Revelation 16 brings us to Armageddon.
Rev 16:16 And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
Rev 16:17 And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.
Rev 16:18 And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.
Rev 16:19 And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
Rev 16:20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.
Rev 16:21 And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.
It is interesting that even after everything that has happened throughout this book, people are still not willing to acknowledge God. People are still going to curse God rather than recognize that they need to get themselves right with God.
From the beginning, sinfulness has been a human problem. Free will that was abused brought about a world that was fallen and plagued by sin. It created the separation between God and man, and Jesus Christ provided the bridge to bring people back to God if they are willing to again make the free decision to repent.
Even at the end, there are going to be people who will not make that decision. Obviously, that is a terrible thing, but with the gift of free will that we were given, there is the potential for people to turn away.
It amazes me how stubborn people can be. In Revelation 9, the earth is not in a very good place. They have now been hit by terrible plagues, but there are still people who don’t realize the error of their ways.
Rev 9:20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:
Rev 9:21 Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
They have seen the horror around them, but they don’t recognize the consequences of what they had done. They don’t realize why all of this is happening, and as a result they remain in the darkness.
It makes me think of CS Lewis in The Last Battle. We read about the rebellious dwarf army. The constant refrain is that the dwarves are for the dwarves. Even though they see the world of Narnia falling apart around them, they choose to remain in darkness and remain stubborn.
It makes me think about our world today. If you think about all of the evidence we have that not only Jesus was who He said He was and also the evidence we have in creation that it seems incredibly improbable that everything happened by chance, God seems to be a probable hypothesis. However, some people are so bent on maintaining their naturalistic worldview that they dismiss where the evidence is actually pointing.
That is the challenge then that we face in the world around us. Even with all the evidence around them, there are people who are simply not going to believe. We simply have to be the best witness we are capable of being, and God will take care of the process of conviction.
Revelation 5 provides us with a reminder that Jesus is not done with changing history yet. John sees a book sealed with seven seals, but no one is found who is worthy to open it until they come to Jesus Christ.
Rev 5:12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
Rev 5:13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
Rev 5:14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.
Again, it seems that this is something that points towards the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. For those who want to believe that Jesus was just a good teacher who was not divine in any way, this passage seems to take issue with that claim. After all, if Jesus was just another human that the rest of us who had an unnatural dose of wisdom, then why would He receive all of the special acknowledgment in heaven? What would set Him apart from us that would make Him worthy to open the book?
Jesus was fully man and fully God. Even though it is somewhat hard to comprehend this type of union, He is undoubtedly unique. No angel or person could take His place. As we progress through Revelation, Jesus naturally has a large part to play, but here we begin to understand just how special He is and how He is the unique opener of the book.
Revelation 2 presents us with the messages for four of the churches. I want to focus on the church at Ephesus.
Rev 2:2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
Rev 2:3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Rev 2:4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Rev 2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
This somewhat feels like the evangelical church in America. Although I understand that church attendance is falling in general, evangelical churches are remaining steady, and the people who are deciding to remain in church are recognizing the need for figuring out what is true and what is not. I think that we are doing a better job of recognizing what is false teaching as people realize the necessity for moving beyond cultural Christianity in our society which is moving farther away from God.
That being said, I think the criticism is valid as well. We might be intellectually learning more and more, but we need to make sure that we are actually out there with passion. Knowledge is undoubtedly an important part of the Christian faith. We have to know why we believe what we believe. However, there needs to be that passion there as well. A relationship is also the most important part of the Christian faith. It is living a life walking with Jesus Christ. We need to make sure we remember that.
I know that for myself, I can easily become wrapped up in purely intellectual arguments. However, God is more than the conclusion of a logical proof, so it is important to remember that first love.
Jude 1 encourages Christians to stand up for the fact that we are Christians. Even though we are supposed to be peaceful and show love towards all people, that does not mean that we simply cave in at the sign of any resistance.
Jud 1:3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
Jud 1:4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Although we don’t know all the details, it seems that certain people were corrupting the church, and it became necessary for those who were following Christ to stand up to them and earnestly contend for the faith.
This is why apologetics is vitally important for the church today. Apologists are people who make it their business to try and interact with people about the reasonability and rationality of following Jesus Christ. We are called to essentially enter debate. We are not called to kill unbelievers or put them in jail. We are not called to run away and hide. We are called to contend earnestly. We’re supposed to engage these people on the issues.
Of course, this presupposes that we know what we’re talking about. We need to be informed Christians. I think that is a large reason for the decline in the American church today. Because our country has been largely culturally Christian for very long time, many people who called themselves Christians really did not know why they were Christians. As a result, now when they cannot stand up to arguments from another source and contend earnestly, they fall away.
It is the responsibility of all questions to learn how to do this. Jude was not just written for the clergy or people who might be predisposed to study apologetics. It was written for everyone.
3 John 1 brings us to a very interesting discussion about those who are capable of doing good deeds. In context, John is warning the church about a leader among them who is very self-centered and does not want to welcome fellow leaders into the church. After saying how this is not right, John brings us to a very interesting point.
3Jn 1:11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
Immediately, I can see the objections flying for many people. Christians are not the only people who do good things on earth. Is John saying here that for example a Hindu individual cannot perform good deeds? I don’t think so. This verse says that they have seen God. It does not specify that they have a relationship with Him or not. The Pharisees saw Jesus, but they did not have a relationship with Him.
Consequently, as Christians, we also believe that God has made Himself evident in the world. The heavens certainly declare the glory of God, but there are also other things that showed the fingerprints of God if you will. Think about what CS Lewis wrote about the concept of the Tao. There is a sense that all of humanity has shared certain moral teachings around the world and across time. Perhaps God has implanted these ideas in the people that He created. You could say that people who have recognized these universal rules like do not murder have seen God for instance. They might not recognize God, but there have seen Him.
This verse makes more sense in that context. God created the universe, and it was good. Therefore, everything that is good comes from God. Evil comes when there is rebellion against the will of God. It was not created by God. When we do things that are good, we are only capable of doing that because God made those things good. We don’t have to acknowledge them as good or even recognize God, but the simple fact that doing good is possible points towards the existence of God who is all good. Perhaps this is then common ground to speak to our nonbelieving friends. They know that they want to do good things, but they might not have a reason why. We can help fill in the blanks and give a reasonable basis for that belief they hold.
1 John 5 would be hard to reconcile for anyone who wants to remain as a Universalist.
1Jn 5:12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
1Jn 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
It seems rather straightforward here. This entire chapter is talking about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, and this is the summary of the first section. This seems to square with Jesus claiming that He was the Way. It is a rather straightforward dichotomy. Either we have Jesus and we have life, or we do not have Jesus and do not have life.
I understand that these types of statements don’t seem very comforting, and many Christians might be hesitant to take this type of position. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, salvation is a free gift from God. All it takes is a decision to follow Jesus Christ. You do not need to be rich; you do not need to be powerful. You need to recognize the reality of Jesus and make a commitment to following Him.
Second, while many people might argue that as Christians we should not be criticizing the religions of other people. Maybe it is all one mountain of truth, and we are simply climbing up different sides of it. Remember that this is not a position that we are taking because we feel like it. I believe what the Bible teaches because I believe that God is the best explanation for the way the world is. The Christian worldview makes the most sense. Therefore, I don’t take this position simply to disparage other religions. I take this position because the Christian worldview is the one worldview that corresponds best with reality, and you simply cannot erase parts that society might not be comfortable with. If Christianity is true, then the teachings of Christianity are true, and this is one of them.
Some people might be uncomfortable with this type of narrow gate to God. However, for Christians, we need to recognize that it one reason Jesus is so important is because He is the Way.
It is obviously no secret that there have been many false teachers in history of the church. In 2 Peter 2, Peter mentions that even at the early date he was writing this book, false teaching was already an issue in congregations.
2Pe 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
2Pe 2:2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
2Pe 2:3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
One consequence of false teachers is that the perception of the way of truth becomes perverted. Christianity is without a doubt beautiful. When people begin to understand who God is and what God has done for us, it is attractive. However, there are false teachers who bring in heresies. As soon as we began to depart from what God has taught, we are in the realm of heresy, and the problem with that is that they are man-made.
Man-made heresies are naturally problematic because they are made by fallen people. If we are all fallen people who do evil, then it makes sense that any type of belief system that we develop on our own will consequently be evil as well.
The problem with heresies is that they claim to be Christian. Therefore, they are taking a man-made religion and claiming it is the same as that which God has given us through inspiration. Then, if people look at this heresy as representative of Christianity, it will not be beautiful because it is a perversion of that which is beautiful.
The early church had many challenges in regards to heresy, and they were very aggressive about making sure that they were still following God and not their own twists. Sometimes I don’t know that we in the church today are strong enough about opposing heresy today. They certainly still exist.
1 Peter 3 encourages Christians to remember that what we believe in is nothing to be ashamed of, and we should be prepared to talk about that whenever we are asked.
1Pe 3:14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
1Pe 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
1Pe 3:16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
1Pe 3:17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
It is better to suffer for doing something good than it is to do something evil. We shouldn’t be afraid if we suffer for what we believe, but we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have as Christians. As a result, we can have a good conscience because even if they do accuse us of evil, we know that we have done what is right.
This is incredibly relevant for the world today. It doesn’t matter what people say about us, and it doesn’t matter what the consequences are. If we are Christians, then we need to be Christians in the good times and the bad times. If we are only Christians when it is easy to be a Christian, then it says something about our level of commitment in the beginning anyway.
It strikes me then that that should be our resolution. Fair weather Christianity is a problem, and we need to make sure that we avoid it. We need to make sure that we are committed to following Christ wherever it may lead.
I know that I keep coming back to the idea that Christians are called to be different, but 1 Peter 2 brings me back there again.
1Pe 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
Christians are called to be a peculiar people. I don’t know that many of us like to be peculiar. We like to fit in. We like to be like people around us. Why is pure pressure such a big deal in the world today? It works. People are influenced by those around them, so it might seem somewhat intimidating to say that we’re supposed to be different.
However, if you think about it, there might be a hidden presupposition in here. Most people are not uncomfortable if they stand out for something that others will praise them for. If you are a remarkable athlete, you generally don’t mind standing out. If you are really smart, you generally don’t mind standing out. Of course, some people are even uncomfortable with that level of recognition, but it seems that most of the time if we stand out for doing something that is societally acceptable well, we’re happy about that.
Why then does Christianity and the uniqueness of it make us nervous? Isn’t it a good thing? Even if there are people who will criticize us because of it, isn’t following God a good calling?
If we are Christians, that answer to that question needs to be yes. Then, if we reframe this issue of peculiarity in our minds, maybe we won’t mind as much. If we stand out for being Christians and if Christianity is actually true, then it is a good thing to stand out for being a Christian. It is like being a good athlete or a smart person in that respect. If it is true, then we are standing out for what is a good thing, and since we seem to be comfortable doing that in other areas of life, maybe this type of modified perspective will encourage us to be more confident in our Christianity.