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.