No more pain, no more sickness, no more suffering, no more sin and no more Death.
Today we are coming to the end of our brief look at the Bible’s teaching about the End of the World. I want to reinforce that generally the bible’s teaching is that at the end of the world, after some genuinely awful troubles there is a wonderful renewal of all things. Sadly, we know that many people are living through the sort of troubles that the bible describes now, violence perhaps through Daesh, famine like the Manyan people in the Philippines, pestilence – those suffering with Aids. My message today is, “The end is better than the beginning”.
Now remember Biblical prophecy is couched in Metaphor. These are visions of goats and beast, and trumpets and bowls, and angels with sickles. This is metaphorical language. Originally it may have been used to describe events unfolding at the time, in language that was secret code so that the rulers of the time didn’t understand it. That doesn’t however rule out the possibility that it also has something to tell us about the future. I believe in the possibility of Triple fulfilment; John was talking about Rome, John refers to things that we might be living through today (with the encouragement to stay faithful); and the possibility that these prophesies have a concrete future fulfilment.
I also want to be clear, Jesus’ main warning is, “be faithful” and to be prepared to die tonight. No one knows the day or the hour when they will die and Jesus will return. Now I had a fascinating conversation with Penny, about that phrase ‘ no one knows the day or the hour’ and it’s connection to the feast of tabernacles. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Jesus’ return was tied to one of the great feasts. However, I believe Jesus’ primary meaning was be prepared. We know that many Christians have been martyred for their faith over the years– that’s what Martyr means witnesses. And we know it was in this context that John was writing. None of us know how long we have.
Summary of applications. –
We’re looking at Johns revelation today. John a disciple, brother of James, Jesus called him a Son of thunder, (Luke 9 call down thunder) brother murdered, John, 1 2 and 3 John, Revelation. He looked after Mary. H was exiled to the island of Patmos by the roman emperor Domitian, there had already begun the persecution under Nero and God knew the great persecutions were not far away
The apocalypse that’s another name for revelation, is a series of visions or dreams in psychedelic language. Partly it reflects things that were happening then or shortly after. When you read about 7 hills and about Babylon – there is some reference to Rome. Partly it encourages Christians of all ages to stand firm when faced by men that act like beasts and empires that persecute. It may also have something to say about a future age of great persecution before the end of the world as we know it.
The first thing to notice about revelation is Doxology. The book is full of Praise and Worship. If we want to get into John’s world there is a lot of praise and worship. Heaven is full of praise and worship. Imagine the best concert in the world going on and on and on. You have Mozart and Bach, Billy holiday and Louie Armstrong, Bono and Taylor swift. These vision of heaven are the ultimate in positive culture. Great job God, wow this creation is awesome, worthy, worthy is the lamb. Again metaphor – Jesus isn’t actually siting on a seat somewhere in the body of a dead ovine! But I am challenged every time I read this to be a far more positive person, “Way to Go God!” – That’s the purpose of the World. To Praise God. The end of the world is to worship God – as the Westminster confession says – to worship God and enjoy him forever. For John the end of the world is about worship.
Now let’s do an Overview of Revelation.
It starts with the Now: Chapters 1-5.
Then it goes into the troubles, Chapters 6-19 The troubles or Tribulation. These include images like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the beast, and Babylon – commonly identified with Rome.
Then it finishes with a vision of the renewal of everything. Chapters 20-22.
I think God paints a picture for us with lines that we can see. He describes the world to come with words that we can understand. I think God has a tiny paint box, a tiny vocabulary with which to describe to human beings something so vast. I never think that the new Jerusalem is only a physical city in Israel, it is so much more!
We’re not going to cover the first part of revelation except to say there are letters addressed to particular churches addressing particular problems in those churches in the 1st century, but also general sicknesses that churches can suffer from today.
Chapters 6-19 describe a time of trouble and tribulation, of persecution and natural disaster. The message is an encouragement to stay faithful in times of great pressure. Some people see the church as being taken away from the earth into heaven for a time during these battles and disasters. Some see that happening at the start of the tribulation, some part way through. Some don’t see the church being taken away at all, and of course many Theologians see these vivid visions as purely metaphor. Corrie Tem Boom was particular concerned that those who teach a Pre-Tribulation Rapture are encouraging believers to be unprepared to witness in a time of great testing.
Let’s look at some of the dynamics going on; there are the four horsemen – war, violence, famine and death – and these types of destruction come partly out of the greed and violence of men. Then there are what we might call natural disasters, the moon turned to red, water turned to blood, there are beasts that represent empires and supernatural evil. Many of the troubles are attributed to God pouring out his anger at the way that human kind has treated the earth. I struggle with these images of God as the source of anger, but they come from a people experiencing great hardship. They come from a people who want to see God involved and like the Old Testament prophets (Who saw god using Babylon as his agent) Revelation sees God allowing these awful things to roll out, before he restores and renews.
In revelation 7 there are 144,000 from the tribes of Israel taken into heaven – to me that number means fullness. And there are a countless host of others believers there as well. One of the things you might want to notice is the use of the words martyr and witness – John is encouraging believers to stand strong in the face of all persecution. There is a specific verse later in chapter 20 verse 4 addressing those who have been beheaded.
You can read chapters 6-19 as a building crescendo of Troubles. Or you can take chapters 6-11 as a first telling of the story – ending in verse 11.15,the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord. Then the story starts again. From chapter 12. The woman with a crown of 12 stars – Israel gives birth to the Messiah. So back to the start and then a different angle on the same story – again the 144,000 in the middle.
You can probably read 100 books with 100 interpretations of these chapters – from red moons in 1493, to Obama to Donald Trump, to the UN, from ISIS to Militant Hindus, from Catholic to Orthodox to Protestant to Pentecostal. I remember what we learnt in Daniel – ‘when men become like beasts’. John’s message is “be faithful’ no matter what the world of sin throws at you.
Then we get to chapter 19. and the great battle at Armageddon is finished. I’ve been there by the way, it’s a cross road in Israel, Megiddo. So if John’s vision is to be taken as representing a human battle then the messiah on a white horse wins a great battle. I’m a little bit nervous about this whole image of battle and incredible violence, however that’s because I live in a comfortable country and I suspect our brothers and sisters in Nigeria, or Ethiopia or especially Syria are just hanging out for a saviour on a white horse. Jesus wins the battle.
Then you get this interesting idea of The Millennium. Satan is locked up. And Jesus and the church rule on earth for a thousand years. I simply don’t know what to make of this. I know many conservative bible teachers take this very seriously, they see it as a fulfilment of the biblical prophecy about Jesu ruling on the throne of David. But I just struggle to see the line between symbolic and real-time. As I said before, I don’t think Jesus is up there orbiting, nor that he is in the body of a lamb sitting on a throne – and the Physical throne of David would have been burnt generations ago. So I don’t know what to make of the millennium.
Then there is a resurrection of every one who has ever lived and a judgement. Those who are in the book of life, we who follow Christ are resurrected to eternal life. Those who have turned down the great salvation are judged and sent to eternal death. I believe that the image of a lake of fire is an image of annihilation. Eternal death. Basically John is saying all the bad stuff is thrown in the incinerator. Again those who have been through appalling torture for their faith are often nourished by these verses saying one day their tormenters will be called to account for what they did.
Then the end is a new beginning. A new heavens and a new earth. Bishop Tom Wright is passionate about this view. That when we die we go to heaven, (like Jesus said to the thief beside him), but that is not our final state. The bible talks about the heavens and the earth being remade, in a way that doesn’t decay and us as spatial temporal beings living forever in some sort of body. – Everything is reorganised and we come down from heaven and live in new bodies here. I believe God is planning an even more fundamental rebuilding of the nature of everything. I don’t think the heavens and the earth are like 2 dimensions; I think they are an inclusive which means the whole Cosmos and God is going to rebuild it all in an exciting new way. A new way where there is no decay, there is no tears, there is no sickness, no Parkinson’s, no Dementia, no cancer, no heart disease, no children dying in childbirth, no sin and there is no worry about the sun exploding in 5 Billion years. There is continuity and there is renewal and however God does it, it will be very good.
The End of the End of the World.