Important Things (5) “In the End – lessons from Revelation”
At the end of the year the media often look back at the events or personalities that dominated the headlines over the previous twelve months. Very often too various experts are asked to look ahead & give their predictions about possible developments or trends in the year ahead. For the final Sunday of 2015 I want us to dip into the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, which describes major events that will take place at the end of the world, not simply the end of the year.
In many ways, Revelation is a difficult book to understand as it is written in a style called “apocalyptic” – writing that uses symbols & images to get across its message. We need to come with humility & avoid being dogmatic about how we interpret the many visions, symbols & images used. The overall message of Revelation is, however, very clear.
Revelation “reveals” the final victory of Christ our conquering Lord. The One born as the baby in the manger, who died a cruel death on the cross, & who rose again from the dead, that same Jesus is revealed as King of Kings & Lord of Lords. He is revealed as our soon-to-return Saviour, our all-powerful King, & Judge of all the earth. Revelation is a message of hope & a message of warning.
We are going then to look briefly at a few passages in the last three chapters of this amazing book. First of all, let us consider:
1. The Final Judgment (20:11-15)
In chapters 18, 19 & 20 the Apostle John gives us three separate descriptions of the final defeat of Satan & the destruction of the forces of evil in the world. This will happen when Jesus Christ returns in power & glory at the end of time. In chapter 20, for example, we see all the forces of evil joining together in a final push to destroy God’s people – both Israel & the Church. They gather for the final battle of history, the battle of Armageddon. The situation of God’s people seems hopeless. However, what in fact happens is that Satan’s forces are suddenly & decisively defeated.
As we read in Revelation 20:9, “…fire came down from heaven & devoured them.” Dear brothers & sisters, we must not give in to fear. Satan is already a defeated foe. Jesus defeated him at the cross, & one day he will be totally & decisively defeated – simply by fire from heaven. At times things may look hopeless for God’s people, for His Church, but final victory is certain. Following this dramatic turn of events, Satan the one who deceived the nations is thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, or hell. His defeat is final & complete.
John now describes an amazing scene. “Then I saw a great white throne & Him who was seated on it. The earth & the heavens fled from His presence, & there was no place for them.” (20:11) John tells us about the coming judgment. It is a judgment none can escape. Just as we cannot escape death so too we cannot escape the final judgment.
The “great white throne” is the highest court. The verdict given cannot be questioned, appealed or overturned. And the judgment is totally just & fair, because the One on the throne is God Himself. He is perfect in power, holiness, love, justice, wisdom & glory. A former pastor of mine, Ps Brian Russell writes in his book about Revelation, “It is a ‘great’ throne because it surpasses every other throne in grandeur & majesty, & because of the universal scope of its jurisdiction. It is described as a ‘white’ throne because of the absolute purity & justice of the judgments that are pronounced from it.”
So awesome is the Judge sitting on this throne that John says, “The earth & the heavens fled from His presence, & there was no place for them.” When Jesus comes again to judge the living & the dead, men & demons may try to hide, but none will be able to escape.
This is a great comfort for the believer as we look out on our world so filled with violence & injustice. Evil men & women seem to get away with their evil deeds. Some even seem to prosper. On the other hand, innocent, suffering, exploited people cry out for justice & no one seems to hear their cries or even to care. But one day – on the great day of the final judgment – the records will be put straight. Evil will be judged.
Every person who has ever lived will have to stand before the Judge on that day. John continues, “And I saw the dead, great & small, standing before the throne.” (v.12) The powerful will be there but so will the weak. The rich will be there but so will the poor. The famous will be there but so will the ordinary & the unknown. The Bible says that all, “…people are destined to die once, & after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
The Apostle John goes on, “& books were opened.” These books represent the evidence upon which the Judge will base His judgment. As John says, “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” (v.12) People who die thinking they have got away without having to face the consequences of their sin will discover in fact God will hold them accountable. The evidence is plain to see & it is compelling.
A man cannot plead innocence when his face is clearly seen on CCTV footage recording the robbery in which he took part. And, think about the little boy whose mother asks, “Johnny, did you touch those cookies?” “No, Mum, I was just looking at them!” “Well then, Johnny, how come there are three cookies missing & what are those cookie crumbs doing on your face?” We may try to hide the things we have done. We may make excuses. But none of us can hide from God. Even our motives & inner thoughts cannot be hidden from Him.
John mentions something else. He says, “Another book was opened, which is the book of life.” (v.12) Earlier, in chapter 13:8 John had mentioned “the Lamb’s book of life.” And in 21:27 when speaking of the heavenly city he writes, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” That is a powerful statement. Who can enter the heavenly city? John says, “…only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
In 2014 I registered for the Family First “Forum on the Family” at which some well-known people were going to speak, including our Prime Minister. When I arrived the person on the reception desk checked the list. My name was there so she ticked me off, gave me my name tag & conference pack. I was allowed in. What if my name was not there? I would not have been allowed in & it would have been too late to register.
If our names are not found in the Lamb’s book of life, we will not be allowed in. John says in 20:15, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” This is a scary reality. Hell is what awaits those whose names are not in the Lamb’s book of life.
Only those who belong to Jesus, those who have had their sins washed away by His precious blood, have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life. Our account has been settled – paid in full by the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.
One time Jesus told His disciples, “…do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) Is your name written in the book of life, my friend?
There is an imaginary story about a Christian brother who died & arrived at the heavenly gates. He was told by the angel guarding the entrance that he needed 100 points in order to be allowed in. The angel said, “You tell me all the good things you have done & I will give you the points you deserve. When you reach 100 I will let you in.” “OK,” said the man, “I was one of the leaders at Mairangi Bay Community Church.” “That is wonderful,” said the angel, “that is worth two points.” “I was married to the same woman for over 60 years & never cheated on her.” “That is brilliant,” said the angel, “that is three more points.” “Only three?” the man asked frowning. “Well, I also went on mission trips & helped feed the poor.” “Excellent, that will be 2 more points,” said the angel. The man’s eyes opened wide as he exclaimed, “Only two points! At this rate the only way I’ll get to heaven is by the grace of God!” “Welcome, come on in!” said the angel.
The point of that silly story is that we are actually never good enough to deserve heaven. It is only by the grace of God that we can be saved & have the sure hope of eternal life in the heavenly home. If you have believed in Jesus & asked Him to cleanse you from your sin then you may enter, & you do not need to be afraid of the final judgment. Jesus took the punishment you deserved. It is all by His amazing grace that you & I are able to enter heaven.
This is a glorious truth but we must also remember that what we do & how we live does matter. Believers too will have to give account of what we have said & done, & of how we have served. This should spur us on to holy living. Yes, we have been saved from judgment by the grace of God, but realising we still need to account for how we have lived should make us long to please the Lord. It should make us want to dedicate ourselves more fully to His service.
We come now to chapter 21 which is all about:
2. A New Heaven & a New Earth (21:1-4)
In chapter 21 we are introduced to one of the most wonderful passages of Scripture – the description of the new heaven & the new earth which God will create after the final judgment. John writes, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven & a new earth,’ for the first heaven & the first earth had passed away.” (21:1) In Isaiah in the Old Testament the Lord says, “Behold, I will create new heavens & a new earth. The former things will not be remembered nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)
God’s plan of salvation includes more than believers being saved from the penalty & power of sin. It includes us being delivered from the very presence of sin, & it includes the renewal of the physical creation as well. It is a renewal rather than destroying the old & starting again.
For example, if you think of our physical bodies, yes, we die & our bodies return to dust, but like Jesus we will be resurrected to life when He comes again. Paul explains this in detail in 1 Corinthians 15. He says, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
The Apostle John writes, “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 I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, & He will dwell with them. They will be His people, & God Himself will be with them & be their God.” (21:2 & 3) There are some amazing pictures or images here. There is the image of a city, the Holy City, & there is a picture of a beautiful bride. There is the picture of heaven coming down to earth & of Christ & His bride, the Church, setting up home on the new earth. This is awesome – God dwelling amongst His people. There will be perfect & joyful communion between us & our Lord.
Not surprisingly then we come to what John says in v.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.” What a marvellous vision of the reality of our new home on a new earth.
Each one of us knows what it is to cry. Little children cry when they get bullied or when they get hurt. Adults sometimes cry. We may try to be brave & hide our tears but physical or emotional pain, disappointment, loss, bereavement – these are all very real. Tears are part of life. But the glorious reality of the New Jerusalem, the new heaven & the new earth is that all tears will be wiped away. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Let me ask you – are you ready for the coming of the Lord? Do you know that your sins have been forgiven? Do you know that you belong to Jesus, that He is your personal Saviour? Do you know that your name is written in the book of life?
This brings us finally & very briefly to our last point for today:
3. An Invitation (22:12-17)
In 21:6 & 7 the Lord says, “To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, & I will be their God & they will be my children.” Are you thirsty? Are you thirsty to know God, to know Him better? If you are thirsty, know this – God longs to quench your thirst. He longs to welcome you into His family. He wants to be your God. He wants you to be His child. Isn’t that a most wonderful invitation?
There is more. In 22:12 & 13 Jesus says, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, & I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha & the Omega, the First & the Last, the Beginning & the End.” Jesus is coming again. It may be in the morning. It may be at noon. It may be in the evening. It may be soon. Are you ready? The One who created the universe, the One who was there in the Beginning, is also our Saviour & He is our soon-to-return Lord & King. He is the First & the Last, the Beginning & the End.
Revelation 22:17 says, “The Spirit & the bride [that is the Church] say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; & let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”
Is there any more wonderful invitation than this? Salvation is a gift. It is free. All you need is to be thirsty, to admit your need & then to come. Like the Samaritan woman at the well to whom Jesus spoke, if you have not already done so, you will discover that the water in the wells of this world will leave you thirsty. Only the water of life that Jesus offers will satisfy.
As we come to the end of yet another year, will you look back & take stock? And will you think about where you are headed? What will the future hold for you? Ask yourself, “What if Jesus comes back tomorrow? Am I ready? Is my name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life?” I urge you today, at the end of 2015, another year of God’s grace, invite Jesus to take full control of your life. Make Him your Lord & Saviour today. Don’t think you can make excuses for your sin. Don’t foolishly think you can wait till later to decide. Today is the day of salvation. Tomorrow may be too late.