Maybe we shrink back from the horrifying scene which greets us here. There’s pain, anguish, blood, destruction, and death. Maybe we’re even tempted to shrink from the picture of God it paints for us. His wrath seems nasty, and His anger seems unseemly. The punishment just seems so harsh. But John wants us to see that God’s holiness demands that the epicentre of evil must be destroyed. Justice must be done.
The Lord, in all His holiness (vv.1, 6) calls forth the judgment upon the evil of His enemies. It is the justice of God’s wrath upon those who reject His King, those in active rebellion against Him (vv.6, 11). It is terrible, and yet it is just (vv.5-7). There are boils (v.2), blood (vv.3-4), darkness (v.10) and frogs (v. 13). They’re meant to remind us of God’s judgment upon another nation who rejected His Word and oppressed His people. And yet, like godless Egypt, God’s enemies will not turn to Him in their anguish, but continue to curse and hate (v.21). But the Lord Jesus will return to reign and to defeat those who oppose Him (v.15). Evil will be conquered through the power of the Risen King.
God’s justice is terrible. And it is right. We need to remember the evil of sin, the horror of its outcome. And we need to cling to the One who drank the bowl of God’s wrath in our place. Only through Jesus will we avoid this hell.
A Prayer to Pray
Lord God, I thank You that You are holy and just. Enable me to see afresh the evil of sin and to cling to my Saviour. Thank you, Father, that in Jesus I now stand as Your adopted child, and not as the enemy I once was. Amen.
Revelation is a vision which should leave us exhausted, and then, by grace, exhilarated. It is a vision of God’s absolute holiness, and a vision which must overwhelm us. In John’s book we face up to pictures of a perfectly wise, perfectly loving and perfectly wrathful God. We cannot turn away unchanged, nor have our views of God unchallenged. He is God, He is holy. That means, He is utterly different from us in His absolute perfection. And, as we’ll discover, His holiness, terrifying as it is to sinful people like ourselves, is in fact our only hope.
After the previous visions of the Woman and the Dragon (12.1-3), here is the third, of the Presence of God Himself. In line with what Moses and Ezekiel saw, John records a dazzling sea of glass (v.2), symbolising God’s dwelling-place. Standing there are God’s servants. They have “been victorious over the Beast”, through their suffering witness, and most likely through their martyrs’ death (v.2). Like no one else, they worship God as they know Him to be, as the Holy One (v.3). Reflect on their song, and sing it yourself. It is a song of a mighty and majestic Lord!
A holy God has dealings not only with those who embrace His covenant-love, but with those who reject it. As John sees the heavenly place of worship, he calls it the Tabernacle of the Testimony, the word “Testimony” reminding us that God has spoken to His people, charging them to be faithful to them. John’s heart is heavy with the fact that the people of the unbelieving generation who heard Jesus’ words and rejected them, were in covenant with God. Now they must meet the covenant judgement of the God they rejected, as all sinners will once day. The bowls of God’s wrath are made ready to be poured out against sin (vv.6-9).
For bowls, think cups. And then think of how one cup brings you to the Holy God. Jesus drained the cup which was prepared for our sin. He took it, and emptied, not pouring it out on others, but drinking it down for them. Love took the punishment which holiness demanded. Jesus drank wrath, that you might drink grace. No one would take wrath for us. Jesus did. We call it the Gospel. It’s from heaven, and it will bring us into heaven.
A Prayer to Pray
Lord, Your love is astounding, just as Your purity is amazing. How I praise You that I am free from the guilt of all of my sins as I see it taken by Jesus. Put in my heart a song of holy praise to my God, for in the Gospel Your righteous acts have been revealed. Amen.
The Scottish Puritan was right, in his vision of heaven: “the Lamb there in His glory doth on Mount Zion stand, and glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land.” Here we see the glory of a conquering Saviour, surrounded by His ransomed people, whose hearts and lives have been won for Him (vv.1-5). It is a vision of our future, secure and happy. It is also a vision of our present, as we sing the Gospel’s song with glad hearts, and commit ourselves to holiness in the light of the approaching day.
As there is heaven, there is also hell. The Gospel is the announcement of grace, and also the warning of immanent judgement (vv.6-13). Some will die in the Lord, secure and certain of eternal joy, but others will die away from the Lord, and will lie down in torment. Here is another reference to the cataclysmic judgment which will come upon the generation who ignored the warnings of Jesus: Babylon is the obvious coded word for Jerusalem, and the Lord will soon visit her (v.8). Those who side with her in her unbelief will suffer the punishment their sins deserve. They refused the cup of God’s grace, now they must drink the cup of His wrath (v.11).
Until God’s judgment falls, God is always working in grace. Jesus goes out into the whole world with the word of His Gospel (vv.14-15). The image of harvest here is one of Gospel proclamation, and saving response (v.16). What a worldwide harvest Jesus reaps through His Good News! We are forcibly reminded that, just as wonderful as that news is, to reject it will prove terrifying. Pure grace and pure wrath are seen for what they are, each of them almost measureless (vv.17-20).
Everyone we meet today will be holding onto some sort of Gospel. We are all be living for and hoping for something. Now is the time to decide whether what we cherish is true.
A Prayer to Pray
Father, in a world which hates to be serious, teach my heart just how serious Your truth is. Press upon me the nearness of eternity, and the greatness of Your justice. Show me grace, and enable me to live in Your grace. Give me the heart to sing of my redemption. Amen.
Ah, the thirteenth chapter of Revelation. Hunting-ground for conspiracy-theorists, doomsday prophets, anti-capitalists/communists/European Unionists/Catholics, and on and on. And on. With so much mishandling of this chapter, it’s no wonder that the rest of us want to shrink back from the details, and just try to content ourselves with general meanings.
That would be fine, if John wanted us to do that. But in v.18 he tells us he has a different intention. He tells us the “number” of the Beast. This number is the total of the numerical value of the letters which spell a person’s name. In this case, 666 is the value of the letters of the name Nero Caesar, the then-current Emperor. Coincidence, wild guess, or John’s exact purpose?
Rome is the ultimate beast. She comes from over the seas, and is represented with the symbols of her provinces and rulers (v.1). She has her power from Satan (v.2). And, because all people want power – if only the power to be able to enjoy a quiet life – they prostrate themselves to her demands (vv.3-.4). Change the name of the empire – your favourite sports or technology brand, a sports team, a bank, or an ideology, and this chapter reminds us that, wherever there is power, there are slavish followers (vv.4,8). We are all worshippers. Only the Last Day will truly show if we worship the beast, or the One who has power over the beast.
Tyrants come and go. And come again. We’ll leave the details (they all have their explanations), but we take hold of the lessons: “anyone who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3.12-13). There is no life in running scared, or bowing down to the beast of power and popularity. Life is found as we follow the Lamb. The price for loyalty may be the loss of freedom, or even life, but the rewards are multiplied through eternity.
A Prayer to Pray
Lord, I am a coward. I’ll fight for my rights, but You call me to lay them down, and to fight the good fight of faith. Rescue me from myself, and my fears, and fill me with courage to follow the Lord Jesus. Amen.
Where there’s authority, there’s almost always opposition. Where Jesus rules, there is resistance. John’s vision in ch.12 reminds us of this. The woman in v.1 is the mother of the promised rescuer. Her son is that rescuer, the One who will inherit all authority, as Psalm 2 teaches (v.5, cf Ps.2.7-9). Satan, though, rages against the Christ and His Church. Here he is dressed as the beast of Rome – the symbols of the seven heads and horns and ten crowns would be instantly recognisable to John’s first readers. John’s message to them is a warning: the Devil stalks in the power of Rome, and will not tolerate the Christ and His followers who challenge his power.
How bad will that hatred get? Bad enough for some believers to die for their love for Jesus (v.11). Notice that, even though they appear to have lost, the martyrs have actually “overcome” the evil one. They had a love which is deeper than love for their own lives. Now they live forever with their Lord in heaven.
For now, the fight goes on. Vv.7-9 take us back to the battle of Satan and his angels before creation. The condemnation he received then is one he refuses to accept. He fights on, using whatever powers and empires he can as he opposes God and His Christ (vv.12). God will protect His own, though. The God who bore His own on eagle’s wings through the desert long ago is still caring for His own (v.14). The Devil will fight against the church right until Christ comes to save and judge (v.17), but God will protect His own. And, as the Scrupture days, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Ro.16.20).
A Prayer to Pray
Lord Jesus, thankyou that I am so safe in Your hands. Please make me aware of the Devil’s schemes, and teach me to wear my spiritual armour against his attacks. May I see the victory of Your grace day by day as I fight at Your side. Amen.