearts transformed, with the fruit of right, Christ honouring living coming as a result.

There are two things this does not mean for Christians as we face the demise of culture. Firstly, it cannot mean smugness. We cannot stand on the sidelines wagging our fingers saying, ‘I told you so – but then what else should I expect from reprobates like you?’ Remember, we only stand with the Lamb on Mt Zion because we have been redeemed. That is the only thing that separates us from our pagan neighbours: the gracious redeeming work of Christ.

And secondly, it does not mean we remain silent on the moral issues that face us. The Gospel is the good news of redemption from the power, penalty and pollution of sin. That means sin must be a topic we discuss whenever we are attempting to communicate the Gospel. When sin increases, grace abounds even more (Romans 5:20) – in other words, seeing the horror of sin only serves to magnify the lavish grace of God that rescues us from that sin. Out of love for our neighbours, we cannot stop pointing out their sinfulness, because then the Gospel will be seen for what it is – the best news ever.

In Revelation 18 we see a mighty angel take a large boulder and throw it into the sea, declaring:

‘So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more…’

He is speaking of the final Day – the conclusive Day of the Lord when ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’ (Rev. 11:15)

The final judgement and defeat of sophisticated rebellious humanity – in Revelation dubbed ‘Babylon’ – is conclusive. Like a large stone thrown into deep water, the shock and violence of it is great, yet once it is done, it is done, and there is no return. It doesn’t take long for the ripples to subside and the water to cover any memory that the stone ever existed.

What should be our response to this certainty of final judgement? Through five chapters of the Book of Revelation (15-19) we see an occasional call to God’s people in the midst of this devastation. They are both the response that will actually happen at that time, but they are also to shape our response as we look forward to these events.

Worship God for His faithfulness throughout history (15:2-4).

The final day is the day that all of history has been leading up to, and with the eyes of faith we can look at the revelation of this in the Scriptures and understand the faithfulness and justice of God. We are called to be thankful for all that God Has done and to have a thankful confidence that History with be brought to a conclusion exactly the way God has planned, where, ‘…every knee will bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.’ This knowledge and thankful spirit is the key to us living faithfully as the expression of God’s family in this world (Philippians 2:1-11)

Be prepared for Jesus’ return at any time (16:15).

In the midst of the sixth bowl, in which the kingdoms of the world are gathered for destruction, we are reminded that we do not know the day or hour of Jesus’ coming as judge. No thief sends an advance schedule to tell his victims what time he will be coming to steal their VCR, but this doesn’t preclude householders being alert and watching for when it will happen. Christians likewise should not become complacent, and think that since it has been nearly 2000 years since His promise to return then He is probably not coming soon, if at all. He could easily come before you finish reading this sentence, because the timing of His return is not dependent upon historical events or our own evangelistic activities, but is in the hands of the Father.

To be prepared for His coming doesn’t mean passively waiting. It means actively serving God: proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, and living a life of service and sacrifice towards our fellow human beings, regardless of whether they are those who stand beside the glassy sea or those who are heading for destruction in Babylon. It is this action of God through His people – ‘the righteous acts of the saints’ that make up the beautiful gown of the bride of Christ. (see  19:8).

Come out from Babylon and be separate (18:4).

There is obviously a clear call here to separate ourselves from the immorality of the world’s standards, and to be an example of the transforming righteousness of God which we have received in Christ. But there is another dimension to this call. In our zeal to serve our neighbours and proclaim the Gospel to the world, we need to be sure that we in no way participate in its actions. This may not seem possible, but it can happen when we try so hard to package and present the Gospel in ways that are ‘relevant’ and ‘easy to understand’ that we actually end up compromising and diluting the Gospel itself. We may leave out the ‘bits’ that are controversial to avoid confrontation and persecution. We may overemphasise or exaggerate the earthly benefits of being a Christian in order to make the Gospel sound attractive. We may rely on humanistic methods of marketing, entertainment and psychology to draw people rather than rely on the power of the Gospel itself to save. We may unquestioningly adopt a cultural expression in the church without noticing the damage it does to our witness to the truth. We may follow the lead of the world in its statements about gender, sexuality, racism, social action and politics instead of leading the world in our prophetic proclamation of the Biblical view on these issues.

What we see today in the liberal arm of the earthly church, in all its compromise of Biblical truth and its partnership with the secular world and its agendas, began three or four generations ago as an evangelistic zeal to reach the whole world with the Gospel, and to present the Gospel in a way the world can relate to. Some current trends in the evangelical community today demonstrate that we have not learned this lesson of history, and are in danger of living in Babylon instead of coming out – fleeing, as Abraham and Lot did Sodom and Gomorrah, without looking back or wondering whether we can hang on to just a small piece.

Rejoice in the justice and vindication of God (18:20, 19:1-5).

God’s certain and coming judgement should and will raise a triumphant shout from all His people. It may appear cruel for us to rejoice over the condemnation of sinners; but we are called here to celebrate the victory of God and His complete vindication of us. Every injustice will be paid for, every sin will be called to account, and those who have oppressed the saints – be they spiritual or human agents – will receive the full due for what they have done. Be assured of this: God will not finally condemn anyone in whom there is still the ‘potential’ for repentance. As we have seen, the impenitent will face judgement acknowledging the truth of Christ’s rule, but they will remain in their anger and the hardness of their hearts right to the end and into eternity. Our call is not to focus on or question their fate, but to celebrate the fact that this defeat of evil assures our place at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

The gaudy, worldly, widowed prostitute Babylon has been dethroned, and in her place stands the pure, beautiful bride of the Lamb.