Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 54, Three Angels And Their Message To The World

John introduces us today to three angels who have a message for the inhabitants of the earth in the last days.

"Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth---to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, 'Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.'" (Revelation 14:6-7) We are soon to see poured out on the earth what are called the "seven bowl judgments". Here in this pause an angel is assigned the task of calling people to repent.

This is the first time we've ever seen an angel preaching the gospel. Up to this point the preaching of the gospel has been performed by human beings. In his book Revelation Unveiled, Tim LaHaye, the author of the Left Behind book series, says, "This astounding state of affairs can only be an indication of the severity of the circumstances." It could be that persecution against those who've come to Christ during the end times has become so vicious and widespread that it's difficult for human beings to continue sharing the gospel. Or it could be that, since there are Scriptural precedents for angels issuing dire warnings, this angel's mission is to warn the unbelievers of the earth a final time before the bowl judgments are poured out. To use a couple of examples, angels were sent to warn Lot to escape with his family before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and it was an angel who warned Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the baby Jesus and flee into Egypt before Herod commanded all the baby boys of Bethlehem to be slaughtered.

God, the Creator of all things, could simply say, "Be gone!" and the universe and everything and everyone in it would disappear in the blink of an eye. Yet He keeps pleading with the hearts of human beings until the very end. God created man with a heart that will never be satisfied unless it communes with Him, and human beings can never fulfill their true calling unless they form a relationship with their Maker. The angel of Revelation 14 who urges the people of the earth to worship the Creator reminds them that He is the Maker of all things. This angel invites them to behold His power and majesty by observing the heavens and the earth. This is the God with whom they are dealing---a God who can say, "Let there be light!" and call an entire universe into existence out of nothing.

"A second angel followed and said, 'Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.'" (Revelation 14:8) The second angel isn't referring to ancient Babylon which is still in ruins today. He's referring to the "Babylon" of the end times, which is the political and religious system of the Antichrist. "Babylon" is a word that is used as a synonym for idolatry and for living in ways that only serve the carnal self.

The "Babylon" of the end times has not yet fallen while we're reading along in Chapter 14, but the second angel announces its coming doom right after the first angel preaches the gospel and calls the world to repent. The unbelievers of the end times are placing their trust in the wrong things: in the Antichrist, in the government, in the economy, in the false religious system, in their own strength and wisdom, and in the erroneous belief that God either does not exist or, if He does exist, He will surely never condemn anyone. The second angel is pointing out the errors in their thinking. The things in which they trust are soon to lie shattered at their feet. He is using the same terminology the prophet Isaiah used when he predicted the fall of ancient Babylon: "Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!" (Isaiah 21:9b) Isaiah made this prediction before Babylon was even powerful enough to conquer Judah, long before Babylon would be conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire. But he spoke of Babylon's fall as if it had already taken place, and that's what we find the second angel doing in our passage today. When God says something is going to happen, it's going to happen. He can speak of it as if it has already taken place.

The second angel says that Babylon has made the nations drink the wine of her adulteries. The Lord often compared idolatry to adultery in the Old Testament. He accused the tribes of Israel of committing adultery against Him because so many of them fell into idolatry. Later in Revelation we will take a detailed look at the religious system of the end times, a system which will be referred to as "Mystery Babylon". This so-called church will be symbolized by a woman who is a prostitute. She will not be beautiful and spotless and dressed in white like the bride of Christ. She will be a drunken woman, tawdry and crude, dressed in gaudy robes. Whatever the church of the end times will be, it won't resemble the pure and glorious church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be idolatry at its worst, and therefore the apostate church of the end times is symbolized by a woman completely lacking in morals. She will lead those who are rejecting the Lord into what will probably be a mix of ancient pagan beliefs, new-age mysticism, humanism, and who knows what else. This may be why that church is called a "mystery", because it's a hodgepodge of all sorts of things that are going to do nothing but lead people further away from God.

"A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: 'If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath.'" (Revelation 14:9-10a) On the night before the crucifixion, the Lord Jesus asked the Father if there was any way to save mankind other than drinking the cup of God's wrath Himself. He said, "Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me: yet not My will, but Yours be done." (Luke 22:42) Jesus drank the cup (figuratively speaking) while He hung on the cross and "became sin" in our place so that, by trusting in Him, we could become "the righteousness of God". (2 Corinthians 5:21) But those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus as Lord will have to drink God's cup of wrath themselves.

The third angel continues, "'They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.' This calls for patience and endurance on the part of the people of God who keep His commands and remain faithful to Jesus." (Revelation 14:10b-12) Satan has been lying to the inhabitants of the world for thousands of years. One of the lies he tells is that a loving God will never allow anyone to go to hell. Satan conveniently leaves out the fact that God is holy and righteous, and that God must judge sin, and that God has promised those who are His that He will avenge all wrongs done to them. Who would worship a God who turns a blind eye to sin? Who would serve a God who gives a free pass to those who are cruel and neglectful? Would we respect a God who doesn't avenge innocent blood? Would we bow our knees to a God who doesn't repay those who cheat, steal, and defraud? If God doesn't judge sin, what justice is there? If God doesn't judge sin, then He's no better than those He refuses to sentence for their crimes.

But God is just. It's true that He's loving and merciful, for He's done everything that can possibly be done to keep mankind out of hell. Jesus Christ bore the penalty for our sins for us. He made a sacrifice so we wouldn't have to drink the cup of wrath. He doesn't require us to make it to heaven on our own merits and our good deeds; He simply asks to trust that the sacrifice He made on our behalf is capable of presenting us holy and undefiled in the sight of God. Because God is loving and merciful, He's offered us an escape from hell, but if we reject His Son then an avenue of escape is not open to us. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3) Jesus preached about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, and He wouldn't have done that if it weren't a real place. We may not understand the exact nature of it. We may not know whether the "sulfur" and the "fire" are literal or symbolic, but anything symbolized by sulfur and fire can't be good. Imagine spending eternity surrounded only by souls who have rejected the Lord. Imagine a place where nothing holds them back from saying and doing whatever they please, far from the light and love of God. That alone makes hell "hell" even if no other torments are present there.

The third angel concludes his warning by saying that the people who have turned to Christ during the Great Tribulation will need patience to endure. They're going to be on the earth during the days when the world's citizens will be ordered to worship the beast and take his mark. These Christians will refuse, and many will lose their lives because of their refusal, so a voice from heaven pronounces this benediction: "Then I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'" (Revelation 14:13a) A special blessing will be bestowed on those who stand firm during the worst era of persecution the Christians of the world have ever experienced. I don't know whose voice speaks this benediction from heaven. I wouldn't doubt it's either the voice of God the Father or the voice of God the Son. Lest any believer of the end times doubt that God intends to honor their faith, the Holy Spirit seconds the words of the voice from heaven. "'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.'" (Revelation 14:13b) The law of Moses said that no testimony could be accepted as fact unless two or three witnesses could testify to its truth. Here we have two witnesses---the voice from heaven and the voice of the Holy Spirit---testifying to the fact that God has a great reward waiting for those who would rather lose their lives than deny the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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