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The last time we looked into Revelation we did something a little different; we used it as a songbook, singing our way through chapter 4-11. We sang of how the Son is worthy to rule for he is the Lamb who was slain. We sang of the salvation that belongs to our God, and that someday he will put all his enemies under his feet, even while coming into his kingdom to reign forever. Revelation is about worship of this great God. I said last time that that time of singing was for the left-brained people to connect with the artistic and musical message of the book. Today is going to be geared more toward the right-brain people, the analytics, so get your pens and your charts and your timelines out. But even though we are approaching these chapters today from a different perspective, I want you to understand that the message does not change. The Lamb is seated on the throne and worthy to be worshipped.
Part of the problem of Biblical exegesis is starting point. That is, in the Bible there are several key texts that speak of the coming kingdom of Christ, and depending on which one you give priority may color how you come to read the others. I am going to argue that our starting point for reading about the events found in Revelation 6-11 is found not in the words of John, but in the words of Jesus. My argument is this: although God was revealing some new things to John on Patmos about the nature of the end, John was a disciple of Jesus who sat at Jesus’ feet while Jesus taught explicitly about the end. Mark 13:3 highlights that John was one of the select few to whom Jesus gave his teaching, along with Peter, James and Andrew. John had most likely been meditating on Jesus’ words for nearly six decades before having his vision on Patmos. That’s one reason why I don’t think we can read Revelation without first hearing Jesus. Secondly, its important to note that the teaching of Jesus was not just something John had meditated on for a long time before writing this, but that Jesus’ teachings were being passed along in the church by all Christians for decades before this time. Jesus’ teaching about the end and his coming kingdom had become part of the passed along tradition of the church to the point that when Matthew wrote his gospel to the Jews, Mark to the church and Luke to the Gentiles, all three recounted the teaching of Jesus in this area nearly word for word. The church had received this word from the Lord, embraced it, memorized it, and taught it to their young disciples. For simplicity sake, we’ll just look at Matthew’s account of Jesus’ teachings, found in Matthew 24, sometimes referred to as the Olivet Discourse, but if you read you’ll find that Mark 13 and Luke 21 follow this account nearly word for word.
Noting a little bit about the occasion for this teaching. Jesus has arrived at Jerusalem during the last week before his crucifixion. Visiting the temple one day, his disciples, seemingly making small talk, marveled at the beauty of the temple buildings. Jesus, perhaps in an ornery mood, kills the party by declaring, “Look great, eh? Yeah, well someday it’s all going to be destroyed.” Way to ruin the mood, Jesus. So the four disciples I mentioned earlier privately go to him and ask him, “When’s is it going to be, Jesus?” Specifically they ask, verse 3, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” Interestingly, Matthew is the only gospel writer who phrases the question around Jesus’ coming – his parousia – which is a weird question considering that Jesus is standing right in front of them. What does this reveal? Perhaps that in the Jewish minds of the disciples, even though they recognized in Jesus that the Messiah had come, they also realized that he had not in fact come. They had been searching for years for the Son of David, the root of Jesse, to set up his kingdom on earth, but Jesus, up to this point did not seemed all to concerned with that mission. His first parousia was not THE parousia that they were looking for. Even after his resurrection remember they asked him in Acts 1:6, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” That’s what they were looking for. Note this: Jesus only told them that the times were not for us to know, and that we should be his witnesses until that time arrives, but he never indicated that they were wrong in their seeking that sort of kingdom.
Secondly, notice that they hedge their question: what will be the signs of your coming? This is like asking about a Christmas present. No ones going to tell you what it is, so you keep asking, is it something I can wear? What store did you buy it in?
Birth Pains: We are going to read very quickly to get a framework of Jesus’ answer:
“See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Jesus calls these the birth pains. False christs that seek to lead us astray, wars, famines and persecution and apostacy. Notice that this is not the end, but that these things will continue until the end, so that there is a clear call for the saints to endure these things, even while the gospel is being preached to the whole world. This sounds a lot like the letters to the churches in Revelation: to the one who overcomes . . . I will give the crown of life.
Abomination of Desolation: “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (24:15)
The next event on Jesus’ calendar that should be watched out for as a sign of his coming is something called the abomination of desolation. Here’s what we can piece together from the scripture regarding this event:
1) The phrase comes from Daniel Chapter 9:27 which foretells of a prince who will come and make a strong peace covenant with many for seven years, yet halfway through he will put an end to sacrifice and offering, bringing in the end of days.
2) Most likely, this abomination is being referred to by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2 as he is teaching on the Day of the Lord, consoling the church that they had not somehow missed the day of the Lord because they had not yet witnessed the rebellion of the man of lawlessness, “who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
3) Matthew confirms that it points to something or someone standing in the Holy Place (Matthew 24:15), where it ought not be (Mark 13:14). Most likely this is in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount.
4) It will be a time when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies (Luke 21). Interestingly, Luke gives us the perspective of an outsider, while Matthew gives us a closer perspective.
Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
The Abomination of Desolation ushers in a period of great tribulation in which the elect, particularly in the region of Judea, are forced underground and supernaturally inspired false Christs will arise and deceive many. Thankfully, Jesus will have mercy on his friends and cut this time short, even while calling them to continue to stay firm until the end.
The Gathering of the Elect
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Yeah! Jesus comes back for his people; the gathering of the elect. In the clouds just as his disciples saw him leaves. This will be a terrifying time for those who remain, with dreadful signs in the heavens. They will mourn, but we will see glory, for our rescuer deliverer has come!
Judgment and Kingdom:
After telling his disciples some parables about the need to be watchful for these things, Jesus tells of the final end:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
This is truly the end, when all humanity will stand before the throne and final judgment will be made and we will enter into the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world.
This then gives us a pretty good outline for what the early church taught about the return of Christ. Birth pangs, Abomination, Tribulation, Gathering, Judgment. Pretty clear, eh? Now we are ready to go to Revelation 6-11.
Revelation chapter 6 tells of the opening of the first six seals.. Again, last week we learned that this scroll that Jesus is opening is most likely the scroll of his inheritance, the title deed to heaven and earth. As the seals are opened in heaven stuff starts happening on earth .We’ll look at these more closely in a bit. After the sixth seal is opened, there are signs in the heavens, and in chapter seven we see the angels holding back the four winds of heaven, then sealing the 144,000 servants of God. Immediately afterward, the great multitude of the elect gather in heaven, referred to as in Rev 7:14, “the ones who have come out of the great tribulation.” With the opening of the final seal to the scroll, trumpets are given to seven angels to herald in God’s kingdom. Revelation 6:17 labels these trumpets as “the great day of God’s wrath.” Finally, at the seventh trumpet “there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (11:15) and the elders sing the song indicating that the Lord has begun to take power and reign and that he will soon judge the world and reward the righteous.
Upon first glance, it seems that there are some points of contact between Jesus and John. If we look a little closer at the pains/seals, we see even more similarities. In describing the birth pangs, Jesus told us to be watchful for Fake Christ’s intent on leading the elect astray, wars and rumours of wars, famines and earthquakes, and persecution and apostasy. Now look at the first five seals. The first seal (Rev 6:1-2) you have a rider on a white horse with a crown – a fake King intent on conquering. The second seal (rev 6:3-4) the horsemen takes away peace from the earth so men slay one another. In the third seal (rev 6:5-6) economic failure is foretold. This has no correlation in Matthew, but the fourth and fifth seals foretell famine, death and persecution. It seems very clear that John is using the picture of Jesus opening the scroll in heaven as simply restating what Jesus described as the birth pangs. This makes sense as both metaphors of the birth pangs and of the opening of a scroll point to the anticipation of something that is come.
Again, look at another point of similarity between Jesus and John – the gathering of the elect. Jesus speaks of the sun and moon darkening while stars fall from heaven. He clearly states that the Son of Man will be seen in the heaven, causing the inhabitants of the earth to mourn and tremble. Then, at the trumpet call, the four angels will gather the elect from the four winds. Now read with me Rev 6:12-7:3.
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”
Immediately after this, the great multitude appears in heaven singing God’s salvation. Does it not appear that there is enough similarity here to understand that Jesus and John are talking about the same event?
It appears, then, that Jesus and John have the same outline of history in mind as they reveal God’s plan around his return. There are differences however. Jesus speaks more of the abomination of desolation and of the tribulation that the church will flee, while John, speaks nothing of that, but highlights the wrath of the lamb, giving us three chapters of details about the terrifying trumpets of the angels. This is not surprising given the perspectives of the two accounts. Jesus disciples wanted to know of the signs that those on earth were to watch out for., so Jesus shared more about these specific events that would take place on the earth before the elect were gathered. John, was more concerned that his readers see the lamb seated on the throne who would come to judge those who were persecuting them. When the Lamb comes, he will come to judge the nations.
Putting the two together, we have a pretty consistent account of what is to come: birth pangs, tribulation period marked by the abomination of desolation, the gathering of the elect (rapture), the wrath of the lamb before Christ’s ushers in his kingdom and administers the final judgment. As we continue in Revelation, more details will emerge.
In making application:
- Be ready to face tribulations: we will go through the seals. Some think the seals started with the ascension, some think that they’ll start with the covenant the prince/antichrist makes with the people. Either way, be ready.
- Be strong in your faith through persecution. It seems that before the end, Satan will ramp up his attack on the church (next week, we are going to focus on the spiritual warfare aspect.) Corrie Ten Boom:
I have been in countries where saints are already experiencing terrible persecution. In China, the Christians were told, "Don't worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured." Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly, “We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes, – to stand and not faint." I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation, but more than sixty percent of the Body of Christ across the world has already entered into the tribulation. There is no way to escape it. We are next. Since I have already gone through prison for Jesus' sake, and since I met the Bishop in China, now every time I read a good Bible text I think, "Hey, I can use that in the time of tribulation." Then I write it down and learn it by heart.
We started out this series by observing that the church is losing its place of privilege in Western culture. By ready.
- Be watchful for the signs of the end. We don’t have to be newspaper evangelists, but be ready for even the world knows that the end is coming soon.
- Be assured that you’ll escape God’s wrath: If you are a Christian, this framework should comfort you. God will gather his elect before his wrath is poured out.
- Give Glory to the God of Heaven and Earth: the point of this section of revelation is that the Lamb is seated on the throne and that nothing is outside of his control. He will return to put all enemies under his feet.