Category Archives: Revelation

Revelation 21-22: God’s people in God’s place… again

This week marks the end of high school for Tim and Michelle and Hannah. Apart from the small matter of some exams, they’re FREE. And there’s celebration and relief. And a sense of new possibilities and a new richness and fullness to life.

And today we come to the end of our SERIES. A series on the ONE STORY OF THE BIBLE. And maybe you’re feeling the same sense of relief that our Year 12’s are feeling. “Yes, it’s finally over!”

We’ve seen how it’s the story about how God made his world perfect. With him as king, and humanity made in his image to RULE under him. It was a perfect picture of his KINGDOM. Of God’s PEOPLE in God’s PLACE under God’s RULE.

We’ve seen how sin DESTROYED that picture. That sin is choosing to step OUT of God’s kingdom. Out from under his rule.

And how that sin had all sorts of consequences for God’s perfect world. How suffering and pain and frustration and death came in. Consequences we still live with every day.

But then we’ve seen how the one big story of the Bible is about God working in his world to RESTORE his kingdom. To BUILD his people. To bring them into his PLACE. And the long process, again and again, to bring them under his RULE.

And through it all, God promises that ONE DAY he’ll bring in his kingdom. Finally and completely. And that he’ll do it through his special king. A special FOREVER king, who’ll bring together God’s people and assemble them in God’s PLACE. And enable them, truly, to live under God’s RULE.

It’s a PROMISE. It’s off in the future. But it’s a SURE promise. It’ll be a day when WE can breathe a sigh of relief. When there’s celebration and joy far better than just FINISHING SCHOOL. And when there’s a new sense of expectation and purpose for new possibilities and richness and fullness of life. A life we can only LONG for at the moment.

And we’ve seen how Jesus came and BEGAN that process. God himself, sent from the Father. With the job of bringing in God’s kingdom. He PREACHES about it. He LIVES IT OUT. And he invites people to JOIN it. To turn from their rebellion, and then to live in submission to him as king.

And we saw last week how God raised him from the dead. Declaring him to be Lord and Christ. And how that act CHANGED EVERYTHING. How the Kingdom of God BEGAN. How the power and victory and joy. And the life and the light of the kingdom came RUSHING IN.

Jesus is the Kingdom of God

In a sense, God’s kingdom began IN JESUS HIMSELF. He IS the Kingdom of God. The kingdom PERSONIFIED. You see, he’s the TRUE Adam. The TRUE Israel. God’s person. The only one to truly and fully live under God’s rule.

And he’s God’s PLACE. The place where God and humanity meets. He replaces the temple, the presence of God in the midst of his people.

And he’s the first one to live fully under God’s rule. Never stepping outside it. And then, in his resurrection, he’s the first to live the forever, victorious life of God’s eternal kingdom.

And here’s where it gets a bit tricky to follow. Because God’s plan is for US to become part of God’s kingdom by becoming part of JESUS HIMSELF. Humanity comes into God’s kingdom by being JOINED TO JESUS, who IS the kingdom.

God’s plan to restore everything to their proper relationships – to restore his kingdom, in other words – BEGINS WITH JESUS. Then he’s the FUNNEL everyone else flows through into God’s kingdom. God JOINS PEOPLE TO JESUS BY FAITH. For any who trust Jesus’ work on their behalf.

And then God builds his kingdom IN THEM. His new people.

And it all comes because THEY’RE CONNECTED TO JESUS. In his letters, Paul describes the Christian being IN Christ. JOINED to him by faith. And then he talks about all the things that FLOW from that. Like in Eph 1.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing IN CHRIST. 4 For he CHOSE us IN HIM before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless

 

Or Verse 7

7 IN HIM we have redemption through his blood,

 

Or verse 11

11 IN HIM we were also chosen, having been predestined

 

And then in v13

13 And you also were INCLUDED IN CHRIST when you HEARD the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having BELIEVED, you were MARKED IN HIM with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,

We’re connected to Jesus by FAITH. Jesus is our REPRESENTATIVE king. And so, everything HE has is OURS, TOO. That’s what Paul’s getting at a bit further on in Eph 2 v4. Listen to it.

4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive WITH CHRIST even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God RAISED US UP WITH CHRIST and seated us WITH HIM in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that IN THE COMING AGES he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

CHRIST was made alive. CHRIST was seated in the heavenly realms. And God, because of his great love for us, does that FOR US TOO when we trust Jesus. We are there with Christ because we’re CONNECTED to him.

That’s our STATUS. Our IDENTITY.

And once that happens, our task is for Christ to be GROWING in us. For our NATURE to be growing more and more like that IDENTITY. For God’s DE-generated world – our sinful selves living in this fallen world – to become more and more like his RE-generated world. His kingdom in Jesus.

Our role now is about BRIDGING THE GAP. SINCE we’re seated with Christ in the heavenly places, let’s LIVE LIKE THAT. That’s the logic Paul uses in Colossians Ch 3. It’s ethics and behaviour that flow from Christ’s resurrection. Col 3 v1.

3:1 SINCE, then, you have been RAISED WITH CHRIST, set your HEARTS on things above, WHERE CHRIST IS SEATED at the right hand of God. 2 Set your MINDS on things above, not on earthly things. 3 FOR YOU DIED, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Christians are JOINED to Christ by faith. We’ve died to our OLD self. Our life is now hidden WITH Christ. We’ve been raised to new life WITH Christ. And that means we should fix our attention – fix our desires – on THAT reality. On God’s kingdom. We should LIVE WHO WE ARE. So that when Christ appears. When God brings in his kingdom FINALLY. When we receive everything CHRIST has now. When we receive GLORY. Then, we’ll MEASURE UP. We’ll FIT IN.

The delay before the end

But at the moment, we’re WAITING. Because there’s A DELAY BEFORE THE END. We’re LIVING IN THE GAP. Living between the promise and the reality. Between the beginning and the finish. Between who we are in IDENTITY, and who we are in NATURE.

Like so much of the Kingdom of God, it’s a matter of NOW, and NOT YET.

It’s BEGUN – Jesus is KING. We ARE seated with him. But there’s still MORE TO COME. The full RICHNESS of God’s promises. Of his kingdom.

At the moment, we see SOMETHING of Jesus as king. But in OTHER ways, we’re NOT seeing him as king. People all over the world, people in our streets. Even in our families. Aren’t RECOGNISING that kingship yet.

It’s like LABOUR. Now and not yet. The baby is fully grown. But giving birth is a PROCESS. A LONG process!

And, just like labour, there’s some PAIN INVOLVED. As we live in that IN-BETWEEN TIME. As we wait for Jesus to return and bring in his kingdom COMPLETELY.

Romans 8:22 talks about how we GROAN. How even though Jesus died to DESTROY sin, we still SIN. Even though Jesus was WOUNDED that we might be HEALED, we’re still SICK. We still suffer baldness and short-sightedness and arthritis, and acne and broken legs and cancer.

And even though Jesus was raised to destroy DEATH, we still DIE. And endure the pain of those we LOVE dying, TOO.

And plenty of YOU have had THAT sort of groaning to endure. And you know from experience the truth of these words from Romans 8 v22 (p800).

22 We know that THE WHOLE CREATION has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, GROAN INWARDLY as we wait EAGERLY for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Notice what’s DIFFERENT for the Christian? We might be GROANING like everyone else. But we can wait EAGERLY. We can look forward with expectant hope. Because God’s promised us NEW BODIES. Redeemed, bought-back, glorified bodies. Bodies that won’t grow old or wear out. And he’s given us his Spirit as the DEPOSIT. The TASTE. The ENTRÉE.

And not just FOR US. He’s promised a WHOLE NEW WORLD to go WITH it. A liberated world that MEASURES UP to the new redeemed bodies God’s PEOPLE have. A new PLACE for God’s kingdom. Rom 8.20, in the paragraph before the one we just read, puts it like this.

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that THE CREATION ITSELF WILL BE LIBERATED FROM ITS BONDAGE TO DECAY AND BROUGHT INTO THE GLORIOUS FREEDOM OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD.

Our sin means the world isn’t the way it’s SUPPOSED to be. And one day God will set IT free as well.

But it begs the question. If there’s so much GROANING going on, why is God taking SO LONG with the labour pains? Why not finish the whole thing QUICKLY? Send Jesus TOMORROW?

That was the question people were asking when Peter wrote his second letter. In 2 Peter 3 he answers scoffers who reckon God’s not going to deliver on his promises. That he’s NOT sending Jesus to return. That he’s NOT going to end the suffering and bring in a new world. That his SLOWNESS means he won’t, or CAN’T keep his promises. But here’s what Peter says in response. 2 Peter 3 v8.

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

God’s got plenty of time. He’s been around, literally, FOREVER. He’s had plenty of time to be patient. And the REASON he’s patient with bringing judgment is the same reason behind everything he’s done in the Bible. BECAUSE HE WANTS TO BRING IN HIS KINGDOM. He wants to restore everything to the way he created it.

And that means he wants to give as many people as possible. People from every nation under heaven. Time to respond to his gift of life. To turn from their rebellion, and to bow the knee before King Jesus.

That’s why the delay. That’s why there’s the NOW and the NOT YET between the victory Jesus won and the CULMINATION of that.

And when that culmination comes he’s going to have to bring SOME things to AN END. Peter talks about how it will work. 2 Peter 3.10 (p861).

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will DISAPPEAR WITH A ROAR; the elements will be DESTROYED BY FIRE, and the earth and everything in it WILL BE LAID BARE.

THIS earth, with its corruption and curse and death and frustration will be STRIPPED BACK. BURNED AWAY. Like the Rural Bushfire Brigade doing back burning. Burning away all the leaf litter, the rubbish, the dangerous fire fuel. And leaving it clean and fresh and safe. Ready for SOMETHING NEW.

An end and a beginning

Not only is God DESTROYING. He’s MAKING NEW. There’s an END. But there’s also a BEGINNING. Jump down to v12. Halfway through.

That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH, THE HOME OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

A new heaven and a new earth. Everything restored by God. Not just the SPIRITUAL – heaven. The PHYSICAL TOO – a new EARTH. And it will be a PERFECT home for our new glorified physical bodies. THAT’S what we look forward to.

It’s exactly what God had been promising for his people through his prophets in the Old Testament. Like in Isa 65 (p532).

17 “Behold, I will create NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH…I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

And what Isaiah goes on to describe is “HOME”. Long life, and peace, and contentment and rest. And God living with his people. Not distant anymore. Wonderful promises to give his people Israel HOPE. To give them the strength to get through the agony of the exile.

And for us, in Jesus, we see those plans much more FULLY. In a new heaven and a new earth BEYOND this world.

Like in the book of Revelation.

Revelation, like with so much OTHER Old Testament prophecy, BUILDS on that Isaiah picture of a new heaven and a new earth.

At the end of Ch 20 John sees a vision of God’s judgment throne. And all humanity standing before him at the end of time. But then in Ch 21, after JUDGMENT, John sees something ELSE. And for readers of Isaiah it sounds FAMILIAR.

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Just like Isaiah, a new heaven and a new earth. Just like Isaiah, the city is Jerusalem. But this time it’s the NEW Jerusalem. Because it’s the people of King Jesus. And they’re beautifully dressed like a bride. Ch 19 v8 tells us that the fine white wedding dress stands for the righteous acts of the saints. A life of obedience to Jesus. And King Jesus, the bridegroom, reckons it looks BEAUTIFUL.

And the pain and death and frustration of the OLD world is GONE. Burned up. V4. God himself wiping away every TEAR. No more crying because the OLD things are gone.

And while much of the one story of the Bible has been about the DISTANCE between God and his people – NOT ANY MORE. In the new heavens and earth the distance IS GONE. God will be dwelling right in the middle of his people (v3)

And down in v22 John mentions that there’s no TEMPLE in the new Jerusalem. Because you don’t NEED it. Temples brought you close to God. A temporary measure. But God will be right WITH his people.

And then in Ch 22, we get ANOTHER detail that’s added. It’s not just brand new heavens and earth. It’s RESTORED. It’s BACK TO Eden. It’s BETTER than Eden. The kingdom of God in the Garden of Eden was PARADISE. But here we see BETTER than paradise. It’s MORE EDEN THAN EDEN.

“Eden” was looking at paradise in a mirror, or as a shadow. But THIS is the REALITY. The reality that Eden was JUST A COPY OF.

Genesis 2 tells us that Eden had a river flowing out of it that watered the garden. And that it was the source of four major rivers. But here in Revelation 22 we read

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city.

A river of life flowing from God himself. Because he’s the SOURCE of life. And the next to the river, on both sides (v2)

stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Just like Eden. It had the tree of life. In Eden, Adam and Eve’s sin and banishment meant they couldn’t eat from it anymore. And so they DIED.

But now the tree gives life and healing FOREVER. To EVERY nation.

And the CURSE that came from Adam and Eve’s sin. Bitterness and frustration and arguments and pain in childbirth. Well, in the NEW heavens and earth (v3), there’s NO LONGER any curse. Just like Eden.

The goal of God, since the first days of creation, has been to RESTORE everything to perfection. And this is a vision of it COMPLETED. God’s kingdom finally RESTORED. But even BETTER THAN BEFORE.

And when it happens, it will be perfectly secure. Forever.

God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.

And, in a sense, that’s where the story will END. But in another sense, it’s where the story BEGINS. Because it’s THAT creation we were MADE FOR. The NEW creation. That’s our natural home, not HERE. And so, that’s when the story will REALLY begin.

Let me read from the Last Battle, the final book in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. What’s happened is that Aslan the lion, who represents Christ, has brought the PRESENT world of Narnia to an end, and a NEW world has begun. And our heroes are discovering what this new world is about.

“Peter”, said Lucy, “where is this, do you suppose?”

 

“I don’t know”, said the High King. “It reminds me of somewhere but I can’t give it a name.”

 

“If you ask me,” said Edmund, “it’s like somewhere in the Narnian world.     In fact, they’re EXACTLY alike.”

 

“And yet they’re NOT alike,” said Lucy. “They’re different.”

 

“More like the REAL thing,” said Lord Digory softly. “When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But THAT was not the real Narnia. THAT had a beginning and an end. It was only a SHADOW or a COPY of the REAL Narnia which has always been here and always WILL be here:

 

“And of course, it IS different; as different as a REAL thing is from a shadow, or as waking life is from a dream.”

 

It is hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia. Perhaps you get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains.

 

And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a mirror. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different— the real ones were deeper and more wonderful.

 

The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was DEEPER country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it MEANT more.”

 

The Unicorn summed up what everyone was feeling. “I HAVE COME HOME AT LAST! THIS IS MY REAL COUNTRY! I BELONG HERE. THIS IS THE LAND I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR ALL MY LIFE, THOUGH I NEVER KNEW IT TILL NOW.

 

THE REASON WHY WE LOVED THE OLD NARNIA IS THAT IT SOMETIMES LOOKED A LITTLE LIKE THIS.

 

“And for us this is the end of all the stories. But for them it was only the beginning of the REAL story. All their life in this world, and all their adventures in Narnia, had only been the COVER AND THE TITLE PAGE: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the GREAT Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

And that’s the eternity. The reality. God’s got waiting FOR US. For those of us who are living for King Jesus.

We’re living through the title page and contents page as we wait for the real story to begin. As we wait to go HOME.

For some of us that truth RESONATES. That COMFORTS. Because we can’t WAIT to get home. Can’t wait for suffering and loneliness and frustration to end. Can’t wait to see loved ones again.

But for OTHERS of us, we need A WAKE UP CALL. We need to remember where’s REALLY home. And we need to FIX OUR EYES on that home. Because we’ve got too comfortable in THIS world. Too DISTRACTED. Too pre-occupied by things that WON’T last. And “the things above” impact us TOO LITTLE.

We need to feel the EXHORTATION of Paul from Colossians 3.

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Set your hearts on things above. And get rid of the idols that distract you from your TRUE home.

And Peter would add HIS exhortation. Fix your eyes on HOME, and WORK HARD to be found WORTHY of it. 2 Peter 3:13

13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Work hard to be righteous. Because your true home is the HOME of righteousness.

Fix your eyes on home. Long for it. Live for it.

The Red Pill or the Blue Pill?: Reading Revelation

The world as we know it is not the truth; it is simply “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth.” So says Morpheus to Neo in the movie “The Matrix”.

The concept behind the movie is that the world of regular experience is nothing more than a complex computer simulation. Morpheus offers Neo a choice of two pills. The red pill will take him to true reality – outside the simulation. The blue pill will take him no further, and he will remain as someone who believes what he wants to believe.

True Reality:

The Book of Revelation is Jesus’ “red pill” for his church. He offers us the choice of experiencing “true reality” – a world where God rules demonstrably, a world of spiritual warfare, where Satan is active, and seeks to bring down God’s people and God’s purposes. Reality is a world where the saints, rather than being passive victims, are victorious warriors with the message of life, fighting beside their glorious King Jesus.

Revelation is Jesus’ wake-up call to comfortable Christians who have swallowed the blue pill. For them, life isn’t scary, or spiritual. Satan is a toothless tiger. God’s people are passengers, happily cruising along, staying out of trouble, waiting for heaven. God’s purposes are no bigger than keeping his people well fed, warm, and dry, and occasionally finding them a parking spot at the supermarket. Revelation is Jesus’ comfort to persecuted Christians. Satan is trying to bring them down. But they are not without hope. God is on the throne, and has won the victory in his Son. Those who persevere in holiness and witness will win the crown! There is perhaps no more relevant and important message for the church today.

The Problem:

And yet for most people, Revelation is a mystery. They think, “Why bother with Revelation? All those numbers, and weird animals. I can’t make head or tail of it. It’s all just too confusing!” In recent times the books of “millennial experts” have filled Christian bookshops. Their bewildering timelines and latter-day signs have scared off most Christians who feel incapable of deciphering the book’s intricacies. (This includes most ministers, who might preach on the letters to the seven churches, or perhaps the throne-room scene of Chapter 4, but who come to a screeching halt at the end of Ch 5!)

How to Read!

The temptation in reading Revelation is that the staggering array of images and numbers encourages us to concentrate on the fine detail. (What DOES the third crown on the head of the beast represent?) However, to read Revelation this way is to make a mistake – you risk losing sight of the forest for the trees. At times such a fine-detail analysis is necessary. But I believe more can be gained by a “high-altitude fly-over”, than a pain-staking tree-by-tree search. This approach would have seemed obvious to the original audience – first century Christians, sitting together in church on the Lord’s Day, hearing the work read aloud from start to finish. John exhorts such a gathering– “Blessed is the one who reads (aloud) the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it” (1:3). This means that hearers can understand the message of the book with sufficient clarity to receive the comfort, encouragement, and correction which God intends for them.

By reading the whole book, without getting bogged down in details (it takes less that an hour!) the great images and pictures that John has painted wash over us. The big themes they represent explode like fireworks in our brains – themes like God’s sovereignty, His complete victory over sin through Jesus DESPITE present appearances, the Church’s present privilege and responsibility, together with her glorious future hope. These themes fill our imagination, stretch our vision, break our pride, embolden our witness, and empower our endurance and obedience.

Given to Reveal

Part of our problem is that we forget the book is designed to reveal, not to confuse. It’s right there in its name – Revelation. Within the first verse, it is described as a revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to show what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel. He didn’t give it to confuse, divide, frustrate or terrify his people, but rather to reveal true reality – the red pill!

A Picture Book, not a Puzzle Book:

The way God chooses to show us true reality is by using images and symbols. Revelation is a picture book! John testifies to everything he saw (1:2) – that verb is used fifty-two times! Images and symbols are necessary because, in true reality, things are not what they seem. The church in Smyrna appears poor but is rich (2:9). Laodicea thinks itself rich and self-sufficient, but it’s really destitute and (3:17). The beast seems invincible, able to conquer the saints by slaying them (11:7; 13:7); but it is their faithful witness even to that proves to be their victory over the dragon and the beast (12:11).

Symbols show things for what they are, with a vividness that could not be matched by a mere conceptual description. Often a picture is worth a thousand words. The great city is a harlot luxuriously dressed (17:18). The seven churches are seven lampstands (1:20). Satan is the dragon-serpent (20:2).

The obvious problem with symbols is that they can be misunderstood. We must work out the precise point of comparison between two things that are dissimilar in many other respects. For example, John hears the promise that the Lion of Judah is worthy (5:5). But he sees the Lamb who had been slain (5:6). Jesus is like a lion and a slain lamb. John hears the roll call of God’s people – 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel (7:4), but sees a great multitude from every nation beyond counting (7:9). God’s people are both an army of perfect size and symmetry, and a huge worldwide worshipping community.

A helpful rule of thumb, wherever possible, is to take what John sees as symbolic. For example the great city, which persecutes and kills Christians (11:8, is “figuratively called” Sodom, and Egypt, and Jerusalem – all at the same time!

It’s a Prophecy

While the images seem foreign to us, they are not pulled out of the air – nearly all are found in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. Revelation itself is a prophecy (1:3) and John saw himself as standing at the end of the line of Biblical prophets (10:8-11) – with Revelation as “the climax of prophecy” as Richard Bauckham aptly describes it. Perhaps the best way to help you understand Revelation better is to read the Old Testament prophets! For example, the church in Rev 11 is described as two witnesses – representing true testimony (Deut 17:6), and is symbolised as two olive trees, and two lampstands. Zechariah 4 refers to two olive trees and a lampstand, probably referring to Joshua the priest and Zerubbabel the Davidic descendant. They are called, as anointed ones, to “serve the Lord in all the earth” (Zech 4:14).

For a Church Under Attack:

Another mistake people make is to see Revelation as a time-line of events we can tick-off before Jesus returns. This would mean it was irrelevant to the seven churches, and has been to every other generation since. Revelation is a historical document, written to real churches, undergoing real persecution from the Roman Empire. It concerned events which “must soon take place” (1:1) for them. Likewise, it also concerns events that must soon take place for us. The enemies of God’s people are still around today. They are still blinded by the same lies. Satan is still behind them. The names and faces might have changed, but the enemy is still the same. And the task for us is still the same – to overcome Satan by the of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony, and to love not our lives so much as to shrink from (12:11)

Go ahead! Take the red pill! Experience true reality! Are you game?

Grab a cup of coffee, find a quiet spot, and read it right now. As Vern Poythress, in his great book “The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation”, encourages us, “Become engrossed in the overall story. Praise the Lord. Cheer for the saints. Detest the beast. Long for the final victory.”

Revelation 1: I Saw Heaven Opened

One of my favourite movies is “The Matrix”.  The concept behind the movie is that the world of regular experience is nothing more than a complex computer simulation. Reality is something different – something OUTSIDE – our senses.  Morpheus is the leader from OUTSIDE the simulation. Whose experienced the REAL world. TRUE reality.

And in the pivotal scene, he meets Neo. Neo’s been living WITHIN the simulation, but he’s got a growing sense that things aren’t right with the world. A feeling that there’s got to be something MORE.

And so Morpheus meets him. Morpheus who knows that there IS more to life. That things AREN’T what they seem. And he says to Neo “The world as we know it is not the truth; it is simply “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth.”

And he offers Neo a choice of two pills. The red pill will take him to true reality – outside the simulation. The blue pill will take him no further, and he will remain as someone who believes what he wants to believe.

And you can see the parallels to the Christian world-view. God IS there. We can’t see him. And not everyone can EXPERIENCE him. We must see REALITY with the eyes of FAITH. Which only comes as we accept God’s GIFT.

I want to suggest that the Book of Revelation is Jesus’ RED PILL for his church. Revelation paints the picture of TRUE REALITY – a world where God rules, a world of spiritual warfare, where Satan is active, and seeks to bring down God’s people and God’s purposes.

Reality is a world where the saints, rather than being passive victims, are victorious warriors with the message of life, fighting beside their glorious King Jesus.

The problem is/ life doesn’t LOOK like that.

For COMFORTABLE Christians life isn’t scary, or spiritual. Satan is a toothless tiger. God’s people are passengers, happily cruising along, staying out of trouble, waiting for heaven.

God’s purposes look no bigger than keeping his people well fed, warm, and dry, and occasionally finding them a parking spot at the supermarket.

Comfortable Christians like that have swallowed Satan’s BLUE pill. It’s a Dull, colourless, powerless, insipid SHADOW of the life Jesus would HAVE us live.

But more than just CHALLENGE for COMFORTABLE Christians, Revelation is Jesus’ COMFORT TO PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS.

The world LOOKS like Satan is winning. That they’re powerless to stop him. That they’re the weak minority – without HOPE or PURPOSE or a FUTURE.

But Revelation tells a different story. God IS on the throne, and has won the victory in his Son. Satan HAS been defeated, and his plans have come to NOTHING. And before long, he’ll be COMPLETELY destroyed.

The way for Jesus’ suffering followers to WIN is to persevere in holiness and witness. Life is BIGGER than just enduring. Faithful endurance is ACTIVE WARFARE. And it will win a crown of victory.

That’s the TRUE REALITY Jesus wants to communicate to his church.

And yet there’s a problem. For most people, Revelation’s A MYSTERY. “All those numbers, and weird animals. I can’t make head or tail of it. It’s all just too confusing!”

And so they leave it. At the back of their Bibles. Unopened. Out of harm’s way. Which is just what Satan LOVES us to do. Because it’s ignoring Jesus’ RED PILL OF REALITY.

Now, I’m not saying it will be easy. Often pills ARE a bit hard to swallow. We ARE going to have to work hard over the next of months.

Hints For Reading

But I don’t think it’s as hard as people would like us to believe. As long as we remember some HINTS. Some GUIDELINES which will help us make the most sense of what we read.

  1. It’s to reveal, not confuse (1)

And the first one is that the book was written to REVEAL. Not to confuse. To make things CLEAR, not to muddy the waters. It’s right there in the first verse.

Rev 1:1: 1:1 The REVELATION of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, NIV

A revelation. Something designed to DISCLOSE. To SHOW his servants something. He MADE IT KNOWN by sending his angel.

Seems obvious doesn’t it? And yet, we often assume that Revelation is SO CONFUSING, we have to leave it to the experts. And take their word for what it means. But that’s not what God meant it for.

  1. It’s a picture book (2, 11)

The second hint to reading the book is that it’s a PICTURE book. Not a PUZZLE book. Look there in v2. John testified to everything HE SAW.

God gave him VISIONS. And he, somehow, had to describe the visions in WORDS. Often a task that blew his mind. But it’s a book of IMAGES. Pictures that REPRESENT/ REAL THINGS.

I think, with computer animation and special effects the way they are these days, that it takes A LOT to impress the modern viewer. Even movies that are only five or ten years old look boring, and stale.

Images have to be PRETTY SPECIAL to grab our attention. And the images that John has seen. And that he’s trying to get across to us, are KNOCK-OUT images. Over-the-top. Visual extravaganzas. Images of power and wonder and purity. Images of terrible and moral filth. Images that assault the senses.

Because that’s THE NATURE of the world John’s trying to communicate. The spiritual world. The REAL world. Where God and Satan EXIST. And are powerful. And are fighting the WAR of ETERNITY.

And it’s a world that most people AREN’T EVEN AWARE OF. So God gives John PICTURES.

Our problem is, of course, working out what the pictures MEAN. Because Jesus ISN’T a lion. Or a lamb. The churches AREN’T lamp-stands. Satan ISN’T a DRAGON. And Babylon ISN’T a .

Each of these are PICTURES that REPRESENT something else. And that’s where things DO get difficult. But THAT TASK becomes easier if we take notice of a few MORE hints.

  1. It’s designed to be read aloud and heard (3)

Three. Revelation is designed to be read aloud, and to be HEARD. Look at v3

Rev 1:3: 3 Blessed is THE ONE WHO READS the words of this prophecy, and blessed are THOSE WHO HEAR IT and take to heart what is written in it, NIV

John’s written it down as A LETTER. To CHURCHES. There were no photocopiers, or printing presses. There’d be a single copy. That was passed from church to church.

Later of course, it would have been copied by hand. But in the first instance, there was one copy. And when Sunday came around. And everyone got together for church. One person would stand up the front, and read the letter out. He was the one John was blessing. Blessed is the one who READS the words of this prophecy.

And everyone else would LISTEN. And John was blessing THEM TOO. ESPECIALLY if they TOOK TO HEART its message.

“So what?” you might say. What difference does that make to helping us understand the IMAGES?

Because when you LISTEN to something, it’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to take notice of the FINE DETAIL. Of every tiny piece of information. And what you catch is THE BIG PICTURE. The broad details. It’s the WHOLE description of the PICTURE that flows over you.

And I think that’s the RIGHT WAY to interpret Revelation. To focus on THE BIG PICTURE. As much as possible, to view Revelation with the binoculars, rather than the microscope.

To keep the FOREST in view. And not lose sight of the forest, because we’re so interested in inspecting every tree.

So, because it’s a book to be LISTENED TO, we should focus on the BIG PICTURE, rather than the FINE DETAIL.

  1. It’s prophecy (3)

The fourth hint for understanding Revelation is that it’s PROPHECY. There in v3.

Rev 1:3: 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of THIS PROPHECY, NIV

Which, obviously, means it’s about COMING EVENTS. V1. Events THAT MUST SOON TAKE PLACE.

But, more than that, as prophecy, it stands at the end of a long line of prophets. Men who’ve communicated God’s word to humanity. And so Revelation stands IN CONTINUITY with them. There is MUCH in common with OT prophecy.

And it’s by looking to OT PROPHECY that we can understand much of what the pictures represent.

In 1845 Moses Stuart published his MAMMOTH 1000 page commentary on Revelation. In the preface, he describes how, shortly after he began teaching at Andover Theological Seminary in 1809, his students began to plead with him to teach about the book of Revelation.

“I commenced study of it, with the design to comply with their request. I soon found myself, however, in pursuing the way of regular interpretation as applied to OTHER books of Scripture, completely hedged in… I frankly told my pupils, therefore, that I knew nothing respecting the book which could profit them, and that I could not attempt to lecture upon it.

After still further examination, I came to a resolution, not to attempt the exegesis of Revelation, until a period of ten years had elapsed, which should be devoted, so far as my other duties would permit, to the study of THE HEBREW PROPHETS.

I kept my resolution.

After this period had passed, I began, with much caution, to say a few things in the lecture room respecting the book in question… In the process of time I began to go through the whole book. This I have done several times; and the present work is the result of these often repeated and long-continued labours.”

That’s some SERIOUS STUDY. And it comes from the conviction that Revelation stands at the end of the line of ALL God’s prophets. And so, its pictures will be ones which can be interpreted with the help of what God has said to EARLIER prophets.

  1. It’s written to an original audience and situation (1, 3, 4, 11)

And the final hint to reading Revelation/ is to remember that it’s been written to an original audience and situation.

Look there in v4

John,  : To the seven churches in the province of Asia: NIV

And again in v11. We get a bit more specific detail there.

Rev 1:10-11: I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” NIV

These were REAL PEOPLE in a REAL SITUATION. And Revelation was a REAL MESSAGE TO THEM.

It might seem like an obvious thing to say, but not everyone remembers it. A lot of people see Revelation as a timeline of events which we can tick off until we get to the point when Jesus returns.

Or else they see the whole book as irrelevant to the WHOLE of HISTORY – the time of the original hearers, as well as in OUR time. And that it’s only interested in the time IMMEDIATELY BEFORE Christ’s return.

But that’s not what John says.

The approach most people take these days is that the book was describing events which happened WITHIN THE LIFETIME OF THE ORIGINAL HEARERS. Specifically to do with the persecution from the Roman Empire.

AS WELL as providing general principles for us today. The same PRINCIPLES apply to us, but the faces have changed. The names are different, but the battles are still the same.

So, when it comes to understanding what the book means TO US TODAY, it’s important to ask the question “What did the book mean to the original hearers? What was the original situation?”

Persecution and Witness (1-9)

And that’s where we’ll BEGIN. Because we get quite a lot of hints about the ORIGINAL SITUATION from this first chapter. Especially the first nine verses.

They show us the world as the believers were experiencing it. The world of the BLUE PILL. A world of PERSECUTION AND WITNESS.

John is writing to the 7 churches in the province of Asia. That’s the ROMAN province. The time is sometime between 60 and 90 AD. And persecution of Christians is hotting up.

And the main reason was that Christians refused to obey ONE PARTICULAR RULE of the Roman Emperor.

In the major cities there were temples to the Emperor. Ephesus, there was a statue of the emperor Domitian, 8 metres high. Domitian made a decree. He decreed that his subjects had to call him “LORD AND GOD.” He wasn’t satisfied with “Sir” or “Your Highness” or “Your Excellency”. “Lord and God.” And bow down to the ground whenever you passed by the statue.

Now Christians had a bit of trouble with that. It stuck in their throats. Because if you’re a Christian, there’s only ONE Lord and ONE God. And you’re not going to easily bow to anyone else and worship them as a God, are you?

How does John describe Jesus? Look there in v5.

Rev 1:5: from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the , and THE RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH. NIV

THAT’S who Christians serve. So every day, it’s the same question. Are you going to be faithful to Jesus? Or the Emperor? Are you going to keep testifying about Jesus? Or are you just going to clam up and be a silent Christian?

And those who WOULDN’T bow down. Who WOULDN’T shut-up about Jesus. Were MARTYRED. Fed to the lions. Or killed in the gladiator games. Or burned alive. Or whatever else the Romans thought would make good entertainment.

And, while John hadn’t suffered THAT fate yet, he was STILL suffering because of his witness. Look down to v9.

9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. NIV

This was the same John who wrote the GOSPEL of John. He’s the disciples Jesus LOVED. By this stage he was an old man. The elder statesman of the church. But age hadn’t slowed him up.

He was writing from Patmos. A Roman prison colony. A tiny, rocky island off the coast of modern-day Turkey. And he was there because he WOULDN’T shut-up. Because of his testimony from the word of God about Jesus.

And he wasn’t alone. Similar things were going on to Christians all over the place. See, how John describes himself?

your brother and COMPANION in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus

He KNEW what these Christians were going through. Because it was happening to HIM TOO. The pressure to conform. The suffering. The temptation to be quiet. To have an easy life.

That’s the experience of these believers. Persecution and witness.

Victory, Presence and Protection (10-20)

But into that world comes Jesus. With his red pill. His offer to experience TRUE REALITY. Look at v10. John’s having his quiet time one Sunday morning, when Jesus comes to visit.

Rev 1:10-11: 0 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches:

And when John turns to see whose spoken to him, he’s BLOWN AWAY by what he sees. Just close your eyes, and imagine what John saw as he describes it.

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. NIV

If you’ve got any imagination at all, this image of scary POWER and enormous Strength and overwhelming majesty will knock you to the ground. Which is just what it did to John.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though . Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was , and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of and Hades. NIV

This is TRUE REALITY. It’s not the Emperor Domitian whose on the throne. It’s JESUS. It’s not the Emperor Domitian whose won victories. It’s Jesus whose defeated and sin. Whose alive for ever and ever. Who holds the keys to .

And while Domitian wins his victories with the of his enemies covering his robes. THIS king is PURE. White. Good and holy.

  • There is a GREAT SCENE in the LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE that  CAPTURES that idea of the AWE we should have for JESUS.
  • In the book ASLAN the LION is the JESUS FIGURE.
  • SUSAN has JUST FOUND OUT that ASLAN is a LION. She had thought he was a HUMAN. And Mr BEAVER is trying to explain what it will be like when they MEET ASLAN.
  • Let me read you the passage:

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs Beaver; “If there is anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, their either braver than most, or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “Don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

That’s the image we’ve got here. A POWERFUL king. Whose not SAFE. But whose GOOD.

And the message of this image is that THIS MIGHTY RULER – greater even than Rome and her Emperor, stands AMONG his churches. Beside them, protecting, upholding, strengthening, comforting.

As they continue to SHINE the message of the gospel. Shine like lampstands.

That’s TRUE REALITY. THEN AND NOW.

What difference will THAT VISION make to the way YOU view the coming week. How does it inform the ridicule you cop around the work lunch table as you stumble around, trying to stand up for your Lord.

How does it inform the strange looks you get when you refuse to claim the dodgy tax deduction, or scam your employer.

How does it inform the second-class jobs you get given because you won’t work Sundays, or say NO to a promotion.

How does it inform you as you feel the pressure from the world to KEEP UP. That life is all about GOODS. Or POWER and INFLUENCE.

This vision of Jesus is a red pill. A solid dose of reality. A challenge for comfortable Christians. A comfort for persecuted Christians.:

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his , 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father-to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. 7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, : and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. :          So shall it be! Amen.

Revelation 2-3: Letters From Heaven

One of the most memorable moments of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games involved a marathon runner from Tanzania. John Stephen Akhwari.

He doesn’t get a mention in the record books. In fact, he came in LAST. But it’s fair to say more people remember John Akhwari… than the guy who won gold.

Half way through the race Akhwari fell. And badly gashed his leg, injuring his knee. Most runners at that point would give up. But after a few minutes John Akhwari picked himself up. Strapped up his leg. And kept running.

By the time he got to the stadium, the race had long finished. The winners had crossed the line over an hour before. Night was falling. And most of the spectators were heading for home.

And as the officials were packing up for the day, the figure of this final, lone runner appeared at the stadium gates. Bandaged, y; every step agonizing… And he began to run the regulation laps around the stadium track. Finally, at last, Akhwari crossed the finish line.

The small crowd left in the stadium clapped and cheered him on. As Akhwari limped off the track. And finally collapsed.

The next day he was interviewed by the world media. In every marathon, lots of athletes drop out. With far less reason than Akhwari. So they asked him, “Why didn’t YOU stop?”

And Akhwari said this. “My country did not send me 7000 miles here to Mexico City to START the race. My country sent me here to FINISH THE RACE.”

And so he did.

Finishing the race. That’s the job we’ve got. As Christians, Jesus has called us to FINISH the race. To make sure we’re still following him at the end of our life. To make sure we don’t take SHORT-CUTS along the way. Following other loves, or taking wrong turns.

That we don’t GIVE IT UP because things are HARD. Or because we think there are BETTER things to be doing with life.

But that we keep trusting him. We keep obeying him. And we keep declaring to those around us that he DID rise from the . That he IS King, and that he IS coming back to judge.

Jesus doesn’t promise that our race will be EASY. In fact, for MOST of us, life may well be more like the race of John Akhwari than that of WINNERS. There WILL be stumbles, and hills, and tough conditions, and injuries.

Some people will tell you that life ISN’T like that for REAL Christians. A friend of mine was telling me about a lady he knew. A few years back she had a pre baby, she injured her neck and was in traction in hospital and could hardly move, and her husband was diagnosed with cancer. All of them happening within a few months of each other.

And a woman from her church said to her, “It’s obvious. You haven’t got enough faith.” Because, she said, “REAL Christians don’t have problems like that.”

Well, I want to say to you today, real Christians do. So far, maybe you HAVEN’T. But the fact is, real Christians are running a marathon.

And Christians back in the first century had it a lot tougher than we’ve got it today.

Especially the seven churches John was writing to. Because on top of the bad backs and cancer and business problems and house repayments that stress us out TODAY, Christians BACK THEN were being PERSECUTED FOR THEIR FAITH. And just around the corner, they’re going to be persecuted a whole lot more. All because they were following Jesus.

Each church was made up of different individuals. Who each reacted to things differently. Each church had its own particular problems. Some were doing better than others. And so Jesus has different things to say to each.

And yet the theme that comes up AGAIN AND AGAIN is that Jesus wants them to PERSEVERE. To stick it out to the end. WHATEVER the obstacles. Whatever the injuries. Or hills. Or pains. Or burdens.

Because, for Jesus, that’s what victory is. To do “a John Akhwari” – to keep going despite 100 good arguments to stop. That’s what it means to win. And it’s that sort of performance that will earn a gold medal.

It’s what he wanted for THE SEVEN CHURCHES. And it’s exactly what he wants from US.

And as we read over them, I hope you noticed that, even though there’s much that’s DIFFERENT, there’s also much in common between the letters. There are SIMILARITIES.

Assessment that matters

For a start, each one is a REPORT CARD. Assessment that matters.

I don’t know if you’ve thought about it. But it’s AMAZING how many times you get ASSESSED by other people when you’re GROWING UP.

Kids seem to get used to it. Always having EXAMS. There’s school exams, and piano exams, and driving exams.

Year 12 students are used to being ASSESSED every few weeks, with marks going towards their HSC.

But the thing you find as you grow older is that those ASSESSMENTS often don’t mean that much in the end. They may SEEM IMPORTANT at the time. But a little further down the track they seem INSIGNIFICANT.

Not too many people are going to ask you how you did in your 4th grade PIANO EXAM.

Even things like the HSC…When I got to Uni NO-ONE was interested in the MARK I got in my HSC. When I started TEACHING no-one wanted to see my RESULTS from Uni.

This morning we’re looking at the section of REVELATION that’s CLEARLY about ASSESSMENT – but the difference is THIS ONE MATTERS.

A royal letter

You can see that within the first verse of each letter. Because each is A ROYAL LETTER. A letter from a KING.

Look at how each one starts.

Read Revelation 2:1

1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:  These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands:

Read Revelation 2:8

8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:  These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.

Read Revelation 2:12

12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.

Read Revelation 2:18

18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:  These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

Read Revelation 3:1

1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:  These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

Read Revelation 3:7

7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:  These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.

Read Revelation 3:14

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:  These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

Each one, given from King Jesus, to his messenger, to deliver to his church.

And EACH DESCRIPTION comes from the picture of Jesus in Ch 1. The picture of the POWERFUL and HOLY and GOOD King who rules THE WHOLE EARTH, and KINGS and EMPERORS, and who EVEN RULES .

This is a letter to make you sit up and take notice. With assessment that MATTERS. A ROYAL letter.

But, more than that, each TITLE Jesus uses about himself, seems to FIT THE SITUATION, of the church he’s writing to. Jesus specifically chooses his description that will most COMFORT, or CHALLENGE, the church in question.

Let me show you a few examples.

I know what you did last summer

One of the constant themes is that of Jesus’ KNOWLEDGE of the churches. He knows what they’re like. Nothing’s hidden from his sight. Every letter, bar one, has the words “I know your deeds”. “I know your deeds”. “I know your deeds”

Look for example at Ch 2 v1.

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I KNOW YOUR DEEDS, your hard work and your perseverance. I KNOW THAT YOU CANNOT TOLERATE WICKED MEN, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. NIV

Jesus KNOWS because he WALKS AMONG HIS churches. Protecting, guiding, holding.

Or over to v18 of Ch 2.

These are the words of the Son of God, whose EYES ARE LIKE BLAZING FIRE and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I KNOW YOUR DEEDS, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.  NIV

Jesus’ eyes are like blazing fire. They see right through every wall. Into every heart. Read every mind.

His feet are like burnished bronze. He goes EVERYWHERE. There’s nowhere you can go to hide from King Jesus. He KNOWS.

There’s a movie called “I know what you did last summer”. A horror movie. I haven’t seen it, but the plot is that a group of friends have a secret they share. A secret they think no-one else knows about. They’ve killed someone in a hit and run. And tried to cover it up. Until they get a letter with these words. “I know what you did last summer”.

And this is Jesus’ letter. “I know”.

And it’s the same with US. He knows. He knows your thoughts. Your so-called secret sins. Your secret longings. Temptations. Failings. Your past. Your dirty laundry.

So what can you do about it? It’s a no-brainer really! Turn it all over to him. If it’s a past sin you can’t seem to forget. Repent, then forget it! Jesus has washed you clean. And walk into today with your eyes forward, looking to Jesus.

If it’s a PRESENT sin – a struggle you’re having in a certain area. Repent. If it’s SECRET, think about sharing it with someone you trust. Someone who can keep you accountable. Who can pray with you, and help you keep following Jesus. Bringing it out in the open seems to help to emphasise the truth that Jesus ALREADY sees. It’s ALREADY out in the open to HIM.

To bring it out in the open seems to rob the sin of its hold on you. NAMING it. Admitting it. SHARING it with someone seems to have a tangible freeing effect. Jesus sees.

Repent

And REPENTING is exactly what Jesus calls on most of the churches to do.

Like the church at Ephesus. Ch 2 v4.

Rev 2:4-6: 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! REPENT and do the things you did at first.

Same with Smyrna. 2: 15. Or Sardis Ch 3 v3.

A letter from the king. The king who knows everything. Who calls you to REPENT.

And yet, there’s a warmth and compassion and love to the rebukes, as well. Look over to Ch 3 v19.

Rev 3:19-20: 19 Those whom I LOVE I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.  NIV

What a wonderful picture that is. Of closeness. Of intimacy and concern. Jesus rebukes and disciplines for OUR GOOD. So that we can share fellowship with him.

A promise (2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:26; 3:5; 3:12; 3:21)

And there’s certainly plenty of POSITIVE NOTES in the letters as well. EVERY ONE finishes with A PROMISE OF REWARD.

Rev 2:7: To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.  NIV

Rev 2:11: He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second .

Rev 2:17: o him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.

Rev 2:26: 26 To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations- NIV

Rev 3:5: 5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. NIV

Rev 3:12-13: 12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.  NIV

And finally;

Rev 3:21: 21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

All wonderful pictures of an eternity spend with Jesus. With wonderful blessings.

And what do all these promises have in common? They’re all for those who OVERCOME.

But what does it mean to overcome? Is it about victory as the world sees it? Success and riches and authority? Healthy and wealthy? Big buildings, big attendance, big budgets?

Let’s look at what Jesus COMMENDS. These are the things which are signals of overcoming. True victory.

Zeal AND love (2:19)

Zeal but no love (2:4-5)

The first things we see is that Jesus wants ZEAL AND LOVE. Enthusiasm for TRUTH, as well as enthusiasm for love in behaviour and attitudes.

And for the church at Ephesus, they were only doing well in ONE of these areas. They had ZEAL, but NO LOVE. Look at Ch 2 v2.

Rev 2:2-3: 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that YOU CANNOT TOLERATE WICKED MEN, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  NIV

These guys were the – THEOLOGICAL THOUGHT POLICE. They’re ZEALOTS. Full of passion – absolutely mad keen to have right doctrine, to have right theology. They know all the big theological words, they can talk about infralapsarianism till the cows come home.

Trouble is, THEY’VE GOT NO LOVE. That’s what he says in the next verse. “Yet I hold this against you. You’ve forgotten your first love.”

At the start things were different. When they were first converted they knew about love. But now in all their efforts to be right and true, and to test these false apostles and to not tolerate wickedness, they’ve lost it.

They’ve lost their love. They’ve beaten off all the enemies from the outside, they’ve got rid of false teaching – but they’ve been eaten away from the inside.

And loveless Christianity – whether love for Christ or love for Christians, or love for non-Christians – isn’t Christianity at all. Which means whether they know it or not, they’ve pulled out of the race.

Love but no zeal (2:14-16; 2:19-25)

Then you’ve got the opposite problem over in Pergamum and Thyatira. They PUT UP with people who taught HERESY. False doctrine. That it was okay to do whatever the world does. ual immorality – fine. Anything goes. Look at 2:20 for example.

Rev 2:20: 20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into ual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. NIV

But it’s interesting to see the thing Jesus has got against the church isn’t that they’ve all FOLLOWED these false teachers. It’s just that they’ve PUT UP with her. Jesus is against their TOLERANCE. Because they’ve just turned a blind eye while she’s led people astray.

Pergamum and Thyatira might have plenty of love. But they’ve lost touch with the truth.

Folks, can I say to you, if there’s ever a problem we’re up against as Christians today, this is it. The idea that everything’s okay. The idea that there’s no such thing as TRUTH any more. The idea that it’s arrogant to try to say the Bible says something’s wrong. Cause you’ll be told it’s really just a matter of interpretation, isn’t it? The idea that it’s unloving to take a stand and correct someone. That it’s divisive.

And so people will be caught up in all sorts of ual immorality. All sorts of wrong living and wrong thinking. And we’ll just stand there like statues. And we won’t say a word. Not wanting to be thought of as bigoted, or narrow-minded.

Now again, notice he’s not saying “go out and critique the non-Christians”. We must LOVE non-Christians – whatever they DO or BELIEVE. He’s saying don’t redefine what it means to be Christian. We can’t BEND on that. We mustn’t REDEFINE what acceptable Christian behaviour is.

Two opposite problems. Zeal without love. And love without zeal. When real Christians have got both. We’ve got to love the truth. And love people as well.

REAL riches – clothes of holiness (2:9; 3:17-18)

Another aspect of overcoming is to have REAL riches. There’s another comparison between the churches. There’s Laodicea, who think they’re RICH, when they’re really POOR. And then there’s Smyrna who thinks they’re POOR, but are really RICH.

Look at Laodicea. Ch 3 v17

Rev 3:17-18: 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and . 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful ness;  NIV

They thought they were the DOUBLE BAY of Christian churches. But the reality was/ they were KINGS CROSS.

They had all the marks of a successful church. All the programs, the staff, the buildings. Big budget, effective evangelism.

But they’d forgotten their REAL riches. The beauty of their relationship with Jesus. The rich jewellery of acts of servanthood, lives of holiness, and submission to God – lives taking up their cross and following Jesus.

And so Jesus pleads with them to COME TO HIM. And buy refined gold. And buy white clothes to wear to cover their shame. They represent holy living. Good deeds of obedience, and perseverance.

Which is just what those at Smyrna were wearing. The opposite of Laodicea/ is Smyrna. Look at Ch 2 v9

Rev 2:9: 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty-yet you are rich!  NIV

Suffering much in this life. Barely enough food for the table. Enduring the disdain and discrimination of being Christian. And yet Jesus says they ARE RICH. He says (v10) Be faithful even to the point of , and I will give you THE CROWN OF LIFE”

That’s REAL riches.

REAL strength (3:1-3; 3:8-10)

The last aspect of what it means to overcome is to show real STRENGTH. And once again, there’s a comparison. Sardis, who THOUGHT they were strong, but were really WEAK.

And Philadelphia, who thought they were WEAK, but were really STRONG.

Look at Sardis. Ch 3 v1

Rev 3:1-3: I know your deeds; you have A REPUTATION OF BEING ALIVE, but you are . 2 Wake up! STRENGTHEN what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.  NIV

They LOOK alive, but they’re . They LOOK strong, but they’re WEAK, wasted, perishing. There’s a HOLLOWNESS to their Christianity. Things look healthy, but underneath, there’s disease and infection festering.

Is that what YOU’RE like? A mask of strength. A thin veneer of maturity. But underneath, things aren’t RIGHT? Repent, put things right. Talk to someone. It’s too important to put off. It’s too important to worry about what OTHER people think. It’s MUCH more important what Jesus’ assessment of you is like.

The opposite of Sardis was Philadelphia. They LOOKED weak, by were really strong. Ch 3 v8.

Rev 3:8-9: I know that you HAVE LITTLE STRENGTH, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.  NIV

And a bit further down in v10

Rev 3:10: 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world …NIV

The Philadelphian Christians seem WEAK. Insignificant. But despite the pressures, they’ve kept faithful. They haven’t bowed the knee to the emperor, or named him as Lord.

And so, Jesus has a wonderful reward in store. V11

Rev 3:11-12: 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. NIV

To the angel of the church in Western Blacktown…

What wonderful words they are!

I wonder if Jesus were to write a letter to US. To the angel of the Presbyterian church at Western Blacktown. What he would say.

I know your deeds. In your short life, you have a proud tradition of proclaiming my name. Of being evangelical and evangelistic. You pride yourself on being friendly and welcoming.

You’ve planted another church.

But don’t become complacent. Don’t lose your first love. Keep your zeal for truth. Don’t be tempted to keep quiet. Don’t be tempted to think truth doesn’t matter, or your neighbours don’t need me.

Keep loving each other. Make time. Show love in ACTION, not just words.

Rev 3:11-12: 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God

Revelation 4-5: View from the Bridge

The busiest place to be in the Navy would probably be on-board an aircraft carrier. Over 300 m in length, home to thousands of people, hundreds of warheads, dozens of planes and helicopters.

And, in full-flight, during an operation, it must be an incredibly frantic, scary, chaotic, and exhilarating place to be. There’d probably be NOWHERE an observer could stand, and be out of the way.

Just imagine it! Wherever you look there’s action. People running everywhere, shouting commands. Working at a feverish pace, doing their particular job. Getting in each other’s way, bumping into walls, and one another.

Planes being moved, fired up, weapons being checked, equipment moved around. Guns being loaded.

The noise would be incredible. Sirens, loud-speakers, planes taking off. Guns firing. The throb of the engines.

On the SURFACE of it, things would look OUT OF CONTROL, DISORDERLY, CHAOTIC. Everyone doing what THEY wanted. Seemingly INDEPENDENT of everyone else. HINDERING each other, rather than helping.

But if you walked onto the BRIDGE, my guess is you’d get a DIFFERENT impression. It’s the control room for the whole ship. Where the CAPTAIN is. And all his assistants. Each one responsible for different area.

UP THERE it’s ALL CALM and ORDERED. There’d be the captain. Sitting in the middle of the room. You’d be able to hear the INSTRUCTIONS he gave. And you’d see the effect they had. You’d realise that everything down below – each person, and each piece of equipment – was going EXACTLY WHERE IT WAS INTENDED TO GO.

Suddenly what’s going on BELOW starts to make a WHOLE LOT MORE SENSE.

While things may look CHAOTIC on the flight-deck, or in the equipment hold. When you see the VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, in fact, they’re COMPLETELY UNDER CONTROL.

View from the bridge (4:1-2)

And that’s what John gets to see in these of chapters. The guided tour of the ship’s bridge. But rather than controlling an aircraft carrier. This room controls the WHOLE UNIVERSE.

And where the chaos and mess that we see going on HERE, is replaced with the perspective and purpose of God. Wisdom and eternity and holiness and worship / replace chaos and short-sightedness and suffering and godlessness.

In v1 John sees a door standing open in heaven. It’s an invitation to be an eyewitness. And he’s taken in a vision to HEAVEN ITSELF.

So let’s travel with him. Let’s step through the door. And into the throne-room of heaven.        Look around you. What do you see?

You see a series of circles. All concentrated on the centre. Which is the focal point. And the focal point is God himself. Who you’ll notice is indescribable. Even in a vision. Think of precious jewels. Jasper and carnelian. And he’s … LIKE that.

Think of a rainbow made of sparkling emerald. There’s something LIKE that in a circle round the throne.

Because even in a vision, that’s as close as you’re going to get to picturing God.

Then AROUND THAT you’ve got ANOTHER circle. 24 thrones in a ring. And on each throne, he says there are one of 24 elders. Picture them. Because they’re dressed in white, and each of them has a gold crown. These guys are important. These guys have got thrones and they’ve got crowns.

But they’re all facing inwards. To the centre of attention. God himself. On the throne.

And from the centre. From the throne, you SEE lightning. And HEAR thunder. Symbols of God’s majesty and power. Just like when God appeared to Moses on Mt Sinai. That’s what the people saw as they looked up onto the mountain.

There’s never any doubt… as to who’s the centre of attention.

Have you got that picture in your mind? Because there’s MORE. In the centre, immediately around the throne, are four living creatures.

But not just ANY creatures. These are the pinnacle – the cream of the crop. If you had to pick four creatures to represent the whole animal kingdom, these four would be as good as any.

There’s the lion. The greatest PREDATOR. The most-feared animal. There’s the OX, the STRONGEST animal. There’s MAN – the ruler over the other animals. And then there’s the EAGLE – the king of the air.

And they’re covered with eyes. Perfect insight. Perfect perception and discernment. They see things the way the WHOLE CREATION should see things.

No matter HOW IMPRESSIVE THEY are, they’re impressed by someone ELSE. Day and night they never stop saying, :

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,: who was, and is, and is to come.”  NIV

And as they do that, can you see in verse 10, the 24 elders join in. And they worship him who lives for ever and ever as well. And they take off their golden crowns, and they lay them before the throne, and they’re saying, you’re the worthy one, Lord and God… to receive glory and honour and power.

You’re the worthy one to be worshipped. You’re the one to be thanked. Because you’re the one who created all things. And by your will they were created… and have their being.

When lots of OTHER things holler for our attention and worship. Seduce us into giving THEM our energies and emotions and awe. There’s only ONE who actually DESERVES it.

Have you seen “The Wizard of Oz”? Dorothy is transported from Kansas, and lands in Oz. She longs for home, so she must travel to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard of Oz. He’ll be able to send her back to Kansas.

Along the way she meets a lion, a tinman and a scarecrow. And each of THEM is headed to the Emerald City to make requests of the Wizard. The lion lacking courage, the tinman needing a heart, and the scarecrow who longs for a brain.

When they finally arrive. And are granted an audience with the Wizard, they’re terrified by the awful flashes of light, smoke, and thunderous booming voice that fill the great hall.

Until Dorothy’s dog Toto pulls at a curtain in one corner. And reveals a little old man operating buttons and levers, and speaking into a microphone. In fact, he looks just like the medicine-show con-man back in Kansas. The wonderful Wizard of Oz.

He CALLS for their fear and awe. But he can’t DELIVER what the group want. The whole country looks to him as the one worthy of their respect and honour. Yet, his terrifying splendour is all an act –smoke and mirrors.

The point the movie makes is that what the Wizard COULDN’T do, the travellers could do THEMSELVES. Over the course of the journey the tin-man had revealed his compassion, the lion his courage, and the scarecrow the ability to think. Even Dorothy had the power to return to Kansas.

The perfect fable of humanistic, rationalistic, individualistic, post-modern Western culture. “The power is within you – you don’t have to look anywhere else”.

If we take a step back from the movie. And think about how this Ch of Revelation critiques it. We see that the movie ITSELF is using smoke and mirrors.

Because the humanistic individualism of Western society, which says that the answer to every problem can be found by searching INSIDE yourself. Is just as barren and bankrupt as the trickery of the Wizard.

Mankind worships EVERYTHING BUT the only One who’s WORTHY of our worship. The one who sits on the throne, who was, and is, and is to come. The one the four creatures, and the elders worship.

It’s what the Bible keeps saying over and over again. In the midst of idolatry, where men keep bowing to created things; things they’ve made with their own hands. Or to a puny little Emperor of Rome. Or thinking that THEY can solve all of earth’s problems.

It might be OBVIOUS idolatry like other religions, or materialism. It might be LESS obvious, and be the idols of personal fulfilment, family intimacy, education, physical fitness.

Revelation 4 says “Don’t waste your time. Worship the one who by his will brought everything into being. And by his will keeps everything going.

But as we keep looking, you’ll notice that’s not quite the end of the picture. There’s more to come. Because there’s one more… who’s worthy of worship.

Another Who is Worthy of Worship (5:1-14)

As all eyes are on God, we notice that he’s holding A SCROLL. A blueprint for his ACTION in HISTORY. A COMPLETE plan for THE WHOLE of time – full of writing on both sides.

And it’s got God’s AUTHORITY behind it. It’s sealed with seven seals. So before God’s plans can be put into effect, the seals have to be broken. By someone with the AUTHORITY OF GOD HIMSELF. Someone who’s got the power to see God’s plan through to completion. The active agent.

And so, in v2, the cry goes out, “Who’s worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” The job vacancy’s advertised.

But there’s no response. AN uncomfortable silence. No-one who measures up. No-one with the qualifications.

What a tragedy that God’s plans will never be completed. Plans of rescue and justice and judgment. Of goodness and purity and salvation and peace and purpose. None of them will ever see the light of day.

And so John weeps and weeps. The utter despair. The tragic waste. The Injustice of it all.

Except he’s thrown the towel in a bit too early. One of the 24 elders hands him a tissue and says, don’t cry. Look. You’ve given up too soon. He says, look! The Lion of Judah, the root of David… the great King of Israel like no other … he’s triumphed. He can do it. He can open the scroll and its seven seals.

In all of heaven and earth… there’s nobody like the great Lion of Judah. The elder says, look around. Meet him.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been kind of disappointed by the lion display at the zoo. I’m always a bit disappointed whenever I go to Taronga Zoo. You read the sign about the king of the jungle. And you look around, and you’re hoping for a glimpse of something scary.

But all the lions are just asleep. There’s always some kid there trying to stir one up to get a bit of action. Tapping the glass.

And he just lies there. Snoring. Which is kind of disappointing, and not quite what you’d expect from the main attraction at the zoo.

Now the disappointment… or the surprise… that John’s about to get is slightly different. But just as jarring. Because when he turns to see the lion… he doesn’t see a lion at all.

Take a look. Because I want you to appreciate what I reckon is one of the most brilliant moments in the whole New Testament. verse 5.:

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” : Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.

He looks for a triumphant lion. And sees a spattered lamb instead. And this slain lamb… is standing in the CENTRE of the throne… that’s standing in the CENTRE of the powerful living creatures… who are standing in the CENTRE of the thrones of the 24 elders.

Which means at the centre of the centre of the universe… there’s the image of the most humble, most sacrificial suffering.

I mean, there’s no surprise, is there, the lamb is a picture of Jesus. And if you get together the courage to see Mel Gibson’s movie and you can watch while they simulate the whipping and the and the nails and the cross, it’s that -spattered sacrifice… that John sees as being right at the centre of the throne that’s right at the centre of God’s glory. At the centre of the Universe.

The greatest victory. The declaration of greatest strength and might. A triumph any LION would be proud of. Is achieved by the greatest act of weakness and submission and ridicule. It’s the moment around which the whole of history swings.

And so this Lamb is perfectly qualified to put God’s plans into action. The lamb steps forward and takes the scroll. Which we’re going to see unrolled next time.

And when he takes the scroll in verse 8, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before the Lamb. And with their harps and their bowls full of prayers, they sing a song. “YOU are worthy. Because you were slain. And with your ,” verse 9, “you bought and paid for us; with your , you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you’ve made them into a kingdom; and you’ve made them like priests. To serve God. And reign over the earth.”

At which point thousands of angels join in the song. Another circle around the throne and the elders and the creatures. And will you notice what they do. They worship THE LAMB. In very much the same way and the same words as the elders and creatures worshipped THE CREATOR in chapter 4.

And in a loud voice they’re singing the words of verse 12.

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!

And if you thought the praise for GOD was glorious in Ch 4. That’s nothing. Because more than just the 4 creatures. More than just the 24 elders. More than thousands of angels.

Look at v13. EVERY CREATURE in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, every creature you can imagine, joins in and sings “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Worshipped God the father who made them. And God the son; the spattered lamb – who bought them with his at the cross.

So what?

Lay Down your crowns

I wonder if you get any of the impact of that? Or the implications?

It’s a picture, in the end, of who’s worthy of worship. And who isn’t.

It’s a picture to keep in mind if you’re one of the Christians John’s writing to. Or John himself. And you’re asked to confirm or deny the rumours you’re a Christian. And threatened with if you don’t.

So who are you going to worship? Because there’s no way the claims of Caesar can match the claims of the father who created and sustains us. And His Son… who paid for us in .

It’s a picture as well that raises some interesting QUESTIONS as well. In a Christian culture today that talks a lot about worship. And asks the question what does real worship look like? You’ll find Christians shopping around for a church where they like the style of worship.

Which is incredibly odd when you think about it. As if worship is something to have a personal preference about – like whether you prefer country and western music or rock and roll.

It’s confusing, because in the midst of all the music going on in this vision of the throne room, the real worship is something else.

It’s a question of who you bow to. And it’s not really about your preferences at all.

I want to suggest to you that the picture of the essence of worship is back in chapter 4 verse 10. And it’s worth looking back to. “The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever…” and how do they do that? They lay their crowns before the throne. And say you are worthy to receive glory and honour and power. Not us.

See, that’s how it actually worked with Caesar as well. To worship Caesar back then was to say there’s no higher authority. And to submit yourself under his rule.

And so these elders in the vision, with their own thrones, with their golden crowns; worshipping God means laying their own crowns at his feet. Saying we’ll do it your way. Not our way.

Which is really all a Christian is. Someone who hands their corwn over to God, and lets HIM rule instead.

And it’s an attitude that’s meant to carry through all of life. Every day. And not just an hour or so singing songs in church.

Back in Romans 12, Paul says the same. He says, present your whole lives as a living sacrifice. That’s your true spiritual worship. And yet we somehow can’t get rid of the idea that worshipping God means singing a few songs.

Lay down your crown. Let god be god, and not you.

Real glory

And as you do that, and you realise again who else is at the centre of the throne, there’s a challenge, isn’t there? As we’re reminded again what REAL GLORY looks like.

Because in spite of Caesar’s invincible armies, in spite of the glory and power that was the Roman Empire, in spite of the sort of ego that makes the Emperor of Rome demand his subjects bow down and worship… the real glory at the centre of the throne looks like self sacrifice. Looks like the descendant of David who went to the cross. To carry the punishment he didn’t deserve.

And so instead of pursuing glory in your career, instead of pursuing wealth and influence and social status; instead of manipulating and pulling strings to make yourself the centre of attention… when you catch a glimpse of John’s vision, you’ll be moved toward the sort of real worship… that’s about sacrificing yourself daily… in honour of the one whose symbol isn’t the power of the eagle or the roar of the lion… but a looking lamb. Sacrificed for us. And calling us to live sacrificially as well. Determined to worship no-one else… or nothing else … than the Father who made us. And the Son who bought us with .

Who’s at the centre of your universe?

Revelation 6-11: Riding Through history:

Do you ever get hooked on TV SERIES? Shows that continue from week to week. That build the suspense and tension by revealing a little piece of the story from week to week.

In the past I’ve been addicted to shows like 24. Or Alias. At the moment, I’m enjoying LOST.

And the shows all have exactly the same strategy. Every episode builds to a CLIMAX. And then stops just before there’s any resolution. So you’ll come back next week.

The hero’s stuck in a huge silo that’s being filled with grain. As the level rises, he starts to sink. Until only his NOSE can be seen above the grain. … THE MUSIC REACHES A CRESCENDO.

What will happen? How will he escape? Surely he can’t die! …

At which point the credits roll. And the deep-voiced announcer says, “Stay turned next week to find out whether John makes it out alive.”

And so you do!

Well, Revelation is doing the same thing. It’s building the tension. The suspense. Both for John, as he WATCHES the vision. And later, for his listeners, as they HEAR his description read aloud.

They want to find out what happens next.

Ch 5 has begun with God holding a scroll. His plans and purposes for the world. But it’s sealed up with seven seals. And the plan can’t begin until someone can break the seals and open the scroll.

John weeps and weeps because he thinks there’s no-one who can open the scroll.

But the chapter finishes with the Lamb holding the scroll. He’s the only one who’s up to the job of breaking the seals. The only one with the authority of God to put his plans into action.

And so we come to Ch 6. And the Lamb begins to open the scroll. And everyone’s bursting to find out what’s inside.

But he’s way too slow for my liking.

Like those annoying people who take AN ETERNITY to open presents. You know the sort? First they read the card. To themselves. And have a quiet little laugh at some private joke. Then they laboriously peal off each piece of stick-tape. Then slowly unwrap the present, folding the paper after so you can re-use it. And it takes AN ETERNITY.

I’m one of those “rip the paper off as quickly as you can” sort of guys.

But there’s none of that haste with the Lamb. The suspense builds. And builds. Until almost unbearable. Until we BURSTING to find out what’s inside the scroll.

Let me show you what I mean. Flick through chapters 6-11 quickly with me. Let’s take a big-picture, high-altitude flyover.

In Ch 6, the Lamb opens six seals. One at a time. And then we wait for the last one. And THEN we’ll know what’s inside.

But we never get to number 7! In Ch 7, we get A BREAK. It’s a picture of God’s people. (We’ll come back to WHY the break, and what it’s SAYING in a moment).

But at the start of Ch 8, the Lamb finally opens the seventh seal. And THEN we expect the action to start – that the scroll will finally be opened. And we’ll get to see what’s inside.

And I think that’s the point of the SILENCE when the seventh seal is opened. All creation waiting expectantly to see what will happen.

But the suspense continues. Because there’s MORE unwrapping to do. The scroll’s been OPENED, but the message hasn’t been REVEALED.

Now there’s seven TRUMPETS. Like the fanfare at the opening of the Olympic Games. They underline how important the coming event is. And so, through Ch 8 and 9, the trumpets sound. But, once again, only SIX trumpets.

And then into Ch 10, rather than the SEVENTH trumpet sounding … we get ANOTHER interlude. ANOTHER “stay tuned until next week for the next exciting episode”. (And we’ll look at THAT ONE in a bit more detail in a minute).

And THAT goes all the way to Ch 11 v 15, when we FINALLY hear the SEVENTH TRUMPET. And at the end of the seventh trumpet, at the end of Ch 11, we finally come to the end of the section. With an awesome picture of God. Rev 11:19

: 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.  NIV

God’s BEGUN the process – back in Ch 4 v5

Rev 4:5: 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder.  NIV

He’s seen the seven SEALS finish. Ch 8 v5

Rev 8:5: …there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning AND AN EARTHQUAKE.  NIV

And he FINISHES it. With

flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake AND A GREAT HAILSTORM

At each stage, God’s declaration that the Lamb’s got his approval to do what he’s doing. His stamp of authority.

And so we finally come to the message of the open scroll – the unveiling of the purposes of God in Ch 12 v1…. Which you’ll have to stay tuned NEXT WEEK for.

I’m afraid today just BUILDS THE SUSPENSE.

What’s the Scroll Got to do with me?

But if we’re not actually looking at the vision which describes the CONTENTS OF THE SCROLL. What ARE we watching? If what I’m saying’s true, what’s the connection between THESE VISIONS/ and the scroll they’re INTRODUCING?

The series of visions ACCOMPANY the scroll. Yes, they’re part of God’s purposes and plan. But, at least here in Revelation, they’re not portrayed as PART OF THE SCROLL. The scroll is something BIGGER. Or EXTRA.

Perhaps the best way to view them/ is as showing HOW THE SCROLL WILL IMPACT ON THE CHRISTIAN HEARERS. They seem to answer the question “How will the momentous events of the scroll affect us day by day? WHAT DO THE CONTENTS OF THE SCROLL MEAN FOR MY EVERYDAY LIFE?” Where does the rubber hit the road for ME?

And the visions of the seals and the trumpets seem to answer these questions quite well.

So let’s spend a few moments looking at them.

Seal 1: white horse of conquest

First up, seal number 1. the Lamb opens it, then one of the four living creatures from around the throne says, Come!

And along came a rider on a WHITE HORSE. Which we’re told represents CONQUEST.

Whether it’s COUNTRIES INVADING COUNTRIES. Ethnic MAJORITIES wiping out MINORITIES. richer companies involved in buyouts or takeovers of WEAKER ones.

Or even just sporting teams wanting to beat OTHER sporting teams. Like the Aussie cricket team beating NZ AGAIN.

The world is all about CONQUEST. BEATING others. This is nothing more than a GENERAL OBSERVATION.

Seal 2: red horse of warfare

But that’s not all. More specifically. According to the SECOND seal – a RED horse. It’s conquest that’s about WARFARE. An absence of peace. Victory AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS. At the cost of LIVES.

Seal 3: black horse of injustice

But that’s not all. Seal 3. The third creature shouts COME. And out rides a BLACK HORSE. Not only is the world about conquest and war, but there’s INJUSTICE.

The STRONG taking advantage of THE WEAK. The LOUD overpowering the QUIET. The MANY overwhelming the FEW. The RICH getting RICHER, while the POOR get the picture.

The world WAS, and IS, and always WILL BE, a place where the HAVES land right-side-up. While the HAVE-NOTS cop the raw end of the deal. That’s the point of v6

Rev 6:6: “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and DO NOT DAMAGE the oil and the wine!”  NIV

Life ISN’T fair!

Seal 4: pale horse of

But that’s not all. Not only is life UNFAIR conquest and battle. But it even involves . That’s the fourth seal. A PALE horse. V8.

Rev 6:8: Its rider was named , and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over A FOURTH of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.  NIV

As clever as mankind is. As advanced as medicine and technology and weapons and construction ARE. As WEALTHY as much of the world has become. Not much has changed since the time of John.

Death is STILL all around us. Sword, famine, plague, the forces of the earth, or nature itself. Still claim THOUSANDS OF lives.

Seal 5: How long until justice? More martyrs to come

But that’s not all. Seal 5 tells us that CHRISTIANS won’t miss out. The Christian life is no guarantee of protection from the pale rider of .

The camera zooms in on the souls of martyred Christians. Who’ve been killed for standing up for Jesus. Still bearing witness – even in heaven – to the suffering of their brothers and sisters. And they weep with them. And cry out,

Rev 6:10: “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our ?”: NIV

But God’s answer to them is not the good news they’re hoping for.

Rev 6:11: Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. NIV

“There’s MORE TO COME!”

The world is a place of ly conquest and warfare. From which Christians won’t escape. But there’s MORE.

Seal 6: Justice at last

The sixth seal adds that JUSTICE will come eventually. Judgment day. When Christ returns. The sixth seal is the answer to the question in the fifth seal, “How long until you judge?”

And the sixth seal says that God answers. He listens. He acts. A dreadful day. When THIS world will be wrapped up and thrown out/ like yesterday’s newspaper.

And when those who DESERVE judgment and punishment will finally RECEIVE it. V15

15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”  NIV

A breath-taking picture of powerful, white-hot wrath and holiness.

Interlude 1:

What could possibly come after THAT! It’s only the SIXTH seal. What could TOP THAT?

But God’s going to build the suspense a bit more. Because the SEVENTH seal isn’t opened yet. It’s time for a BREATHER. A BREAK. A chance for us hearers to be REASSURED, and comforted. WHICH IS THE WHOLE POINT OF THE SEALS AND THE TRUMPETS.

And if the SIXTH seal answered the FIFTH SEAL – How long ‘til justice? Then this interlude answers the question of the SIXTH SEAL – WHO CAN STAND?

And the answer is… GOD’S PEOPLE will stand. Protected by God himself.

Four angels standing at each corner of the earth, holding back the winds so they won’t destroy those who belong to God. None of the previous six seals can harm those on whom God has set his SEAL of OWNERSHIP. His Holy Spirit.

They may perish PHYSICALLY. But their ETERNITY is safe with God.

Then John hears an angel CALLING THE ROLL. 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. Perfect in number. Complete. No-one left behind.

Do you ever have the nightmare about being left behind. By a bus, or a plane. Or left home alone at Christmas. – Oh no! that’s a movie!

I remember when I was teaching, we went on an excursion to Canberra. And we visited Parliament House. And when it came time to leave. I was on ONE bus. And counted heads. Check!

The OTHER teacher on the other bus. Asked kids to check that the person they were sitting next to was still there. And somehow two kids got left behind at Parliament House.

It wasn’t TOO bad. It only took us a of hours to realise. And they were a boyfriend and friend. So they probably didn’t really mind the space to be on their own!

But with those who are God’s – No-one gets left behind.

But there’s more. While ISRAEL is what John HEARS, it’s not what he SEES. Look at v9.

9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:  : “Salvation belongs to our God,  who sits on the throne, : and to the Lamb.”  NIV

These two images – the 144, 000 and the great multitude – are describing THE SAME GROUP OF PEOPLE. God’s people. Those for whom Christ has died. Whom God has sealed with his Holy Spirit.

Remember, in Ch 5, John HEARD the Lion of Judah, but SAW the slain lamb. Both images described THE SAME REALITY FROM DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES.

Same with the 144,000 and the great multitude. John HEARD one, and SAW the other. Two perspectives on the same reality.

One – an earthly army. Uniform, regular. All accounted for. No-one left behind. Perfect in size.

The OTHER – a heavenly worshipping community. From all over the world. BEYOND counting. United in their wonder and love and praise for the one on the throne, and for the Lamb.

When it all comes down to it – no matter how bad the events of the scroll will be – this is the ultimate destination of God’s people. Paradise. Look over to v16.

Rev 7:16 Never again will they hunger;  never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center 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.”  :  NIV

Seal 7: Get ready, take a breath!

And so, we finally get to seal 7. Ch 8 v1. With God’s people COMFORTED and REASSURED.

But rather than any more AMAZING PICTURES, there’s nothing more to be said. The seal is broken, the scroll is open. And the suspense builds. Everyone WAITING to see the contents of the scroll. Silence.

Like the quiet of the audience as the lights dim, and the curtains open. The play’s about to begin. And everyone WAITS.

But there’s still MORE suspense. Because the trumpet players step up to play a fanfare. And each trumpet fills in some detail of the picture we got from the seals. There’s MORE OF EVERYTHING here. More colour, more description. More and gore. Greater scale. Better stunts. Bigger budget.

But even at the end of six trumpets. 1/3 of mankind killed. The wicked STILL refuse to submit to God. Look at the end of Ch 9. v20.

20 The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood-idols that cannot see or hear or walk. NIV

Interlude 2:

A rather depressing way to finish six seals. Time for a bit of encouragement. Time for the second interlude. Which we’ll skim through.

And once again, it’s to do with GOD’S PEOPLE. Describing how they fit in to the events of the scroll.

But it actually begins with John himself. Ch 10 v1. An angel comes down from heaven, holding an open scroll.

The seals have been broken. The scroll’s been opened. And the Lamb’s given it to his angel to give to John. Remember that’s the order of how things are revealed. Back in Ch 1 v 1.

Rev 1:1-2: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,  NIV

And look at what this angel says to John. V7. Enough suspense.

Rev 10:6-7: “There will be no more delay! 7 But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.”  NIV

All is about to be revealed. But rather than coming from Jesus himself, or even from his angel. The message will come from John. He’ll deliver the message. So he needs to get the scroll. V9.

9 So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.” 10 I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. 11 Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”  NIV

Just like Ezekiel, John must EAT the scroll. It’s about RECEIVING the message. And it tastes SWEET because it’s about God’s WISDOM and JUSTICE. But it’s also SOUR, because it’s a message of JUDGMENT.

And John has to DELIVER the message. Which he begins in Ch 12. After the seventh trumpet has sounded.

But there’s ONE MORE part to the interlude. Ch 11. Still describing God’s people.

At first they’re represented by THE TEMPLE. Which is MEASURED – a sign of God’s protection. But it’s not COMPLETE protection – the outer court will be trampled by the nations.

And yet, within the trials, there’s also compassion and mercy. Because the trampling will last for 42 months, or 1,260 days, which is also 3 ½ years.

That’s HALF of a full measure of 7 years. It’s suffering that’s LESS than it COULD be. Because of God’s mercy.

And, v3, during that time, God’s people will continue to WITNESS for him. This time they’re represented by Two lampstands. Or TWO WITNESSES. Court testimony was only TRUE if TWO WITNESSES agreed.

The church will also witness WITH POWER. Miracles like that God performed through Moses and Elijah (v6)

And yet, it’s not enough to protect them COMPLETELY, v7, Satan and his forces, will continually ATTACK, OVERPOWER, and even KILL God’s people.

They’ll think they’ve won. Ground the church into extinction. They’ll MOCK and SCOFF and GLOAT.

But once again, there’s MERCY. This time when the church looks like it’s , won’t be for LONG. Only 3 ½ days. HALF as long as a complete time of 7 days.

And after this time. Because they follow Christ who’s defeated . SO TOO, the Church will survive. Individual Christians might die PHYSICALLY – sleep – but resurrection is theirs.

And because of this powerful testimony in the face of persecution. Look at what happens. V13.: A wonderful outcome.

13 At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. : NIV

You might think a severe earthquake with a tenth of the city destroyed, and 7000 is a TRAGEDY. But it’s actually GOOD NEWS. A story of rescue and triumph and survival.

But in Is 6:13, and Amos 5:3, God’s judgment involves 9/10 of a city being destroyed. With only 1/10th SURVIVING. This is the opposite.

And in 1 Ki 19:18 only 7,000 faithful followers are SPARED – MANY MORE die. This is the opposite.

In the midst of terrible persecution and ridicule – even – The witness of God’s people achieves what God’s acts of judgment on the world COULDN’T do – people who turn to God, repented, and gave glory to him.

That’s the message of these chapters. The answer to the question, “What’s the scroll got to do with us?”

THE world rolls on. Things will CONTINUE to be terrible. Stick at it! You are God’s. Witness faithfully. Even to . Your witness DOES make a difference. God will use it to bring people to himself. To save them from judgment. And to give him glory.

And with that thought, the cycle finishes. The SEVENTH trumpet. ANOTHER picture of the end. Judgment day. Triumph day. Victory day.

And I can’t think of a better way to finish than to just read out that picture. V15

15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,

the One who is and who was,

because you have taken your great power

and have begun to reign.

18 The nations were angry;

and your wrath has come.

The time has come for judging the ,

and for rewarding your servants the prophets

and your saints and those who reverence your name,

both small and great-

and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.

Revelation 12-14:13: Beware of Imitations

There’s nothing worse than getting caught by a FAKE or a COUNTERFEIT. There’s nothing WORSE then buying something you think is the GENUINE ARTICLE but then finding it’s a COUNTERFEIT/ or NOT THE REAL THING.

You don’t mind BUYING A FAKE when you KNOW IT IS A FAKE. You can go to Parklea Markets after church today, and buy all sorts of things you KNOW are .

Bolle sunglasses for $5. Rusty jumpers for $15. Christian Dior handbags for $20. They LOOK like the real thing. At least for a few months, until they start to FALL APART.

You’re not surprised/ because you could see through the counterfeit.

Other counterfeits aren’t quite so harmless.

Apparently, the security of my bank account has been compromised. So said an email that arrived during the week.

All I needed to do was reply with my account details and PIN number, and they could fix the problem.

The problem was/ the email said it was from the CHASE AMP bank. And I’ve never HEARD of the Chase AMP bank, let alone held an ACCOUNT with them. REAL banks NEVER send emails. And they NEVER initiate a request for your account details.

These emails are the latest scam. A counterfeit. A trap for some unsuspecting, trusting person. Who’ll reply with their account details. Only to find that when they DO check their bank balance. There really HAS been a security compromise. And they’ve been cleaned out.

Separating REALITY from COUNTERFEIT. Truth from lies. And if you can’t tell the difference, there can be TERRIBLE CONSEQUENCES.

Well what stands at the heart of this passage today is the idea of COUNTERFEIT. And as we will see it is a COUNTERFEIT that the WORLD seems ALL TOO WILLING TO BUY.

And while, on the SURFACE, it might look like it’s a mistake that doesn’t do too much damage. Like buying a pair of $5 Bolle Sunnies from Parklea markets. Revelation shows us the REALITY.

Falling for the counterfeit rather than the truth, when it comes to God, has LY consequences.

The setting of today’s passage is that the scroll is finally ready to be revealed. The seals have been opened. The trumpets have sounded. The Lamb has passed to scroll on to his angel, whose given it to John. And now John’s about to reveal what he sees.

And just like the seals and the trumpets, we’re going to see a similar pattern. Although it’s not quite as obvious. There’ll be a short introduction, then a series of six, then an interlude. Then the seventh vision.

And while the seals and the trumpets have focussed on how the future will impact God’s people, These visions take a step back, and a step OUT. And show us what’s going on at a UNIVERSAL or HEAVENLY level. It’s the BIG PICTURE STUFF.

So let’s begin.

And as usual, it’s important to remember to look at the BIG PICTURE. And not to focus too much on the detail. The try to picture what’s going on in your minds, rather than concentrate on the words themselves.

Pre-history/ introduction – A Woman, a child and a dragon (12:1-6)

Ch 12 begins with an introductory vision. It’s like getting the listeners UP TO SPEED. A quick recap of history. In typical Revelation-style.

Picture it with me.

John sees a woman. She’s clothed with the Sun, she’s got the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. And she’s pregnant, and she’s about to give birth. Now just imagine it.

And she’s crying out in pain, when suddenly this huge -red dragon comes into view. A horrible looking scaly thing with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads, and this huge dragon is flailing around with its tail and knocking the stars out of the sky. Special effects you wouldn’t even see in any Sci-Fi movie.

And it says in verse 4 the dragon’s only got ONE THING IN MIND. And that’s to wait for the woman to give birth, and to grab this newborn baby and eat it up.

And the woman gives birth. And we know why the dragon wants to kill the baby, because this is a baby born to be a real king. King of Kings. It’s a boy, says verse 5; a male child born to rule the nations with an iron sceptre.

And suddenly, in this vision, just as the horrible seven headed dragon’s going to eat up the one who’s born to be king, verse 5 says the child is ed up to God and to his throne.

And then the woman runs off and hides in the desert, because God’s already prepared a place; and she’s taken care of for three and a half years – 1260 days.

The woman represents Israel – God’s people. The Messiah comes from her. The dragon represents Satan. Who wants to destroy the baby. Kill or be killed. If he lets the child get away, Satan suspects his time will be over.

But God was victorious. Jesus returned home to the throne. After his and resurrection. And left the woman. Alone. In the desert.

Remember, she represents God’s people. Which, in a way, is John and his hearers. And us too. Taken care of for 3 ½ years. Which you might remember from last week/ is the whole time period between Christ’s ascension and his return.

More on her in a moment.

But what about the Dragon? He’s missed out on destroying the child.

  1. The Dragon’s Defeat in Heaven (12:7-12)

And the FIRST history describes what a tragic miss that was. From v7. Picture THIS vision. It’s the dragon’s defeat in heaven.

There’s a great war in heaven between the Archangel Michael and HIS angels/ and the dragon and HIS angels. But the contest is over before it starts. And the dragon and his angels are HURLED TO EARTH.

And listen to the commentary that goes with the picture. V10.

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,

and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been HURLED DOWN. 11 They overcame him BY THE OF THE LAMB and BY THE WORD OF THEIR TESTIMONY; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from .

Satan’s been defeated IN HEAVEN. That happened in Christ’s and resurrection. That’s what’s symbolised by the war between the angels of Satan and Michael.

And so all Satan has left is to try to win a few battles on earth. Mild skirmishes mopping up. Now that the WAR is over.

And they’re the events played out in the history between Christ’s return to HEAVEN/ and his return to JUDGE.

But before we move on to the second history. Let me make two points. The first is about the dragon’s weapons. Look there in v9. Satan LEADS THE WHOLE WORLD ASTRAY. He’s a deceiver.

When you’ve already been defeated. When the strength of the opposition is WAY beyond yours. That’s all you’ve got. To DECEIVE. To make it appear you’re holding some cards worth having. When you’re holding NOTHING.

Like the British Royal Airforce during the WW2. They made CARDBOARD planes. They didn’t have enough of their own. And they deceived the German reconnosance. And made it appear they were stronger than they really were.

And it’s the same with SATAN. He DECEIVES. It’s the way he’s always worked. Right even back in the Garden of Eden.

Can you REALLY trust God’s promises. Can you really trust the cross? Or do you have to add your own good works – just to make sure.

Does he REALLY want what’s best for you? Is obedience REALLY the best way to life abundant life? Is marital faithfulness the best way to a great life? Is generous giving to the work of the gospel the best way to a life of blessing? Will God really provide your needs is you don’t worry about what you’ll eat or drink or wear?

All sorts of ways Satan deceives us.

And when he’s SUCCEEDED. And we’ve fallen for his lies. He’s the expert at ACCUSING us. Crown Prosecutor. Presenting the evidence. Playing the hidden video footage.

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

And yet for all his wiles, we forget that he’s LOST! And you can see WHY when you look at the weapons of the saints.

Yes, Satan does accuse. And yes, the evidence is damning. But the verdict from the Judge has come back NOT GUILTY. The saints are victorious. Why? Look there in v11.

Rev 12:11: 11 They overcame him by the of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;  NIV

God’s people recognise their guilt. But they stand firm, trusting in the of the lamb. Trusting that God has counted as acceptable punishment Jesus’ on the cross on our behalf. And so he declares the guilty , the sinners forgiven, the enemies friends. And the accuser has lost.

And as we proclaim the good news of that victory to OTHERS, then we BUILD that victory. Satan suffers ANOTHER blow.

We play a part in the victory over Satan as we trust the work of Jesus, and as we proclaim his message. That’s the reality, even when things look far different.

  1. The Dragon’s Pursuit on Earth (12:13-17)

On to the second history. The story of the dragon and the woman continues. It’s a typical Revelation summary of the war on earth between Satan and God’s people. Picture it with me.

The dragon pursues the woman. Who’s given wings to escape. She’s protected for three and a half times. There’s that number again. Half the complete period of seven. A time of persecution shortened because God’s merciful.

And the dragon tries to catch her with a torrent of water from his mouth, but once again it’s no good. The dragon is enraged, defeated yet again. And stomps off in search of the woman’s children. Christians.

  1. The Dragon and the beast (13:1-10)

Which brings us straight to the NEXT history. Because the dragon calls in reinforcements. The beast. He’s standing on the shore of the sea. And out of the sea comes a beast. An awful, fearsome, powerful creature.

He had a wound that SEEMED to be , but it had been healed. A pretend miracle.

And the dragon gave the beast his power and throne and authority.

This is where COUNTERFEITS come in. Because the dragon and the beast are described in terms of a counterfeit God the Father and God the Son.

Because God the Father has begotten the Son. HE’s given him authority and power and a throne. And the Son really HAS been killed and resurrected.

But the dragon and the beast just LOOK like it.

But even so, it’s pretty convincing. Look from v3

Rev 13:3-4: The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. 4 Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?”  NIV

The beast is the Roman Empire – or its Emperors. And when people look at the power of HUMAN kingdoms or kings. And BOW before them. They settle for a COUNTERFEIT. A fake. A pretender.

Someone who PROMISES MUCH, but can’t deliver. Because it’s nothing more than a servant of THE DRAGON.

And that’s just as true whether it’s the ROMAN empire and its Caesars. Or the empires of materialism, and consumerism, or humanism, or environmentalism, or technology, or modern medicine, or new age spirituality, or even a new emphasis on family and getting the balance right.

Bowing the knee to THOSE things/ in contrast to bowing the knee to the REAL God/ is nothing more than swallowing the lie of the deceiver, that ancient serpent, the devil, Satan, who leads the whole world astray.

  1. The other beast / false prophet (13:11-18)

But the beast isn’t his ONLY deception. Look onto the NEXT history. Number four. It’s ANOTHER beast. Or as he’s described in the next few chapters – the false prophet. He’s the mouthpiece – the publicity officer for the beast.

He SPOKE like a dragon. He exercised authority on behalf of the beast. He made people worship the beast. He performed miraculous signs which deceived people. He even made an image of the beast SPEAK, to con people into worshipping it. And those who didn’t he caused to be killed.

And he forced all those who didn’t belong to God to receive a MARK. A seal. A sign of the dragon’s ownership. The number of the beast. 666.

This beast represents the counterfeit Holy Spirit. Notice how he mimics what the Holy Spirit does? He points to the beast, like the Holy Spirit points to Jesus. He performs miracles. Like the Holy Spirit does through the apostles. He speaks and acts – the same way God speaks and acts through his Holy Spirit.

And he puts a mark on those who belong to the dragon. In just the same way/ the Holy Spirit HIMSELF is the mark on those who belong to God. The Holy Spirit is the seal of ownership, the downpayment from God guaranteeing our inheritance to come.

And if you don’t have this mark, you can’t buy or sell. You won’t fit in. Which descirbes pretty well how Christians sometimes feel in the world.

This month’s Australian Presbyterian carries the story of 18 month old Azerbaijani Luka Eyvazov who has been refused a birth certificate because his Christian parents have given him a Christian name. Without one, Luka cannot go to kindergarden or school, get treatment at a hospital or travel abroad.

Luka’s father was encouraged, instead, to choose the name of a famous Azerbaijani poet or writer. He replied “Children are from God. Luke, as one of the gospel-writers, will still be famous when all the poets and writers are long forgotten.”

Life will be difficult for little Luka because of the name he carries. Which is nothing more than God promised here in Revelation.

And it’s nothing more than what WE can expect. We won’t fit in when we refuse to pay cash to avoid tax. When we won’t shoplift with our mates, or get drunk at parties. When we won’t take the promotion because it means weekends and late nights working rather than doing things for God.

Let’s get practical. Who does this false prophet represent? If the FIRST beast represents institutions who attract our worship, then the false prophet is those things which highlight or point to, or advertise these things. The false prophet might be education, or the internet. It might be advertising or TV.

The false prophet is seductive. And we need to watch for his arguments and seductions.

  1. The Lamb and the 144,000 (14:1-5)

History 5 describes those who DON’T have the mark of THE BEAST. Instead the carry ANOTHER mark. Look at Ch 14 v1.

Rev 14:1-2: 14:1 Then I looked, and 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.  NIV

They belong to the Lamb and his father. And while they miss out on buying and selling, they’ve got exclusive rights on SOMETHING FAR GREATER. A new song to God and the Lamb. V3

Rev 14:3-5: 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. 5 No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.  NIV

They’re distinctive. Holy, Pure. They’ve been purchased for God, Payed for by the of the Lamb. Redeemed.

And they’re standing on Mt Zion. Standing with their Saviour – with the Lamb. And they’re singing a song before the throne.

  1. The three angels (14:6-11)

And then, into history 6, an angel comes along. With a message for the world. A message which God’s people have already taken to heart. The eternal gospel. V7. Fear God and give him glory

Rev 14:7: Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”  NIV

And then another angel gives the flip-side. V9.

Rev 14:9-11: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name. NIV

A dreadful picture. And one that should make us weep. If we really catch the significance of the words.

Interlude: Comfort for the Saints (14:12-13)

And just like the seals and the trumpets. After a series of six, we get a break. An interlude. A chance to catch our breath. You can see it there in v12. What this all means for us.

Rev 14:11-13: ” 12 This calls for PATIENT ENDURANCE on the part of the saints who OBEY GOD’S COMMANDMENTS and REMAIN FAITHFUL to Jesus.  : 13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: BLESSED are the who die in the Lord from now on.”  NIV

  1. Judgment Day (14:14-20)

And, while the picture of judgment continues into the seventh history. Another description on judgment day. This is the message for John’s hearers. And for us.

In the midst of counterfeits. Of things which LOOK powerful. Or permanent. Or effective. Or which promise happiness, or success.

They’re only pointing us to judgment. And desctruciton. And punishment.

And so, we need to patiently endure. Keep our eyes fixed on the REAL Lord. The REAL Saviour. Keep obeying. Keep faithful. Keep trusting HIS promises. That TRUE blessing is only found in him.

Revelation 17-19:10: A Tale of Two Women

It’s very important to CHOOSE THE RIGHT TEAM.

This week the Blacktown Sun carried the story of an up-and-coming Blacktown soccer player. A young socceroo. Mark Milligan. Who’s become involved in A TUG-A-WAR between his FIRST club – the Blacktown City Demons, playing in the NSW Premier League. And Sydney FC, the brand-new team in the new NATIONAL competition – the A-League. Which kicks off in June.

For the last of months, he’s been in pre-season training for the FIRST half of the week with Sydney FC. And then on Thursday, he comes back to Blacktown to train with THEM, and prepare for the week-end’s game.

He’s torn between loyalty to his FIRST club – the one he has a solid contract with. And the prospect of building his career in a NATIONAL competition, and maybe beyond.

Each club reckons they’ve got a legal right to him. And there’s a tug-o-war. It’s culminated this week, in Milligan threatening Blacktown with legal action if they DON’T release him. And the club promising that they WON’T release him until they’re LEGALLY obliged to/ on June 30. Which will be too late to sign with his new team. All very .

And for Mark Milligan, there’s a lot riding on the outcome. It’s very important to CHOOSE THE RIGHT TEAM.

But if it’s important to choose the right SOCCER team, it’s WAY MORE important to choose the right team HERE IN REVELATION.

And there’s only TWO TEAMS TO CHOOSE FROM. There’s no sitting on the fence. There’s black/ and white. There’s the side of the DRAGON. Satan. Those who bear HIS NAME. Let’s call THAT team THE DEMONS.

And then there’s the army of the Lamb. Those whose names have been written in the book of life since before the creation of the world. THE SAINTS.

AND THESE CHAPTERS TODAY. PROCLAIM THE MESSAGE THAT WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING THE RIGHT TEAM. IT’S THE SAINTS YOU WANT TO BE WITH. AND THE DEMONS YOU WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH.

It’s a message that’s summarised in Ch 18 v4. Look at it with me.:

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “COME OUT of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; 5 for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.  NIV

Mark Milligan wants to come out from the City Demons. And we need to AS WELL.

Cut your ties. Drop THAT team like a hot potato. And make sure you’re part of THE OTHER TEAM instead. Sign the contract. Because there are LY CONSEQUENCES if you don’t.

And to help argue the case, God use SATIRICAL CARTOONS.

You may not know it, but you’re actually very familiar with the imagery and purpose of the pictures in these chapters. Because they’re just the sort of thing you see in the newspapers.

A satirical cartoon uses an image to represent a reality. Here’s an old one. Uncle Sam represents the United States. And the bear represents Russia or communism. And by highlighting certain characteristics you MOCK. Satirise, Ridicule.

So as far as John Howard goes. He’s short. He’s got the square glasses, and the bushy eyebrows. Or Peter Beattie. He’s got the blond hair. And that manic grin.

And the ultimate aim of satirical cartoons is to DISEMPOWER. To MOCK or MAKE FUN OF. To show the REALITY, the FRAILITY.

The person or organisation ISN’T all-powerful. OR always RIGHT.

1. A Satirical Cartoon (17)

And it’s the same purpose here in Revelation. Look at it with me. Ch 17. A satirical cartoon. A snap-shot. Of the team you DON’T want to be part of.

And, just like a cartoon, the REALITY/ is REPRESENTED by something else. In this case. A woman. Picture it with me.

She’s a great . The kings of the earth committed ery with her. A high class call . And she’s so gorgeous the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with her attractions and behaviour.

And she’s described sitting on a awful, filthy, scarlet beast. With seven heads and ten horns. And the woman’s dressed for partying. Designer gown of purple and scarlet. Dripping in jewels.

And she’s holding a goblet. But rather than filled with fine champagne, it’s filled with filthy, rotten disgusting things. Like maggots or sewerage. The fruit of her eries.

And as you look closer. there’s a label on her forehead, just like a cartoonist might add. Just in case you can’t work out who she represents. “Mystery. Babylon the Great. The Mother of s.”

And the woman’s holding her party goblet. Full of FILTH, rather than champagne. But she’s still DRUNK. Look at v7. She’s drunk with the of the saints, those who witnessed about Jesus.

She’s no harmless party . She’s a y-thirsty, ous ENEMY OF GOD’S PEOPLE.

But look at the title. According to her title. This enemy isn’t a single individual. But a CITY. Babylon. But Babylon as a city, and a nation was ANCIENT HISTORY. for 500 years. It’s not much relevance to John’s hearers. And even LESS to US.

No wonder the sign says MYSTERY.

But wait. There’s more. The mystery is she’s not JUST Babylon. ONE city. But MANY.

Have a look at what I mean. The angel goes on to explain the mystery. And down in v9. He says;

9 “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. NIV

And that’s OBVIOUSLY talking about ROME. Rome was WIDELY known as the city on seven hills. And so, the woman represents ROME, AS WELL AS Babylon.

We’ve seen that principle all the way through Revelation. Symbols don’t just represent ONE THING. But many. Even right there in v9 and 10. Not only do the heads on the crimson dragon represent seven HILLS, but they ALSO represent seven KINGS.

And if you flip back to Ch 11 v7. You’ll see a GREAT CITY described there. The same city as HERE. It’s where the bodies of the two faithful witnesses lie. And look what it says about the city in v8.

Rev 11:8-9: 8 Their bodies will lie in the street of THE GREAT CITY, which is FIGURATIVELY called SODOM and EGYPT, WHERE ALSO THEIR LORD WAS CRUCIFIED.  NIV

So, we’ve got a great city. That’s called BABYLON. But represents ROME. But is ALSO Sodom. Or Egypt. Or EVEN JERUSALEM – where Jesus was crucified.

And what do all those cities have in common? What are the characteristics of them which CAUSE them to be likened to a great ?

They all encourage people to worship OTHER Gods. Or DISCOURAGE them from worshipping the REAL God. They’re enemies of God’s people. them. Oppressing them. Enslaving them.

Sodom. The archetypal WICKED city. Destroyed because of its immorality and ity. God rained down burning sulfur on it, and destroyed it.

Or Egypt. Slave-driver and Captor of God’s people. Pharaoh refused to let them go. So God rescued them. Brought them out with miracles. And punished the Egyptians. First-born sons killed.

And then there’s Babylon. Where the Jews were exiled. For 70 years slaves to Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah calls it the city who lives by many waters, and who is rich in treasures.

And finally Jerusalem. Perhaps the shock inclusion. The surprise selection. The place of God’s temple – his dwelling place. But their greatest sin is the one highlighted there in Ch 11. They crucified the Lord. The Messiah and Saviour. And they KILLED him.

And if you look over into Ch 18, it’s full of OT parallels involving OTHER wicked cities. In particular, we can see echoes of TYRE, who Ezekiel prophesied against. A PROSPEROUS TRADING city, she trusted her wealth and connections. And rejected God.

And John’s hearers would EASILY be able to put ROME onto this list too. Rome who ordered citizens to bow down before a statue of the emperor. Rome who punished with those who refused to name Caesar as their Lord, and to bend the knee. Rome, who’s hands were covered with the of Christians.

Rome, who people looked to for prosperity and peace. For trade and travel. For riches and protection.

And we can ADD to the list. The seven cities John’s hearers were living in. Each had their own weaknesses. Idolatries. Temptations. Encouragements to turn away from God, and follow them instead.

Or in our OWN time. Sydney. With all it’s temptations and deceptions. All it’s lies and scandal. So much GOOD about living here. But also a place which can EASILY lead God’s people astray.

That’s the cartoon. The freeze-frame. The repulsiveness and -thirsty nature of the city which sets itself up against God. Serving Satan’s purposes. The seductiveness and power and beauty that are only a charade. The reality is seen in the cartoon.

The result (17:12-18)

From v12, the cartoon begins to move. We see some action. The end result for this harlot.

She’s sitting on the beast. And the horns of the beast represent ten kings. And, though the kings are MANY AND DIVERSE, they have ONE PURPOSE. To give their power and authority to the beast. To throw their weight behind a campaign. A campaign to make war against the Lamb.

Diversity yet united. Enemies of Christians make some strange bed-fellows. The case against those two Christian pastors in Victoria, teaching about Islam, and charged with inciting religious intolerance. The complaints came from Muslims. But then the secular and humanistic civil libertarians ran with it. Two groups with nothing else in common than a hatred of the exclusive claims of Christianity.

But what’s God saying here about that sort of agenda? It can’t succeed. V13

Rev 17:13-14: 13 They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will make war against the Lamb, BUT THE LAMB WILL OVERCOME THEM because HE is Lord of lords and King of kings-and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers. NIV

Jesus WILL be victorious. In the end, EVERY human or Satanic enemy of Jesus will be destroyed. Look from v15. The unholy alliance, united in its war against the Lamb, will DISINTEGRATE.

The beast and the horns will turn on the . The people she rules will her. They’ll bring her to ruin. Leave her , eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.

And God is behind it all. V17

Rev 17:17-18: 17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish HIS PURPOSE by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled.   NIV

The God of JUSTICE and WISDOM brings about his true and right purposes through the actions of wicked men. And the woman will BE DESTROYED.

2. A Funeral Lament (18)

And that’s the song that gets taken up into Ch 18. Another angel who shouts.

“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird. 3 For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her eries. The kings of the earth committed ery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”  NIV

From the cartoon of the drunken party , the image changes to a destroyed city. A ghost-town. Tumbleweed blowing down the main street. Laid waste because of her erous sin. Down to v5.

5 for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. 6 Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup. 7 Give her as much and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.’ 8 Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: , mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.

The appearance of beauty, fun and fulfilment are seen for what they are. Ugly, repulsive self-centred, God-forsaken wickedness. The appearance of power and control and permanence are seen for what they are. Passing, fragile, defeat.

And the rest of Ch 18 is a funeral lament. By those who’ll miss the woman the MOST.

From v9. The kings of the earth who SHARED HER LUXURY. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off, and cry, “Woe, O great city. Babylon, city of power. In one hour, your doom has come”

Happy to enjoy her in the good times, the parties. Her wealth and comfort. But quick to DISTANCE themselves when things go wrong.

Or from v11. The merchants. Sellers of fine produce. Luxury items. They’re weeping and mourning TOO. But it’s not because the woman is lost. But because they’re BUSINESS is lost. Their tears are selfish ones. They mourn because NO-ONE BUYS THEIR CARGO anymore.

There’s an incredible self-centredness to a materialistic society. A self-destructive weakness in the whole system. People are happy to work together as long as there’s a buck in it. But that’s all they share in common. A love of money.

See how quickly a business cooperative will disintegrate when one group thinks they’re missing out. Profit will always come first over loyalty or unity.

And down in v15, the merchants too, stand FAR OFF and weep and mourn, “Woe, Woe O great city. Such great wealth destroyed in ONE HOUR.”

And then in v17, it’s the turn of THE SEA CAPTAINS. They mourn too. Was there ever a city like this great city?

But, once again, their distress is entirely self-centred.:

“‘Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin! :  NIV

Crying for their lost profits.

Their lament is taken up by ANOTHER angel in v21. The great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. Gone, without a trace.

No more music or celebration. No more construction. No more manufacturing. No lights or activity. No weddings or parties. All gone.

It’s a vivid picture. The satirical cartoon. And the future judgment. The result.

And the purpose is for God’s people TO AVOID HER TRAPS. The warning is there. Back in v4. We heard it before.

Rev 18:4: “COME OUT OF HER, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues;   NIV

But what does it MEAN for us to COME OUT of Babylon? It’s obviously not GEOGRAPHICAL. Not about where YOU LIVE. Because there’s Babylon EVERYWHERE.

It’s about not being DECEIVED by the LIES and DECEPTION of Babylon. It APPEARS to be complete and full and eternal and satisfying. But the REALITY is different.

And the sorts of things we should AVOID are the very things the mourners MISS.

The kings of the earth miss THE LUXURY. The self-indulgent self-satisfaction of sensual pleasure. Come out from that. It WON’T satisfy. And it won’t last.

The merchants miss THE GOODS. THE THINGS. POSSESSIONS. Trinkets. Not the everyday necessities. But the things which make life BETTER. More comfortable. The new gadgets, equipment. Things to SPOIL ourselves.

Come out from that. See the REALITY of these things. They won’t satisfy. They won’t last.

Or the sea-captains. They miss the wealth. The money. The financial independence. They think it brings security. And permanence. And confidence.

Come out from that. Because money brings NONE of those things. It only takes a moment – a freak , a stock market crash – and you’ve lost it all. It Won’t satisfy. It WON’T last.

It’s all these attitudes which makes Babylon the seductive, destructive force that it is. Whether it’s BLATANT, or SECRETIVE. When we put our trust and desire and confidence and hope and future in things other than God HIMSELF, then judgment is SURE.

So COME OUT FROM HER.

3. A Wedding Celebration

But it’s not just a NEGATIVE picture that’s being painted. In Ch 19, we see a wedding celebration.

A great multitude in heaven singing

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, : 2 for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great who corrupted the earth by her eries. He has avenged on her the of his servants.”  NIV

Now, there’s something mildly unsettling about CHEERING at the destruction of the great . To celebrate the JUSTICE and JUDGMENT of God is not really an acceptable thing to do these days. God’s LOVE seems to be MUCH more popular.

Yet, such an attitude really misunderstands justice. It fails to see SIN the way God sees it. It fails to recognise the insult to God when sin is committed. It fails to recognise the great HARM that the ’s caused by shedding the of God’s servants.

When you’ve been offended and wronged. To see justice DONE is a wonderful thing. Think about the looks of relief on the faces of the victim’s family when the guilty criminal is sentenced to life imprisonment. Never to be released. YES! That’s justice. That’s the way it SHOULD BE.

Back in Ch 6, the souls of the martyrs pleading with God to BRING JUSTICE. To AVENGE their pain. “How long, Sovereign Lord, Holy and True until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our ?”

And here in Ch 19, we celebrate the ANSWER to that plea. Hallelujah, the smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.

And while we see the FUNERAL for ONE woman. We also see the MARRIAGE of ANOTHER. A woman who’s the COMPLETE OPPOSITE.

The multitude have SOMETHING ELSE to cheer about. V6.

Rev 19:6-9

: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For THE WEDDING OF THE LAMB HAS COME, AND HIS BRIDE HAS MADE HERSELF READY. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) 9 Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'”  NIV

One woman who’s an eress, drunk on the of the saints. Dress in rich and gawdy clothes. And another who’s dressed in a wedding gown of fine linen. Righteous acts. Pure clean goodness versus y, rotten impurities.

And while the plays the field. Sleeping with every king around. THIS bride has Kept Herself Pure. Reserved for one husband alone. The Lamb himself. Jesus.

Do you love Jesus like that? Are you looking forward to that day?

Do you Serve him like that? Are you preparing yourself for that wedding banquet with a life of obedience – righteous acts – that will be seen by Jesus as fine, white linen?

Which woman will you choose? Which team will you follow? Whose side are you on?

Revelation 19:11-20:15: The End of the World As We Know It:

It was only four and a bit years ago that the year 2000 rolled around. Which was a bit of a non-event really. At least for me. MOST New Years are like that for me – I rarely stay up ‘til midnight.

But it was a REAL let-down for those people expecting HAVOC. You remember the hype? Computers would crash, planes would fall out of the sky. Power stations would grind to a halt. Water and sewerage would stop, and banks would close.

And there were people who stockpiled money, food, water, petrol.

But when Jan 1 rolled around, and things were exactly the same. I think some people were actually DISAPPOINTED. Or maybe it was just embarrassment!

But it’s a disappointment that was NOTHING compared to the disappointment in some CHRISTIAN circles. Because there were people all over the world predicting that the year 2000 would be when Jesus would return. When the end of the world would begin.

And it all turned on the way they read these few verses in Revelation. To do with THE MILLENNIUM. A thousand years.

Mind you, they weren’t on their own. People have been trying to work out the date of Christ’s return. And when the millennium would START. Or when it would END. Almost since the time Jesus LEFT.

Apparently the year 1000 was a big one for this type of speculation. During the last few months of 999, worldly goods were sold and given to the poor; swarms of pilgrims headed east to meet the Lord at Jerusalem; buildings went unrepaired; crops were left unplanted; and criminals were set free from jails.

But when the year 999 AD turned into 1000 AD, nothing happened.

Today we’re looking at a section of the Bible which has created more disagreement among Christians than perhaps any other. It’s the only place in the whole Bible that mentions the Millennium. The thousand year period. And it’s only mentioned four times in passing. All within six verses.

And it’s an extraordinarily difficult passage to be SURE about. In fact, Bible-believing Christians disagree at almost every point. But three things are certain. And this is the message I want you to take away above everything else. Here it is. Are you listening? (It’s there at the bottom of the talk outline.)

Some details might be hazy, but three things are certain – judgment is coming,

Jesus is victorious, and

Satan is bound, defeated and destroyed.

Say it with me.

Judgment is coming,

Jesus is victorious, and

Satan is bound, defeated and destroyed.

I want to do something different today. I want to skim through the passage. And then quickly outline the three main positions about the Millennium. I’ll tell you which of these I think is the best option.

Then we’ll stop, and give some time for questions. Then we’ll spend a few more minutes, putting aside the specific questions about the millennium, looking at what God wants us to say to us from the passage.

Scene 1

Let’s start at the beginning. Scene 1. Ch 19 v11. It describes Christ’s physical return. John sees heaven standing open, and a rider on a white horse. It’s Christ himself.

He’s a fearsome sight. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. His robe is dipped in . His name is the word of God, and out of his mouth comes a sharp sword to strike down the nations.

And backing him up are the armies of heaven, riding white horses too. Wearing robes of fine linen. Which we know from earlier are the righteous deeds of the saints. A pure lifestyle.

And he’s riding out in WARFARE against the nations, and ruling them with an iron rod.

But it’s no contest. The armies are defeated, and the beast and the false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire. And the rest of the armies are killed with the sword in Christ’s mouth.

But notice it’s not a LITERAL battle. They might be singing ONWARD Christian SOLDIERS, but they’re not carrying -launchers as they do it!

There’s only ONE WEAPON on display here. It’s the sword coming out of the mouth of Jesus. Which we know is THE WORD OF GOD. Which, in THIS picture, is an instrument of JUDGMENT.

Scene Two

And, in another striking image, Scene 2, the vultures are called in, and there’s an of gluttony. As they feast and gorge themselves on the bodies. All those who bore the mark of the beast, and who rebelled against the rider on the white horse.

It’s a picture that’s borrowed from Ez 38 and 39. What God’s promised for those who are the enemies of God’s people. Gog and Magog. And he’s promising it again.

Scene 3

And THEN. In Ch 20, we see the idea of the Millennium introduced. The thousand years. Scene 3. What John sees next.

An angel comes from heaven, holding a great chain. He wraps up the dragon, Satan. Threw him into the abyss, locks it and seals it.

And have a look at WHY. V3. To keep him from DECEIVING THE NATIONS ANYMORE until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

Scene 4

But then the scene changes again. Scene 4. Thrones in heaven. With judges seated on them. The souls of martyrs – those who’d testified about Jesus, and been killed because of it. And they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The same period of time that Satan is bound.

Scene 5

And then, from v7, ANOTHER scene change. At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be released for a short time. And he’ll deceive the nations, and they’ll assemble to fight against God’s people.

But the battle will be over before it starts. Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire, to join his two assistants the beast and the false prophet.

Scene 6

And our final scene is from v11. God’s great white throne of judgment. Earth and heaven flee from him. The sea gives up its for him.

And all humanity stands before him. And are judged in one of two ways. Depending on whether their names were in the book of life. To be thrown into the lake of fire. Or to be Spared.

That’s a quick flyover of this section. And so you’ve got some idea how the thousand years, or the millennium, fits in.

(Any questions there?)

The three main views about the millennium are called pre-millennialism, post-millennialism, and a-millennialism.

Pre and Post mean before and after. And they refer to where Christ’s return will be in relation to the millennium.

Pre-Mill

So PRE-MILL people say that FIRST Christ will return, and THEN the millennium will begin. The millennium will be a time when Christ has physically returned to earth, and his followers will rule with him, either from heaven following the rapture, or on earth. But the rest of humanity won’t rule. But they won’t be judged yet either.

And pre-mill people are looking for a range of SIGNS – like a great tribulation, or literal promises about the restoration of Israel,  or signs of the anti-Christ – before Christ’s return.

I believe pre-millennialists make mistakes at a whole range of levels – interpreting OT prophecy, and reading Revelation literally for example.

But the main assumption pre-millennialists make, here in Rev, is thinking that THE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS IN THE VISION is the SAME as THE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS IN HISTORY. They treat Revelation as a TIMELINE which readers can decode to know the future.

But we’ve seen all the way through/ that Revelation’s not LIKE that. It RE-TELLS the same events from different camera-angles, and in different ways. Just because John SEES things in a particular order, it doesn’t mean they occur that way in history.

Have a look at what I mean. In Ch 19 v21, the rest of the armies who fight against Christ were killed with the sword from his mouth. Now, that’s figurative – the sword is the word of God, and it’s probably talking about judgment. But even so – there’s no-one left to deceive. They’re all . It’s FINAL. Munched up by the vultures.

But then, down in Ch 20 v3, Satan is bound, and thrown into the abyss TO KEEP HIM FROM DECEIVING THE NATIONS. But if the events are consecutive, then there’re no nations left to DECEIVE. The final battle needs to happen AFTER Satan is bound.

The vision doesn’t show consecutive historical events.

So, for various reasons I don’t think pre-millennialism is the right way of putting the Bible together.

Post-Mill

Then there’s POST-MILLENNIALISM. In that view, Christ returns AFTER the period represented by the thousand years.

What’s more, this period of Satan being bound, and the martyrs coming to life and reigning with Christ, WILL BE/ or IS/ Or HAS BEEN (depending on when you think it starts) a time of UNPRECEDENTED FRUITFULNESS for the gospel. A golden age. Cultures and countries will be transformed. As a MAJORITY of the world’s population will become Christians.

They interpret v4 as describing an EARTHLY reign.

But it seems much more likely to me/ that v4 is talking about what’s going on IN HEAVEN while events during the thousand years happen on earth.

Many Presbyterians over the centuries have held this view. But I can’t see the biblical evidence for this rosy picture of Christ’s golden age of rule.

I think there’s a better view.  And that’s Amillennialism. Both Pre and Post-mill understand prophecy –especially OT prophecy, I think, incorrectly. They go looking for LITERAL fulfilment in the first heavens and earth, when what God’s promising is SYMBOLIC fulfilment. Or it’s fulfilment that will only come with the NEW heavens and earth.

Things like the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. Of rivers and fruit trees. Of lions laying down with lambs. Of freedom from sickness and sin.

But I don’t think that’s the right way to read prophecy, as a general rule.

A-Mill, like post-mill, holds that Christ will return AFTER the period of the millennium. The major difference is the way it understands the millennium. It doesn’t see this period as semi-curse-free or suffering-free. Or of wonderful victory.

A-millennialists see that we’re living in the millennium at the MOMENT. It’s a period where Satan has been DEFEATED, but not DESTROYED. BOUND, but still wriggling and kicking.

And that’s certainly the way I see the rest of the Bible describing this present age.

Listen to what Jesus says about the time he was heading towards. John 12:31:

31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; NOW THE PRINCE OF THIS WORLD WILL BE DRIVEN OUT.  32 But I, WHEN I AM LIFTED UP FROM THE EARTH, will draw all men to myself.”

It was through his ON THE CROSS that the JUDGEMENT of the WORLD TOOK PLACE. It was through his ON THE CROSS that SATAN was DEFEATED.

Paul says much the same thing in COLOSSIANS: Colossians 2:15

15 And having DISARMED the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

And I think that Jesus is saying a SIMILAR THING when he talks about SATAN BEING BOUND in Matthew 12:29. Jesus says that he has BOUND the STRONG MAN. And there is a SENSE in which he is PLUNDERING HIS HOUSE.

HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN? HOW IS SATAN’S HOUSE PLUNDERED? SATAN’S HOUSE IS PLUNDERED through the PREACHING of the GOSPEL. WHEN PEOPLE COME TO FAITH IN JESUS they are NO LONGER a part of SATAN’S KINGDOM – they then BELONG TO JESUS.

In Luke 10 we read about JESUS sending out the 72 to preach the message of the Kingdom. They come back and report to Jesus. Look at what he says to them: Luke 10:18-20

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.  20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Now that DOESN’T MEAN that we live in a SATAN FREE WORLD. But it DOES MEAN that SATAN is a BEATEN FOE and that we need FEAR NOTHING FROM HIM.

YES. There will still be SIN and SUFFERING. There will still be those who DIE because of the WORD OF GOD and TESTIMONY of JESUS. We will still have to RESIST BABYLON’S SEDUCTIONS.

But SATAN is BOUND. His HOUSE is BEING PLUNDERED. He’s like a vicious dog on a chain. He’s tied up. He has no power as long as you stay clear of him. But if you get too close you’ll feel his teeth.

That, I believe, is the right way to be understanding the period of the millennium. It fits what this passage actually SAYS. And it fits what the rest of the Bible says about the time between Christ’s two appearances.

(Questions)

What I want to do now is spend the last few minutes talking about what we DO know from this passage. Let me make three points (Do you remember what they are?)

  1. Judgment is coming,
  2. Jesus is victorious, and
  3. Satan is bound, defeated and destroyed.

Judgment is coming,

First, judgment is coming. Right at the end of our passage. God’s great white throne. And everyone, without exception, will be judged. Even the . They’ll be raised to stand before God, and the evidence will be presented.

Books will be opened Every thought, and action. Every word. Every look. Every secret desire. Every rash and hasty decision. Every regret.

Evidence of guilt or innocence.

But God’s decision isn’t based on WHAT YOU DO. Because there’s ANOTHER book. And there’s nothing in this book except NAMES. It’s the book of life. Everyone whom God has chosen – destined – for life with him.

MAKE SURE YOUR NAME IS THERE. I can’t make that plea STRONGLY ENOUGH.

Make sure you’ve turned from your rebellion. Make sure you’re living with God’s Son, Jesus, as your king.

Because if you DON’T, here’s what’s in store for you. V14

Rev 20:14-15: 14 Then and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second . 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.  NIV

Judgment is coming. Make sure your name is in God’s book of life.

2. Jesus is Victorious

Two. Jesus is victorious. It’s an amazing picture there from 19:11.

When the persecuted Christians are tempted to see their Lord as DEFEATED and BROKEN. Weak and crucified. The reality is FAR DIFFERENT.

Eyes of blazing fire. Crowned with many crowns. Robe dipped in . A sharp sword that strikes the nations. THIS is the King we serve. The King we FOLLOW.

And notice that WE PLAY A PART. Our robes are white and clean. That’s our righteous lives. We’re fighting our spiritual battle RIGHT NOW. As the temptation is to NOT be different. To fit in. To conform. To look after number one. To compromise.

But this glorious King is HONOURED as we live different, holy, pure lives for him.

Listen to the promise Jesus makes to the church at Sardis.Ch3:4.

Rev 3:4-5: 4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. NIV

3. Satan is bound, defeated and destroyed.

Third, Satan is bound, defeated and destroyed. Sometimes, we give Satan more credit than he deserves. We see how awful the world can be. How devious and deceptive Satan is. How easily people seem to swallow his lies. And we despair.

But the picture from these verses is that Satan is a TOOTHLESS TIGER. Jesus defeated him at the cross. He’s a spent force. A punch-drunk boxer, swinging out wildly in any direction he can.

Satan played his hand, and the best he had was a pair of threes. And he’s been BLUFFING ever since.

This picture is that he’s BOUND. People CAN respond to the gospel. We CAN push back the territory of the prince of this world. Because the GOSPEL IS POWERFUL. Truth CAN overcome LIES.

We follow a GLORIOUS LORD. We proclaim a GLORIOUS GOSPEL. We look forward to a GLORIOUS FUTURE.

Revelation 21-22: The End of the Beginning

Let me read from the Last Battle, the final book in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. What’s happened is that Aslan the lion, who represents Christ, has brought the PRESENT world of Narnia to an end, and a NEW world has begun. And our heroes are discovering what this new world is about.

“Peter”, said Lucy, “where is this, do you suppose?”

“I don’t know”, said the High King. “It reminds me of somewhere but I can’t give it a name.”

“If you ask me,” said Edmund, “it’s like somewhere in the Narnian world.     In fact, they’re EXACTLY alike.”

“And yet they’re NOT alike,” said Lucy. “They’re different.”

“More like the REAL thing,” said Lord Digory softly. “When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But THAT was not the real Narnia. THAT had a beginning and an end. It was only a SHADOW or a COPY of the REAL Narnia which has always been here and always WILL be here:

“And of course, it IS different; as different as a REAL thing is from a shadow, or as waking life is from a dream.”

It is hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia. Perhaps you get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains.

And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a mirror. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different— the real ones were deeper and more wonderful.

The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was DEEPER country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it MEANT more.”

The Unicorn summed up what everyone was feeling. “I HAVE COME HOME AT LAST! THIS IS MY REAL COUNTRY! I BELONG HERE. THIS IS THE LAND I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR ALL MY LIFE, THOUGH I NEVER KNEW IT TILL NOW.

THE REASON WHY WE LOVED THE OLD NARNIA IS THAT IT SOMETIMES LOOKED A LITTLE LIKE THIS.

“And for us this is the end of all the stories. But for them it was only the beginning of the REAL story. All their life in this world, and all their adventures in Narnia, had only been the COVER AND THE TITLE PAGE: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the GREAT Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Today, as WE come to the end of the story in Revelation. In fact, as we come to the end of the story of the WHOLE BIBLE. The end of the story of THIS EARTH. There’s a sense in which we’re doing the same. Coming to the end of the cover and the title page. We’ve come to THE END OF THE BEGINNING.

Because these last two chapters describe The REAL STORY. The story we were MADE for.

They describe HOME.

Home at Last

As we begin to see the picture that’s painted, and feel some of the thrill of that, we should LONG to be able to say what the unicorn said,

“I HAVE COME HOME AT LAST! THIS IS MY REAL COUNTRY! I BELONG HERE. THIS IS THE LAND I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR ALL MY LIFE, THOUGH I NEVER KNEW IT TILL NOW.

Look for example at Chapter 21 verse 3. Home to a place with no more FEARS. A place with no more TEARS…

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. he will wipe every tear from their eyes There will be no more or mourning or crying or pain… for the old order of things has passed away.”

Everything that was ROTTEN about this world will be GONE. No more crying. No more pain.

Because, you’ll notice, we will be God’s people. And God himself will be with us. And be our God.

And that’s something that, by and large, is a foreign experience – a distant longing.

There are people who might want to talk about their spiritual experiences and their feeling of closeness to God. But the reality in this life, the reality in this world, is that there’s a distance. Paul says, at the moment, we see just a dark reflection. Now we know IN PART. Then we shall know COMPLETELY. Face-to-face.

But that’s going to change. John says, the time is coming when the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

And if the new heavens and earth is WHAT we were made for.

Then God is WHO we were made for. Designed to walk side-by-side with him. Knowing him deeply and intimately. To know just as we are already known.

And to illustrate that, John sees two great images; two final scenes to his vision. That reinforce the same point. Of God living with his people first hand. Of God dwelling at last… with his people.

–         A picture of A WEDDING. (With the ideas of Incredible intimacy and expectation and joy)

–         And a picture of A CITY. (Active and vibrant culture and community and closeness).

And in the midst of that, there’s what’s almost a new garden of eden. And where-ever you look, there’s life.

Here Comes the Bride

But first. Picture number 1, and John’s seen it before, back in chapter 19, picture number 1 is a wedding. Here comes the bride. It’s a picture of a bride and groom about to tie the knot.

John says, the dwelling of God will be with men. Jesus and his church will be like bride and groom.

And it’s a picture of incredible beauty. It’s a picture of the wafting two-teired chiffon veil and the piped bodice and flowing white Silk Satin Organza.

And after what’s seemed like an incredibly long wait, endless anticipation, the wedding cars arrive. And the bridal march is playing on the pipe organ. And John says there in verse 2, he sees the bride at last. The images converge. He sees the city. The new Jerusalem. And the city is like a bride.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

And the bride in the picture, is us. The people of God. And the wedding/ is God and Man. Together as one.

Now look back to chapter 19 for a minute, in the second half of Verse 7. Because we’ve seen the wedding image before. And you can see how the bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.

Then, in brackets, an explanation. The fine linen they’ve been given… fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.

And on the wedding day, there we are. The people of God. Radiant. And finally, dressed how we should be. In righteousness.

It’s often a good thing for churches to spend time thinking about their GOALS. Vision. Planning for the future.

But that can all be so HUMAN-CENTRED. So EARTHLY.

But if you want to know GOD’S future goal for our church, here it is. A bride walking down the aisle. Radiant. Beautiful.

And it’s a goal that his Son, Jesus, is working towards as well. In Eph 5:25 we read,

Eph 5:25-28: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  NIV

That’s our wedding day. That’s our FUTURE. Our Goal.

But we’re not just sitting back twiddling our until then. We should be working WITH Jesus to get ready.

Bernie’s got so much work to do to GET READY for HER wedding next year, it’s making her head spin!

And we’ve got work to do too. Our beauty – our wedding dress… will be our righteousness. Our love and our patience and our kindness and our goodness and our faithfulness. Our integrity and our honesty. Our purity.

Dressed in white on our wedding day. When we’ll finally dwell with God.

And I reckon we need to have THAT image in mind as we stand in front of the mirror getting READY for that wedding day.

And make sure that our own smaller goals somehow reflect that. That whatever we do as a church is aimed at presenting people ready for their wedding. Whatever we do is part of the process which encourages people in the righteous acts they do because they love Jesus.

City Life

John’s vision of the bride, though, merges into something else. And it’s image number 2. The bride he sees, as he looks, the bride is a city. A city… where God dwells with his people.

Can you see, the essence of heaven isn’t that there’s great fishing, or surfing, or partying, or even sitting on clouds playing harps.

The essence of heaven isn’t, as the Muslim martyrs want to say, the number of virgins waiting for you to arrive.

The essence of heaven is that God is there. First hand.

The city, says John, is the new Jerusalem. The Old Jerusalem is over and done with. Take a look at the new one. We saw it already in verse 2:

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

And the essence of the city is like we saw already in verse 3. Not that there’s a good shopping centre and lots of parking spots.

“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.”

And THAT’S why… there’s no more mourning or crying or or pain. Because God’s right there with us; wiping away the tears.

And because God’s there first hand, you’ll notice some key things this city from heaven doesn’t need.

You can pick up the description from verse 10; where he gets a second look at the city. Coming down from heaven. Gleaming in jewels. 12 gates named after the tribes of Israel, 12 foundations named after the apostles of Jesus. A city 12000 stadia by 12000 stadia by 12000 stadia, which converts to 2200 kilometres cubed. And it’s shimmering in transparent gold.

But it’s what isn’t there that really catches John’s attention in verse 22. There’s no temple.

The temple was always the focal point of Jerusalem. Because it was the symbol of the presence of God. But the way John sees the new Jerusalem, there’s no temple needed.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

No need for symbols any more. Because we’re face to face with the reality. GOD HIMSELF.

And he says, there’s no sun or moon either. Verse 23.

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.

The radiance of God. The radiance of Jesus the Lamb. All the light that’s needed. As people from all the nations are pouring in to the city where God is. Where there’s no more crying or pain.

Eden Again

Back to the Beginning

You know, behind all the imagery here in Revelation 21 and 22, behind these images of God and Man together… there are hints of a bigger story. Because these final pages of the bible are actually the perfect conclusion… not just to the book of Revelation. But to the bible as a whole. And everywhere you look, there are reminders of the very start of the bible. In Genesis 2 and 3.

You might like to quickly turn back. Genesis chapter 2. And notice the way the story unfolds of how God’s good world was overturned by the desire of humanity… to run things our own way.

The way Genesis pictures God and Man at the very first in the garden. In harmony. There’s free access to the tree of life. There’s a lush river running out of the garden. The way God says, grab anything you like. Except the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The tree of we’ll decide right and wrong for ourselves. If you eat it, God says, if you grab for autonomy, you’ll surely die.

And yet that’s exactly what we’ve grabbed. With terrible consequences. Genesis 3 verse 8 Adam and Eve are now hiding from God in the Garden. Ashamed and afraid.

But worse than that. A world under curse. And inevitable . Verse 17.

To Adam he says, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

And finally, shut out of the garden. The tree of life for ever out of bounds. And only .

A world under curse. A world of futility and . Shut off from the tree of life.

So as we come to the far end of the bible, watch it all coming back together. Because you’ll notice at the start of chapter 22, there’s a garden in the heart of the city. And there’s water flowing out of it. Clear as a crystal brook. Water of life. And on each side of the river stands the tree of life; with a new crop of fruit 12 times a year. Plenty of fruit. And verse 3, “No longer will there be any curse.”

It’s Eden all over again. It’s creation the way it was always meant to be.

You know, a jeweller will usually show you diamonds against a black velvet cloth. And against the blackness, they sparkle.

For the sort of first century Christians we’ve met over the last few months, you can imagine against the blackness of their experience of persecution, how a picture like this is going to sparkle as well. Every day, they’re facing arrest for treason. Because they’re determined to put their loyalty to Jesus over and above anything else.

Against that sort of blackness, the prospect/ of the day when God would finally live with them, the day when God would wipe every tear from their eyes… the day Jesus the Lamb would be in the midst of them, when there’d be no more or mourning or crying or pain… has to sparkle.

And even here in Australia, here in Sydney, even though we try to avoid it and ignore it and pretend it will never happen, we’re still in a fallen world. And surrounded by pain.

And we can build bigger fences and buy better locks, but we can’t shut out the pain that comes from aging. And sickness. And inevitably the separation of . Which by and large we just prefer not to talk about. Or think about.

And John looks ahead and sees a picture of a time when things will be different. A new heaven and a new earth. Where there’s no more or mourning or crying or pain… because everything’s new. And God will be with us first hand. To wipe away the tears once and for all.

The question is, are you going to be part of it?

John closes with words of encouragement. And words of warning.

He says if you want righteousness and life, they’re free.

But he says if you want to hang on to the old stuff, in the city where God is, it’s simply not welcome. Go back to 21 verse 6. Jesus says this:

It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. no charge. He says He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

But if that’s not what you want, there’s a choice. Because in the new creation there’s no room for evil. I mean, that’s what’s good about it. And so he says in verse 8,

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the ers, the ually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur.

And he says the same again in chapter 22. He says, make up your mind. Verse 15,

Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the ually immoral, the ers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

In the new creation there’s no room for that stuff.

But here’s the point. Verse 17. If you don’t want to be left outside, it’s your call. The tickets are free. Bought and paid for by Jesus. Who says, “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

All you need to do is COME. Accept the gift Jesus offers.

And so Jesus finishes with these words. “Yes, I am coming soon!”

To which the Spirit and the Bride and everyone else says, come Lord Jesus. We can hardly wait.

We can hardly wait for a time when evil and and ism and injustice and unfaithfulness and immorality and greed and tears and sadness and sickness and are over and done with.

To which John at the end of his vision and ALL OF US say, AMEN. COME, LORD JESUS.

Say it with me AMEN. COME, LORD JESUS.