Revelation 21

Read Revelation 21.

Now that justice has been done and all unrepentant sinners have received their just penalty, God starts over here in Revelation 21.

This fresh start is different than the one involving Noah and his family. Recall that God judged the world back in Genesis and started over with Noah, his family, and representatives of everything in the animal kingdom. It wasn’t long, however, before sin re-entered the world because Noah and his offspring were sinners. So, humanity’s efforts to start over after the flood had cleansed the earth were unsuccessful.

Here in Revelation 21, God made a new heaven and new earth AFTER he redeemed people to live in it (v.7). God unveiled his new created world and city only after creating a new society of people through the redemption of Christ to live in it. Then–and only then–will :God himself will be with them and be their God” (v. 3).

And what a God he proves to be! Instead of enslaving his people and demanding our worship–which he has every right to do–God moves to “wipe every tear from their eyes” (v. 4) to make us his “children” (v. 7b) and to cause the victorious to “inherit all this” (v. 7). Although God’s kingdom is for him–he’s the king, after all, he generously shares it with us and serves us in it even though he is the exalted king. When we arrive there, we will worship God but God will honor us, enlightening us with his glory (v. 23) and comforting all of troubled hearts.

Are you looking forward to that day? Or are you consumed with the things of this world, trying to build yourself a mini-kingdom instead of seeking first God’s kingdom? The eternity God has prepared for those he loves is beyond the ability of even an inspired writer like John to describe. Live for this; it is the only home that lasts forever.

Revelation 19

Read Revelation 19.

In Revelation 18 God defeated Babylon. At the end of chapter 19 (vv. 11-21) Christ returned to personally defeat the Beast.

In between these two victories, we read verses 1-10. Have you ever been to a sporting event–a football game or basketball game–where the cheering was so loud and so intense that it muffled every other sound? Verse 1 describes the worship of our Lord in similar language when it says, “After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.’” It was “the roar of a great multitude in heaven.” Verse 6 echoes this when it says, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.’”

It is difficult for us to imagine what eternal life will be like, so language like this helps us get a picture to look forward to. The most exciting game you’ve ever witnessed and cheered for will not compare to the excitement and joy and loud shouts of rejoicing that we will make for our Lord. The most enthralling musical concert you’ve ever witnessed will sound like an out-of-tune middle school band recital compared to how we’ll sing and shout the praises of God.

Eternal life will not be boring; it will be infinitely better every moment than the greatest highlights of your life. This hope of eternal life can carry us, it can help us “hold to the testimony of Jesus” while we wait for him to return. When your life is disappointing or worse, remember what God has promised to us in Christ. Then, sing a song for worship and thanks to him as an expression of hope and faith for that coming day.

Revelation 17

Read Revelation 17.

Some people crave political power. They desire to get it either personally by becoming a ruler or collectively by associating with a party in power. Humanity has a long history of using political power to oppress people, particularly people in a disfavored group. In this chapter, the rulers of the world (“kings of the earth”) formed an alliance first with “the great prostitute” (vv. 1-2) then with “the beast” (vv. 12-14). Both of these alliances were oppressive and destructive to God’s people (vv. 6, 14). “The beast” is defined for us as “an eighth king” (v. 11) while “the great prostitute” is identified as “the great city.” God ultimately pits the beast and the prostitute against one another as enemies (vv. 16-17) and, despite the beast’s best efforts, Jesus triumphs over all of these powerful forces (v. 14b) “because is the Lord of lords and King of kings.”

This is something to remember when you don’t like the powers that control our government. Ultimately all of these powers will fight against Christ and his kingdom but they will not win. So we should never get too attached to any ruler or any political group, whether in power or seeking power. Our allegiance is to Jesus. He is our hope and his kingdom is the one we are waiting for.

I don’t know what bad news we may read about today but I can predict there will be something in the news that you don’t like. Don’t get discouraged; ask God to establish his kingdom. Set your mind and your hope there. Lay up treasure for yourself there and, if we are persecuted, rest in justice of God which will be done when Jesus reigns.

Revelation 12

Read Revelation 12.

Here in Revelation 12, John appears to be summarizing the history of redemption. A woman who stands for Israel (note the “twelve stars on her head,” v. 1) gives birth to a baby–Jesus–who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (v. 5a). He is “snatched up to God and to his throne” (v. 5b) and Satan is hurled down the earth after an angelic battle (vv. 7-9). The end of the chapter said that Satan “went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (v. 17b). But, even while he was going off to wage this war, heaven is rejoicing in verses 10-12: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah…. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!” So there is rejoicing in heaven that Jesus is victorious even though his victory has not yet been realized on earth.

When you’re watching a sporting event where the score is close and the game can turn on one play, there is incredible tension. It is hard to stay seated or sit still. People celebrate when their team makes a big play but, until the game is over, you can’t really gloat. But there is gloating here, even though the war was not done. Why? Because Christ won the victory in reality even though it had not played out in real time yet. Heaven could rejoice because there was no possibility of losing.

This should comfort us when things are dark and depressing on earth in the spiritual realm. When there are doctrinal defections, persecutions, rejection of the gospel, and complacent Christians, we should not lose heart or worry about the outcome. Christ has already won the war; his kingdom will prevail. There may be time left on the clock and Satan may gain some yardage, but he will not win. This is something to remember, to hold on to dearly, and to be encouraged by during dark days spiritually. Jesus has won; there is no need to worry.

Revelation 11

Read Revelation 11.

In this portion of John’s vision, God appointed and empowered two witnesses who prophesied. We are not told what they said but verse 10 tells us that they “had tormented those who live on the earth” so it was probably a whole lot of warning about God’s punishment. Their message was not received and they were killed then raised from the dead and received into heaven. Following this, seven thousand people died in an earthquake in Jerusalem. Those who survived the earthquake “were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” That’s what happened on earth in this chapter.

In heaven, however, voices in cheered the coming of Christ’s kingdom (v. 15) and thanked God for beginning his rule (v. 17). What were they so thankful for? The judgment of God: “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

The idea that God judges sinners and rewards the righteous has never been popular. In our culture however, it is construed as a black mark on God’s name, something that Christians try to explain apologetically. I understand that as a fellow-human; nobody wants to see people suffer.

But those who are judged and suffer for it do so because of their own moral choices, not because God is looking for excuses to torture his creation. If we condemn God for not being merciful to someone, we are actually condemning ourselves for not loving his holiness and longing for his justice. Of course we want God to be merciful to other sinners like we are but, if he chooses not to show mercy, the people who die outside of Christ are receiving the just penalty for their sins.

Do you love the justice of God? It was God’s justice that caused Christ to die as our substitute in order to rescue us from God’s judgment. By punishing Christ for our sins, God was able to be both just in the way he dealt with our sins as well as merciful and loving in forgiving us. We should give thanks and praise God for his justice–not because we want to see anyone perish but because we love God and want his glory to be fully shown. Take some time today and give thanks for God’s justice; then ask him to show mercy to other sinners that you know.

Revelation 5

Today’s reading is Revelation 5.

Yesterday, in Revelation 4, John described to us his vision of God, in heaven, on his throne, being worshipped. Here in Revelation 5, John saw that God is holding a scroll (v. 1). However, the scroll was sealed with no one worthy to open it (vv. 2-4). No one, that is, except Jesus who appeared in verse 5.

It is interesting to contrast the description of Christ in verse 5 and John’s description of his appearance in verse 6. In verse 5, one of the 24 elders we read about in Revelation 4:4 described Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” This description, plus the statement that he “has triumphed” leads us to expect someone whose appearance is fierce, majestic, and powerful. Instead when John looked at him in verse 6 he saw, “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.” As if lambs aren’t weak and defenseless enough, this one looks like a dead lamb–one that died violently–hardly someone you would expect to be worthy to open the scroll of God’s revelation.

And yet, that’s what he began to do when he took the scroll from God the Father’s hand in verse 7. Why was he able to do this? The elders and living creatures told us in their “new song” in verses 9-10: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain.” The appearance of Jesus as a slaughtered lamb did not disqualify him from opening the scroll; it qualified him TO open the scroll. Why? Verse 9b: “…with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The triumph (v. 5b) that qualified Jesus was not that he defeated all enemies in battle but that he gave himself to rescue us from God’s wrath for our sins.

The result of his sacrifice was stated in verse 10: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” This is why Jesus came. To create a new kingdom, composed of people everywhere that Christ redeemed, to enjoy ruling with him in his kingdom on this earth.

Are you thankful for your salvation? Do you understand that forgiveness of sins is just the first of many blessings that Christ secured for you by his death on the cross? Are you waiting expectantly for his kingdom to come and preparing for it by storing up treasure there?

John 18

Read John 18.

In today’s chapter, Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane and tried by Pontius Pilate. Simon Peter moved like a pendulum from defending Jesus violently (v. 10) to denying him three times (v. 17, 25-27). Peter’s denial is famous because Jesus foretold it and because it was seemingly out of character for such an outspoken person. It seems to me that Peter’s attack on Malchus is less well known than Peter’s denial but his attack is important to the story in a few ways.

First, when he rebuked Peter in verse 11 for the attack Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” This language of the “cup” you may recognize from the other Gospel accounts which recorded Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane. In that prayer he asked God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). He then repeated that prayer twice more according to Matthew 26:42, 44. So three times Jesus asked for release from drinking the “cup” which is a reference to the OT description of God’s wrath. Each time, however, he indicated his submission to the Father’s will.

Here in John 18:11 when Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” we see that he was reconciled and even resolved to do the Father’s will. Although he expressed his desire to avoid it in his prayer, he would not tolerate the use of force as a means of avoiding the Father’s will.

Later, when asked about his kingdom by Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders” (v. 36b). This testimony to Pilate, then, explains even further why he rebuked Peter. The kingdom of God is not a political entity. We do not send armies to conquer foreign nations and forcibly coerce them into becoming “Christians.” Christianity is about listening to Jesus (v. 37: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”) and waiting for him to supernaturally establish his kingdom on earth, as verse 36e says, “But now my kingdom is from another place.”

America was founded on many Christian principles, but it is not a “Christian nation” in the sense of being the kingdom of God politically. So we should never be so proud to be Americans that we fail to identify as Christians–citizens of Christ’s coming kingdom–first. We also shouldn’t spend so much energy and time in American politics. This republic will not last for eternity. It will be superseded by Christ and his kingdom. As citizens of that kingdom, we should spend more time and money on evangelism, church planting, and missions than we spend on elections and politics. Don’t look to engineer God’s will on earth through military and political action. Instead, offer the gift of eternal life in the kingdom of God to others. That will give them eternal life, a far better result than winning an election.

2 Timothy 4

Read 2 Timothy 4.

Paul seemed certain in this chapter that his life was nearing its end. He said so in verse 6, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.”

Despite the fact that he was soon going to die as a martyr for the faith, the return of Christ and his coming kingdom were still promises that were important to him:

  • It was Christ’s “appearing and his kingdom” that he had in mind when he charged Timothy to “preach the Word” in verses 1b-2.
  • The reward he was looking forward to was tied to the fact that he had “longed for his appearing” (v. 8c).

Even though Paul’s death prevented him from seeing Christ’s return from the vantage point of earth, there was no fear that he would miss out on Christ’s kingdom. As he said in verse 18, “The Lord will… bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” What he wanted most in life was for Christ to return and establish his promised kingdom on earth. If he died before that happened, he still had confidence that it would happen and that he would be there to enter the kingdom with Christ.

We have milestones in our lives that we look forward to. Depending on where you are in life, it might be graduating from high school or college, falling in love and getting married, having your first child, watching your children become adults, holding a grandchild, or retiring from work. These are all noble and worthwhile things to look forward to but does the coming of Christ and establishment of his kingdom enter your thoughts as well? Are you looking forward to that day when we will live and reign forever with Christ?

If not, why not? Is it love for this present world? Are you investing too much in this world and not enough into God’s kingdom?

The coming of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom will be the greatest time in the history of humanity. The best family event or festival or concert or life milestone will never bring you as much joy as reigning with Christ in his kingdom. It will be the greatest time of your life and it will last forever.

If you believe that, it will help you keep serving Christ no matter what the climate or culture or traditions around you are. Enjoy and anticipate the good things in life God created for us to enjoy, but keep Christ’s return and his kingdom at the center of what you hope for. It will help you serve the Lord when truth is unwanted (vv. 1-4) and it will give you hope and comfort in the moment of death (vv. 6-8).

Mark 11

Read Mark 11.

In verse 23, did Jesus really mean that you could order a mountain into the sea if you prayed with enough faith?

The short answer is yes, he really meant it.

But…

It is important to keep some things in mind here when we look at this text, or one like it.

First, Mark 11 is a strong kingdom text. It began with Jesus entering Jerusalem on a colt, fulfilling the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9b, “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” See Matthew 21:5 also. This entire week–the passion week before Christ was crucified–was designed by God to show Israel that the true Messiah was here.

So Jesus did some very unusual things (even for him) to demonstrate his identity as Messiah. For instance, Jesus’ “triumphal entry” (vv. 1-11) was not the way he normally entered Jerusalem… or any other town for that matter. Also, the way he unilaterally cleared the temple (vv. 15-17) was unusual, too, though he probably did it once before.

The way Jesus cursed the fig tree was also unusual; not that he used his divine authority as Lord to do a miracle but that he cursed something rather than blessing it. Furthermore, the fig tree miracle had no other function than to demonstrate his Lordship to the disciples (vv. 12-14, 20-21). Jesus could have ordered the fig tree to immediately make figs and that would have happened. Instead, he cursed the tree for not making figs so that his disciples would see–again–that he had authority over everything, including nature.

That curse on the fig tree set up Jesus’ teaching on faith and prayer here in verses 22-25. Preparing the disciples for that teaching was the point of the curse but the entire of this chapter was to show us Jesus acting in a more overtly king-like, Messianic way. Jesus was about to be rejected and crucified–all according to God’s plan–but not before he gave everyone a look at what an authoritative king he would be. This text on faith was for the disciples to show them that his kingdom power would continue to work as they acted according to his will for the promotion of his kingdom. If moving a mountain was necessary for the promotion of his kingdom, the disciples would have been able to do it by faith in God’s power. But if they just wanted to re-arrange someone’s backyard by getting rid of that pesky mountain, well… there’s no good kingdom reason for that.

A second consideration for interpreting verse 23 is that Jesus often spoke using a literary device called “hyperbole.” Hyperbole means wildly overstating something for a powerful communication effect. We do this, too, when we say that we called someone “a million times” when we really just called twice. Jesus spoke in hyperbole often, such as when he told us to cut off a hand that causes us to sin. I’m not saying that Jesus was insincere about the power of “mountain moving faith” but I am saying he chose that image to show us how much power God would place at our disposal if we believed him and used it in service to him, not so that we could rearrange the world’s topography on a whim.

So, did Jesus really mean that you can order a mountain into the sea if you have enough faith? Yes, he meant it. But, the people who needed that power most were the original disciples, not us. If this miraculous power is for us, not only do you need faith without a doubt, you also need a good kingdom reason for it.

If a mountain stands between you and a mission God gives to you, I think you can use Jesus’ authority to move that mountain. But, let’s face it, a lot of our prayer requests aren’t kingdom or mission focused. They are for our comfort more than for God’s glory. God does not tire of hearing people ask him to help them through routine surgery, but I wonder if he is saddened that we never ask him for anything else.

If you want to live for God in this world, you will need God’s power for spiritual things such as:

  • forgiving someone who has sinned against you
  • overcoming an addiction
  • praying for an opportunity to witness to someone for Christ
  • asking God to help someone else who is stuck in sin
  • receiving grace to accept something you wish he would change (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

If we believed God in these areas and asked him to move those metaphoric mountains for us, can you believe that we would see him working more powerfully in our lives and in our church?

2 Thessalonians 2

Read 2 Thessalonians 2.

Paul continued, in this chapter, his teaching on end time events. We saw that right off the bat in verse 1: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him….” Paul described the rise of the Antichrist, called here the “man of lawlessness” (vv. 2-8a) and the deception he will bring on the earth (vv. 9-12). But, in the middle of this description, we are told in verse 8, “the Lord Jesus will overthrow [him] with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.”

So, as bad as the end times will be, Jesus will win. The passage ends, then, with a reminder that they have been saved by God’s grace (vv. 13-14). Therefore, Paul encouraged them (and us) to persevere in the faith: “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

Knowing and clinging to the truth of God’s word is the key to perseverance. When you start to doubt the truth of God’s word or entertain novel interpretations of it, that’s will weaken your faith and your walk with God.

The promise of God, however, is that those who believe and follow Jesus to the end will be saved. As verse 14b says, “that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Did you notice that phrase? It’s easy to miss but it is so important. God saved us so that we will share in the glory of Jesus Christ.

That “glory” describes his holy character that is being formed in us and and that will be completed in eternity. But it also describes the eternal kingdom God has promised to all of us who love Jesus and follow him. the Bible tells us again and again that we will rule and reign with Christ (2 Tim 2:12, Rev 20:4, 22:5). I cited 2 Timothy 2:12 in that last sentence, but let me quote it for you because it is so on point: “…if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

That’s God’s promise to you and me. No matter how bleak things become on earth, continue to follow Jesus and you will be rewarded with his kingdom.

So don’t be deceived by the fake promises of sin or the tantalizing “secrets” of false doctrine. Don’t let discouragement keep you from following Jesus. Instead, “…stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you” (v. 15).