Revelation #49. THE END.

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Remember the first readers of this book? They wondered if Jesus had forgotten his promise to return. They wondered if God had forgotten about them. They wondered how God could possibly be involved in the crazy, brutal, senseless, evil world they lived in. Sometimes we want to know God’s plan. Revelation shows us that we may not understand God’s plan, even if he reveals it to us. But what we can understand is that God is in control, and one day he will finally defeat all evil, make all things right, and bring his people to be with him in the New Heavens and New Earth where there is no more sorrow, death or suffering. He has promised, and he will do it.

I strongly encourage you to listen, even if you normally read, because we have a special treat at the end of the audio.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

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Download Revelation Part 49

Revelation #49. Revelation 22:18-21

 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Let’s consider this warning. Let me start by being very clear about what this does NOT mean. It does not mean that we cannot ever talk about the bible, or the book of Revelation. It does not mean that it is wrong to write books (or sermons!) about the Bible, or Revelation. I say this because sometimes, Christians in the Western World have come to think religion is something intensely personal, something that is really all about you. Nothing could be further from the perspective of the Bible itself. Every part of the New Testament assumes that believers are living in fellowship with each other, and that they are led by people who are teaching them the Word of God.

To put it another way, teaching people about the Bible is not the same as “adding to, or taking away from the Bible.” The Bible itself is very, very clear that some people have been called by God to teach others the truth of God from the bible.

Now, certainly not everyone is called to this ministry. In fact, James warns that the gift of teaching is somewhat rare, which is why it should be respected. He says:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (Jas 3:1, ESV2011)

However, it is still very clear that some people do have that calling, and gifting. Consider these verses:

6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. (NLT Romans 12:6-8)

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. (NLT Ephesians 4:11-12)

God gives people gifts to use so that his people can encourage one another, and follow Jesus better. One of those gifts is that of teaching Bible truth to other Christians. In fact, teachers are part of a special group that is supposed to help other Christians to live for Jesus.

Also, consider these verses about church leaders:

1 This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.” 2 So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. (NLT, 1 Timothy 3:1-2)

7 A church leader is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money.
8 Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. 9 He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong. (NLT, Titus 1:7-9)

Christians are supposed to respect those who teach God’s word, and to support them financially, because they are doing part of God’s work:

Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:13-14, ESV)

6 Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them. (NLT, Galatians 6:6)

17 Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. (NLT 1 Timothy 5:17)

God would hardly want his people to pay those who teach His Word unless he really wanted them to teach. Just one more verse:

7 Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. (NLT Hebrews 13:7)

So, we should not think that this verse here in Revelation means that when someone teaches about a Bible passage, that person is somehow “adding to” or “taking away” from the Bible. That cannot be what this verse means, or it would contradict all those other verses I just gave you, and many more that I didn’t share here.

But it does mean something important. This statement is first and foremost about the book of Revelation, but it is not wrong to also apply it to the Bible as a whole. No teaching is at the same level as the Bible. No teacher is at the same level as the Bible. No other book should be considered as on the same level as the Bible. The Bible stands alone as the Word of God. It alone has the authority to tell us about God, humanity, salvation, and how then we should live.

Good teachers are important, and the good ones will encourage you to read the Bible for yourself. Even so, every person including Bible teachers, is flawed. I am bound to make mistakes. If I say one thing, and the Bible clearly says something very different, then I am the one who is wrong. How will you know if I’ve made a mistake about the Bible? Only if you read it yourself.

Mohammed (founder of Islam) both subtracted from, and added to, the Bible. So did Joseph Smith & Brigham Young (the founders of the Mormons). The Roman  Catholic Pope claims to have authority to add to what the Bible says. This gives Christians a clear basis for understanding where we stand in relationship to  these people – they are bringing down plagues upon themselves. We should not listen to them.

But there is something else. Many individual human beings are guilty of adding to, or taking away from the Bible for themselves. If you have decided that you will keep the parts you like, and ignore the parts you don’t, then you are doing the same thing as Mohammed and the Pope, even if you don’t lead a world religion.

There are some other implications, about the book of Revelation itself. Over the years, many people have added their “end-times-system,” to the book of Revelation. I have spoken about this before. They take this book, and make it fit into their ideas concerning what will happen at the end of the world. They speak confidently of the rapture, and the one-world-government, and one-world-currency as if those things are actually found in Revelation. This warning is for them, also. Those things are not in this book.

So once, more, we find that among the last things Jesus tells his people is to read and know His Word.

He closes with this:

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (ESV Revelation 22:18-21)

Remember the first readers of this book? They wondered if Jesus had forgotten his promise to return. They wondered if God had forgotten about them. They wondered how God could possibly be involved in the crazy, brutal, senseless, evil world they lived in. Jesus revealed this vision to them.

Sometimes, we want to know what God’s plan is. Well, here’s God’s plan to return to this world and make everything right. How do you like it? It’s not very easy to understand all of it, is it? Since it is God’s plan, that ought not to surprise us. We shouldn’t expect to understand it all, since we are not God. But here, Jesus is saying, “Yes, you have heard the plan. I will return. I will make everything right. You are not forgotten. I will come back, and save my people, and bring them into a beautiful new creation where there will be no more sorrow, where the past suffering is not worth mentioning compared to the present glory. If you want to be a part of it, all you have to do is trust me, surrender your life to me, and your name will be in the book of life. I have said it, and I will do it.”

I hope and pray that you have a better understanding of the Book of Revelation. I hope and pray that especially, you have a sense of peace and joy about Jesus coming back, and that it becomes something that you long for, and pray for.

We have spent almost one year worth of sermons, and two years real time, in this book. I hope it was helpful. Because, we could have done the entire book of Revelation in just two minutes, like this: (credit goes to my dear friend, pastor Peter Churness, of Gig Harbor, WA, for making my work meaningless. This is at point 24:48 in the audio):

The Apostle John sees a vision of Jesus, Jesus gives him messages to give to seven churches, then he sees the throne room of God, and there are four mutant creatures having a worship jam, and they all see this scroll, and then they are whining, “who can open the scroll?”  John then hears the lion of Judah but sees the Lamb of God, he can do it!  But first they have to break these seven seals that are sealing the scroll.  And four seals are these four horsemen dudes representing bad stuff, and the fifth is the martyrs, sixth is Day of the Lord, part one, then there’s intermission and we get to see a multi-ethnic party in heaven, then seventh seal broken, but before scroll is opened seven warning trumpets come, and fire from altar shoots up and casts to earth bringing more Day of the Lord judgment stuff.  Then these seven trumpets start going off bringing more bad stuff like hail and poison water and blood and locusts and county music, then there’s another intermission as the scroll finally gets opened, and then John eats it, and then he has two more visions, one of a bunch of dead Christians hiding under an altar, then of two Jehovah witnesses guys getting killed by this Beast thing, but then come back as zombies.  Then the last Trumpet sounds, and God’s kingdom comes and shakes the nations like a shake n bake chicken.  Then comes a bunch of signs, one of this cosmic battle, and this pregnant lady floating in space comes down and has a baby, and this space dragon comes over and attacks it, but the baby grows up and defeats the dragon. Then there are two more beasts and everybody has to get the number 666 tattooed on them if you want to eat, or use the Apple store, then the Lamb comes again, fights the beasts and wins.  Then comes these seven bowls of wrath with things like sores and blood and fire and more blood and darkness.  Then the dragon and beast hook up together and fight one last great battle of Armageddon.  Then there’s this Day of the Lord scene… again.  But this time nations defeated for good.  Then there’s this woman riding the dragon and she’s really bad, and she fights God’s kingdom and loses.  Then comes this sixth bowl of wrath and this final final battle (in addition to the “first final” battle of Armageddon).  Then Jesus comes and he has this sword sticking out of his mouth and he wins, locks up Satan, and then Jesus and us Christians rule for 1000 years.  Then Satan makes a jail break, though Jesus really let him out, but not sure why, possibly for good behavior, seems unlikely.  Anyway he deceives everybody again.  Then there is a final final final battle, in addition to the other two “final battles” that previously happened.  Then there’s a wedding, and earth gets rebuilt, and heaven gets remade, and Jerusalem gets a makeover and comes down out of heaven like a spaceship, and all of us live there happily ever after.  And that’s the book of Revelation.

REVELATION 48: “BECAUSE I SAID SO.”

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When we take these two declarations of Jesus together, they share a common theme: You can count on Jesus. You can rely on his word. Come to Him, be satisfied in Him, by reading his word. At the same time, understand this: all satisfaction in this life is only a foretaste of what is coming. So we, the Bride of Christ, say with the Spirit to world: Come and drink now, feed yourself on the Word of God, the Son of David, the One you can rely on. Don’t wait.

At the same time, we the Bride of Christ, also say with the Spirit: Come Lord Jesus, return soon!

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Revelation Part 48

 

Revelation #48. Revelation 22:16-17

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

We are considering the last things that Jesus has to say in His revealed word. We have covered three of his last seven statements. The next, the fourth, comes in the center of the chiastic structure of this little section. That means it is “highlighted,” or italicized, so to speak.

Jesus signs off with two titles. The Romans, intercepting this message, would not have known that “root and descendant of David” refers to the Messiah. Unfortunately, many modern readers don’t either. But that is why Jesus chose that title. To remind those persecuted Christians (without tipping off the Romans) that he is the Messiah who was prophesied by the Old Testament. It also reminds us that he is the God of all time. He is the descendant of David, yes, but he is also the “root,” or “source,” of David. He is both God and man. The second title is “bright morning star.” This is a bit more obscure. When Balaam was hired to curse Israel (while they were wondering in the desert between Egypt and the promised land), instead, he prophesied blessing over God’s people. Among other things, he said this, in Numbers 24:

17 I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.
18 Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
Israel is doing valiantly. 19 And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
and destroy the survivors of cities!” (ESV Numbers 24:17-19)

Once again, Jesus is the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies. Not only that, but Balaam’s prophecy above sounds a little bit like some of the events proclaimed by the book of Revelation. In addition, if the title “descendant of David” seems to emphasize the human nature that Jesus took into himself, “the bright morning star” seems to emphasize his Divine nature.

Remember, at the very beginning of the book, we learned that those who first received this prophecy were under a tremendous amount of hardship and stress. They were persecuted. They wondered if maybe the Lord had forgotten them. But Jesus sends them this sweeping vision of God making everything right, and of the eternal future he has for those who trust him. He is now saying this:

“You can count on what I say. This is from me personally: the Messiah, the one the Old Testament prophesied about so much. I am coming back, I have not forgotten you. I am in control of every part of history. Rely upon it. I give you my word as the Messiah, and as the Son of God.”

Let’s look at Jesus’ fifth declaration:

17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

This is another passage that is hard to capture fully in English. The Spirit, is, of course, the Holy Spirit. The Bride is the church, and I think this refers to the church right now, before the Lord has fulfilled all that He promises in Revelation, because it is describing her desire for Jesus to return.

R.C. Lenski, a terrific Lutheran Bible commentator, renders the Greek more literally like this (I agree with it, which is why I share it with you. But in any case, Lenski is a far better Greek scholar than me):

And the Spirit and the Bride are saying, Be coming! And the one hearing, let him say, Be coming! And let the one thirsting be coming! Let the one willing take life’s water gratis!

(Lenski’s Commentary on the New Testament. Revelation 22:17)

It is important to know that these Greek verbs are in the present tense. This is not about the Spirit and the church saying, just once, “Come, Lord Jesus!” The Holy Spirit places the longing for the return of Jesus into the hearts of the people of His church. The Spirit, and the church, led by the Spirit, are continually longing for Jesus to return. They are always saying “Oh, I wish Jesus would return and bring us into the glory and grace and joy that we were made to have!”

Aside from the Spirit and the Bride, there is another set of “characters” in this little statement. There is “the one thirsting.” This person is called not just to ask Jesus to return, but to personally come to Jesus and drink. Then there is “the one willing.” This person, again, is not just asking something from Jesus, but is told to go ahead, and take the water of life for free, and drink of it.

After last time, when we had a warning about those who reject God’s plan, we now have a welcome for those –anyone – who is willing to come to Jesus.

Once again, these verbs are present tense. We are called to find satisfaction for our souls in Jesus continually. It is not a one time event called “getting saved,” or “conversion.” It is a continual lifestyle of coming back to the well – that is coming to Jesus every day, like children coming to a beloved parent for what they need. Once is not enough. “Be coming, be drinking.”

How do we do this? John Piper wrote a biography of a famous Christian named George Mueller. Mueller had a remarkable ministry from age 25 until his death at 93 – almost seventy years. He personally saved 10,000 orphans from the streets of 19th century England, and put them in homes that he built and set up. He inspired his fellow-citizens to also engage in orphan work, which, until then, had been largely ignored. He encouraged countless missionaries, and even mission-agencies. He served as a pastor for most of his life, also. He suffered the loss of his beloved wife, and all but one of his five children. In all his work, he took no salary, and asked for no contributions (not even for the orphan ministry) but asked for money from God alone, and God provided. Discussing his ministry, and all that he had been through, and what sustained him, he claimed that his secret was that his soul was perfectly satisfied in God alone, and whatever God had for him, whether difficult or easy.  In other words, he listened to the command of Jesus, and came continually to the water of life to drink. But how do we get that satisfaction? How do we come to Jesus and drink? John Piper quotes Mueller:

But in what way shall we attain to this settled happiness of soul? How shall we learn to enjoy God? How obtain such an all-sufficient soul-satisfying portion in him as shall enable us to let go the things of this world as vain and worthless in comparison? I answer, This happiness is to be obtained through the study of the Holy Scriptures. God has therein revealed Himself unto us in the face of Jesus Christ.
Happiness in God comes from seeing God revealed to us in the face of Jesus Christ through the Scriptures. “In them . . . we become acquainted with the character of God. Our eyes are divinely opened to see what a lovely Being God is! And this good, gracious, loving, heavenly Father is ours, our portion for time and for eternity.” Knowing God is the key to being happy in God. (George Mueller’s Strategy for Showing God)

I cannot say it often enough: Christians, read your Bibles! If you don’t like to read, then listen to them in an audio version. I love this next quote from Mueller, also, because he said what I have been saying also, for years:  don’t just read a chapter here and there. Pick a book, and read through the whole book (say, the book of Ephesians). Then pick another (say, Micah), and read through it. And so on. Piper writes the first two sentences below, the rest is all George Mueller:

Therefore the most crucial means of fighting for joy in God is to immerse oneself in the Scriptures where we see God in Christ most clearly. When he was 71 years old, Mueller spoke to younger believers:
Now in brotherly love and affection I would give a few hints to my younger fellow-believers as to the way in which to keep up spiritual enjoyment. It is absolutely needful in order that happiness in the Lord may continue, that the Scriptures be regularly read. These are God’s appointed means for the nourishment of the inner man. . . .Consider it, and ponder over it. . . . Especially we should read regularly through the Scriptures, consecutively, and not pick out here and there a chapter. If we do, we remain spiritual dwarfs. I tell you so affectionately. For the first four years after my conversion I made no progress, because I neglected the Bible. But when I regularly read on through the whole with reference to my own heart and soul, I directly made progress. Then my peace and joy continued more and more. Now I have been doing this for 47 years. I have read through the whole Bible about 100 times and I always find it fresh when I begin again. Thus my peace and joy have increased more and more. (George Mueller’s Strategy for Showing God. I added the bold  and italic formatting for emphasis)

I want to add something to that. This past week, I’ve been reading about George Mueller for my own enjoyment. Yes, I’ve used it in this message, but that wasn’t why I was reading it. I encourage you to also read biographies of Christians like him. They are very helpful and inspiring. Again, if you aren’t a reader, that is no longer an excuse. There are audiobooks for everything, nowadays. George Mueller’s biography is a good one to start with. Through the Gates of Splendor (about Jim Elliot) is another good one. Here I Stand (Martin Luther) by Roland Bainton, is another good one.

When we take these two declarations of Jesus together, they share a common theme: You can count on Jesus. You can rely on his word. Come to Him, be satisfied in Him, by reading his word. At the same time, understand this: all satisfaction in this life is only a foretaste of what is coming. So we, the Bride of Christ, say with the Spirit to world: Come and drink now, feed yourself on the Word of God, the Son of David, the One you can rely on. Don’t wait.

At the same time, we the Bride of Christ, also say with the Spirit: Come Lord Jesus, return soon!

REVELATION #47. PARENTHESES: SEX, MARRIAGE AND CIVILIZATION

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Even here at the end of Revelation, Jesus mentions the problem of sexual immorality. The Bible’s teaching on sex is much greater and deeper than simply “don’t do it.” In fact, the Bible tells married couples that they should “do it.” Let’s investigate the importance of Biblical sexuality together. Many people have failed in this area, but Jesus offers forgiveness and holiness to everyone who trusts in him, no matter what they have done, or not done.

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Revelation #47. Revelation 22:12-15

The second declaration of Jesus is this:

12 “Look, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me to repay each person according to his work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (CSB, Revelation 22:12-13)

I have spoken several times in this series about the preciousness of God, reward in heaven, and having Jesus as your desire, and reward. So, I won’t reiterate all of that here. Just understand that Jesus felt that it was so important, it was one of the last seven things he said to his people on earth. We should focus on the joy and fulfillment we have in Jesus, even here and now in this life.

Now we move on to the third Declaration of Jesus:

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (ESV) Revelation 22:14-15

Here we have a reiteration of what a blessing it is to have your name in the book of life. There is once more, a reminder – from Jesus himself, that not everyone is willing to have Jesus make them holy. You may have noticed that Revelation frequently mentions lists of sins. In almost every list, among other things, you have sexual immorality. I want to spend the bulk of the time talking about this, because it is very important. Some people say that Christians talk about sexual immorality too much. I say, we don’t do it often enough. Here’s why: In our culture today, no one  saying that murder is not a sin. No one is going around saying, “Hey, it’s no big deal if you lie. In fact, if you lie in a loving way, it’s a beautiful thing.” But our culture is saying that sexual immorality is no big deal, when, according to the Bible, it is such a big deal that it keeps getting mentioned, even here in the very last section of Revelation.

By the way, of course I know that this is a sensitive subject. I know that some people have already failed in the area of sexual immorality. But please stay with me as we go through this topic together. Where there is Jesus, there is always hope. He suffered and died so that you could be not only forgiven, but made holy. If you are tempted to feel ashamed, let that lead you to repentance. If you have already repented, trust what Jesus says, that he has forgiven you, and cleansed you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9)

Sometimes, we Christians make the mistake of simply saying, “Just don’t have sex until you married.” That’s true and right, as far as it goes. But it might be helpful to talk about the big picture, about why sex within marriage is good and right, and why sex outside of it is wrong and destructive. It isn’t just about sex – it is about our whole view of what it means to be a human person, created by God.

Our culture does not believe that God made the world, and everything in it. Sex, therefore (according to them), is not from God, it is just a desire to be satisfied. In our present culture, most people think that the highest good is for each individual to satisfy their own desires in whatever way they please. Therefore, telling someone whom to have sex with (or whom not) is ridiculous and offensive.

But Christians believe that God created the world, and human beings, and that he has a purpose for everything he created. Sex is part of God’s creation, therefore it has meaning, and purpose, given to it by God himself. The Bible is clear about the meaning and purpose of sex. It is a shadowy reflection of the joy that we will have when we have true intimacy with God. It is inextricably bound up in love, no matter how much people don’t want to accept that. And one of the main purposes for sex is the formation of marriages, and then families, and then societies.

When sex is channeled into love and marriage, men and women are bound together with one of the strongest forces in creation. They work together to create families, and homes. When they do that, they ally themselves with other families and homes, and become communities. Communities come together to form societies. Societies based on strong marriages in this way have always, throughout history, created stable places where human beings thrived and bloomed. Of course, no society has ever been perfect, but strong sexual morality has been the basis for the greatest civilizations of the world, benefiting millions upon millions of people. You might say that the sex-drive, channeled in a Biblical way, builds great cultures, and allows the largest number of people to be safe and happy.

If this is the first time you are hearing this, please understand that this is not a new idea. Sir Edward Gibbon’s famous work The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire outlines this quite clearly, as do other respected scholars throughout history. Gibbon, by the way, was not a Christian, and so was not biased toward this idea in any way. Instead, he simply found these facts to be true. In modern times, however, this is something no one wants to hear, so the truth has been ignored, mocked, and even suppressed.

Now, on the other hand, where sex has not been confined to marriage, societies typically come apart.  We are witnessing that very thing today in Western culture.

In ancient cultures, sex was something that strong people inflicted on the weak. The result was a lot of pain and misery. The Judeo-Christian value of sex-only-in-marriage protected women from being used and cast aside. It created a stable environment for children to be raised in an emotional healthy atmosphere. It was the Christian sexual morality that changed the world, and made it a better place for all people, whether Christian or not.

Again, today, in Western culture, we think that the highest good is for each individual person to be satisfied however they see fit. For most people, that means using sex in such a way as to be personally satisfied. That separates sex from love. It creates situations where children are raised without strong men in the picture. That alone makes those children far more likely to be poor, uneducated, and involved in criminal activities. It makes them more vulnerable to abuse. It is not an exaggeration to say that the increases our culture is experiencing in violence, drug-use, suicide, the erosion of work ethic, the general rudeness – all these are, in one way or another, largely due to sexual immorality.

As Rod Dreher, author of the Benedict Option puts it:

Unbridled erotic passion creates chaos and disintegration. Eros that submits to Christ bears fruit in the gift of children, stable families and communities.

You might say, “But I’ll use birth control until I’m married. That will fix the problem.”

However, there is more to the story. We are spiritual beings, and everything we do has a spiritual aspect to it. Paul writes that if we engage in sexual immorality as Christians, we are actually somehow joining Jesus to the act.

15 Don’t you know that your bodies are a part of Christ’s body? So should I take a part of Christ’s body and make it part of a prostitute? Absolutely not! 16 Don’t you know that anyone joined to a prostitute is one body with her? For Scripture says, The two will become one flesh. 17 But anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
18 Flee sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. 19 Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB 1 Corinthians 6:15-20)

Sex is a deep, powerful, even spiritual connection. When you have sex, the Holy Spirit is there, within you. If it is with your spouse, this makes it a powerful force for the good of your marriage. If it is with someone else, you are literally dragging the Holy Spirit along with your sin.

When you recognize that God himself is there in the middle of sexual activity, it becomes a powerful force for blessing in marriage. When you recognize that you are dragging God himself along in the middle of your sexual sin…well, you see why the Bible mentions it so often.

Also, when you have sex with multiple partners, you bring a lot of baggage to the relationships you have. Eventually, when you get married, you are bringing all of that baggage to your spouse, and to your marriage relationship. That tends to make things difficult and complicated. On the other hand, when you follow God’s plan, you can truly say to your spouse: “You are truly my only one.” That is a tremendous gift of love, a gift of self-denial and self-sacrifice for another. It is a gift that echoes with the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Which is another point: Marriage intended to give a picture of the relationship that God has with his people. When we have sex with multiple people, we are totally ruining that picture.

There is another thing that strikes me as ridiculously unrealistic. In today’s culture, we have the idea that before marriage, sex is more or less just about personal fulfillment. People are expected to fulfill themselves sexually when and how they please. Then, suddenly, after marriage, people who have maintained that sex with multiple partners is normal and good, suddenly have to live with only one sexual partner for the rest of their lives. This makes monogamy meaningless for all, and very difficult for many people.

Sexual immorality strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a human being, created and saved by God. God will not allow his New Creation to be destroyed by the kind of self-centered use of sex so common in our culture. It is one more warning for people to abandon the idols of self-fulfillment, and pursue the joy that God has for us when we submit to His plan.

One other thing that often does not get said. This means that sex between married people is good thing, thing that can bring powerful blessing to a marriage and family. If you are married, don’t use sex as a tool for manipulation, and don’t regularly abstain unless the two of you agree to, for a definite reason. I’m not saying that on my own: I am summarizing 1 Corinthians 7:1-7. Here is one piece of it:

2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (ESV, 1 Corinthians 7:2-5)

Go read the Corinthians passage, preferably with your spouse. Most spouses have differing levels of desire, and that is something to work through lovingly. The spouse who is more eager for sex must be willing to work on other parts of the relationship. However, God’s plan is that was sex was supposed to be a normal, regular part of marriage.  Sex should not be used for leverage in your relationship. That isn’t what it is for.

There is nothing in the Bible to say that God’s plan for sex has changed. In fact, the idea that spouses should not have sex with each other is just as wrong as the idea that they should have sex with other partners.

By the way, some people try to get rid of that passage in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, because at the very end, Paul, referring to only one part of what he said, writes, “I say this as a concession, not a command.” The Greek there is very clear that the “concession” is only his idea that the couple abstain for mutually agreed upon periods for prayer. All of the Greek verbs in the rest of that passage are imperative commands, given in the present tense, meaning “this is what you should be doing.” They are clearly commands, not concessions. The only thing that is not a command is the idea that you abstain for a while for prayer.  Flatly refusing your spouse is no part of God’s plan for marriage. Listen to a few of the ancient Christian writers:

You have given up your wife, to whom you are bound. This is a big step you have taken. You are not abusing her, you say, but claiming that you can be chaste and live more purely. But look how your poor wife is being destroyed as a result, because she is unable to endure your purity! You should sleep with your wife, not for your sake but for hers. (Origen, Commentary on 1 Corinthians)

This applies equally to husbands and wives, of course.

If a woman stays away from her husband, she will make him angry, and vice versa. That is why Paul insists that [abstinence] must be by mutual consent. (Theodoret of Cyr. Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians)

Theodoret also makes it clear that these things apply equally to husbands and wives. There are not two sets of rules, one for men, another for women. We both submit to the same command of God. One more:

Great evils spring from this sort of continence [that is, married couples not having sex], if it is overdone. Adulteries, fornications and the destruction of families have often resulted from this. If a married man commits fornication, how much more will he do so if his wife denies herself to him? Unless there is mutual consent, continence in this case is really a form of theft. (John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians)

The scripture is clear. The wisdom of the ages concurs. Sex in marriage is a blessing that is not to be denied each other without mutual consent. Now, that may cause tension and friction in some marriages. In fact, it is normal to have to work through relational issues in order to have good sex. This means that God’s plan uses the power of sex as a motivator to work out your issues. It forces couples to deal with their issues, and this ultimately leads to greater intimacy and happiness in marriage.

I am not naïve. I’m sure that a great many people reading this this have already sinned in the area of sexuality.  If you have not repented, and started down a new road: well, let this be a warning to you. The passage is quite clear – if you choose to hold on to sexual immorality rather than Jesus, you will not enter the New Creation.

On the other hand, if you have repented, if you are trying to walk in the Spirit, on the path of Jesus, then listen:

3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, 5 made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift ​— ​ 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. (CSB, Ephesians 2:3-10)

God can redeem the past. Jesus came for this very reason: to forgive us, to cleanse us, and give us a new nature. If you have repented for your past sexual sin, then receive God’s grace and forgiveness, and move on. Trust that he has made you holy, and rely on Him to help you work through the issues you may have caused by your past behavior.

REVELATION #46: FAITH-WORTHY & REALITY-DEFINING

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The words of Revelation are true, and worthy of our faith. The words of the whole Bible describe reality, and are worthy of our faith. Jesus Christ is the ultimate Word of God, and he created reality. He is more than worthy for us to put our faith in him. Among other things, that means that we believe what the Bible says, and act accordingly.

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Revelation #46.  Revelation 22:6-11

The book of Revelation ends with…(get ready… do a drum roll…) that’s right, you guessed it –   Chiastic structure! What I consider to be the last section consists of chapter 22:7-21. In these verses, we have seven different declarations made by Jesus Christ himself. I will try to combine some of them, but for now, we’ll just take the first. It know it may seem like we are dragging out the end of the book, but these are the last seven things that Jesus Christ himself said to His people, the church. It’s worth focusing on them for a while.

Verses 6-9 are a little confusing because John is conversing with an angel, and then Jesus makes his first proclamation, and then John goes on talking to the angel. I will walk us through it. It is the angel who says: “These words are trustworthy and true and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

The fact that the angel says it does not make it any less true or powerful. Now, at the time, John undoubtedly believed that this statement applied directly to the book we have just been reading: Revelation. However, the Holy Spirit, who inspired these words, obviously knew that the writings of the apostles would be collected together and called the New Testament, and combined with the Old Testament to be called the Bible. So, we must understand that these words apply specifically to the book of Revelation. That is the first meaning, in context. But it also good and right to apply this statement to the entire Bible.

There are pieces of these verses that come across more powerfully in Greek. So, in a few places,

I am going to give you my own rendering of this text from the Greek. For those of you who are Greek scholars, I am simply trying to convey how it comes across. I am not saying that this is more accurate. But hopefully, it provides an accurate feeling of how it sounds in Greek. Here we go:

“These words are worthy of complete faith, and they present reality as it truly is.”

It is not just that the words are accurate. They are the basis for faith. The Greek word for “trustworthy” is the same root word used for “faith” as in “put your faith in Jesus Christ.” In addition, the word for truth is not just “accurate.” It means something that defines reality. Also, the word for “word” is logos. That is the same word that John uses in the beginning of his gospel for Jesus himself:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (ESV John 1:1 &: 14)

Now, here in Revelation 22:6, the word “words” is in plural form. But I think it is appropriate to let this text remind us that behind the words of the Bible is the very Word of God, Jesus himself.

The words of Revelation are true, and worthy of our faith. The words of the whole Bible describe reality, and are worthy of our faith. Jesus Christ is the ultimate Word of God, and he created reality. He is more than worthy for us to put our faith in him.

Virtually all Bible translators believe that next, we have a statement not from the angel, but Jesus himself: “Behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” One reason to think it is Jesus, not the angel, is because Jesus is the one who is coming soon, he is the one whose return really matters. Once again, let me give you my own partial rendering from the Greek. As before, I just want to give you sense of what it feels like in the original language:

“Give me your attention! I am coming quickly. You will be supremely blessed if you guard and hold on to the words of this prophecy – this Bible.”

Yes, the Greek word for “book” is bible. Now, any time you say “book” in ancient Greek, bible is the word to use. So that, in and of itself doesn’t mean it applies to the whole Bible (as we mean the Bible). But Jesus could have just said “prophecy” and left off there. In fact, he did that, earlier on, in chapter 1:3. Or, perhaps, he could have used the word for “letter,” or “document.” I can’t help thinking that Jesus knew that much of the world would come to call one particular book “The Bible,” and so used the word to mean not only the prophecy of Revelation, but the entire book that he inspired.

This statement reminds me of what Jesus said at the very beginning of Revelation:

3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (ESV Revelation 1:3)

I do notice that here, Jesus does not use the word “book” (that is, bible). But the fact that this promise and this command are given twice means that it is important.

You may notice that for the word “keep” in Revelation 22:7, I used “guard, and hold on to.” That is because those are part of the meaning of that Greek word. To keep the words of this prophecy (or, of the whole Bible) doesn’t mean you just keep it in your house, on a shelf. It means you are actively engaged in preserving it, protecting it from harm, and making sure that it fulfills its purpose. Once again, I think it is appropriate to apply this to both Revelation, and also, all of scripture. It is good and right that we have studied and wrestled with this prophecy called Revelation. It is part of the word of God, and here in these verses, we see that Jesus highly values it.

Moving on to verse 8, John mentions that after the whole vision – that is, I think, the whole of Revelation – he falls down to worship the angel, who showed him the vision. The angel stops him: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”

By the way, this is one of the key ways in which Jesus claimed to be God. When people tried to worship him, he never stopped them.

Then, the angel continues:

“Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

I do not think that God actually wants people who are doing evil to continue to do so. However, this is a warning. If you are determined to do evil, and if you continue down that path far enough, you will reach a point of no return. The analogy I use for this comes from swimming.

Imagine you are in a little boat, carrying a large block of gold. Imagine that the gold falls out of your boat, and you dive in, after it, and reach it ten feet below the surface of the water. Gold is one of the heaviest metals – roughly as heavy as lead. This block of gold weighs one hundred and twenty pounds. You grab on to it, and try to swim back to the surface. However, the gold is too heavy. Instead of you dragging it up, it is dragging you in deeper. You kick with all your might, and you slow your rate of descent, but you don’t actually make any progress back toward the surface. You are still sinking. Sooner or later, if you are going to live, you must let go of the gold. If you allow that gold drag you too deep, you will no longer have enough air to make it back up to the surface before you drown. You pass twenty feet, and the thirty. How long will you hold on? Maybe eventually, you decide, it is not worth living if you can’t have the gold, so you hold on, and it drags you to your death.

I think this is something like the warning to those who are doing evil. There is a point of no return. There is a point when it is too late to turn back. Now, when it comes to salvation, this point of no return is not about how terribly you have sinned. But suppose you sin, and you know it, and you know God wants you to repent, and turn back to him. Your attitude is: “Later. I’m not going to do that right now. I want to keep enjoying this sin for a while.” The next time, it is harder to hear God’s call to repent. Several times after that, it may not even occur to you that you ought to repent. The more you say “no” to God, the more you damage your conscience. The more you say “no” to God, the harder and harder it becomes to hear him anymore. If you continue to ignore God, if you continue to go your own way, and shut out the call of God, eventually, you won’t care anymore. You will harden your heart so much that you won’t even notice, won’t even be able to hear his call to repent. I think the message is this: We have heard in Revelation all about the coming judgment, and God’s vast patience. One of the major messages is that although God is inhumanly patient with evil-doers, there will be an end to that patience – there must be an end to it, if we are to have the joy of the New Creation. Now, with all these stern warnings, if we still say, “No, I’ve got plenty of time to turn back to God. I’ll do it later.” If we continue to stop our ears against God, eventually, we will no longer be able to hear him. Eventually, we will no longer care about following him. At that time, we may be passing the point of no return. God says, “OK then. Do what you want.” He doesn’t mean that it is OK to do so. It means, that God has done all that he can to save a person who has the will to reject Him, and that person has made a decision that is final.

By the way, if you are worried that you have passed the point of no return, then, by definition, you have not passed it. When you pass the point of no return, you will no longer care about, or be interested in your relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Those who have passed that point don’t care anymore. Also, I want to make it clear, I am not talking about a Christian who struggles with a sin that they just can’t seem to beat. Such a Christian does indeed sin, but each time, that person is heartily sorry for their sin, and intends to continue on following God. They really would like to stop sinning, even if they can’t seem to find a way how. Such a person is not ignoring God. They are still responding to him in repentance, confession and receiving God’s forgiveness.

All of this reminds me of something that Paul wrote to Timothy:

2 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV 2 Timothy 3:12-17)

This is really another way of saying exactly what our Revelation passage says. Evil people will go from bad to worse, being deceived, and deceiving others. But we, the people of God, should hold on to Word of God – both the scriptures in general, Revelation in particular, and, above all, Jesus Christ himself. These are worthy of our complete faith. God’s Word (and his words) are not just accurate – they define reality more fully than any human wisdom.

I don’t know when Jesus will return. But I can promise you, if you are reading this, the time when you will stand face to face with Jesus is no more than one-hundred years away, almost certainly a lot less. It could be any moment now. The time is soon. No one has to wait very long. Let us live our lives accordingly.

REVELATION #44: THE CITY OF GOD

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The New Jerusalem is not a literal city. The description of it in Revelation 21 is a metaphor to help us envision God’s relationship with His people as a whole; his people’s relationships with each other; and also God’s relationship with each individual. Seen that way, we learn wonderful things about God, each other and us as individuals.

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REVELATION #44. THE CITY OF GOD. REVELATION 21:9-27

Let me be honest about this passage. At first glance, it doesn’t excite me very much. About the only thing that seems interesting to me is the size of the New Jerusalem. Most translations say that it is built in a square, 12,000 stadia per side. That means that each side is roughly 1,380 miles long, for a total area within of about just under 2 Million square miles, about 2/3 the size of Australia, and well over half the size of the continental U.S. That’s impressive. Next, take into account that the walls are as high as they are long (the 144 cubits refers to the width of the walls, not their height), and suddenly, it becomes unimaginable, since the walls would reach above the atmosphere. A massive cube, with well over half of it reaching six hundred miles higher than the space shuttle ever flew. OK, now, that just doesn’t make any sense. And that, I believe, is the point. We are not talking about a literal city, but instead, this is a picture of an important aspect of the New Creation.

Remember, the city is “The Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.” So, the New Jerusalem is a picture of God’s people, and of the kind of relationship that we have with Him. Again, it is clearly not meant to be understood literally. In short, the New Jerusalem is a kind of metaphor of God’s union with his people once they are made completely holy in the New Creation. It is a combination picture of God’s people, and also God’s relationship with his people.

Not coincidentally, there are seven major aspects of the New Jerusalem. Let’s start with the first:

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12

This is an overall impression. God’s people, and God’s relationship with his people is filled with a glorious radiance, like a rare jewel, something very precious and beautiful. Today, God’s people get sucked into sin, bitterness, ugly moods and stupid distractions. But in the New Creation the people of God as a whole (and also individually) will be beautiful and precious. None of the things that make us less than beautiful will be a part of us at that time. We will not become God, but we will shine with the beauty, holiness and radiance of our perfect, glorious God. In the New Creation, people who follow Jesus will be gloriously beautiful.

It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.

14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Remember, this is not a literal city. So what do these things mean? There, among God’s people, we will understand the history and foundation of scripture. Jesus said “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (CSB, Matthew 24:35). Here, in the New Jerusalem, the people of God will shine with the fulness of God’s Word – both Old Testament (represented by the twelve tribes of Israel) and the New Testament (represented by the twelve apostles). If God’s people are a city, then the walls, gates and foundations of that city are God’s own words. God’s people are “built” out of, and on top of, God’s word. Our entire relationship with him, and our very beings, are shaped by, and based upon, God’s revealed word. The incredible thing is that we already have that word today, and we call it the Bible. I have said it before, and I will say it until I die: The Bible is God’s incalculably precious gift to humanity. It is vital to read it, to learn to understand it, to soak your soul in what it says. Who we are as eternal beings in the New Creation will be all wrapped up in God’s Word. There is almost nothing more important than learning the Bible, and letting it shape your life. Please, please, find some way to listen to audio versions, or find a good, readable translation, or have your spouse read it to you – something, anything,  that gets you into God’s Word.

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement.

Now we come to that weird measurement. We know this is not supposed to be an actual measurement, so what do these things mean, metaphorically? Well, God’s people are impressively, magnificently, huge. Elsewhere in Revelation, John saw a great multitude, out of every tribe, tongue and nation. So, God’s people will be a great and diverse multitude. However, though incredibly large and impressive, God’s people are not infinite. Though the city is very large, it can be measured. There is a beginning and end to it. The largeness is positive. The fact that there are limits reminds us that not everyone who has ever lived will be there.

18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

By the way, obviously, this is where we get the idea of “the pearly gates” and “the streets of gold.” Again, however, I think this is all metaphorical, not literal. These precious stones and minerals communicate that God’s people, and their relationship with Him, will be beautiful, and unimaginably precious. Also, with all these different sorts of gems and metals, I get the sense that there will be great variety in God’s people – we won’t all be the same, or look the same. We will all be beautiful, but we also retain our precious individuality, as created by God. Our personalities will be a perfect blend between union with God and each other, and our individual selves. I think this also indicates a great variety in the ways that God interacts with us. He comes to us in many different ways, and life is full of beauty and variety with Him.

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Once again, this is not literal, and I am glad. I love the night, and the sun, and the moon. But the point is this: God is interacting directly with his people, and we need nothing more. Our sin, and the things that get in the way of our perfect union with God will be gone. He is all we need, and it will no longer be a strain to remember that, or live like that. It will be easy to know that he is all we need, and easy to draw all that we need directly from God, without seeking it elsewhere.

24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

This again reminds us that it is metaphor. We will be inhabiting the New Heavens and New Earth. But we will walk by the light of our relationship with God, perfect, precious, glorious, huge, individually beautiful, with God as all we need. And all human glory will be in perfect union with Godly glory. The absence of night is not literal, but it means no more pain, suffering, sorrow or evil. The people of God will diverse -the glory of the nations.

27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

This is a reminder that none of this is possible unless all sin, evil, and all rebellion against God is completely removed. God will do the removing through Jesus if we let him, but if not, we will never participate in this kind of relationship with God, nor have this eternal future. He must be finally and completely King in  order for this to take place. Right now, it is not too late to put your trust in Jesus, to allow him to be the King of your life. We like having God’s help when we need it, but we generally want to run things on our own when we aren’t in trouble. That is not salvation. A saving faith puts all trust in Jesus, which means, among other things, that Jesus is now the final and true leader of your life. Unless we are willing to let him make us holy, we cannot be a part of this unimaginably beautiful relationship with God, and with other believers.

So, what does all this mean for us on Thursday afternoon? I can think of several applications. I don’t know how to urge you all strongly enough to find a way to connect with the Word of God (the Bible). This is our future: not Netflix, not our careers, not our next travel adventure, not our next relationship. Our future is in the Word of God. If at first, you can’t connect with it, please don’t give up. Pray for help. Ask for help. Find a good, readable translation like the Christian Standard Bible (CSB – it used to be the HCSB); or the ESV, or even the New Living Translation. Have someone else read it to you. Get it on audio. Talk about what you are reading (or listening to) with your spouse, your friends, your family. When you read, DO NOT just flip it open and start somewhere random. Start reading at the beginning of one of the books. If you are new, start reading in John, and keep going, however long it takes, until you finish the book of Jude. Maybe do a chapter a day, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Then go back, and do it again. Then, maybe start mixing in some Old Testament books, like Genesis. For something different and refreshing, try reading a psalm each day. Please, just do it. Please contact me, if you want more help with this.

Another application, that strikes me, is that my fellow Christians will shine with this amazing beauty and glory – like precious gemstones. Right now, we are gemstones in the rough, covered in dirt, uncut, unpolished. But we are precious, and we ought to treat each other that way.

Perhaps some of you need to remember that Christianity is a global religion, and that there are far more Christians who do not look like you, or even speak your own earthly language, then there are people like yourself. God’s people will be glorious with all nations represented. Speaking specifically to Christians from European-based cultures, I want to say that most of us (“us” being those who follow Jesus) are not white, and don’t speak English. That should affect how we treat people who are different from us culturally and ethnically. Our glorious brothers and sisters in Christ will be from everywhere.

I also mentioned that we will need nothing more than the presence of God – we won’t need sun, moon, or anything but God himself. In a way, that is already true, but it is hard to grasp. If we have Jesus, everything else we have is from and through Him. It is good to trust him more and more, because this text tells us the reality that will be, and, in a way, already is: God is all we need.

With those thoughts, let the Holy Spirit continue to speak to you today.

 

REVELATION #43: GOD HIMSELF

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If you have the treasure, you don’t need anything else, because the treasure will provide you with everything. And that is the promise of Revelation 21:3 – that we will have the Ultimate Treasure – God Himself. Anyone is welcome to receive this treasure, by walking through the Door – Jesus Christ.

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Revelation #43  Revelation 21:3-7

Last time, we looked in depth at the first two verses of this passage. Because the New Heavens and the New Earth are such a precious gift, I want to take a bit more time to meditate on what we are promised in this passage. Let’s look at verse three:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

This is a very ancient promise, one which was given through Moses to the people of Israel:

6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’” (Exodus 6:6-8, ESV)

In Revelation 21:3, we are witnessing the ultimate fulfillment of that promise. God will be our God, and he will bring us into the perfect New Creation that has been promised to us. However, the center-point of this promise is not the land, but rather, God himself. God is the best, highest good in the entire cosmos. There is nothing better than Him. And so, he gives us the best thing in existence: Himself. Earlier, he said to Abram:

​Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. ” (Genesis 15:1, NIV. This translation is, in my opinion, the most literal rendering of the Hebrew in this particular verse. It implies that the great reward is God himself.)

When we read the promises in scripture, all of the stuff we really want, deep down – like  love, peace, joy, meaningfulness, fulfillment, adventure – these are given to us as by-products of having God himself. When we have God, we have love, joy, peace, adventure, fulfilment, and so on. When we don’t have God, our experience of those things is doomed to be both temporary, and corrupted. When we have God, we have everything. If we think we have something, but we have it apart from God, we really don’t have it. That is why Jesus told these two little parables:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (ESV, Matthew 13:44-46)

If you have the treasure, you don’t need anything else, because the treasure will provide you with everything. And that is the promise of Revelation 21:3 – that we will have the Ultimate Treasure – God Himself.

The next several passages in Revelation are describing what it means for God to be our God, and us to be His people in the New Creation. This is what we hope for. This is what makes our present sufferings bearable. This is why we can have joy in even the hardest situations.

Verse 4 tells us that God Himself “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” In the New Creation, we will have New Bodies which never get sick, never feel pain. Our new bodies can’t get hurt, or be killed. Death itself will be “dead.” We will have no reason to cry or mourn.

Some people may have questions about that last part. What if some of our loved ones are not there? What if they reject Jesus, and so go into the lake of fire? Won’t we cry and mourn for them?

I think we are dealing with matters that we cannot fully understand. I think that’s why we have verse 5, where God says, “The former things have passed away. Behold I making everything new!” Things won’t operate the same way they do here. We will live in an entirely new and different “system,” one which we cannot understand fully at this present time. In present terms, yes, the loss of loved ones to the lake fire would make us grieve. But the New Creation is entirely new. The old ways of looking at things may not apply there.

I have an additional thought about that question, also. I imagine that when we are fully engaged with God, with no sin in the way of our experience of Him, His Joy will fill us so completely that there simply isn’t room for grief. Everything will be so “right,” that even things that might have made us grieve cannot touch us, because then we will fully accept all that God does, and be able to wholeheartedly affirm it as right and good.

Verses 7 and 8 do not seem so positive. I am quite sure that this is referring back to the judgment before the throne in 20:11-15. The Lord is reminding us that these promises are not universal. The only way into the New Creation is through Jesus (John 14:1-6).

Many people say that Christians believe in a mean, narrow-minded God, who only saves those who believe in Him specifically. But the truth is narrow minded. The answer to 2+2 is 4, nothing else, not even 4.0001. Truth, by definition, excludes everything that is not true. That means truth is always “narrow.”

However, actually, everyone who wants to enter the New Creation may do so. The Bible says there is a door in, and that door is Jesus Christ. Anyone is welcome to use that door. But there is no other door, no other way. If someone refuses to come through the only door, then, yes, they will be kept out, because there is no other way for them to get in.

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (ESV, John 14:5-7).

40 For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (HCSB, John 6:40)

10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (ESV, 1 John 5:10-12)

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture (ESV, John 10:7-9)

No one is kept out because God is mean, they are kept out because they don’t want to come through the door. It humbling to come through the door. We have to admit that we are sinful, and we cannot save ourselves (1 John 1:7-9). We have to turn away from our sins, and from living for ourselves. We have to die to ourselves, and to our own sinful impulses, so that Jesus can live through us (Galatians 2:20).

Now, why should this be? Why is it that we must come through Jesus? Why is there no other way?

In the first place, only Jesus makes us truly holy, so that we can be in the presence of a Holy God without being destroyed. Every other religion says that you must make yourself holy, in one way or another. But  a flawed person cannot make themselves flawless. It is a logical impossibility. So, the Bible says, “Let Jesus take care of that, because it is not possible for a flawed person to be flawless.” The Flawless One is our only hope.

Second, this New Creation is described as perfect, and incorruptible. Nothing can go wrong here. No evil will be here, and none of the sorrow and pain that is brought about by evil. If there is to be no evil, there cannot be any person who is less than perfect. If there was, then the New Creation would be no better than this one. Therefore, if a person will not allow Jesus to change them, if they reject the forgiveness that brings holiness and the salvation that leads to perfection, then they cannot be in the New Creation without changing it back into the old creation.

Revelation 21:8 lists some specific kinds of people who refuse to come in through the door. The first is, cowards. Right before this, it says, “those who conquer, will have this heritage.” This refers to the battle of faith here on earth, before we stand in front of the judgment throne. The picture is that one the one hand, we have those who fight the battle of faith with courage and perseverance. Now, this doesn’t mean we fight our own way into heaven. But there is a lot of opposition to faith in this world. The attacks against Christianity are relentless. There is constant pressure to compromise, to give in, and even to give up. Jesus told us it would require that we surrender our very lives to him that we die to ourselves (Matthew 16:24-26). Now, it is his strength that works in us to persevere but there are some who will choose not to, because it is easier. Paul explains that we allow God to work, but it is His strength which works:

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (ESV, Philippians 2:12-13)

So, here in Revelation, those obey by allowing God to work in them, and by pursuing his work in them, these are recognized for their courage.

Cowards are the opposite of this. There are some people who may be tempted to say of the Christian faith: “This is hard. I’m not getting enough out of it.” This is a warning to those who are so tempted. In addition, I believe this refers to Christians who are pressured and persecuted by human culture. Particularly in John’s day, Christians may have been tempted to deny their faith in order to avoid persecution and being excluded from non-Christian social circles. God is reminding those that this is a coward’s choice. It is a rejection of Jesus himself. To do so is to refuse to come through the door, because the door costs us everything in earthly terms. But the reason we have to let go of earthly approval is so that we can receive everything through God’s approval.

I am troubled by this today. Many so called “Christian celebrities” seem unwilling, when asked, to make a public statement affirming what the Bible says about human sexuality. If they are afraid of speaking the truth because they might lose their popularity, how much more are they likely to deny Jesus when they might lose their freedom, or even their very lives? I believe this should warn us that being a Christian in a non-Christian culture is always difficult. Cowardice is easy.

I want us to circle back around. It is important to remember that we must come through Jesus, and those who refuse to do so cannot enter the New Creation. But anyone who is willing to come through Jesus is welcome. And the reason for that one door, is so that the New Creation will be a whole new order, with no death, no sorrow, no decay. Instead, we have God himself, and in Him, everything our hearts truly desire, all the treasure of the universe, and more.

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to us today!

REVELATION #41 HEAVENLY REWARDS

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The entire New Testament teaches us to invest in heaven, to put our hopes and desires there; our treasure. The Lord sees the things you do that no one else sees. He knows the  battles you have fought alone; the things you have done for which others got the credit. And his grace is such that he not only gives us a salvation that we could not earn, he rewards us for treasuring him.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Revelation Part 41

Revelation #41. Revelation 20:11-15 Part B.

Before we move on, let me make sure that we have a solid foundation on which to do so. If we trust Jesus, our names are written in the book of life. If our names are in the book of life, we are not thrown into the lake of fire, which I believe is what we normally call “hell.” We do not escape hell, and enter eternal life, based on anything that we have done or not done. Our basis for being saved from hell is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As someone once put it: “When I look at myself, I do not see any way that I could be saved; but when I look at Jesus, I do not see any way that I can be lost.” This is exactly what Revelation 20:11-15 is telling us. If you want to depend on your own works, on your own goodness, then you will be judged based on what is written in the books of deeds, and unless you are totally perfect, you will fall short. On the other hand, if we depend entirely upon the righteousness of Jesus, upon the suffering of Jesus on our behalf, upon the power that raised Jesus from the dead, then we will find that our names are written in the book of life, and we have nothing to fear from what Revelation calls “the second death.”

In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells the story of the master who hires workers for his vineyard. He pays the people he hired for an hour the same amount that he agreed to pay those who worked all day. I believe this parable is about salvation. Even if you trust Jesus late in life, you too, receive the same salvation as those who have faithfully followed Him for their entire lives. Salvation is not earned. It is not a reward for being good. It is the free gift of God.

I’m going to cover some new ground now, but if, at any point, what I say next appears to contradict what I have already said here, then please ignore it, or ask me about it. I stand by what I have just said, and I have no intention of undermining it or contradicting it.

There are two additional pieces to this passage that I didn’t cover last time, and about which I think many people have questions. After my first sermon on this text, a number of people had questions about the relationship of death, Hades, Hell, and the lake of fire.

Remember that the book of Revelation is very picturesque and metaphorical. There are some things which we certainly ought to take literally. With other things, we ought to focus more on the general idea, rather than get bogged down in specific details. Let me lay out what I believe, and then explain why.

First, I do believe there is a literal hell. Virtually all Christians throughout history until recently also believed it, for the very good reason that Jesus clearly considered hell to be a real place where those who are not in the book of life suffer torment forever. (Mark 9:43-48; Matthew 5:22; 5:29; 10:28; Luke 16:19-24). The New Testament clearly teaches it, including a significant passage from Revelation, that is, 14:9-13. If you have not listened to my sermon on that Revelation passage, I strongly, vehemently, urge you to do so:

https://clearbible.blog/2018/08/07/revelation-31-hell-and-the-love-of-god/

All right, so we have hell. In our passage today (Revelation 20:11-15) hell is represented by the lake of fire.  Sometimes, the New Testament also talks about Hades. Mostly, in the New Testament, Hades is just another word for hell. But, in the book of Revelation, it is sometimes used as simply “the holding place for everyone who has died.” That second concept comes from ancient Greek culture, not from the Bible, but some of the verses in Revelation could be interpreted that way, including those here. Since Revelation was written to people who were part of ancient Greek culture, it could very well be that John is using it to say first, that every single person who has died, no matter where they were waiting after death, now appears before the throne. So even if they were in a place called “Hades,” they will be brought before the throne. And, as far as Hades being thrown into the lake of fire, he is saying, “Look, even the holding-pen for the dead will be destroyed. The day will come when you are either in the Lake of Fire, or in the New Heavens and new earth. There is no middle ground, no neutral place, after you die.”

So, this is how I think it goes:

1)When you die, if your name is in the book of life, your soul goes to be with Jesus, and awaits the time that your body will be resurrected. Not all Christians agree with me on this. Some would say that you are unconscious of anything until the resurrection. They may be right, I don’t know. I do know, however, that in some way, Moses and Elijah were present at the transfiguration of Jesus. I know that John saw the souls of those who had been martyred, waiting for the final judgment. I know that Jesus told the thief on the cross: “Today you will be in paradise with me.” That all suggests (but does not absolutely confirm) some sort of afterlife before the final resurrection.

2) If your name is not written in the book of life, perhaps you remains entirely unconscious, or perhaps you goes to some sort of “world of the dead” (Hades). Consider 1 Peter 3:18-19:

18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.
19 In that state He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison 20 who in the past were disobedient, (1 Peter 3:18-20, HCSB)

So, perhaps there is a Hades, where those who reject Jesus await judgment. Or perhaps they are unconscious of anything until the resurrection. The Bible isn’t exactly clear; except to say that after the final judgment, there are only two destinations: the lake of fire, or the New Heavens and New Earth.

3) At the resurrection, we have the scene described in our text today. Those whose names are in the book of life are resurrected to eternal life in the New Heavens and New Earth. Those whose names are not, are thrown into the lake of fire. At that time, there will be only two alternatives: the lake of fire, or the New Heavens and New Earth.

Another question many people have is about judgment. Our names are written in the book of life, and that saves us from hell, and gives us a place in the new heavens and the new earth (more about that next time). Does this mean that we are not judged in any way at all? I’m not talking about the judgment concerning salvation and hell. But these verses do seem to imply that every single person – even those whose names are in the book of life – seem to go through some process of judgment.

This is a question about which good Christians have disagreed. Therefore, if you think I am wrong in what I’m about to say, I don’t mind terribly much, and I hope we can continue in Christian fellowship together. However, the New Testament does seem (to me) to teach that in addition to being in the new heavens and the new earth with Jesus, there are rewards for the things that we have done as we follow Jesus. Consider the following verses:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matt 6:6)

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:26-27)

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35)

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (Ephesians 6:7-8)

I could quote many more verses that say something similar. These rewards cannot be heaven or salvation, because, we have already seen that to earn our salvation is impossible. We’ve already said that if we are judged by the books of our deeds, we will fall short. The entire New Testament teaches over and over again that we are saved by grace through faith, and this is not of ourselves, it is a free gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-10). Therefore, these verses must be talking about some sort of reward in addition to being with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth. The apostle Paul describes it like this:

For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

So, we have the foundation of salvation in Jesus Christ. There is no other salvation, there is no other foundation. We do not earn it. But it also seems that as we build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, there is the possibility that we will receive, in addition to eternal life, some sort of reward. And there’s also the possibility, that if we do not build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, or if we build poorly, that though we are saved, it will be “like an escape through fire.” Now, certainly, the new creation itself is far more than any of us deserve. But God’s goodness is such that he offers us even more than that. He gives us far more than we could ever earn or deserve – and that is just the beginning. He also gives us (I believe) an opportunity to see that our work and faithfulness is indeed noticed.

Now, at first this might dismay you. Perhaps you are worried that you might feel jealous of someone else’s reward, or disappointed in yours. Remember, this takes place as you are being made perfect. Jealousy and envy won’t be inside you anymore. You will be able to honestly rejoice when others are rewarded. You will be able to whole-heartedly accept your own reward.

I meet a lot of people who say something like this: “That’s all fine, but all I care about is being there at all.” I understand that, and it’s true, in one sense. But too many people twist that. They seem intent on just barely squeaking in to eternal life, trailing fumes of booze and cheap perfume. What I mean is, they aren’t really interested in the rewards of heaven. They are primarily interested in enjoying life on earth, and then avoiding hell. I don’t know, but I often wonder if such people really do understand all that Jesus has done for them, or, if they even truly care, beyond their own self-interest.

All throughout the New Testament, we are told to invest in heaven, not on earth. Now, frequently, investing in heaven means showing love to people on earth. Serving the poor, praying, giving, ministering, taking the gospel to people oppressed by fear and false religions (or giving toward that end) – all of these make a difference on earth. But we don’t get anything tangible back from doing them. By serving the people around us, we store up heavenly treasure. Jesus himself told us to store up treasure in heaven.

19 “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

You see, if you are not really interested in storing up heavenly treasure, I wonder where the treasure of your heart truly is. If heavenly treasure makes you go “meh,” then perhaps your heart is fixed on earth, not heaven. And if that is the case, again, I wonder if you really grasp, or even care about, God’s grace to you. The apostle Paul urges us to also live our lives with a heavenly focus:

23 Now I do all this because of the gospel, so I may become a partner in its benefits.
24 Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. 25 Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. 26 Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. 27 Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:23-27, HCSB)

3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life; he seeks to please the recruiter. 5 Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer ought to be the first to get a share of the crops. 7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:3-7, HCSB)

Now, a lot of people who are faithfully following Jesus are never noticed, while many who appear to be charlatans get fame and fortune. You may have heard of Albert Schweitzer. He was a medical doctor who won the Nobel prize in 1952 for his humanitarian efforts in Africa. In previous generations, people revered Albert Schweitzer the same way we honor Mother Teresa. Now, contrast that with my  former neighbor, Henry Farrar. Henry was a doctor who did incredible things for the people of Nigeria. I’ve met other medical doctors who have visited both Henry’s hospital, and Schweitzer’s, and told me that Henry did far more than Albert Schweitzer. On earth, no one knows Henry’s name. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. But I believe that his work did not go unnoticed in heaven. All those things that Henry did without complaining, without recognition from others – they were recognized in heaven, and he will know it on the last day.

C.S. Lewis wrote a book about heaven called “The Great Divorce.” It has nothing to do with divorce or marriage, but anyway, it’s a terrific book about the joy of heaven. One of the characters visits the edge of heaven, and sees a woman there who is surrounded by a magnificent triumphal procession. The character inquires breathlessly if it is the virgin Mary. His guide says, “No, that is Jane Smith. No one on earth knew her, but she is quite the hero here, because she blessed so many children with love and service.”

I think heaven might be a little bit like that. God sees you. You may labor in obscurity. No one may notice how you quietly serve others here and now. But God notices. And he will reward you for it. Your reward is not salvation – no one can possibly earn that. But the injustice you suffer now is not unnoticed. Your quiet labor is gloriously trumpeted in heaven.

Let the Holy Spirit Speak to you today.