For many people around the world, it is not easy to be a Christian. It is a considerable sacrifice and risk. Some pay the ultimate price. It certainly makes you wonder then whether or not the entire thing is worth it. What could possibly justify not going along with the wide path of the world? Revelation 21 begins to give us a picture of that beauty.
Rev 21:2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Rev 21:3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
Rev 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
As Christians, we believe that God is good. We believe that God is beautiful. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas speaks about God as the ultimate in goodness in his famous five ways. God is the superlative of everything. He is not just good; He is the most good. He is not just beautiful; He is the most beautiful.
Living in the presence of perfection is something I simply cannot fathom, but look at the results it brings about. There will be no more sorrow or pain. Why would there be any reason for despair when we are in the presence of the all sufficient, perfect God?
I know that there are terrible things that happen on earth. I don’t mean to diminish that whatsoever when I say this. No matter what evil we face on earth, it is a drop in the bucket as compared to the infinite perfection goodness of God that we are going to experience for all eternity.
I don’t know about you, but as I read this passage, it is clear that it is worth it. Everything that we might go through because of our faith on earth is worth it. The finite troubles are no comparison to the infinite perfection. God is good, and living with Him eternally is going to be remarkable.
Revelation 20 brings us to the ultimate consequence of our belief in God. We have the judgment at the great white throne.
Rev 20:11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
Every one of us deserves to be judged by our works. That intuitively make sense. There are consequences to actions, and some of those have eternal repercussions. We all deserve eternal separation from God. If God is perfect, then we, as people who are not perfect, would not generally have access to God. After all, how can something imperfect enter into the presence of someone who is perfect?
Jesus Christ did that. Through his sacrifice, we are able to be saved. We’re justified by our faith.
Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Eph 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
That is where we see the difference at play here. We are not saved by our own works. In fact, being judged by our works alone leads to disastrous results.
Rev 20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
We need to be written in that book of life. We are saved through faith. It is so important to understand this concept. It is not enough to be a good person because I know many good people, but all of them have done things that are wrong. No one is perfect, and without the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, we are told that works are not enough. We’re also told that we are going to be judged by our works. It is not as if God has changed the criteria from the time that Paul wrote Ephesians. It is impossible to have enough works, then we need something else are we are not going to see heaven. Faith is still what matters.
Revelation 18 brings us to the destruction of Babylon. Again, I know that many people disagree over the nature of what Babylon is exactly in context, but when it does fall, notice who is upset.
Rev 18:15 The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
Rev 18:16 And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
Rev 18:17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
Rev 18:18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!
Rev 18:19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.
Rev 18:20 Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.
It doesn’t necessarily surprise me. Particularly in modern society, it seems that greed is one of the biggest downfalls of those who are powerful. They might be well-off, but they always want a little bit more, and sometimes people will cut corners or hurt other people to get what they want. Financial sector scandals come to mind immediately, but even if we think about smaller things in our own lives, don’t we sometimes fall into this trap? We use other people as means to achieve a certain end, and often times we are motivated by greed on some level.
The thing about wealth is that it can go away so quickly. That is what we see here in Revelation. These merchants had become incredibly wealthy, but now the network had fallen, so business was going to die. They had nothing left without the business. That is the beauty of the Christian worldview incidentally. Certainly, it would not be easy for any of us to lose everything we have, and I don’t want to say this somewhat flippantly. I understand that would be incredibly difficult for any of us. However, I also know that because we are Christians, our two most valuable possessions are things that we did not buy. We have our lives which are gifts from God, and we have the gift of salvation. Even if we lose our money, we certainly have things to be thankful for.
Obviously then, this chapter makes me think about how God really wants to show the consequences of putting your faith in money. The money is not a sure foundation.
Revelation 17 shows us what evil looks like, and we actually get some interpretation from one of the angels about what this vision means. While this obviously is not an attractive image, there is one thing that stands out that ought to be particularly troubling for Christians.
Rev 17:6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
When people become drunk, it seems that there are a few general reasons why they might do that. They might really enjoy the beverage. Some people really enjoy the taste of alcohol, and they consume it to excess. If the woman portrayed here has that kind of appetite for the blood of the followers of Christ, it is naturally troubling.
Some people become drunk because they are addicted. They simply have become hooked on the consumption of alcohol, and it has become a habit for them. Similarly then in this situation, if this woman is addicted to the blood of martyrs, it is similarly tragic.
Why do I point both of these things out when there are interesting prophecies that we can talk about in this chapter?
No matter which of my thoughts above is accurate, or if neither one is accurate, an easy conclusion to draw is that there is an adversary, and this adversary has consumed plenty of the blood of the followers of Jesus Christ. We need to be aware. Jesus promised that those who followed Him would be hated that for His sake. From the first martyr, Stephen, to the final martyr who has not yet been challenged for his or her faith, there is an enemy who wants nothing more than the destruction of the people of God.
The good news however is that even though the adversary certainly can end lives here on earth, itcannot take us out of the hand of God, and Christians know that one of the rewards of the Christian faith is that to be absent from the body is to be present with God. Even with that knowledge though, thinking about all of those who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of Christ is difficult, and it does challenge me to think about what I would do in some of these situations.
Revelation 10 presents us with an interesting scene. John hears seven thunders, but he does not receive permission to write down what he had heard. Rather, he is told to go and physically consume a scroll held by the angel who had called for the seven thunders to begin. Obviously there are a few questions about what this book is. Let’s take a look.
Rev 10:8 And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth.
Rev 10:9 And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.
Rev 10:10 And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.
Rev 10:11 And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
We don’t know very much about what the book is, but it is interesting that it tasted sweet but essentially made John sick. Also, we know that immediately after John ate the book, he was told that he would need to prophesy again.
It seems to me that these are connected. The additional prophecy that he was going to give would certainly have some sweet elements, but it would also be better. Although we haven’t gotten to the end of Revelation yet, think about the ultimate sweetness and the ultimate bitterness. Some people are going to be with God forever, and some people are going to be apart from God forever.
As a Christian then, it certainly is sweet that we are going to be with God. There is nothing that could be better than being in the presence of our Savior. However, as a Christian, it should also be disturbing that there are people who will not be able to experience that by their own free will. By not making the right decision, they are choosing a path that will lead to destruction. That should make us sick if we really think about it.
Maybe I am misinterpreting what the book actually is, but it seems to me that it is important for us as Christians to remember that while we are certainly full of joy and excitement, there is a sense in which we grieve for the world as well.
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.
Now that we have established Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, as the only one who is capable of opening the seven seals, Revelation 6 shows us what happens when the first six are open. The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rode out as the first four were opened, the martyrs cried for justice as the fifth was open and a giant earthquake that literally rearranged the earth accompanied the six. I want to focus on the fifth seal.
Rev 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
Rev 6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
Rev 6:11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
This passage brings us to a somewhat sad conclusion. The martyrs who had been killed for believing in Jesus Christ ask for justice. However, it was said to them that justice would not be done until all those who were going to be killed were killed.
Martyrs are not a thing of the past. I think that in America it is so easy to take what we have for granted. I know there are legitimate concerns about religious freedom, and I don’t want to discount that, but in general terms, it is relatively easy to be a Christian in the United States.
No matter what your eschatology, I think that this passage is interpreted in essentially the same way. Christians are going to be persecuted until the end of time. The number has not yet been accomplished. This ought to encourage us all the more then to pray for the persecuted church. There certainly will be justice in the end, so we don’t need to worry about that. However, we can still pray for the strength of those who have to endure.
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.
1 John 2 brings us back to the idea about the relationship between faith and works.
1Jn 2:3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
1Jn 2:4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
1Jn 2:5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
1Jn 2:6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
A relationship with Jesus is a life-changing experience. Paul wrote in Romans that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. It certainly does not mean that we all become perfect right away. Otherwise, I don’t think I could conclude that there is any person who has a relationship with Jesus Christ. However, knowing Jesus puts us on a new trajectory.
As a result, it seems to me that there should be a desire to keep the commandments of God. If there is not that desire to continually grow closer to Jesus Christ, then maybe we need to evaluate ourselves. I’m not here judging anyone’s salvation, but this seems to be the implication of this passage. If we are only a Christian in words, but our lives do not reflect anything about actually following Jesus Christ, then we better make sure that we are truly in the faith.
This problem has plagued American Christianity for decades, and because most people were culturally Christian, when they had to answer a survey, naturally they would say that they are Christian. Now, that is not happening so much, and we see the rise of atheism and agnosticism in the survey data. However, the question I have about most of this day that is what people are falling away from cultural Christianity or true Christianity. There is a difference.
2 Peter 3 brings us to the end of another book, and it encourages us to continue growing in Christ.
2Pe 3:17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.
2Pe 3:18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
I think that many people have an incomplete picture of what Christianity actually is. A lot of people would say that Christianity is about avoiding sin. We are supposed to not do that which is bad. That is true on some level, but as we see here, there is also a positive component to it. It is not just about avoiding the evil things, but it is also important to grow closer to God.
Think about normal development. After we are born, there is very little that we can do on our own. It is not nearly enough for our human development to not go badly. We’re supposed to develop into children and eventually adults who lead lives that praise God. It is not enough to say that we are happy with remaining as babies because at least we are not going to develop into an evil person like Adolf Hitler. Rather, we want to raise people who are taught that evil is evil, and as a result, we get adults who do not become like Adolf Hitler. They are avoiding the evil, but they are also continually growing as is natural.
I don’t know if that illustration makes sense, but growth for a Christian should be an exciting thing. After all, as we mature, we’re getting closer to the greatest being in the universe. Why would we not want to do that?