Surprised by Judgment

A read through the New Testament repeatedly puts into our minds an eternal perspective. New Testament authors are constantly calling the church to look to the future, the return of Jesus, and the final judgment. Writers want us to hope, not in this life, but in Christ and in our reward in Christ at the day of the Lord.

Similarly, biblical authors regularly point out that the world around us does not set their minds on the day to come.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 – 1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

Paul tells the people that they do not need him to write them about the times and seasons. Clearly, even in his three-week sojourn with the church in Thessalonica, Paul had talked about the day of the Lord. The people to whom he was writing should have had a solid grasp of that doctrine.

But Paul also knows that those who do not know Jesus do not have a grasp of what is to come. And it is this which grabs my attention. Notice in the verse what marks those who do not belong to God. They will be shocked when they face the return of Jesus. They will be utterly stunned at the idea that life does not go on just as it always has.

So, Christian, stop and think. It is a mark of the lost that they live in this world as if it will go on without change forever. It is a mark of being lost to assume that the Lord will not break into history and bring his judgment. It is a mark of being lost to live for this life and this life alone.

Now the question: Do you think like the lost? Are you given to a mindset that expects all to go on without change? Do you live with a mentality that assumes that God is not active in the world now? Do you live like the world, believing that there is nothing to the future but the same old same old?

Christians, we are to have minds that see out into eternity. We are to have a thinking that knows that the Lord who created this universe will break into our history and bring all things to a proper conclusion. We serve a God who will judge the world for living in a way that opposes him. And we are to be those who, were the Lord to return even today, are not caught off guard.

Victory — Another Important Question of Faith

The Christian life is a life of faith. WE must believe the word of God. We must trust that what he has told us about himself, about what he has done, and about what he will do is true. The presence or lack of such belief is definitive for the follower of Jesus.

Often, when we talk about questions of faith, we talk about Jesus. WE talk about his life, death, and resurrection. Are you willing to believe in Jesus in such a way as to entrust your soul to him and his finished work? Are you willing to believe that he can and will save you? These are important questions of faith.

But there is another question of faith we ask less often. It has to do with the promises of God for the future we are still awaiting.

Revelation 15:2-5 – 2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
4 Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

In this section of the book of Revelation, John looks and sees victorious saints of God. They have conquered the beast and his number. They have refused to be marked out as followers of the world’s system. They have refused to bow to the evils of the age for temporal success. And they stand as victors.

The victorious saints will sing the praise of the Lord. And look at that song. God is great and amazing. God’s ways are perfect and just. And, catch the promise, all peoples will fear the Lord. All nations will come and worship the Lord. God will have this world for his very own.

This question of faith is significant. Do you believe the song? Do you believe that the Lord will be victorious? Do you believe that the Lord will have people worshipping him from every corner of the globe? Do you believe that all people will fear the Lord? Do you take any time to rejoice in the certain victory of Jesus Christ?

Friends, we serve the conquering King. Jesus has been through death. He has come out the other side. He will not go through defeat again. Jesus will be victorious. HE will build his church. His gospel will spread over the globe. He will return in power and glory. He will be acknowledged globally as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Stop and think how important this is. How important is it to remember that our savior is not defeated and will not be defeated? How important is it to remember that all who love the Lord Jesus will reign with him eternally? How important is it to remember that, no matter how polarized the world appears, there is only one winning side? How important is it to remember that the God who made this world will have it as his own?

This is a question of faith. Christian, do you believe in the victory of Jesus?

Who Can Stand?

It is funny what happens to us when we let our minds become too focused on the present. We look at a world where so much is wrong, and it can be easy to want to hide. Politics is ugly. Social standards are not godly. Many churches seem to be focused on all sorts of things other than the word of God and his worship.

It is, I believe, for seasons like this that God gave us a book like Revelation. This glorious book is so much less about giving us a firm timeline for the future and so much more about showing us the victorious Savior. Revelation shows us that, in a hard world that hates its Creator, the Lord Jesus is gloriously victorious.

Consider how this scene of prophecy might change how we think about our circumstances.

Revelation 6:12-17 – 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?”

With the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6, we see a scene of stunning power. Jesus is changing the world. Without getting into what the signs in the heavens may tell us, just look at the very end. When this day comes, the mightiest in the world will tremble. When the Savior returns, the greatest will not stand arrogantly or defiantly against the Lord. Instead, these will cry out to the mountains. They would prefer to be crushed than to be seen by the Lord who is coming.

Right now, in our world, there is a great deal of bluster. Many people mock the things of God. Many rebel purposefully against the standards of the Lord. And it appears that there are no consequences. But the Book of Revelation reminds us that a day will come when the Lord returns. A day will come when the Savior is seen by all. A day will come when the biggest and brashest of braggarts will realize that they no longer have a place to stand. A day will come when all will realize that Jesus is God in the flesh, that Jesus is Lord, and that Jesus will judge. A day will come when those who oppose Jesus would rather be under an avalanche than under his holy gaze.

I’m not here taking delight in the death of the wicked. But I am taking delight in the fact that, no matter how backward the world looks today, Jesus will set it right. And this gives me confidence today. If I know that Christ is coming, if I know that his judgment is inevitable, if I know that his grace is mine through faith, then I can live with that hope. I need not let this world discourage me. Jesus has promised to return. Jesus has promised victory. And I am counted in Christ with a secure hope.

A Problem of Ignoring Eschatology

If you have been around the church for very long, you have probably known people who have widely different views of the doctrine of eschatology—the study of last things. I’m not here referring to those who differ on the timing of Christ’s return or the literal or figurative nature of the millennium. Instead, I’m referring to those who differ on whether or not they are willing to think about last things at all. Some folks are overly fascinated by arguments about the end. Others do not give the end times any consideration whatsoever.

While I surely do not want to encourage anybody to become the overly fascinated variety of Christian, I do think that we need to guard against the error of ignoring eschatology altogether. There are too many Christians who have been frustrated by the arguments out there, annoyed by bad movies, put-off by charts and timelines, and who have simply determined that the issue of the end is too hard to benefit anybody. The fact is, God talks about the end. HE wants us to think about the return of Christ. And he wants it to change how we live.

2 Peter 3:1-7 – 1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Notice, as Peter comes to the end of his second epistle, that he wants to stir up the church’s thinking regarding the return of Christ and the day of the Lord. Peter specifically points out that there are many who are misled by the simple fact that history continues to go on as it seems to have always done. And that thinking leads to a logical error. Mankind assumes that, if the last two thousand years have gone by without the coming of the day of the Lord, the day of the Lord will not come. But it is a huge mistake to allow yourself to believe, even passively believe, that the end will not come simply because it has not come yet.

Peter wants you to remember, Christian, that before Noah, people assumed nothing would change in the world simply because nothing had ever happened before like the flood. But that historical precedent had no bearing on what came. God intervened in global history in a way that changed the world forever. And God promises that he will again act in a way that changes the universe forever.

2 Peter 3:11-13 – 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Peter, after pointing out to us that those who ignore the return of Jesus are behaving as scoffers, after declaring that Christ will return and change the universe, now reminds the believers of his day that this fact changes how they live. The concept of the promised return of Jesus is a concept that is not to lead us to argue and divide over timelines. It is a concept that is supposed to make us obey the Lord more and more. We want to live in righteousness. WE want to live in faithfulness. We want to live lives that are more and more holy as we long for the day when we will meet our Savior face-to-face.

So, Christian, what do you do? God says that scoffers ignore the concept of the coming day of the Lord. God says that the idea of the return of Jesus and the judgment to come should motivate us to live more God-honoring lives. So, ask yourself how this should change your thinking. Regardless of your exact end-times view, there are some things you have to grasp. If your view of the end allows you to ignore the future, it is faulty. If your view of the end does not motivate you to live in greater obedience to the word of God, it is deficient. May we be a people who love the return of Jesus, who never forget that he is coming, and who never stop desiring to be ready to please him.

Then I Looked

There is a recurring theme in the book of Revelation that you do not want to miss. The author will tell you about one thing that he sees or hears about. He will paint a picture, but then he will turn, and he will see something else. For example, in chapter 5, John hears that the lion of the tribe of Judah will take the scroll from the hand of God. But when John turns, he sees a lamb that appeared slain taking the scroll.

We see something like this at the beginning of chapter 14. Revelation 13 is a frightening chapter. There we see the dragon and the beast. We see the beast rise with the power of empire. And we see the mark of the beast, the 666 that has fascinated the world for so very long.

That mark indicates a name, though you will certainly hear much debate as to how that all works. The mark also apes the marking of the Lord. Back in chapter 7, God sealed people who belong to him, identifying them as his and under his protection.

Thus, another point behind that number of the beast is simply an identification that the people who hold that mark are identifiable as owned by the devil and by the rebellious, anti-God world system. Chapter 13 talks of people not being allowed to buy or sell without the mark. That, of course, reminds me of parts of our modern culture where people who do not mark themselves as standing with the world against the ways of the Lord are ostracized, ridiculed, or even fired for their refusal to applaud what God calls evil.

Chapter 13 ends ugly. It is scary. It looks like, with that beast and his mark, the devil is winning in the world. And then comes chapter 14.

Revelation 14:1 – Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.

Then John looked. As the scene got ugly, John turned, and God showed him something else, something deeper, something better. Yes the devil looked like he was winning. Yes, the devil looked like he had the world in the palm of his hand. But when John looked, he saw that the ugliness of sin was not the only thing to be seen.

Here in the beginning of chapter 14, John reminds us that God has sealed his own. The people of God bear the mark of the Lord. And even in the face of a corrupted, tainted, violent world system, the people of God are still able to stand with the Lamb. No matter how dark and how wicked the world gets, the Lord will not lose his own. And no matter how powerful it appears the beast gets, the Lord will not allow the world to finally fall to the enemy.

The world we live in right now can look ugly. Perhaps it will get worse. But the truth beneath it all is something we need to see from Revelation. You may look and see the messed-up system around you, but that is not the final truth. The final truth is that God knows his own. God marks his own. God keeps his own. And the Lord God will preserve his own. This world may hate us. It may even kill us. But God will keep us. The Lord Jesus will return. We will have, in Christ, victory and resurrection life. The evil will not win. The Savior will be victorious. And Jesus will reign with those who are marked as his own forever.

Do not let the darkness of this world make you lose hope. Even now, we still carry the gospel to the nations and watch our sovereign God make disciples. Even now, we stand in opposition to the world that marks itself as following anything but the word of God. Even now we call people to repent. Even now we push back the darkness. WE see victory. We see setbacks. And we live in true hope, true knowledge that, at the end of it all, Jesus will reign. So, yes, we see ugliness. But then we look, just like John did, and we see the Lord still standing and still holding firm to his own.

What We Lose When We Ignore Eschatology

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.

Revelation 5:12-17

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.

Hope in What is to Come

When people think of discussions of end times theology, we so often get bogged down in symbolism and timelines. What is the beast? What does that number mean? Are those years literal or figurative? Does this happen before that?

In my read through Isaiah, I found myself captivated by a passage that I think points us toward the reign of Messiah as King on earth. For sure, the things we see here are things that we should be pressing toward today as the church obeys the Lord’s command to have dominion on earth. And I think that these things are going to be perfectly seen at the return of the Lord.

Now, before we try to figure out if my eschatology or my present focus is right or wrong, how about we simply look at some promises that the Lord has made that we can find great joy in? IN fact, why not look at this and see what you find most joyful and hopeful for those who know the Lord?

Isaiah 32:1-5

1 Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
and princes will rule in justice.
2 Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,
a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in a dry place,
like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
3 Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed,
and the ears of those who hear will give attention.
4 The heart of the hasty will understand and know,
and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly.
5 The fool will no more be called noble,
nor the scoundrel said to be honorable.

Think about what we see in these 5 verses. A truly righteous king will reign with righteous princes under him. Any world in which politics is not the cesspool that we see today is a better world. And I think that the prince here is Messiah, an even better picture.

But also we see wonderful things . Blind eyes see. Deaf ears hear. Cluttered minds think clearly. Tongues that just can’t make words come out of dear little mouths are now free to speak and sing. This is a glorious world to come.

And we also see that fools and scoundrels are no longer seen as heroes. Instead, righteousness is honored and treasured. Folly is no longer worshipped. All this sounds like bad business for Hollywood and corrupt politicians, but it is great for a world in which we actually want to live.

The beauty is, we see these things when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, clarity of mind to the oppressed, and speech to those who could not speak. Jesus showed us that he brings this glorious world. The church is to press toward that world. And the Lord promises us a day when Christ returns, and then the full joys of such a kingdom will be realized.

God often reminds us in his word to hope in heaven, to hope in the return of the Lord. Let’s not forget to do that on our day to day living. Let’s remember that Christ sets right the wrong of the world. Let’s remember that he is our glorious King. Let’s long for his return. Let’s rejoice in his promises. Let’s find that joy motivating to be a part of pushing back the darkness in our present world as we live for the one to come.