Prophecy can be a tough subject. People in churches get very passionate about the study of the end times. Yet, people also recognize that this topic is hardly a settled issue. We find all sorts of views about the millennium, about the tribulation, about the church, about Israel, and about the return of Christ.
One sad thing as we consider the topic of eschatology, the study of last things, is that many Christians give up quickly. Many will see the conflict that has happened among groups, and they will decide that we just cannot figure it out. Many will see the odd images in apocalyptic literature and will determine that this is just too much to deal with. Some will look at the broad segment of the church that embraces end-times fiction novels on the one hand, then look at the segment of the church that mercilessly makes fun of that genre on the other hand, and they decide that there is no value in trying to figure it out.
But when we ignore end-times thinking, we stop thinking about some of the things that are abundantly clear in Scripture. When we stop thinking about the fact that Christ will wrap up history and return in triumph, we can become far too this worldly minded.
12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Here in Revelation 5, we witness the opening of the sixth seal on the scroll that was in the hand of God. We have already seen the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the cry of the martyrs for justice. Now we see what surely looks like a glimpse of the very end.
What must we see? There is coming a day when the world as we know it will change. Verses 12-13 talk about incredible signs in the heavens. That language, in the Old Testament, is applied to the turning upside-down of a nation as kings and governments fall. That is the minimum those verses mean, that the world structure as we know it will be utterly changed, that national powers will fall. Of course, it could be that genuine, never-before-seen signs in the skies will happen.
Verse 14 talks of the heavens being rolled up like a scroll. We have nothing in our history to compare to that. It appears that a moment is coming when all that people have relied on as solid and stable, all that the naturalist has rested on as unchanging, will indeed be changed. Mountains, islands, skies, all things will change in a moment.
The result, in verses 16and 17, is that all kinds of people tremble. Rich people and poor people, powerful people and weak people, military people and civilian people, all people tremble as the return of the Savior is made plain. People know that Jesus is returning, and for the first time in their lives, many people will realize that they are face-to-face with the right wrath of God.
How much of this is literal? How much is figurative? I’m not terribly worried about those questions right now. Instead, note the question that the kings of the world will ask at the return of Jesus: “Who can stand?” Who can stand when the Savior returns? Who can face him? Who can oppose him? Who can stay his hand? Who can turn back his wrath?
The answer to that significant question is obvious. No person can stand against the Lord Jesus at his return. No power can hold him back. If the sun, moon, stars, islands, mountains, thrones, kings, and armies have no power over Jesus, neither will any other force in the universe you can imagine.
What we lose when we get bogged down in arguments over the end times, or even worse, when we refuse to think about the end times, is the biblical reminder that Jesus is coming, and no human power or spiritual force can stand against him. Jesus will return, and he will impose his will. Jesus will return, and the judgment of God will fall on those who have hated him. Jesus will return, and all who are under his grace will receive his blessing.
It is so easy to look at this world and think that it is all there is. WE see the sky and think it is immoveable. We see the mountains and we just know they are steady. We see strong nations and, contrary to the lessons of all of history, we think they will stand forever. And we forget that the nations have no stability in the face of the Savior. The devil and his demons have no strength to stand against the Savior. We have no more power to hold Jesus back than one human being has the power to hold back a falling mountain. Our Savior is coming back. He will reign. He will change the world. And we must never lose that truth, regardless of how hard anything else is in an end times discussion.