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 20

Read Revelation 20.

This chapter is where we get the doctrine of the Millennium. The word “millennium” is Latin for “one thousand years,” the exact period of time that verse 2b says Satan will be bound. During this one thousand year period, those who were martyred during the Great Tribulation were resurrected (v. 4) and “reigned with Christ a thousand years” (vv. 4, 6).

No Christian likes the idea of being persecuted for Christ; being “beheaded” for him is a gruesome and terrifying concept. Yet, verse 6 says, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection” (which is the one described in verses 4-5). The reason they are blessed is that “the second death has no power over them.” Their faith in Christ stood the test of persecution and even martyrdom which demonstrated that it was genuine. Therefore, they are safe forever from the “second death” and, in fact, “will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

In contrast to this resurrection, verses 11-15 describe the general resurrection of the rest of mankind (v. 13). These people did not reign with Christ; they were judged by him for how they lived during their time on this earth. (v. 13: “each person was judged according to what they had done”). But notice that the result of this judgment was not based on what they had done; rather, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15). God will judge every sinner at the judgment of the dead and he will describe the reasons why they deserve to be in the lake of fire based on their works. But those who escape that judgment do not escape it because they had good works. Instead, those who escape the lake of fire did so because they were found in the book of life.

This is the gospel; this is the central truth of our faith. An impartial judgment of our works by a just God would ensure that every one of us would be a goner. But God, in his grace, chose some of us–not because of our works but simply because he is gracious. He wrote our names in his book of life so that we would escape this judgment. But, so that he would not be unjust for forgiving us, he sent Christ to pay the penalty for our sins.

If you’ve been reading these devotionals over the last year, it seems very likely to me that you’ve trusted Christ and are following him. But it is possible that you haven’t done that or that you found this page on our website through some other means. Do you understand that, on your own, you have no basis on which God should allow you into his presence after this life is over? You may be a very good person relative to many other people but compared to God, all of us are wicked, fallen, and completely deserving of eternity in a lake that burns with fire.

Do you understand that Christ came into the world to save sinners from this lake of fire? Have you come to God at some time in your life and put your faith fully and only in Jesus Christ? If not, please cry out to God for mercy and ask him to save you because of Jesus’ death on the cross for you.

If you have trusted Christ, remember that God has an incredible, eternal future waiting for you. Whatever problem you face in life today, whatever price you pay for following him will be forgotten when you serve him and reign with him forever. Take hope in that!

Revelation 16

Read Revelation 16.

Have you ever wondered why people who are dying don’t just pray the “sinners prayer?” After all, if God will save everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, then someone could live a completely selfish, sinful life and be saved just before they reach eternity. So, why don’t more people do that?

One answer is that becoming a Christian is not just about praying some words, like a magic incantation. Receiving the gospel starts with changing your mind which is the act we know theologically as “repentance.” That change of mind requires a work of God in someoane’s heart which causes them to want God instead of sin. If you genuinely want God, you’ll turn to him as soon as you realize that you want him, not wait until the very end of your life. Although there are exceptions, the longer people live, the more hardened they usually become in their sin and rejection of Christ. To receive Christ is to renounce your pride, to admit that you’ve been living wrongly your whole life, and to fall on his grace alone because you’re unable to fix yourself or your situation. Apart from the grace of God, human pride keeps us from such repentance.

This is why the people described in today’s chapter “refused to repent and glorify him” (v. 9, and similar wording in verse 11). Instead of calling for God’s mercy, then, people cursed him for his justice (vv. 9, 11, 21). This is the natural response of humanity to the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God.

This is why we must pray for God to open hearts and change minds so that people will turn to God for grace instead of cursing him for his justice.

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 9

Read Revelation 9.

In chapter 8, Jesus opened the seventh seal. Then John told us, “I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them” (v. 2) and “the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them” (v. 6). Four of those angels sounded their trumpets in Revelation 8; today we read about what happened when angels five and six sounded their trumpets.

What happened was painful torture to those not protected by God’s seal (vv. 4-12) and death for 33% of the world’s population (vv. 13-19).

One would expect that this kind of devastation would cause people to cry out to God for mercy. Instead, those who lived through these horrific events “still did not repent” of their false worship and disobedience to God. Their stubbornness demonstrates that sin nature is deeply planted in us all as are the sinful habits that we cultivate. Neither God’s judgment on others nor the threat of it can cause a person’s mind and heart to change. It is only God’s gracious working within any of us that changes our minds and causes us to turn to God in faith.

Thank God, though, that he does this gracious work in the hearts of many, including in our hearts when we came to believe in Jesus.

And this is one reason why we are here to give the gospel to others. Through the gospel message God works in hearts to open them to his gracious gift of salvation. Through that salvation, God delivers them from the coming days of his wrath like those described here in Revelation.

So keep looking for opportunities to share Christ with others. It is the only means of hope for humanity.

Revelation 6

Read Revelation 6.

Yesterday we read in Revelation 5 that God was holding a scroll that was closed by seven seals. Jesus was the only one qualified to open the seals on the scroll and, in today’s reading, he began doing that. In this chapter he opened six of the seven seals on the scroll. Each time he opened a seal, something bad happened on earth. At the end of the this chapter, we learned that the bad things that happened were not random, natural events. Instead they were “…the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (vv. 16b-17).

There are a number of questions which have to be answered to interpret this chapter and figure out its meaning. Getting into all the interpretive questions and viewpoints is not appropriate for a devotional like this one. The major lesson is that God’s anger at the sins of humanity will eventually be expressed on earth and it will be destructive (vv. 2, 8), deadly (v. 4), and terrifying to every type of person on earth (v. 15).

It is interesting that, despite all the devastation described in this chapter, the martyrs who spoke out when the fifth seal was opened did not view the tribulations described in this chapter as expressions of God’s justice. In fact, they cried out to the Lord for justice, wondering aloud when God would “judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (v. 10). This indicates that the expressions of wrath we read about in this chapter are not so much about God’s justice but about subjecting the earth to his authority. That’s why the white horse, revealed when the first seal was opened “rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest” (v. 2). This tribulation period, then, is a period of war. It is the almighty God, king of the universe, squashing the rebellion of humanity against his rule and bringing the rogue province of earth back under his full control.

The people on earth interpreted the cataclysms described in this passage as acts of God’s wrath (vv. 16-17). They were correct about that; however, they believed that death could cause them to escape God’s judgment (v. 16a) while the martyrs of verse 10 were wondering when God’s judgment would begin. The martyrs understood (and the ones hiding did not, apparently) that God’s judgment would be handed down later when each person who ever lived would stand in his courtroom. As bad as the tribulations in this chapter were–and they were horrible–they were not the final judgments of God but acts of war by which God would subject everything to himself and establish his kingdom permanently.

When I have witnessed about Christ to others during my life, I have occasionally met someone who said, “I believe we’re in hell right now.” They don’t have a clue what they’re saying. This life can certainly be painful and destructive and, when the events of this chapter happen, things will get far worse. But the very worst devastation and suffering that anyone experiences on this earth is minor compared to the death sentence that God will hand down in the future when the day of his judgment actually comes. In addition to inviting people to receive the forgiveness of sins in Christ, we need to warn them that there is a day of judgment coming. It is unavoidable and the sentence that God passes down on that day will eclipse even the worst suffering that has ever happened in this life.

Have you turned to Jesus for refuge from that day of judgment? Are you warning the people around you about the fact that they will answer to God for the way they have lived on this earth? Are you inviting them to the only hope of avoiding God’s judgment which is the atonement of Christ that we read about yesterday in Revelation 5:9-10?

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?

1 John 2

Read 1 John 2.

It can be difficult, at times, to know whether someone who claims to be a Christian really is one. So many people claim to love Jesus, to have believed in him, to be his followers. I find that whenever I meet someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, I want to believe their claim.

This passage gives us some objective things to look at to evaluate someone’s profession of faith in Christ. The word “claims” is used in verse 6 and verse 9 to describe someone who says they know Christ. So how do we know if someone is truthful when they say, “I know him” (v. 3), “claims to live in him” (v. 6), and “claims to be in the light” (v. 9)?

The answer is to look at how they live. Does a person claim to know Jesus, to live in him, and to be in his light? If that person’s claim is true he or she will:

  • keep his commands (vv. 3-6)
  • love other Christians (vv. 9-11)
  • won’t love the world (v. 15b)
  • will be loyal and active within a local church (v. 19).

In addition to these things, those who truly love and know Jesus are committed to the truth (vv. 20-27). That is the basic commitment and the other things flow from it. When we love Jesus, we love and are committed to his truth. That truth is what causes us to keep his commands, love other Christians, etc.

How is your love for Christ? Does it cause you to live obediently as Jesus did? Does it compel you to love other Christians, to turn away from the temptations and pleasures of this world, and to be active in our church? These are not conditions we meet to prove that we follow Jesus; they are the natural response of someone who has the “anointing” (v. 20, 27) which is the power of the Holy Spirit within. If you lack these things, you don’t need to try harder, you need to be saved! Turn from your love of this world and receive the gospel message; it will transform you so that you show the marks of spiritual life listed in this chapter.

John 20

Read John 20.

This chapter recounts the fact of Christ’s resurrection (vv. 1-9) and the proof of that resurrection through Jesus’s appearances to many disciples (vv. 10-29).

Despite the unprecedented display of power that was Christ’s resurrection, the disciples were very much afraid of the persecution that could come from being Jesus’s disciples. Verse 19 says that they met “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders….”

Jesus found them, however, and miraculously entered their meeting behind those locked doors (v. 19b). Then he “… breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This refers not to receiving the Holy Spirit in the sense of salvation; it refers to the spiritual authority they would have as Jesus’ disciples once he went away. We see that in the next verse: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (v. 23). What power did the disciples have to do this? They had the power of the Holy Spirit and the delegated responsibility of the Lord.

There really was no reason to fear “the Jewish leaders” because Jesus had triumphed over them in his resurrection. As his followers, the power that raised him from the dead was now working in them to prepare them to be the leaders of his church.

When we live in fear of others on this earth, we are showing ourselves to be incomplete disciples. We are incomplete in the sense that we do not trust the Lord enough to rescue or preserve us from the hands of sinful men. But we have the Holy Spirit and the promises of God when we serve him, so we need to stop considering the bad things that might happen as we worship and witness for the Lord. Instead we need to remember that Christ has overcome all spiritual powers and sinful powers. We have the ability, though his power then, to serve God, worship God, and witness for God. Let’s believe the promises of spiritual power and go to work harvesting the Lord’s people for his church.