[Dec 31]—Happy Endings

            Well, this is it. This is the last new TAWG Blog posting I’m planning on posting. To anyone who’s actually read any of this--whether it’s been one posting or all of them since day one—I thank you and really hope the Lord has used this to draw you closer to him. And on this last reading of my postings, what else could we talk about except the last chapter of the Bible?
            The Bible has a lot of negative material in it. I heard a preacher once say that it’s appropriate for a Bible to be printed with black leather, since it deals with sin, death, judgment, heartache, betrayal, and a host of horrible subjects. The book of Revelation is replete with narratives of things like the entire earth (for a time) openly worshiping the Antichrist and millions dying in plagues and wars. There’s a reason why this book is listed in the “Apocalyptic” genre.
            But that’s not the end of the book! That’s not how the story ends. If you stop reading a book because you can’t bear any more, you miss out on the ending. As we face horrible things in this life, we have to keep in mind that we haven’t made it to the end of the book yet. Tragedy and heartache and loss and sin are not the end of our story. This is.
            The first five verses could be summarized as “The curse reversed, and then some.” When our first parents sinned, they were cast out of the Garden, which was more than a geographical exile. We were banished from his intimate presence into a world of sickness, pain, suffering and death. The Lord (in his mercy) set a guard around the Tree of Life, which would provide immunity from death. But in the New Jerusalem, our new home, there are no angels with swords to bar our way from the Tree. It’s open to all. And most important, the Presence from which we had to flee before will then be like warm sunshine after a long winter, warming us from the inside-out. Oh, and as a side-note, we’re going to reign with him forever.
Some final notes:

·         Three times in this chapter, the Lord Jesus feels the need to tell us “I am coming soon!” In the first instance he issues a blessing on those of us who pay attention to the words of this scroll (Revelation). The second is a warning: He’s coming soon, and he’s bringing his reward with him. He’s going to reward his faithful followers, and he’s going to punish rebels finally and fatally. He’s going to be either the best Friend you’ll ever have, or the worst Enemy you could ever dream of. And then we have vs. 20, the last words of Jesus to the world: “Yes, I am coming soon.” That’s the last official word we’re going to hear from him until he. . .well, comes.  

·       I find it quite fitting that the last few words of God’s book to us include an invitation. First Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who “wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” Like the invited wedding guests in one of the Lord’s parables, we must get clean robes handed to us in order to have access to this Celebration to end all celebrations. Then in verse 17, John passes on three invitations to everyone reading this. 1) The Spirit says “Come!” just like he always has and always will, until the Door is finally shut. 2) The Bride says “Come!” as she proclaims the Good News-- really the Best News—to the lost. 3) And finally the one who hears says “Come!” If you believe in Christ, you're part of this. You have a corporate responsibility (as part of the Church) and an individual responsibility to say “Come!” to people around you. In both your words and actions, you should be saying “Come!” to those who don’t know the Savior.

·       What is this invitation? Well, the Savior is “coming soon,” so you need to “come” right now to him before he “comes” to you. You can either know him as Savior now or as your Judge later. If you’re thirsty, come to him. If you want salvation, take it. Freely take the free gift.

·      We get a final warning in vss. 18-19. The words of this prophecy--which are the last words of Jesus to the world and his church--close the canon. We don’t remove anything from God’s word, and we don’t add anything to it. That’s a warning that everyone needs to take seriously. As a teacher, that’s been my obligation over the last three years, and as God as my witness, I’ve taken it extremely seriously.

·      To Jesus’ last words to the church and the world—“Yes, I am coming soon,” John just has one response: “Amen, let it be so. Come, Lord Jesus.” That should be our prayer as well. 

·      Genesis started out with goodness, then judgment. The rest of the Bible has a mixture of grace and judgment, but the literal last sentence of his word is a word of grace: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.” Let it be so.

Soli Deo Gloria. I really mean that. Anything that's been worth reading and acting upon comes straight from him, and anything that deserves to be thrown in the "circular file" comes from me. God bless you all.

Two last nuggets of wisdom from C. S. Lewis (you knew that was coming, right?):

          What most people aren’t familiar with concerning him is that he wrote a sci-fi trilogy. The second in the series, Perelandra, is set mainly on the planet Venus. The hero, Elwin Ransom, is having a conversation at the end of the book with Tor, the king of the planet. Tor alludes to some future events which sound like a universal Apocalypse.

“And that,” said Ransom, “will be the end?”
Tor the king stared at him.
“The end?” he said. “Who spoke of an end?”
“The end of your world, I mean,” said Ransom.
“Splendour of Heaven!” said Tor. “Your thoughts are unlike ours. About that time we shall not be far from the beginning of all things.”

“But can it be, Friend, that no rumour of all this is heard in [Earth]? Do your people think that their Dark Lord will hold his prey forever?”
“Most of them,” said Ransom, “have ceased to think of such things at all. Some of us still have the knowledge: but I did not at once see what you were talking of, because what you call the beginning we are accustomed to call the Last Things.”
“I do not call it the beginning,” said Tor the King. “It is but the wiping out of the false start in order that the world may then begin. As a man lies down to sleep, if he finds a twisted root under his shoulder he will change his place—and after that his real sleep begins. Or as a man setting foot on an island, may make a false step. He steadies himself and after that his journey begins. You would not call that steadying of himself a last thing?”

And then in The Last Battle, he has Aslan welcome the children into their new home with these words:

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

“And for us, this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”  

Further up and further in. 
And of course, I want to end with our final cry set to music: 


Yes, Lord Jesus, please come quickly. And when you do, please find me ready. As it always has been, by your grace. 

[Dec 30]—Everything New

            “But Keith, what about the Millennium? Are you Pre-Mill or Post-Mill or A-Mill?” If you have no idea what I just referenced in the above hypothetical question, you might consider yourself lucky. If you do know what I was just referring to and are curious, well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I do have beliefs in that area, but I couldn’t get into them without a long drawn-out discussion on why I interpret Revelation 20 a certain way instead of another. There are Christian teachers I respect greatly who disagree amongst themselves as to how to interpret chapter 20 (John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul are good friends who agree on most things but disagree on eschatology). In the two days we have left, I’m going to try to keep the discussion centered in areas in which most Evangelicals could agree.
            One of the best books I ever read was Between Heaven and Hell, a fictional conversation between C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and John Kennedy (who all died on the same day). The book centers around a debate re: who Jesus is. Lewis obviously presents the traditional Christian viewpoint, while Huxley comes from an Eastern mystical mindset. Lewis and Huxley take a quick diversion from the main topic into one of the key areas of difference between Christianity and the Eastern religions (Buddhism and Hinduism). The Eastern faiths believe that history is circular, and they’re trying to return us to the innocent garden, before we got corrupted. Christianity believes that history is linear, heading from the beginning towards an ultimate goal, and it’s not trying to return us to anything. I’ve heard well-meaning Christians say that God’s been trying to get us back to the Garden since the Fall, but they seem to be slightly confused. We started out in a Garden with innocence. We end up in a City. And my ultimate goal in this life—which’ll be fully realized in the next one—is not innocence, but righteousness. Innocence just means that you haven’t chosen between good and evil; righteousness means that you’ve been presented with the choice, and you’ve chosen the good. In a sense, a baby is innocent. I need righteousness. 
            I think that everything we see described in the last two chapters of the Bible can be summarized in the wonderful promise in vs. 5: “I am making everything new.” There’ll come a day when the Heavens and the Earth are reduced down to their composite atoms and swept away so that he can create a new Heavens and a new Earth. If anyone is constructing a building or an empire, they should know that one day, sooner or later, it’s going to be dust and ashes and blown away like a house of cards in a hurricane.
            But he’s not destroying everything just for the sake of destroying it. He’s removing it so he can re-create it.
            Now, as I’ve warned before, good Christians can debate how literally we can take passages like today’s. A few days ago I gave the hypothetical example of an African who’s never encountered anyone from civilization, and you’re trying to explain an airplane to him. Let me take that a step further, one which I think is even more appropriate. Take that hypothetical African who’s never been exposed to any sort of modernity. Up to this point he’s lived among his tribe, and he’s never encountered anyone or anything in the modern world. And suppose that you magically transport this man to modern New York City. He sees people wearing modern clothes, he sees electric lights everywhere, he sees cars everywhere, and he sees all sorts of modern appliances and gadgets. How would he interpret a man talking on a cell phone, for example? He sees all this for about an hour, then is magically transported back to his tribe. As soon he returns, he tries his best to explain what he saw. In this analogy, the tribesman is John, and we’re his fellow tribesman, and he’s trying to explain what he saw, doing his best to stay within his own frame of reference, which is all he possesses.
            Having said that, I tend to interpret Scripture as literally as I can unless I have a really good reason to think otherwise, unless the context suggests that the author wants me to think otherwise. For an incredible (and short) article on taking Scripture literally, see this piece by Greg Koukl.
            Like that hypothetical African, John plumbs the depths of his limited human experience to try to explain the unexplainable to us. But to me, it’s not just what he describes as what is there that’s so striking. What’s especially poignant to me is what he says is missing: “death or mourning or crying or pain.” Every tear will be wiped away. Something else that’s not there is fear. We live in a world where people live in fear all the time. Why do we lock our doors at night? But this City will never lock its doors or gates, because there’s nothing outside it to cause us to fear anymore.
Another thing that’s missing? Sin. Remember this little summary: In justification we were saved from the penalty of sin. In sanctification, we’re saved (day by day, as we cooperate with him) from the power of sin. And in glorification, we will be saved from the very presence of sin. That sinful nature that I’ve been struggling against for all my Christian life will be gone. My new nature will be the only one I have, and not only will I never want to sin again, there won’t be anything around me as a temptation to sin again.
            But more than what is there (streets of gold, etc.), and what is not there (death, crying, sin), what’s most important to me is who is there. We won’t need the light of the sun anymore, nor the moon. Why? Because our Savior God will be the light we walk in. Have you ever basked in the sunshine on a warm Spring day after a long winter? That’s just a tiny foretaste of what we’ll have in basking in the immediate Presence of our Lord. The face before whom angels dare not expose their faces will be nothing but a warm light to us, warming us from the inside-out for eternity. It’s as intimate as you can get.
            But I have to point out that nothing impure will enter this City. Ever. My sin can’t be allowed into the city. If you didn’t understand from this passage how much God hates sin, you haven’t been paying attention. I know that I’m saved by grace, but if I want to prepare myself for my Home, the best way to do it is to work on the lingering sin in my heart and life. As C. S. Lewis put it, "[If] we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.” That begins now, today. As we come up to the New Year, let’s commit ourselves to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in making us more like Christ in the ways we think, talk, and act. Love God more, and hate sin more. That should be on everyone’s New Year’s resolution list.

Lord Jesus, I can’t wait for my new Home. But I can bring a little piece of it down here right now, by basking in your presence, and letting you deal with any lingering sin inside me. Please help me love you and hate sin a lot more than I do already. By your grace. 

[Dec 29]—Hallelujah!

Rev. 19

            What a difference a couple of thousand years make, huh? When Jesus came the first time, he came as a little baby, was laid in a feeding trough, and lived a lower-middle class lifestyle. As an adult, you could walk right past him on the street and not notice a thing about him. The end of his life was spent in ultimate humiliation, torture, betrayal, abandonment, and rejection. But this time. . . .whoa.
            Mostly I want you to bask in what this passage is describing, but here are a few notes:

·         I find it really interesting that perfect people and angels up in Heaven are glad and praising God that sinners are being judged. Down here on earth, while there’s still time for repentance, that’s what we—like our Lord—earnestly want to see. We hope for, we pray for, and we work for people to come to faith in Christ, no matter what they’ve done. But up in Heaven, where there’s no danger of self-righteousness or misplaced anger, when the time for judgment has come, then it’s time for rejoicing. As believers, even here on earth we're supposed to hate sin and love righteousness. Sin dishonors and mocks our beloved Father. We want to see an end to it, and this is it.

·         I absolutely love the “Hallelujah Chorus” in Handel’s Messiah, don’t you? It’s probably one of the most famous piece of classical music ever. Of course, it—like all of Messiah—is totally Scripture set to music. That’s why verse six might have been familiar to you: The “Hallelujah Chorus” is made up solely of that verse and 11:15. The wonderful song we sing, the rush we feel as we stand up when the choir sings “King of kings and Lord of lords,” is talking about when he comes to judge the world and destroy his enemies.

·         I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: All of God’s enemies will be destroyed, but his preferred method is to destroy his enemies by turning them into his beloved children and heirs. But make no mistake: His enemies will all be destroyed in the end, one way or another. His rule will, in the end, brook no rebels.

·         I always visualized this scene as the Lord Jesus on his white horse coming down, all of the angels and redeemed humanity following him in order to fight alongside him. Take a closer look at today’s reading: Do you see anywhere in this chapter where we fight? I have to give credit to MacArthur: He’s the one who pointed out to me that the Lord Jesus Christ does all the “fighting” in this chapter. Of course, I put “fighting” in quotes because this really isn’t a fight. It’s a literal slaughter. If it ever comes down to force against force, there’s really no contest here. He breathes on them and kills them where they stand. One moment after this "fight" starts, there won't enough of the Lord's enemies left of them for their own mothers to identify. 

·         I believe in representative democracy as the best form of government. It’s the best out of all the imperfect options we can have here in a fallen world with only fallen people to run things. But when he returns, Jesus is not coming back to set up the “Democracy of God.” No, John alludes to a quotation that goes all the way back to Psalm 2: “You will rule them with an iron scepter.” Right now you have a choice about obeying him or not. On that day, the rebellion stops.

·         I know that the last few verses are a little gross to modern sensibilities. I get that. They make me just a tad uncomfortable myself. But I have to remind myself that A) The Lord has done so much to keep them from this fate. As someone once said, “Yes, you can go to Hell, but you’ll have to step over the broken and bleeding body of Jesus in order to do it.” B) We have to get this into our head: This is merely a description of people and fallen angels getting exactly what they deserve. And apart from the grace of God, I'd be right there next to them. 

            I have to end this with a plea: If you happen to be reading this and don’t know Christ as your Savior, today’s the day to change that. Yesterday’s gone, and you have no promise that you’ll get a chance tomorrow. Please don’t put this off. Please please please read this
            If you belong to Christ and are reading this, this should arouse longing within you. Maybe not a longing to see sinners judged and destroyed, and since we have a sinful nature, that’s probably not very healthy anyway (this side of Glory). But you should have a longing to see your Lord finally officially claim what belongs to him, finally get the honor and glory he deserves, and finally see everything that’s wrong be made right. That’s worth waiting for, but it gets awfully hard to wait sometimes.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Please come quickly. And help me to get ready. 

[Dec 28]—Counterfeits

            I have to confess that I’m really reluctant to talk about today’s subject. As soon as I say the word “Antichrist,” everyone’s ears perk up because they think we’re going to speculate on who he is or when he’s going to show up. No, that’s not what we’re even going to approach. Instead, we’re going to examine this passage as a continuation of a pattern that Satan’s been doing for a very very very long time, in fact since the beginning of human history.
            Now, I do need to lay some cards on the table and say that I do believe that the book of Revelation is mainly set in the future. I don’t think it was completely fulfilled in the 1st century; I mostly think prophecy tends to fall into the “partially fulfilled now/completely fulfilled later” pattern. For example, I think that Amos 9:11-15 was partially fulfilled in the early days of the church, and it’ll be completely fulfilled when the Messiah returns.
            I think that throughout history, Satan has been doing something, holding to a certain pattern, but in the final days before Christ returns he’ll perform the ultimate expression of what I’m about to talk about.
            What’s this pattern I keep alluding to?
            Counterfeiting something that God’s done.
            Let’s take a look at what the three main actors in today’s passage do:

·         The Dragon is the one who initiates all of this. He’s the one who gives the “Beast” all the authority and power he needs to accomplish what he’s doing. The Dragon’s the ultimate object of worship (vs. 4). This is a copy of God the Father, who’s the One who initiated the plan to redeem us, who gave his Son power and authority, and who’s the One on the Throne before whom we bow and to whom we pray.

·         But the Beast is the one who gets a lot more attention in today’s passage. As opposed to our Lord Jesus, he comes up from the sea instead of down from Heaven. Like Jesus' relationship with the Father (e.g. here), the Beast receives his authority from the Dragon, and he’s the immediate object of worship. He has horns on his head just like the Lamb (in Rev. 5), representing power and strength. John uses the exact same verbiage in describing the Beast’s worshipers as he does in his heavenly vision we looked at a couple of days ago: Everyone from every “tribe, people, language and nation” who doesn’t belong to the Lord is ipso facto a worshiper of the Beast (in the end, fence-sitting is entirely unsustainable). And here’s the real kicker: The Beast has a supposedly fatal wound, which had been healed, apparently Satan’s version of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord.

·         And finally we come to the 2nd Beast, and it’s pretty obvious whom he’s copying. He speaks the words of the Dragon to all the world, and makes everyone worship. . .not himself, but the 1st Beast (just like the Spirit doesn’t draw attention to himself but to Jesus). He performs miracles in order to lend legitimacy to the “ministry” of the 1st Beast, including sending down fire from Heaven (just like the Spirit). He breathes “life” where there was none, and as a final clue he marks all those who belong to the 1st Beast with a mark of ownership.

            So what’s my point here? Yes, I happen to think that the ultimate fulfillment of this will happen in the future. But Satan has been following this MO since the beginning. Right off the bat, all of his lies are God’s truth alloyed with just a bit of error, which would be the only lies which get anywhere. God gives us Law which is “holy, righteous, and good,” and the Deceiver gives us legalism and the Pharisees. God gives us the beautiful gift of human sexuality to bind together husband and wife, and Satan gives us all types of sexual perversions. God gives us human creativity as part of his blessed image he stamped us with, and the Devil leads us into inventing new ways of doing evil.
            This is even displayed in the Bible’s term “Antichrist.” When people see this term, they think that it means “Anti-” as in “against,” which is the standard usage. However, the word “anti” in the Greek means “instead of.” Yes, he’s secretly opposed to Christ and all he stands for, but that’s not the way he’s going to come across. There were lots of “antichrists” in John’s day, but they weren’t claiming to be opposed to Jesus. No, they just claimed to be the true Messiah, and they were precursors to the Great Antichrist to come.
            This leads me to two very important applications:
      1)      Satan never creates anything. He’s the ultimate parasite. All he can do is take something that the Lord’s already created and pervert it or twist it. Think about it: Every sin you can think of is something that God’s created but which Satan is offering in the wrong time, way, or circumstances.
      2)      We need to be on guard, because his main weapon is deception. Yes, sometimes he’ll oppose us with brute force, but that’s usually his last resort, not his favorite method. He’ll take something that the Lord's created that’s good and twist it just a liiiiiittle bit. Using the Scriptures and the Spirit’s guidance, we have to be on guard in every age against his lies and counterfeits, whichever form they happen to take today.

Let me end this passage on a word of hope that you might have missed. This is a very negative passage, and if all you had was today’s reading, you’d likely end up pretty depressed. But even in these verses--in which it appears that Satan is on top, that his plan is going forward without a hitch, and that the “good guys” are on the losing side--appearances can be deceiving. You have to look for the glimmer of hope, but it’s there. Take a closer look at vs. 5-7 and don’t miss these clues: “[It] was given. . .for forty-two months. . . it was given power. . . it was given authority. . .” Who’s giving this Beast this power and authority? Well, it’s given authority directly from the Dragon, but do you think the Dragon would give its servant authority for only 42 months? No. Ultimately it’s the Lord who has all this under control. The Lord is the One who’s setting the boundaries and maneuvering the Dragon into accomplishing the Divine plan, just like he always has. To all appearances, it looks like the Dragon’s the one in charge, but he only goes forward as far as the Father’s leash lets him.
      There’s lot of good application here, so I’ll leave to you.

Father God, you’re in charge, and I’m not, and Satan’s not. Give me eyes to see right through his lies, and help me to listen only to my Shepherd’s voice. Please. 

[Dec 27]—How WE Defeat Satan

            I remember in my early 20’s how a duology of fiction about spiritual warfare became all the rage for several years: This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. They were fascinating reads about how demons, angels, and Christians interact in peoples’ lives, and to their credit they awakened a lot of people to the reality of the spiritual battles going on around us all the time, and they certainly presented an orthodox message of salvation as far as that went. However, I had some problems with them.
            The first and foremost was that it showed God’s “side"--represented by heavenly angels--as being all too often on the losing side of the battles they fought. Of course you have to have realistic conflict in good drama, which means it has to look like the bad guys are going to win during most of the story. However, anything that gives the impression that the forces of God and the forces of Satan are equal and opposite in power is very problematic, because that’s not the picture that the Bible presents. When light is introduced into a darkened room, there’s no real “battle” between light and dark: The darkness flees as fast as the light advances. When Jesus encountered demonically possessed people, there was no question as to who was the dominant one: The demons cravenly begged for him not to send them into the pit. If it ever comes down to a conflict based on strength vs. strength, it’s not going to be a conflict that lasts very long at all.
            The other problem I had was the overly dramatic way the heroic Christians in the novels dealt with Satanic forces. They exorcised the demonically possessed characters in very dramatic ways.
            Now, does that never happen? I think it does happen, at least occasionally. But I think we make a mistake when we focus so much on the dramatic “power encounters”--which are rare--versus the ordinary ways in which the Enemy tries to influence us.
            Quite frankly, I don’t think that most people are personally tempted by the Prince of Darkness himself very often. He’s not omnipresent like our God is. He can only focus on so much at a time. I think he’s behind the major “zeitgeist” of the times, and he indirectly leads people astray through various means. I wish I was enough of a thorn in his side to warrant his personal attention, or at least the better part of me does.
            What does all this have to do with today’s passage?
            It talks about a war in heaven. We can debate whether this is in the past or in the future, but that’s really irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make. In the story, whenever its setting, Satan and his forces attack Heaven, and they’re repulsed by Michael, who apparently is God’s chief military officer. Satan and his hordes are cast back out, and that's their part in his defeat, but I want you to pay close attention to our part that’s described here. What does it say about how we triumph over the Enemy?

·         By the blood of the Lamb. We receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and our Boss. At that moment, the Accuser, the one who’s been acting as sort of a prosecuting attorney in God’s court, can say all he likes. He doesn’t have to lie about me to make me look bad: All he has to do is tell the truth about my behavior. But it doesn’t matter what he says or how he says it. From the moment I trust in Christ, Jesus’ blood covers my sin. And that’s the only victory I’ll ever need. Do you fully grasp this? From the moment you receive Christ, the Enemy has lost you for all time. You've already won complete victory in the most important battle you'll ever face. That’s it. It’s done.

·         By the word of our testimony. As far as Satan’s concerned, what's the only thing worse than someone coming to faith in Christ? A person coming to faith in Christ who won’t shut up about it. I said before that I want to become as big a thorn in Satan’s side as I can. You too, right? You know how we can do that? Tell lost people about Jesus. I have to warn you, though: When you do this, you're majorly "whacking the hornet's nest." When you do that, you’re invading the Devil’s kingdom and planting the flag of Christ on property that the Enemy considers his. But oh, the rush! I have to tell you, there are few things in this life that give as good a rush as leading someone to faith in in the Savior. It’s totally worth it. Just be prepared for the opposition, just sayin’.

·         Being willing to sacrifice whatever it takes for our Savior. This “voice in heaven” gets uncomfortably specific: “they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” You know where we get the word “martyr,” right? It’s the word for “witness” in Greek. The reason we associate the term with someone giving up his life for the sake of Christ is because the ones who died for the faith were demonstrating their testimony in the ultimate way. It’s easy to say “Jesus is my Lord and he’s everything to me,” but it’s quite something else when a prison guard holds a sword over your neck and says “Renounce him or die!” and you continue to claim the Name.  Now, in America, most of us aren’t called upon to literally die for the faith. Whatever we’re called to sacrifice, quite frankly, is laughable compared to what others have given up and are giving up right now—this very moment—for his sake. But martyrdom isn’t something we volunteer for. If he chooses to allow us that, then so be it. We should smile and be glad that we can suffer for the Name, and (hopefully) will be going to our Homeland quickly. But all of us who claim the Name of Christ should—must—be willing to give up whatever he calls us to give up, nothing more, but certainly nothing less.
      I remember one of the iconic photos of the Vietnam War era, one in which someone literally set himself on fire to protest his government’s policies. Naturally I don’t for a moment condone that. But think for a moment: If Christians had that type of dedication and willingness to sacrifice themselves for the Kingdom, what could Satan do to stop them? Threaten them? Confiscate their possessions? Jail them? Murder them? They’d be virtually unstoppable.

Look, I know it’s more attractive and exciting to think that the way we confront Satan is through dramatic “power encounters.” But I think that most of the time the way we most effectively fight him and his forces and his influence is through 1) trusting in the name of Christ, 2) spreading the Good News about him, and 3) being willing to do whatever it takes to spread that message. If we do that, what exactly can he do to stop us?

Lord Jesus, I want to make the maximum impact for your Kingdom. I really do. But it starts with simple things, like telling a friend or coworker about you, and being available to do whatever it takes to see you glorified. If that’s going to happen, it’s going to have to happen by your grace. Please. 

[Dec 26]--What Doesn't--And Does--Cause Repentance

            In case you haven’t figured it out by now, what we’re going to be doing in our remaining days together isn’t a comprehensive study of the book of Revelation. We’re not going to guess at the identity of the Antichrist, nor are we going to settle the Pre-Trib vs. Post-Trib debate. In the little time we have left, I’m just going to pick out a few of my favorite “hidden gems” from Revelation. The material we’re going to delve into won’t be stuff you often find in all the studies out there that focus on the “big picture” subjects. Not that that stuff isn’t important, but I’d like to provide you some material you’re not likely to get elsewhere.
            Today’s passage is pretty dark. It’s talking about what most Evangelicals call “The Great Tribulation,” in which the entire world gets battered back and forth by plagues, world wars, economic collapse, literal upheavals of the earth, and other disasters which kill off huge portions of the population. Jesus said that if these days weren’t shortened by God’s sovereign mercy, no one would survive.
            Let’s summarize what happens in just today’s passage. Angels are released, and their plagues by themselves kill a third of mankind. If that happened today, it’d be over 2 billion people.
            Instead of debating the details of this plague, I want to focus on the peoples’ reaction. What does it say about their response to this in vss. 20-21? The survivors of these plagues, along with everything they’d seen up to that point “still did not repent of the work of their hands.” They’d been indulging in idol worship (which was actually worshiping demons), and after seeing all this, they kept right on doing it. They also refused to give up “their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
            That’s the main point I want to get from today’s passage, and let’s see how we can apply it. What doesn’t cause repentance, and what does?

·         Supernatural phenomena do not bring people to repentance. At least not real repentance. This is a pattern we could’ve noticed back in Moses’ day. As a Study Bible I once read put it, among the people who followed Moses for 40 years, there were no atheists but lots and lots of rebels. Every morning they stepped out of their tents and picked their breakfast up off the ground which was waiting for them. They saw the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night. They saw water gushing from the rock. They saw all the 10 plagues on Egypt. And when it came to one more test at the very border of the Promised Land, they turned on Moses and demanded to go back to Egypt.
            Why do we think that supernatural phenomena will turn rebels into believers? I’m not sure, but I do know in my heart of hearts that the Lord’s given me plenty of evidence that he loves me and will take care of me and that I should implicitly trust him. If I don’t trust him, the problem’s not lack of proof that he’s trustworthy.

·         Incredible hardship and pain will not bring about repentance. The survivors of this plague had already gone through a lot before this. And as they watched millions or billions die in front of them, they didn’t take the implicit warning to heart. The Lord wasn’t doing this to humanity because he likes to see people suffer. Quite the opposite: “He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” But when he does let loose and give sinners just a little bit of what they deserve in this life, that’s supposed to be a warning to everyone else to repent

            The problem is not with the message: That should be coming across loud and clear. The problem is with us. We have a sinful nature that rebels against God, and pain and hardship—by themselves—only make us hate him more.
            On a side-note, this touches upon the question of a “second chance” for people in Hell. Someone might ask “Why doesn’t God give them another chance to repent?” My friend--leaving aside the fact that none of us deserve a second chance--after a thousand years in Hell, they’re only going to hate him more than when they first entered it. Pain and suffering, like supernatural phenomena, won’t turn a rebel into a repentant believer.
              So what does? The work of the Holy Spirit. He has to come into a person’s heart, and convict them of sin, of righteousness, and judgment. He might use things like pain and suffering or other things to bring us to him: He has lots of tools in his toolbox. But he has to come into a person’s heart to change them and draw them towards the Savior.
            How can we apply this? I’ve talked recently with some other believers who have non-Christian family. They’ve talked with their family members, made absolutely no headway, and they’re wondering what to do, or even the best way to pray for them. They’ve even prayed that something will come into their lives to “shake them up.” I’m not against this by any means: Often the Spirit uses hardship in our lives to bring us to himself. But we have to keep in mind that it’s the Holy Spirit who has to change a person from the inside-out, and no amount of arguing, or evidence, or life changes will be able to do that by themselves.
            Oh, but when he gets a hold of someone’s heart, what a change it makes!

Lord Jesus, through your Spirit please give me a soft heart and listening ears. That’s the only way change is going to happen inside me. I want to see that happen, and I know that even the wanting comes from you. I guess there’s hope for me yet.

[Dec 25]—From Every Nation. . .

            I know I know I know. You’re saying “Keith, where’s the Christmas devotional?!” Well, I don’t have anything against Christmas, although quite frankly it’s not my favorite holiday. The problem is that I’ve really said all I need to say concerning it. If you want a Christmas devotional, you can read here, here, and here if you’re so inclined. The last one in particular is my favorite, since it has a video clip from my favorite Christmas movie of all time.
            I guess in a way, today’s devotional and reading kinda sorta relates to Christmas in the only way that matters. In my opinion, we tend to sentimentalize Christmas way too much. He came as a cute little baby, but he didn’t stay that way. As long as we visualize him as a little baby, we can avoid thinking about the less politically-correct reason as to why he came. He didn’t come primarily to teach or provide us a good example to follow, although he did those things. He came to die a horrible death and have the Father place upon his back our sins and the punishment due them. But even that doesn’t go back far enough as the primary motivation as to why he came. The hint of it—the absolute rock-bottom reason as to why he came—is found in today’s passage.
            If you’re waiting for me to get into a deep discussion about where this scene fits into my personal interpretation of Revelation and the End Times, you'll have to keep waiting. I think most Christians agree that this is still future, and it’s a view of Heaven. Other than that, I’m not going to get into the details about it.
Some biblical scholars of a certain stripe claim that the Church will escape the Great Tribulation, while others say that they’ll go through it, while still others teach that the “Great Tribulation” isn’t a particular period of time but the Church’s history since Jesus left: We’ve always been going through a time of testing and persecution to some degree. I have a particular view on it, but to go into it would be completely irrelevant to the point I want to make.
What’s especially important to me here, however, is John’s immediate description of this crowd. What does he say about it in the first verse? It was “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
This means at some point in the future there’ll be an uncountable multitude before the throne and the Lamb, and there’ll be representatives there from every nation, tribe, people, and language. Does this mean that every individual will eventually be saved? I wish I could say that, but no.
What does it mean?

·         It means that the Great Commission will be fulfilled someday. There will come a day in which there will be followers of Jesus from every “nation.” BTW, the word “nation” in the Matthew passage and today’s reading doesn’t mean “nation” as a geopolitical structure like America or Russia or China or Brazil. The word is ethne, from which we get the word “ethnic.” It’s a people-group, defined among missionaries as “An ethno-linguistic group with a common self-identity that is shared by the various members. For strategic purposes it is the largest group within which the Gospel can spread without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.” If you study church history from a missiological standpoint, it’s pretty depressing at times. Missiologists refer to what happened after the Protestant Reformation as the “Great Omission,” when we—for reasons which varied in legitimacy—failed to reach out to the unreached people groups, those who’d never had the opportunity to hear the Good News in a way they could understand and relate to.
      But there will come a day when it’s fulfilled. John saw it. This in no way excuses our laziness or disobedience, but it should spur us on to working together towards its completion.

·         When the angel announced that the arrival of that Baby would be “good news” for all people, he meant it. Of course the shepherds probably knew a lot less details than we do today about God’s plan to redeem people from all ethne, but that doesn’t change this glorious truth. What was announced in those fields on the first Christmas is fulfilled in today’s passage. So I guess I can relate it to Christmas after all!

·         I wish this could go without saying, but I think we need a reminder here: This of course completely repudiates any feelings of ethnocentrism as far as the Good News of Christ is concerned. God loves all ethne equally, and he won’t rest until the last person who’s going to be saved gets saved. I count it as a definite “plus”—to put it extremely mildly—that the church I’m attending is multiethnic, that we have folks from various ethnic backgrounds, skin pigmentations, and national backgrounds in our church, and we’ve made a strong effort to continue to reach out to all sorts of people. When such people from different backgrounds congregate to worship as a group, it’s literally a foretaste of Heaven. I don’t just mean that it’s a wonderful experience. I mean that it’s a preview of what Heaven will be like, based on today’s reading.

·         The world can talk all it wants about unity, but the only lasting, genuine, and positive unity is based on unity in worshiping our Savior God. As we’ve seen in the past with the Tower of Babel, and as you can read about later in the book of Revelation, there’s such a thing as “bad” unity. A lynch mob can be unified. Germany was mostly unified under Hitler at one point. But when people of different ethne can join together as one and sing

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb”

. . . it’s pure beauty.

            Let’s get back to his ultimate purpose for coming. Yes, in a sense he came to die in our place. But even that’s not the rock-bottom purpose. His rock-bottom purpose is what we’re seeing here. He came to establish his Kingdom and glorify his name by redeeming sinners from all people-groups and bringing worshipers into it. As John Piper put it, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” In other words, missionaries and evangelists are worship recruiters. They’re there to add to the uncountable numbers you see in today’s passage.
            So what’s your part in all this? I don’t think that God has called everyone to be “professional” evangelists or missionaries. But I believe with all my heart that every redeemed child of God is called to contribute to what we read here. You can take part by praying. You can take part by contributing financially. You can take part in being informed so that your prayers can be more effective. You can take part by asking him to use you to reach those around you, by having a "Here am I, send me" type of attitude. So what are you going to do in the coming year?

Lord Jesus, I confess that way too often I’ve participated in the Great Omission instead of the Great Commission. Please show me my part, and give me the empowering I need to follow through. For your glory and pleasure. Please. 

[Dec 24]—The Center of Heaven

            After dictating the letters to the seven churches, we get to the Antichrist, the Mark of the Beast, the destruction of the earth, and the return of Christ. Um, no. That’s not what’s next in the book. Before we get to anything else, the Lord Jesus wanted to give his servant John (and us) a behind-the-scenes look at Heaven itself. Later on we’re going to see some things—both in the book of Revelation and in world events—which would make us think that evil’s on the rise, things are spinning out of control, and that the good guys are on the losing side. When those things happen, we must must must keep in mind that God’s still on his throne and is still Boss of everything. He has everything under control, and everything is working towards his ultimate plan for his glory and our good, even if it’s not looking like that at any particular moment.
            John was transported by the Spirit into the Throne Room and is given a glimpse behind the curtain of eternity.
            But before we get into what he describes for the rest of the chapter, we need to think about this. John is describing everything as best as he can, using his very limited vocabulary and intellect (not that any of us would do any better). I’ve used this illustration before, but I can’t think of anything that fits better here. Suppose that you’re trying to explain an airplane to an African who’s never seen it. He’s never heard of an airplane before, nor has he seen a picture of it. You tell him, “It’s like a bird. It soars on the air with wings.” He then asks “Does it have feathers?” “Um, no.” “Well, then is it a bird or not? Every bird I’ve ever seen has feathers.” You then have to somehow convey that an airplane is like a bird in some ways but that’s not the entire picture. Any illustration we use concerning spiritual matters is going to be incomplete at best and inaccurate to some degree or another.
            Any description is going to be inaccurate to some degree, because John is talking about things which are out of our frame of reference, like that African who’s never seen a plane. For example, when the Bible says that the streets are paved with gold, does that mean that the pavement is literally going to be constructed with the element we know as Au? Well, the gold there is clear as glass, and there’s no gold I’ve ever heard of in this world that you can see through like glass. John there is trying to convey incredible beauty and wealth that we can’t comprehend. What’s the most valuable substance in most cultures throughout history? Gold. Just keep that in mind as we see these images, especially as he’s describing Heaven.
            The first thing he sees—appropriately enough—was the Throne, and the One sitting on it. This is God the Father. Notice that John doesn’t much describe what the Person on the throne looked like at all. He describes what and who are around the throne, but the only thing he says about the appearance of the Father was that he looked like “jasper and ruby,” flashing brilliant and beautiful colors. That’s because in our unglorified state God lives in “unapproachable light.” One day when we receive our new bodies, we’ll see him face to face, but not now. Now even angels cover their faces when they approach him. By the way, as an example of what we discussed in the last paragraph, the throne is not literal furniture: It represents ultimate power and authority and sovereignty.
            But I want to reiterate that this is the first thing he sees when he enters Heaven. God is the center of attention here. He’s the center of Heaven. Everything revolves around and relates to him. I’m looking forward to a lot of periphery activities once I get there, but I suspect that my priorities will shift considerably once I step into that room.
            The next thing John noticed was a rainbow surrounding the throne. The rainbow, a token of his covenant with humanity set in Noah’s day, represents his faithfulness to his word and his promises. Rainbows are reflected light on water, so it’s appropriate that God’s light would be reflected in multiple colors around his throne.
            Next are the “24 elders” who are dressed in white and wear crowns on their heads. Who are they, or what do they represent? Our best guess is that this represents the redeemed around the throne. Why 24? Again, best guess is that you have “12” that count as the 12 tribes of Israel, plus “12” that represent the 12 apostles (who stand in for the church), thus 12+12=those redeemed under the Old Covenant plus those redeemed under the New Covenant. Again, I have to emphasize best guess. White robes would represent the righteousness of Christ and crowns represent power and authority which have been delegated to them and/or rewards they’ve received. More on the crowns in a moment. Those are important.
             After the elders are four very strange creatures. I suppose they’re angelic beings, since they have wings. They’re covered with eyes, which represent knowledge and insight. Although not omniscient like God, they have comprehensive knowledge into what they’re responsible for. Not sure how to interpret this, but a lion typically represents the greatest of the predators, an ox is the greatest among domesticated beasts, a man is the greatest among rational beings on earth, and an eagle is considered the greatest among the birds. To say anything more is really to indulge into pure speculation at this point, except to say maybe they represent all of physical creation before the throne. Emphasis on maybe.
What's everybody doing around the throne? Whatever these creatures are or what they represent is secondary to what they’re doing: worshiping the God on the Throne of Heaven. What they’re saying/singing is similar to what Isaiah heard when he got his peak behind the curtain:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, who is, and who is to come.
            This is to emphasize the immutability of our God. He never ever ever changes. He was in eternity past before he created a single thing, he's here now in this very moment, and he’ll be here when the last star has finally turned into a cold cinder. He is holy, meaning he is utterly unique and separate. He’s like nothing else in the entire universe.
Now let’s get to the significance of those crowns the elders are wearing. What purpose do they serve? Do I get my crown so I can walk around with it in Heaven? Absolutely not! The purpose of any crowns I get is so that I can throw them at the foot of my Savior God and give him more glory. They’re for his glory, not mine. As I throw my crown at his feet, I can sing a song of worship to the only One who deserves all the praise, honor, and glory. It’s never about me. It’s always about him.
            Did you notice what they’re praising him for? Just on the basis of his creation alone he’s worthy of all praise, honor and glory. We haven’t even gotten into praising and thanking him for the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection, the sending of the Spirit, the righteousness with which he clothes us, his mercy, his grace, his power, his mercy, his wisdom. . . whew! And these are just words which we use to describe what our very limited human understanding can comprehend about who he is and what he’s done. Just start worshiping him on the basis of creation alone, and you’ll have plenty to do.
            Well, what are you waiting for? Use today’s reading as a springboard. And to help you, here's "The Thone" by Michael W. Smith.

Father God, words are sooooo inadequate for the task sometimes. But if I’m not using the words in my mouth to honor and praise and thank you, my mouth’s not living up to its purpose. Help me to prepare for Heaven, right now, please.