Faithful Over A Little.

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ” – Matthew 25:14-30 ESV

dishonest-steward-770x330

Jesus has been stressing the need for His disciples to have a long-term perspective regarding the kingdom of heaven. Rather than expecting it to show up in their lifetimes and in the form they had always expected, they were going to have to come to understand it as future-oriented. Jesus was not going to set up His kingdom on earth at that time. He was not going to rule and reign from Jerusalem as the Messiah. His kingdom was to come. And in the meantime, while they waited for its arrival, the disciples were to live in a state of readiness. In fact, his His previous parable, Jesus had emphasized the need for preparedness.

Jesus continued to address the future aspect of the coming kingdom by telling yet another parable. Again, He would stress the unexpected delay associated with His  kingdom. Yes, He was the Messiah and the rightful heir to David’s throne. But His ascension to that throne, while inevitable, was not going to be immediate.

.So, Jesus began His parable by describing a man preparing to go on a journey. This man was obviously well-to-do, having land, material wealth, and servants. In preparation for his departure, the man called his servants together and “entrusted to them his property” (Matthew 25:14 ESV). The Greek word Jesus used was paradidōmi and it means “to deliver to one something to keep, use, take care of, manage” (Online Bible). The man took what was his and gave it to his servants so they might manage it in his absence. In other words, he placed them in charge of all that he owned – “his property.”All three men were given responsibility for their master’s possessions, which would have included his land, house, livestock and any other personal property.

It seems that, when we read this parable, we place all the emphasis on the talents given to the three men. It is as if the talents are the point of the story. They represent the “property” handed over by the master. But on closer inspection, it would appear that the talents represent the master’s payment to each of the three servants for caring for this property in his absence. The text reads: “To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability” (Matthew 25:15 ESV). It’s interesting to note that the word translated “ability” is the Greek word dynamis. It is the same word from which we get dynamite. It refers to power or physical strength. This man knew his servants well, and compensated them according to what he believed would be their level of work. He was not giving them gifts to use or invest. In fact, their is no indication from the text that the master told any of the servants to invest what he had given them. The talents were intended as payment for the service that would be rendered in his absence.

But what makes the story so interesting is that two of the servants took their “salary” and invested it. They recognized that the money given to them was not really theirs, but belonged to their master. It was part of his property and they viewed their possession of it as temporary in nature. It was on loan. So, they traded or invested what they had. We’re not told the nature of their investment strategy, because that does not seem to be the point of the parable. The emphasis in the parable is that each of them doubled the value of what they had been given. And when their master returned, he recognized them as having been good and faithful servants.

There is an interesting choice of words in this parable. In the first place, when the two faithful servants address their master upon his return, they both say, “Master, you delivered to me _______ talents.” They use the same word, paradidōmi that means “to deliver to one something to keep, use, take care of, manage.” The two men acknowledge that their master had given them the talents and expected them to use them wisely. But Jesus described the first man as “he who had received the five talents” (Matthew 25:20 ESV). That Greek word is lambanō and it can mean to take what is one’s own, or to receive what is rightfully yours. Jesus seems to describe the men as receiving their talents as payment from their master. But two of the men never lost sight of the fact that the talents were really just another extension of their master’s property. What he had given them really belonged to him, and they treated it that way. They showed him respect and deference by wisely investing what they had been given and returning to him any profit they had received. Their gain would have been impossible without the master’s trust and generosity. 

But then there is the third servant. His actions are meant to stand out like a sore thumb. Unlike his two fellow servants, this man took what he had been given and buried it in a hole. It’s important to notice that this man’s address to his master is radically different than the other two. He stated: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24-25 ESV). Surprisingly, he addresses the one who had given him his talent as a demanding and a difficult task-master. He expressed fear of the master. And remember, the one talent this man had received had been based on his ability or power to deliver. It’s fairly clear that he had been properly compensated. And while this servant rightfully acknowledged that what he had been given by the master belonged to the master, he displayed a complete lack of initiative and no sense of stewardship. He did nothing with what he had been given.

So, what’s the point? What is jesus trying to tell His disciples? Once again, the emphasis is on the kingdom of heaven, and the period of time which Jesus seems to be speaking is the tribulation. In the parable, Jesus mentions that the master returned “after a long time.” There was a long delay. The return of the master is meant to represent the return of Jesus at His second coming. That momentous event will take place at the end of the seven years of tribulation.

During the period of the tribulation, the presence and power of God will be seen and felt as He brings repeated judgments upon the world. He will redeem 144,000 Jews who will become witnesses to the nations. He will graciously offer opportunities for men and women to repent even during the darkest days of the tribulation, and many will. In fact, there will be many other Jews who come to faith in Jesus during those dark days. They will be given salvation by Jesus. He will offer them what is rightfully His, His own righteousness, and He will expect them to use it wisely as they wait for His return. What they do with their newfound faith will be essential.

The point of the parable is found in the words of Jesus found in verse 29: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” And in the very next verses, we will see how Jesus applies this statement.

Whether it is believers in the church age waiting for the return of Christ and the rapture, or tribulation saints waiting for His second coming, they are to live faithfully as they wait. They are to steward well what they have been given by God. Those who are in Christ have been graciously provided from the abundance of His wealth and riches. We are to use what we have been given wisely and well. We are to recognize that all we have belongs to Him and to treat it with faithful care. The two faithful servants did not make the talents their focus. They didn’t place all their emphasis on what they had been given, but on what they could do to honor their master. And we should long to hear the very same words Jesus spoke to them:

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” – Matthew 25:23 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Behold, I Am Coming Soon.

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. – Matthew 24:32-51 ESV

fig-tree.jpg

Jesus is attempting to open the eyes of His disciples and help them develop a long-term perspective regarding His Kingdom. They were focused on the here-and-now, and having trouble understanding that His talk of His coming death in Jerusalem was anything but bad news and something to be avoided at all costs. This entire chapter contains the surprising and difficult-to-comprehend words of Jesus as He reveals the bigger picture regarding God’s plan of redemption. The death of Jesus on the cross would be just the beginning of the much larger, comprehensive plan of God. It would include the resurrection of Jesus, as well as His return to His Father’s side. But, even more importantly, it would require His eventual return to earth as the conquering King.

And while Jesus knew that there would be a long delay before His return would take place, He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager anticipation. If they expected it to happen and kept their eyes open, looking for the signs of its approach, they would be able to endure the struggles that would come along the way.

Jesus used the visual lesson of a fig tree in order to help the disciples understand that there would be visible, recognizable signs associated with His coming. The budding of a fig tree is a clear sign that summer is near. It is unmistakable and irrefutable. In the same way, Jesus states, the signs of His return will be undeniable. Jesus even assures His disciples that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34 ESV). But what does this mean? Was He saying that the events associated with the end times would take place during the lifetimes of His disciples? The answer would seem to be, “No.” But while they were alive, they would begin to see the early signs of His return. The budding of the fig tree provides a premonition or portent of something to come. The budding of the tree does not mean summer has arrived, but that it is coming. In the same way, the disciples would live to see signs that would point to Jesus’ coming. They would not live to see His actual return, but they would be given clear indications that it was going to happen.

Each generation of believers has been given signs that His coming is eminent and inevitable. These signs act as assurances of God’s faithfulness and are meant to encourage us to continue to wait eagerly and hopefully.

The earth would continue to go through all kinds of struggles, including earthquakes, famines, floods, disasters and even wars. The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth: “Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away” (1 Corinthians 7:31 NLT). The apostle John wrote, “this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave” (1 John 2:17 NLT). Even Jesus, earlier in this very same discourse, warned His disciples:

“…you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” – Matthew 24:6-8 NLT

But while there will be clear signs along the way, the actual day and date of the Lord’s return will remain a mystery. We will know it is coming, but we will not know when. Jesus indicated that even He did not know the day or the hour. God the Father alone has access to that information.

The second coming of Jesus will be a surprise. And it will catch the majority of people living on earth at the time completely off-guard and unprepared. Jesus used the days of Noah as an apt point of comparison. In a way, Noah’s building of the ark was a clear sign that something was coming. And Peter seems to indicate that Noah warned his neighbors of God’s coming judgment and the availability of salvation made possible by the ark.

[God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness… – 2 Peter 2:5 ESV

The New Living Translation reads: “Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment.”

But the people in Noah’s day ignored the signs and refused the message of Noah. Instead, they busied themselves, “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark” (Matthew 24:38 ESV). They went on with their lives, oblivious to the warning signs and ignorant of what was about to happen, until “the flood came and swept them all away” (Matthew 24:39 ESV). And Jesus made it clear to His disciples that the same thing was going to happen when He finally returned. It would catch the world unprepared and completely off-guard.

The next few verses have created a great deal of controversy over the ages. Some have attempted to use them as proof of the Rapture of the church. But it is important that we keep them within their context. Jesus has been talking about His second coming, not the Rapture. And so the context is one of judgment, not salvation. When Christ returns the second time, He will be coming as a righteous judge to deal with sinful mankind once and for all. His coming will take place at the end of the Tribulation. During that time, there will be those who come to faith in Christ and endure great persecution at the hands of the Antichrist. But when Christ returns, He will defeat the Antichrist and his ungodly followers. And He will cast Satan, Antichrist and the false prophet into the lake of fire or hell.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:10 NLT

And all those who are living on the earth at that time will be judged as well, with their ultimate destination being hell.

It would seem that, based on the context of the second coming, that those who are removed are those who are not believers. They will be judged and condemned, then sent to the destination God has prepared for them. But those who remain symbolize those who came to faith in Christ during the great Tribulation.

The main point Jesus was making was that of remaining prepared and fully expectant that His return could be any day. Which is why He said, “stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 ESV). He added, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44 ESV).

We are to live our lives with a sense of eager expectation, and conduct ourselves as if it could be today. The waiting is difficult. The delay can easy cause us to lose hope and take our eyes off the prize. And Jesus provided His disciples with a warning in the form of yet another parable. A faithful and wise servant will stay vigilent and diligent while his master is away, conducting himself as if the master could walk in the door at any minute. But the wicked servant will use the delay as an excuse to sow his wild oats. His true, sin-prone, self-centered nature will manifest itself.  And Jesus warns that the servant’s master, like the Messiah, will return when everyone least expects it. And when he does, he will bring just judgment on the wicked servant.

Again, Jesus was trying to get His disciples to understand that there was much more to the Kingdom than they ever imagined. His first coming was just the beginning. And His eventual departure would not be the end. He was coming again. He had promised to do so. And they needed to live their lives as if it could and would happen. They were to stay diligent and vigilant. They were to remain faithful and wise. Unlike the wicked, followers of Christ are to stay alert and awake, fully prepared for His return.

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” – Revelation 22:11-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The End of the Age.

1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “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. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 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.” – Matthew 24:1-14 ESV

Destruction-of-the-Temple-Foretold-by-Jesus-2.pngIn one of our earlier readings this week we saw the anger of Jesus leveled against those who would keep people from experiencing the blessing of the Kingdom He had come to offer. But you need to understand His heart, and you see it clearly in His words spoken in regards to Jerusalem.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks under beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” ­–  Matthew 23:37-39 NLT

Jerusalem, as the city of God, had a track record of rejecting the message of God. Jesus had come as the King they had long waited for. He had come as the perfect sacrifice that would forever replace their need for further sacrificial offerings in the temple. He had come as their perfect High Priest, interceding on their behalf before God. But they would refuse to accept Him. And Jesus had prophetically warned:

“And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” – Matthew 23:38 NLT

This was a prophetic judgment. Jesus was leaving. He was going away. He was going to  literally walk away from the temple and the city, but His departure would have an even greater significance. This all reminds me of a vision given to the prophet Ezekiel hundreds of years earlier. It also involved the temple and the city of Jerusalem:

Then the glory of the LORD moved out from the door of the Temple and hovered above the cherubim. And as I watched, the cherubim flew with their wheels to the east gate of the LORD’s Temple. And the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them.Then the glory of the LORD went up from the city and stopped above the mountain to the east. – Ezekiel 10:18-19; 11:23 NLT

As an illustration of God’s coming judgment, His presence left the temple and the city. God removed Himself from their midst. Now fast-forward to this point in Jesus’ life. He was also threatening to abandon the temple and the city. The Son of God was going to remove His presence from their midst and, as a result, judgment would come.

Look at how Matthew chapter 24 starts out: “Jesus left the temple and was going away…” (Matthew 24:1 ESV). Sounds eerily similar to the Ezekiel passage. “Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house…” (Ezekiel 10:18 ESV). As they walked away from the temple, the disciples remarked about the temple grounds:

“Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.” – Mark 13:1 NLT

Jesus gave them a bit of shocking news:

“Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Mark 13:2 NLT

Naturally, the disciples wanted to know WHEN all this was going to happen?

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?” – Luke 21:7 NLT

In response, Jesus gave them a two-part answer. There would be some things that happened in the not-too-distant future, and there would be other things that took place long after the disciples were gone. Some of the things that were to happen in the more immediate future would serve as patterns of things to come later. For instance, the temple was going to be destroyed in 70 AD just as Jesus had predicted (Luke 19:41-44). But this would be a pattern of what is yet to come. The destruction of the temple by the Romans was NOT going to be the end. It would simply be a foreshadowing of the coming future judgment.

Jesus and His disciples made their way out of the Temple grounds. It is likely that they left through the Eastern gate on their way to the Mount of Olives.

Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the Temple. – Mark 13:3 NLT

Again, eerily similar to what we find in the book of Ezekiel.

Then the glory of the LORD went up from the city and stopped above the mountain to the east. – Ezekiel 11:23 NLT

Mark tells us that it was Peter, James, John and Andrew who privately questioned Jesus about the timing of the temple’s destruction. They were obviously concerned. They wanted to know if the temple had to be destroyed as part of Jesus’ Messianic plan – when would it happen? So, Jesus begand what has come to be known as His Olivet Discourse. He was sitting with His disciples on the Mount of Olives just outside the city walls of Jerusalem. They could see the temple grounds just beyond the valley and just over the walls

What Jesus was about to tell them can be highly confusing. It was prophetic in nature and included both short-term and long-term predictions. And it was focused primarily on the Jewish nation. Jesus was going to talk about the end.

“Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.” – Matthew 24:6 NLT

Jesus was talking about a future point in time. But before THAT TIME arrived, there were going to be some things to look for ­ – some signs

Sign 1: False Messiahs  – Matthew 24:4

Jesus discussed events that would happen after His resurrection and ascension. When He left, there would be those who showed up claiming to be the Messiah. Basically, they would claim, “the time has come!” (Luke 21:8). Don’t Jesus warned that the disciples were not to believe them.

Sign 2: Wars, threats of wars, and insurrections – Matthew 24:6

Those future days would be marked by increasing instability and uncertainty. Things would appear shaky. But Jesus encouraged His followers not to panic because all these things were necessary. Yet their presence did not mean the end would immediately follow.

Sign 3: Actual global conflict – Matthew 24:7

The time of which Jesus spoke would NOT be a time of peace. It would be marked by increasing conflict around the world. Sin would continue to exhert a powerful influence over the lives of man. But again, Jesus told His disciples not to be surprised by all this.

Sign 4: Natural disasters – Matthew 24:7

Creation itself would be in turmoil. Natural disasters would increase, not diminish, and would serve as the early signs before the end. –Jesus compared them to a woman’s contractions during labor, steadily increasing in intensity before she finally gives birth. But interestingly, Jesus told them once again not to be concerned about these things.

Personal Persecution – Matthew 24:9

Now, Jesus shared with the disciples some really disturbing news that directly involved them. He told them about the upcoming persecution they would suffer after His departure. This is virtually a word-for-word repeat of what He had told them back in Matthew 10. He told them they would be dragged into synagogues, put in prison and eventually tried in a court of laws. Their own families would betray them. Some of them would be killed. Everyone would hate them. And it would all be because they were His  followers. And this would all commence as soon as Jesus returned to heaven. His disciples would experience all of this, to one degree or another.

Denial of Christ and Spiritual Apathy – Matthew 24:10-12

Jesus informed the disciples that many who claimed to be His followers would desert and betray Him. We know that this took place even before His trials began in Jerusalem. At His arrest, the disciples all fled. At His trial, Peter denied Him and ran away. Judas had already made an agreement with the high priest to betray Him. All those people who had shouted, “Hosanna!” at His arrival in Jerusalem at the beginning of the week, would turn on Him, shouting instead, “Crucify Him!” But these events would extend far beyond the time in which the apostles lived. These things were to be ongoing, extending even into our own lifetimes. And they will continue until He returns.

The Perseverance of the Saints and the Spread of the Gospel – Matthew 24:13-14

But in spite of the fact that many would end up deserting and denying Jesus, there would be those who endured and persevered to the end. They would remain faithful, resulting in the spread of the good news about the Kingdom throughout all the world. This includes the period of time from Jesus’ ascension all the way to the END. And it would be at that time that Jesus would return.

This incredible passage provides us with a glimpse into the future of not only Israel, but the world. Jesus is preparing His disciples to think globally and eternally. He is attempting to move their point of reference from the here-and-now to the yet-to-be. These men had been obsessed with their own immediate context. They had hoped that Jesus was going to establish His Messianic Kingdom in their lifetimes. They had a difficult time accepting His repeated warnings that He was going to die in Jerusalem. And the very thought of the temple being destroyed was unfathomable to them. It was inconceivable and unacceptable. But Jesus had a long-term perspective that was focused on God’s eternal plan of redemption. He was not done yet. He had to die. He had to rise again. He had to return to His Father’s side. And then, one day, when it was time, He would return to earth and complete His Father’s will.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Every Knee Will Bow.

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” – Matthew 23:37-39 ESV

Jerusalem.gif

After pronouncing His seven woes on the Pharisees and religious leaders of Israel, Jesus turned His attention to the city of Jerusalem. And He spoke over it as if addressing an individual. The city of Jerusalem, the capital of the nation of Israel, was representative of all the people. It had been the the city of David, the great king, and contained the temple built by his son, Solomon. But the city and its inhabitants were guilty of unfaithfulness to God. Like their ancestors, who had rejected the prophets of God, the people of Jerusalem were going to end up rejecting the Messiah of God and the men whom He had chosen to take the good news of His kingdom to the world. Jesus had made it clear that this generation of Jews was just as guilty as those who had come before them.

Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.” – Matthew 23:31 ESV

The rejection of God’s prophets is a serious matter – one He does not take lightly. And to think that the people of Israel were guilty of murdering those whom God had sent to them is difficult to comprehend. But the people of Israel had made a habit of it. And their refusal to accept God’s messengers had eventually led to their fall and deportation to Babylon. God had brought judgment on them for their unfaithfulness and rebellion against Him. And Jesus warned His audience that they would be no different than their predecessors.

“Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town.” – Matthew 23:34 ESV

Not only would they reject Jesus as their Messiah and demand His crucifixion. They would continue to reject His apostles long after His resurrection and ascension. The Jews would continue to deny His claim to be the Messiah and reject His offer of salvation. Their track record as a nation would continue unabated. Centuries had come and gone, but little had changed. The rebellion of the people of Israel was undiminished and Jesus informed them that all the woes He had pronounced would “come upon this generation.”

But He expressed sorrow over their coming judgment. He longed for them to repent and return to God in contrition over their sin. He wanted to protect them like a mother hen protects her chicks. But they would refuse His offer. And, Jesus warned them that “your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38 ESV). That word, “desolate” is packed with meaning. The Greek word is erēmos and it can mean “uninhabited, deprived of protection” or can refer to “a flock deserted by the shepherd.” Jesus was predicting the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD at the hands of the Romans. And He will elaborate on His prediction in the very next chapter.

“Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Matthew 24:2 NLT

Jerusalem would fall. The temple would be destroyed. And Jesus told the people, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:39 ESV). This is an interesting statement, because it echoes back to His recent entry into the city of Jerusalem. Luke records what happened that day.

As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” – Luke 19:37-38 ESV

The people of Jerusalem had welcomed Jesus as the King who comes in the name of the Lord. But as we will see, they will just as quickly turn on Him, demanding His execution at the hands of the Romans. Their shouts of praise and confession of His kingship had been a sham. He had not fulfilled their Messianic expectations, so they had turned on Him. They had rejected Him.

But one day Jesus will return and, when He does, things will be different. The apostle Paul would later pen these words, quoting from the book of Isaiah:

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” – Romans 14:11 ESV

And Paul would remind the believers in Philippi:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

The Jews would not accept Jesus as their Messiah, but the day is coming when all the inhabitants of the earth will bow before Him, recognizing Him as the King who comes in the name of the Lord. The apostle John provides us with a preview of what that day will look like.

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

And when Jesus returns to the earth, He will set up His Kingdom in the city of Jerusalem, where He will reign for a thousand years.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4-6 ESV

The Jews could and would reject Jesus as their Messiah. But that would not stop the sovereign plan of God for the redemption of the world. The Romans would crucify Jesus, but that would not derail God’s predetermined outcome for His creation’s restoration. Even those who reject Jesus will one day recognize Him for who He is: The one who comes in the name of the Lord. They will bow before Him, either in veneration or subjugation. They will either revere Him or fear Him. But all will acknowledge Him.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Come, Lord Jesus!

12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.  Revelation 22:12-21 ESV

For the second time in this passage, Jesus assures John of His imminent return. In verse 7, John recorded Jesus’ promise, “behold, I am coming soon.” And here, in verse 12, Jesus repeats that same phrase, but adds the warning, “bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” He is coming back. For some that will be extremely good news, while for others it will mean payback time. In a sense, Jesus is promising a coming payday for all. The actual Greek word John uses is misthos, and it means “dues paid for work.” But it can also refer to the fruit that naturally results from our efforts. In other words, we reap what we sow. We get what we deserve.

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. – Galatians 6:7-8 NLT

The return of Jesus to the earth, in the form of His second coming, will be for the purpose of judging the nations. According to the prophet Jeremiah, Jesus alone has the capacity to discern the nature of each man’s heart, examining not only his outward behavior, but the inner condition of his character.

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV

The judgment that Christ warns about will not be works-based or focused solely on outward behavior. He will judge the hearts of men, because, “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19 NLT). The external actions of those whom Jesus will judge will simply indicate that their hearts are far from Him. They will have no relationship with the Son, so they will have no relationship with the Father. Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is” (John 14:6-7 NLT). The presence of sin will not be the basis for Jesus’ judgment. It will be the absence of a relationship with the Father, made possible through faith in His Son.

Back in the gospel of Matthew, we have recorded the following statement by Jesus, regarding those who attempt to enter into His eternal Kingdom based on their efforts. Some will offer up examples of their “righteous” deeds done in the name of Jesus, but will be surprised to hear their confession of good works met with bad news.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” – Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

In spite of them doing what appear to be good works, Jesus will expose them as workers of lawlessness, because they will lack a relationship with the Giver of the law. Psalm 50 provides us with a very stark reminder of how God views the deeds of the wicked and why Jesus will judge their behavior so harshly when He returns to the earth.

16 But God says to the wicked:
“Why bother reciting my decrees
    and pretending to obey my covenant?
17 For you refuse my discipline
    and treat my words like trash.
18 When you see thieves, you approve of them,
    and you spend your time with adulterers.
19 Your mouth is filled with wickedness,
    and your tongue is full of lies.
20 You sit around and slander your brother—
    your own mother’s son.
21 While you did all this, I remained silent,
    and you thought I didn’t care.
But now I will rebuke you,
    listing all my charges against you.
22 Repent, all of you who forget me,
    or I will tear you apart,
    and no one will help you.” – Psalm 50:16-22 ESV

Jesus gives John with a list of His divine credentials that provide Him with the authority and right to judge. First of all, He reminds John of His eternality: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13 ESV). He is the source of all things and, as such, He is sovereign over all things. Just a few verses later, Jesus states His royal pedigree and divine right to rule as King of kings and Lord of lord.  “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16 ESV). He is the rightful King, not only of Israel, but of all the earth. He is the morning star, a sign of a new day coming on the earth. His Kingdom will be greater than that of David. His reign will be righteous and holy in every way. His domain will stretch throughout all the universe, and nowhere in His Kingdom will be found sin, rebellion, or unrighteousness of any kind.

In His Kingdom, only “those who wash their robes” will “have the right to the tree of life” (Revelation 22:14 ESV). They alone will be allowed to “enter the city by the gates.” Everyone else, all those whose hearts were found to be wicked and unrepentant, will find themselves outside of the Kingdom of God. “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15 ESV). Their destination will be the lake of fire. Jesus made that point quite clear in the previous chapter.

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:8 ESV

With this stark reality in mind, Jesus offers both an invitation and a warning. First He offers an invitation to “come.” He calls out to all those who will read John’s book, extending to them an incredible opportunity: “let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17 ESV). Jesus is offering eternal life. But it is available only through a relationship with Him. His words echo those recorded by the prophet Isaiah and written hundreds of years earlier.

1 Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live. – Isaiah 55:1-3 ESV

Entrance into the Kingdom of God comes with a price, but not one that any human being can meet. Our money and our human effort cannot gain us entrance into God’s Kingdom. It is made possible only through the blood of Jesus Christ.

18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT

All we have to bring is our thirst, and Jesus provides the living water. We simply bring our need and Jesus satisfies that need with His abundance. This is all in keeping with the words of Jesus found in His Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6 ESV

They echo the words of Jesus, spoken to the legalistic, works-focused Pharisees.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

But Jesus also extends two warnings to all those who read the words recorded by John in his book. First of all, if they add to them in any way, they will experience all the plagues that John saw and recorded. Secondly, if anyone takes away any of the words written in John’s book, “God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city” (Revelation 22:19 ESV). These are serious warnings, and they convey the gravity of God’s attitude toward His prophetic word. No one is to tamper with the content of this book. No one is to add to it or take away from it. Jesus is so serious about it, that He warns that even if a believer should treat the contents of this book with contempt, they will forfeit their right to the tree of life. Remember, this is a warning. It is meant to dissuade anyone from doing what is being mentioned. The threat of losing access to the tree of life and, therefore, eternal life, should be enough to keep any believer from tampering with God’s prophetic Word. And yet, how often have well-meaning Christians attempted to add to the words of John through vain speculation and what amounts to be little more than idle conjecture. We must be careful to refrain from explaining away the truth of what God has revealed, by allegorizing its message or spiritualizing its meaning. While we may not fully understand all that is found on the pages of John’s book, we must treat it as the Word of God and nothing less.

Finally, Jesus offers John one final reassurance. “Surely I am coming soon.” It is a done deal, fully guaranteed by God and backed by the One who is trustworthy and true. He is coming. And John responds with the simple, yet profound words, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Those should be the words that come from the mouth of every Christ-follower, each and every day of their lives, as they eagerly and expectantly wait for His return. May we be those who, like the apostle Paul, pray for the day when our Savior comes again.

“…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  – Philippians 3:20 ESV

He is coming. Do you believe it? Better yet, are you ready for it?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Worship God.

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”

10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” Revelation 22:6-11 ESV

John’s vision, given to him on the island of Patmos, is quickly coming to a close. And as it does, he hears repeated some of the same words he heard when he began his incredible experience.

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. – Revelation 1:1-3 ESV

The angel reminds John that every word he has heard is trustworthy and true. They can be trusted for their veracity and accuracy. The visions he has been privileged to see and the words of prophecy he has been commanded to write down have been given to him by the God of the spirit of the prophets. This phrase is meant to qualify the content of John’s visions as having been God-breathed. The same God who spoke through Isaiah, Zechariah, Micah and a host of other Old Testament prophets, had just spoken to and would be passing His message through John. Peter reminds us that God is the one who gave the prophets the words they wrote in their books. He was the author behind their predictions, many of which find their fulfillment in the future events John has just witnessed and chronicled.

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:21 ESV

At the birth of John the Baptist, the final prophet of God, who heralded the coming of Christ, his father spoke spoke these words:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us. – Luke 1:68-71 ESV

God, the author behind every word spoken by the prophets, has just spoken to John. And because God is trustworthy and true, His words can be relied upon.

And John is reminded once again that the things he has seen “must soon take place.” There is a degree of imminence to the angel’s words, but this does not necessarily mean immediacy. The Greek phrase John uses is en tachos, which means “with quickness or speed.” The angel is not saying that these things are about to happen, but that when they do, they will come in rapid succession. And there is another aspect to this warning that we are all to take to heart. None of us know the day of their coming. Jesus Himself told us, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24:36 NLT). But we are to live as if they could happen at any minute. As believers, we are to conduct our lives with an expectation that Jesus Christ could return for His church at any moment. Paul told the Philippian believers, “we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT). He encouraged the believers in Corinth to “eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7 NLT). He told the church in Rome to “wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us” (Romans 8:23 NLT). He complimented the Thessalonian believers for their reputation for “looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead” (1 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT).

So, there is a sense in which we are to eagerly look for the return of Jesus for His bride, the church, because it will usher in the period of the tribulation and inaugurate the final days of judgment. And John hears the voice of Jesus, assuring him that His return is indeed growing closer with each passing day.

“And behold, I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:7 ESV

When the time comes, Jesus will come quickly or without delay. Right now, He is in a holding pattern, waiting for the very moment in time when His heavenly Father commands Him to return for His church. But He is ready. And we should be as well.

And Jesus also reminds John that there is a blessing associated with the faithful reading and keeping of the contents of this book.

“Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” – Revelation 22:7 ESV

The Greek word John uses is tēreō, and it means “to attend to carefully, to take care of or guard.” The words contained in each and every prophecy given to John and recorded in his book are to be taken seriously and treated with reverence and awe. They are the words of God and, as such, come with a blessing. Knowing what God has planned for the future of the world should bring us hope and assurance. It should provide us with confidence and endurance. It should alleviate our fears and eliminate our uncertainties about the future. We don’t have to worry about which side wins. We don’t have to wonder if God has forgotten about us. There is a perfectly planned timeline in place and God will enact it at the very right moment. When He deems best. It has already been predetermined and its outcome preordained.

And in response to all that John had seen or heard during the course of his vision, John fell at the feet of the angel in worship. He couldn’t help but subjugate himself to the one who had provided him with such amazing news. But the angel refused John’s adoration, demanding that he worship God instead. And that is the point behind the entire book. What we read on its pages should drive us to our knees before God Almighty. It should remind us that our God is not only great, but good. He is just, holy, righteous, and in complete control of all things – in heaven and on earth.

And John is told to keep his book open. He was not to seal or close it, but to allow its content to be readily available for all to see, read, and heed. Because it is meant to be a constant reminder to the people of God that the events disclosed on its pages will happen before they know it – “for the time is near.” And then, Jesus utters some rather strange words that carry with them a certain degree of pre-determinism.

Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” – Revelation 22:11 ESV

The sad truth is that there are many who will never accept God’s free gift of salvation made available through His Son’s death on the cross. They will hear, but not heed. They will be offered salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, but refuse to accept this priceless gift. And Jesus is simply saying that they will continue to live as they always have, committed to a life marked by sin and open rebellion against God. And yet, there will be those who, in God’s plan, have heard and accepted God’s gracious gift, received forgiveness for their sins and been imputed the righteousness of Christ. And they are to live as who they are: Sons and daughters of God.

As John has seen and as his book reveals, there is an outcome in store for all. The righteous and the unrighteous have a future already reserved for them. Those who choose to reject God will receive the judgment they deserve. And as has been shown all throughout John’s vision, there will be many times within the seven years of the tribulation when people will be given ample evidence that God is bringing judgment upon sinful men, but they will refuse to repent, choosing instead to maintain their independent, autonomous lifestyle of self-determination. Even under the unrelenting, heavy hand of God, they will reject Him as God and choose instead to worship false gods, including the Antichrist himself. The evil will continue to do evil. Right to the bitter end.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Millennial Kingdom.

1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. Revelation 20:1-6 ESV

The Millennial Kingdom of Christ. There are those who believe this supposed era on earth is the figment of man’s imagination. They call themselves amillennialists, and they have been around for centuries. They tend to read the book of Revelation in a metaphorical and allegorical sense, and see any mention of Christ’s thousand year reign on earth as symbolic in nature. They interpret this passage as being spiritual in meaning and as a metaphorical reference to the current church age in which we live. They deny that there will be a literal 1,000-year long period of universal righteousness and peace on the earth when Jesus will rule from the throne of David in Jerusalem. And yet, as we look at John’s vision and its content, it is difficult to see how these things can simply be spiritualized and sanitized to mean something other than what they explicitly state.

Repeatedly in Scripture, we read God’s promises that He made to the people of Israel regarding a future day when God will bring an extended period of peace, justice and righteousness to the land of Israel.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ – Jeremiah 23:5-6

8 “When the time for them to be rescued comes,”
says the Lord who rules over all,
“I will rescue you from foreign subjugation.
I will deliver you from captivity.
Foreigners will then no longer subjugate them.
But they will be subject to the Lord their God
and to the Davidic ruler whom I will raise up as king over them.” – Jeremiah 30:8-11 NET

Revelation 20 is the only place in the entire Bible where the 1,000-year reign of Christ is mentioned, but it appears six times in this chapter.And there is no apparent reason we should take this numerical figure as anything but literal in nature. Why would God use this somewhat arbitrary number and repeat it six times in this passage, if He did not mean it to be taken as literal. Premillennialists view this as a literal 1,000-year period of time, during which Christ will set up His Kingdom on earth and rule from the throne of David in Jerusalem. He will reestablish the kingdom of His forefather, David, and return the scattered people of God to their land once more. The prophet Micah told of this day to come.

1 In the future the Lord’s Temple Mount will be the most important mountain of all;
it will be more prominent than other hills.
People will stream to it.
Many nations will come, saying,
“Come on! Let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain,
to the temple of Jacob’s God,
so he can teach us his commands
and we can live by his laws.”
For Zion will be the source of instruction;
the Lord’s teachings will proceed from Jerusalem.
He will arbitrate between many peoples
and settle disputes between many distant nations.
They will beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nations will not use weapons against other nations,
and they will no longer train for war. – Micah 4:1-3 NET

One of the things we must ask ourselves when reading these prophetic passages is whether what they promise has already taken place. In this case, the answer is no. So then, when will they take place? When will God fulfill this promise that He made to His people, Israel? Revelation 20 provides us with the answer. It will take place when Jesus Christ returns to the earth and sets up His earthly Kingdom. This will be in keeping with God’s plan to restore His people and to return righteousness and justice to the earth. To do so, His Son must return and establish His earthly Kingdom. But Satan, the great deceiver, liar, and enemy of God must be removed so that his influence over mankind can come to an end. And God reveals to John just how that will take place.

In his vision, John sees another angel coming out of heaven, carrying a key to the bottomless pit or abyss in his hands. He is also holding a chain. John watches as the angel seizes “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan” (Revelation 20:2 ESV), and throws him into the bottomless pit or abyss, where he will be kept bound for a thousand years. In other words, all during Christ’s reign on earth, Satan will be a non-factor. He will have no influence. He will be totally incapable of deceiving and deluding men. The great tempter will be put out of commission. We know from Revelation 19:20 that Antichrist and the false prophet have already been dealt with. They were defeated by Christ and thrown into the lake of fire or hell. Now, God turns His attention to Satan.

With Christ’s death on the cross, He officially defeated, condemned and judged Satan. But Satan was not bound or locked up at that time. He was left to continue to spread his lies and influence the people of the earth to join his rebellion against God. And it doesn’t take any imagination at all to see that he has been successful. But with the return of Christ, his rule as the prince of the world (John 14:30) will end. At least for 1,000 years. John is told that Satan will be kept in custody until the millennium is over, then he will be released. And John will be given further insight into the purpose behind Satan’s release a bit later on.

With Satan locked away in the abyss, John’s attention is turned back to earth, where he sees “thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed.” He also sees “the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands” (Revelation 20:4 ESV). Who are these people and what are they doing? Jesus told His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28 ESV). It would seem that they are included in this group seen by John. But there is also a possibility that the church is in view here as well. When writing to the believers in Corinth, and chastising them for their propensity to take their disputes to the secular courts, Paul reminded them:

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! – 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 ESV

In Revelation 22, John is told that, once Christ’s Kingdom is established on earth, “his servants will worship him” (Revelation 22:3) and “they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:4 ESV). So, perhaps those sitting on the thrones include believers as well.

But John also sees another group. They are those who gave their lives as a result of their faith in Christ during the tribulation. They were martyred by the Antichrist because they refused to bear his mark or bow down to his false idol. But John says, “They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4 ESV). Those who faithfully served Christ during the dark days of the tribulation and willingly gave their lives for the cause of Christ will be resurrected and rewarded with places of prominence in His earthly Kingdom.

John refers to this as the first resurrection and writes, “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection!” (Revelation 20:6 ESV). They are blessed because “the second death has no power” over them. They “will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6 ESV). But what does John mean by “the second death”? As we will see later on in this chapter, all those who have died without Christ, will also be resurrected at the end of the Millennial Kingdom. And they will stand before the Great White Throne for their judgment and final condemnation. At that time, they will suffer a second death, when they will be cast into eternal judgment by God. The “second death” is final death beyond physical death. It will involved both the soul and the body. The unredeemed dead, at the time of their resurrection, will have their souls reunited with resurrected bodies. These bodies will be eternal and permanent in nature, meaning that their bodies will be capable of enduring the eternal punishment God has in store for them.

As we will see in the next portion of this chapter, there are others who will be alive during the 1,000-year reign of Christ. There will be non-believers on the earth, who will find themselves living under the righteous rule of Christ and benefiting from the blessings that come from having a just and holy King as their leader. But they will not follow Him. They will not view Him as their King of kings and Lord of lords. And this will become painfully clear when Satan is released and he, once again, influences these individuals to turn on Christ one more time, as part of a final attempt to overthrow His rule on earth. The stubbornness of lost humanity is difficult to fathom. But it reveals just how hardened the heart without Christ really is. Even with Christ ruling from the throne of David and meting out justice and righteousness on the earth, the lost will continue to reject Him as their Savior and Lord. Even with Satan out of the way for 1,000 years, they will still refuse to worship God and His Son. And it will take no time at all for Satan to convince them to join him in his final attempt to be the god of this world. But he will fail.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Victory!

17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. Revelation 19:17-21 ESV

Verses 6-10 of this chapter revealed to John details concerning the marriage supper of the Lamb. And the angel told John that, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9 ESV). It will be a joyous celebration as Christ consummates His marriage to His bride, the church. But now, John is told about another supper that will take place at the return of Christ. And this will be a radically different kind of supper, where the invited guests will be birds. John is also given a vision of yet another angel who calls out with a loud voice to all the birds of the sky, saying,  “Come, gather for the great supper of God(Revelation 19:17 ESV). This supper will feature the birds as the invited guests and sinful humanity as the main course. These birds are being called “to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great” (Revelation 19:18 ESV). Here we are given an important point of clarification that lets us know that the menu for this supper will contain the corpses of all the armed combatants who have chosen to stand against Christ and His heavenly army. Jesus referred to this scene in His Olivet Discourse.

Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. – Matthew 24:28 ESV

What John is seeing here is the aftermath of the Battle of Armageddon. In chapter 16, in conjunction with the pouring out of the sixth bowl judgment, John was given a rather bizarre vision of three frog-like creatures, coming out of the mouths of the Satan, the Antichrist and the false prophet. And then he was given clarification as to exactly what these creatures were and what they would do.

14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. “ – Revelation 16:14-16 ESV

These demonic forces will cause the kings of the earth to gather their armies in order to do battle against Christ and His forces. But in this chapter, John was shown that it would be a lop-sided battle, with Jesus single-handedly winning the day.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. – Revelation 19:15 ESV

These armies, led by Antichrist himself, will gather “to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army” (Revelation 19:19 ESV). Rather than marvel at the supernatural arrival of Jesus Christ, as He comes out of the sky followed by a great army, these armies of the earth will try to stand against Him. Motivated by demons and led by the Antichrist, they will attempt to overthrow Christ and undermine the will of God. But John says they “were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh” (Revelation 19:21 ESV). Not only that, but the Antichrist and the false prophet are captured and thrown into the lake of fire. They are not annihilated, but simply relegated to hell, and they will be its first occupants. Hell and Hades are often confused. Hades is the abode of the dead, the place where the souls all those who die apart from Christ are kept until the final judgment. Hell, or the lake of fire, is the place God has reserved for all those who have been judged as unworthy of eternal life in His presence. The Antichrist and his false prophet are sent straight to hell. They do not suffer death, but are captured alive and are sent by God to their final place of judgment. And we will discover in the very next chapter, that Antichrist and the false prophet will be joined in the lake of fire by all those who have refused to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Savior.

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:14-15 ESV

But what happens to all those who die in the Battle of Armageddon? We get the answer to that question in chapter 20.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. – Revelation 20:11-13 ESV

We will talk more about this event in our next post. But suffice it to say, God has a plan and He is going to enact that plan. He will deal with Satan, Antichrist, the false prophet and all those who have refused to submit to His authority as God. He will judge each according to what he or she has done. Their punishment will be just and well-deserved.

But all that John has seen in this chapter sets up the establishment of Christ’s earthly kingdom, where He will reign in Jerusalem for 1,000 years. Justice will once again return to the earth. Righteousness will once again reign, just as it did in the days before Adam and Eve made their fateful decision to rebel against God and disobey His command. The return of Christ brings the defeat of Antichrist and his forces. His great power will be no match for the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Those who chose to follow and worship him will discover that they have picked the wrong savior. They have sided with the false Christ. Their fall will be great and Christ’s victory will be complete.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Faithful and True.

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.  Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

revelationofjesuschristpicFor most Christians, the second coming of Christ is the penultimate climax to all things. It is what we long and hope for. In fact, one of the most oft-quoted verses in the entire Bible is found just a few chapters later in the book of Revelation. John hears the words of Jesus, promising that He will indeed return and accomplish all that John has seen in the book of Revelation: “Surely I am coming soon.” And John responds to this promise with the words, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 ESV) We all long for the Lord’s return. And the entire book of Revelation is a preface to that very day. But, interestingly enough, when He does return, it will not be the end. In fact, it will just the beginning of the end, because there are at least six more things that take place after His return. This includes the capture and imprisonment of Satan, the setting up of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom on earth, the release of Satan and his final confinement to the Lake of Fire, the last judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and earth, including the New Jerusalem. With His return, Jesus will set off a chain of events that will mark the last phase of God’s plan.

And John describes seeing the heavens open revealing a rider on a white horse. He is called “Faithful and True” – a reference to His trustworthiness and the reality of His essence. Unlike the false prophet, this individual is true. He is the genuine article. He is not the Antichrist, a false messiah and pseudo-savior, but the one-and-only King of kings and Lord of lords. And the name by which He is called is “the Word of God.” This designation must have struck a chord with John, because it is reminiscent of the manner in which he described Jesus in the opening lines of his gospel.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

The logos, the Word of God is coming again. He is the light of the world and He will break forth in glorious brightness, illuminating the darkness of the fallen world, which will have been dominated by the forces of Satan and virtually devoid of any righteousness during the dark days of the tribulation. And John says, that “in righteousness he judges and makes war” (Revelation 19:11 ESV). One of the things we must recognize is that Jesus is making His second entry into the world and, this time, He is not coming as a helpless, innocent infant, but as a conquering King. And this aspect of Jesus’ mission is absolutely necessary for the full scope of God’s redemptive plan to be completed. With His first coming, Jesus took on human flesh, lived a sinless life, and died a sacrificial death as payment for the sins of mankind. And His resurrection was proof that His sacrifice had been acceptable to God. It satisfied the just demands of God’s holiness and justice. And then Jesus returned to His Father’s side, where He has been waiting for the very moment John is describing in this chapter: His long-awaited return, to finish what He started.

There is a day coming when Jesus will return for His bride, the church. And when He takes His bride to be with Him in heaven, one of the results of our departure from this earth will be that the Holy Spirit will leave with us, because He indwells the church. The apostle Paul tells us what happens as a consequence.

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 ESV

In this passage, Paul refers to the Spirit as “he who now restrains.” With the church gone, the world will discover what it is like to have the presence of God’s Spirit no longer available to hold back the forces of evil. And the book of Revelation has given us a disturbing preview of just how bad things will get. The seven years of the tribulation reveal what will happen when the Spirit is removed and Satan is given free rein to rule unconstrained and unrestricted.

But Jesus returns. That is the beauty of this chapter. He shows back up on the scene, but this time as a King, leading behind Him an army of heavenly hosts. And Jesus will come with “a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15 ESV). And that sword is described as coming from His mouth. That presents us with a rather bizarre and disturbing image, but it reflects the sovereign power of the Son of God. Not only is He the Word of God, His words carry the power of God. He simply speaks and things happen. And from the way John describes the arrival of Jesus, it would appear that all the fighting that will take place upon His return is to be done by Him. Yes, Jesus is accompanied by “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure” (Revelation 19:14 ESV), but they are not carrying any weapons. It is with His sword that Jesus will strike down the nations. He will rule over them with a rod of iron. He will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15 ESV). What takes place after His second coming will be completely up to Him. It is likely that those who accompany Him back to earth and who make up part of that heavenly army will be the church. They are described as wearing “fine linen, white and pure.” They are riding on white horses, symbols of victory and righteousness. But they will not be fighting alongside Christ. They will simply watch as He accomplishes the final phase of God’s judgment on the earth.

Jesus spoke of this very day. He told His disciples that He would return and what would transpire when He did.

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. – Matthew 24:30 ESV

What a contrast between His second coming and His first incarnation as a helpless infant. The first time Jesus came to earth, He did so with little fanfare. Except for a few lowly shepherds and some visiting travelers from a distant land, there was no one who even realized that God had come to earth. But that will not be the case when He returns the second time. It will be an epic occasion that will instigate a series of events like none the world has ever seen. The King of kings and Lord of lords will show up and everyone on earth will know it. And the full and final wrath of God will be released upon the inhabitants of world and on Satan and his minions. Their days will be numbered. Their fates have been sealed. And He who is faithful and true will see that righteousness reins and justice is done.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Our God Reigns.

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
    for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
    who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

Once more they cried out,

“Hallelujah!
The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying,

“Praise our God,
    all you his servants,
you who fear him,
    small and great.”

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Revelation 19:1-10 ESV

At the close of chapter 18, the angel of God extended an invitation to all those in heaven to rejoice over the fall of Babylon.

“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” – Revelation 18:20 ESV

But this was not a call to gloat over the demise of an earthly kingdom or over the destruction of those who lived in it. This was to be a celebration of God’s vindication of His people. Notice what the angel said: “God has given judgment for you against her.” They were to rejoice because their God had stepped in and stood against the forces of evil – all on their behalf. And as we begin chapter 19, we see that the angel’s invitation to celebrate and rejoice was eagerly taken up by those in heaven. John says that he immediately heard the sound of many voices, a great multitude, coming out of heaven, and they were singing the praises of God.

There are five songs contained in the first 10 verses of this chapter. The first four look back on the destruction of Babylon, recounting the city’s downfall, but celebrating God’s display of salvation, glory and power. The main emphasis of these songs is God’s vindication of all those who had suffered martyrdom as a result of Antichrist’s reign. And his rule and power are symbolized by his governmental headquarters in Babylon, which God brought to a devastating end. If you recall, all the way back in chapter six, John had seen, under the altar in heaven, the souls of all “those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (Revelation 6:9 ESV), and they had been crying out:

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” – Revelation 6:10 ESV

Well, their prayers have been answered. God has avenged them, and all those in heaven rejoice at the faithfulness of God. They call on all those who fear Him to praise Him. Four separate times, we hear the phrase, “Hallelujah!” coming out of heaven. In the Greek it is hallēlouïa, and it literally means “Praise the Lord.” It is only found in this chapter and nowhere else in the New Testament. It is frequently used in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and is usually associated with God’s punishment of the ungodly.

Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
    and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord! (Hallelujah) – Psalm 104:35 ESV

What a contrast we see between the songs of rejoicing emanating from heaven and the mourning of those who had placed all their hope in the false religion of the Antichrist and the immoral commercial and political system he established on earth. Back in chapter 18, John was told that the kings of the earth would weep and wail over Babylon’s fall. The merchants of the earth would weep and mourn over her demise. And even the sailors, who benefiteds from shipping the vast amounts of commercial goods that flowed from her gates, would mourn the loss of this great city, calling out, “What city was like the great city?” (Revelation 18:18 ESV). But in heaven, there would be nothing but singing and celebration over the fall of Babylon the Great.

The second song sung by the heavenly host celebrates the finality of Babylon’s fall. “The smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (Revelation 19:3 ESV). In other words, the city’s destruction at the hands of God is complete, eliminating any possibility that she should ever rise to power and prominence again. Babylon’s long and less-than-illustrious history of rebellion against God will be brought to an ignominious end.

While the people on earth had showered their praises on Antichrist and on his capital, the praises in heaven are reserved for God alone.

“Praise our God,
    all you his servants,
you who fear him,
    small and great.” – Revelation 19:5 ESV

And isn’t this the whole point of the book of Revelation? It paints the vivid and disturbing picture of God’s judgment against a world that has refused to praise and honor Him for millenniums. The apostle Paul outlines the problem in the opening chapter of his letter to the Romans, clearly indicting the world for its refusal to honor God as God and choosing instead to offer their praise to anything and everything but God.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:18-23 ESV

The book of Revelation chronicles what happens when the world finally turns its back on God completely and finally. We have seen the visions of God’s judgments falling on rebellious humanity and, even under the fierce nature of His wrath, they stubbornly refuse to repent and acknowledge Him as God. The city of Babylon becomes the icon of man’s rebellion against God and, with its destruction, God signals the coming end to all sin and rebellion against Him. In short order His Son will return, to put the finishing touches on the divine plan to eliminate sin from the earth once and for all.

And the final song John hears echoing from the realm of heaven has to do with the coming marriage supper of the Lamb. With the fall of Babylon, one of the most long-awaited and eagerly anticipated events in human history can take place. On the night that Jesus was to be betrayed, as He celebrated His final Passover meal with the disciples, He told them, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29 ESV). Jesus was letting His disciples know that there was going to be a delay, a period of time before He would celebrate over a meal with them again. He was referencing the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. After His resurrection, when He appeared to them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He ate fish with them. But there is yet another meal, still to come, and it will be shared in His Kingdom – His Kingdom on earth.

In a traditional Hebrew wedding, there are three major parts. First, the marriage is consummated by means of a contract. This is pictured in God calling unto Himself all those who He chooses as His own. Next, the day comes when the bridegroom, accompanied by friends, goes to the bride’s house and escorts her to his own home. This is reflected in the rapture, when Christ returns for His bride, the church, to take her to be with Him in heaven, His home (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). Then, the final phase of the wedding celebration takes place: The wedding feast. And this is what the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is all about. Christ will return to earth and set up His Kingdom and, when He does, He will celebrate with His bride, the church.

It is important to notice the words of this final song.

“Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready.” – Revelation 19:7 ESV

The voices are referring to the bride of Christ. This is a clear reference to the church and not Israel. In the Old Testament, Israel was often referred to as the wife of Christ, but as a nation, they had proved unfaithful and adulterous. That is a big reason for much of what happens in the book of Revelation. God is bringing judgment on the sinful world, but also on rebellious Israel. But He will restore them. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is a reference to the church and the final phase of the marriage ceremony. The bride is described as being ready, being dressed in “fine linen, bright and pure.” And John lets us know that these garments symbolize the righteous deeds of the saints. This is not a reference to their sinlessness while on earth, but to their glorification as a result of His return for them at the rapture. When Christ returns for His church, believers will experience immediate glorification, their final transformation into the likeness of Christ. In his first letter, John explains that the day is coming when we will be like Christ.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3:2 ESV

And in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that our transformation into His likeness is His doing. It is He who sanctifies us and it will be He who presents us to Himself as spotless and sinless, dressed in garments of righteousness.

25 Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, 27 so that he may present the church to himself as glorious—not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. – Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV

John is told by the angel, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9 ESV). There will be countless guests at this wedding feast. This will include the Old Testament saints as well as all those who will have been martyred for their faith during the days of the tribulation. These guests will be blessed because they will witness the faithfulness of God as His Son consummates His marriage covenant with His bride. Everything God has promised for the church and for the people of Israel will be fulfilled. And that is great cause for rejoicing.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson