Thursday, August 14, 2014

REVELATION 14: 6-13 “THREE ANGELS AND A VOICE FROM HEAVEN“

This past week  has been a revelation of  unspeakable  evil  as we continue  to  read  and see  the horrors committed by   Islamic militants in northern Iraq  chasing at  least  300 000  Christians out of their homes  in  cities like Mosul.  It has been reported  on news broadcasters such  as   CNN that  Christians  were  beheaded, and their heads displayed  on  sticks  in a park in Mosul. Who and what is behind this ?  At face value, these are  evil men who do it , but  who or  what moves them to do it?    
In  the book of Revelation  in  chapters 11,12, 13  we get to know the  real powers  of evil.  They are the ‘trinity of evil’,  of  Satan (the dragon- a fallen angel ) and his two  associates,  the first beast (the anti-christ)  and  the second beast (the false prophet). These  are   the instigators    behind  all the evil that happens in this world.
Thankfully,   chapter 14 provides us with an encouraging  perspective.  Jesus reigns!  Last week we considered the first 5 verses of chapter 14. The chapter begins  with a majestic vision of the Lamb standing on Mt. Zion – the symbolic seat of His power and majesty.  With  Him  we  see  a symbolic representative  of  144 000 people , who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. We saw that these represent the great multitude of all believers throughout the ages.  All these are singing the new song before the throne, and the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders. It is a beautiful picture of the redeemed of the earth,  as they are now  all together in heaven. It is so good to know what the future holds for  the  believer. We are "filled with an inexpressible and  glorious joy, for we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls." (1 Peter 1:8,9)

As we now  consider   verses 6 - 13, we continue on this triumphant note, as we now observe the judgment of  God upon Satan  and  his evil allies and  all who bear  his  mark. This is a very important section, for it answers one of the fundamental questions which all true Christians have – the question  that  is asked in  6:9 – 11 ( the opening of the 5th seal) : " O Sovereign Lord, holy and true,  how long  before  you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"  This  is the question which  many Christians  are asking  today in  in the face of untold suffering  and injustice, when they ask  with tear blinded eyes,  "Where is my God in all this terrible suffering? Does He hear me?"
Now remember, that the apostle John  receives this vision at  the end of the first century . The 7 churches to whom he writes (see Rev. 2 & 3) are all struggling under a number of violent persecutions. Already in Acts 8:1 , Stephen's martyrdom,   had  led to a widespread persecution of the Christian church. Historical records  reveal at least three great waves of persecution of Christians under the Roman emperors  Nero (AD 54 - 68),  Vespasian (AD 69-79)  and  Domitian (AD 81-96). John and the early church were  indeed asking : "How long  until our Lord returns? We cannot bear this any longer!"  Into this situation  John is given perspective for  the sake of the church.  God will certainly bring judgment upon all evildoers. This is what the messages  of the three angels in vv. 6-11  are all about  - a reminder that God has not forgotten   his people , and that is why the  call to endurance follows in v. 12 , followed  by  a  word of encouragement or a benediction in v. 13

1.Three angels and three messages for the nations of the world  (Vv 6-11)
Note : These messages are  intended to be heard by every nation ,tribe, language and people i.e. a universal message.  It is  an announcement  to all the people (the ungodly and the godly)  of the  earth. The Bible  which we hold in our hands is the most widely distributed book in all the earth today . In this Bible   the  judgement to come   together with  the gospel  of Jesus Christ  constitute  a continued call to the people of the world to repent and turn from their sin and flee to Christ. 

The first angel speaks  (vv.  6 &7) : “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel[1] to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”  This raises another  question. Are we to conclude that  an angel will proclaim the gospel of Christ to sound a last warning to the nations?  Such a thing is  indicated  nowhere else in Scripture. The gospel is given to human messengers  to proclaim and  not to angels. But what we do find in Scripture is that angels do announce the gospel, but  not by way of preaching. It  is  not by  intense proclamation or  through pleading/persuasion,  as your preacher does with you. No, this is by way of an announcement. In that sense the angel Gabriel announced  "good news" to Zechariah about John the Baptist (Lk 1:19) and to Mary (Lk 1:26-33)  and  Joseph (Matt.1:20)  and to the  shepherds  (Lk 2:8-11). In  the announcement of Christ’s coming   is the Gospel . The angel says ,  "Fear God  and give Him glory , because  the hour of his judgement has come". It concerns the final aspect  of the whole gospel – the  second coming of Christ,   which will also be  the hour  of His judgment.
This is good news to all who bear the name of Jesus and the name of His Father on their foreheads (14:1). This is the hour of their glorification.  But it  is bad news for  those on earth  who have not been yet reconciled by the gospel of Jesus. The "eternal gospel" will judge them. This then is a call  to all mankind  to fear God and worship  Him alone,   NOW !  Soon, He  who has made heaven  and earth, the sea and the springs of water  will be here.  Every idol worshipper (replacing God with people or things) and  every  agnostic ( who says : I don’t know whether there is a God  and I don’t care)   and no  atheist (who says : there is no God),   and no one  who denies  that God has made the heavens and the earth  ( who says : I believe in  the doctrine of  evolution  and I deny that  God is the Creator and the rightful Owner of  His creation) – all these will  have a very fearful prospect before them. They will  face the terrible  wrath of God,  which  is described in  verses 14 - 20.   This is  what  the first angel announces: “Fear God and give Him glory for the  hour of His judgment has come!”
 The second angel  speaks (v. 8) : “ Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”   The second angel announces  and confirms the certainty of the destruction  of that  city  ( symbolically called Babylon) which has tempted the  nations to sin ! This  announcement  is the 'gospel'  of Babylon's fall. Here  we find   echoes of Isa. 21:9 and Jer. 51:8… “ fallen, fallen is  Babylon”.  
"Babylon"   must  be thought of  symbolically. It  refers  to  the entire power of the anti-christ and of  his anti-christian kingdom, just as  Jerusalem and  Mt. Zion  symbolize  the rule of God.

Now  'Babel' or ‘Babylon’  ( which would have been located in in today's southern Iraq ) was  the city of the mighty king Nimrod [2]. In Gen.  11 we read how people attempted  to  build  a  city and  a massive tower. It  was a classic expression of human arrogance and self- sufficiency. The high tower was a symbolic fist raised in defiance against the Creator and so we find that Babylon in the Scripture stands for that which is anti-God. It is the great opponent of the people of God.
Under the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, the Jews were carried into exile in Babylonia and suffered there in captivity. Hence Psalm 137: 1 "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion" [3] . But even there in exile the  Israelites knew that  the Lord would judge Babylon: Psalm 137:8,9 further says: "O daughter of Babylon doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us."
Many of the prophets had spoken about the fall of Babylon - both in the literal and symbolical sense.  Thus we find that in the book of Revelation Babylon becomes  a symbolic representation of Satan's kingdom  – see Rev 16:19; 17:5 ; 18:2,10,21.  In Chapter 18 in particular we shall consider this in more detail .  
The announcement of this second angel  is  therefore  good news for Christians.  Satan's kingdom cannot stand. His capital city  (symbolically  called  Babylon) has fallen. From our perspective  this sounds as  a future happening , yet the reality is that she has  fallen. The word of God is true. It cannot be broken. This must happen, and if you are on the Lord's side. REJOICE - your redemption draws near!

The third angel speaks : (vv. 9 - 11):   “ And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” The 3rd angel  announces judgment upon the individual worshippers of the beast.  Here on earth they seemed invincible. They lived like lords, prospering and knowing apparently no suffering,  whilst  the people of God were   struggling  (Psalm 73).  Here then  is a vision of the end of the wicked. Just as Asaph was given a glimpse into the future of the wicked (Psalm 73:18), so we are given a glimpse into their end. Here we have some of the most explicit language in the entire Scripture concerning the destiny of the wicked : They will have to bear the full extent  and full strength of God's everlasting  fury  towards them :  “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night”.  This  is the unquenchable fire  spoken of in Matt. 3:12 and Lk. 3:17 - the fire of judgement which our Lord was to bring upon the earth - those who would not fear God and worship him. They  abandoned themselves like wild, impulsive animals to the lusts of the flesh.  Now their suffering  will be a conscious suffering , it will be an  eternal torment  of  having consciously  rejected the truth .

2.     A Call to Perseverance  (v. 12)
[12] Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. This is  counsel which we have received once before  13:10.
Now thank God, that He has shown us what must be. For truly,  we will not be exempted from trials and sufferings and  from spiritual warfare. Some of us might well go into captivity; others may get killed. But  we must keep this great perspective of our glorious future  in mind. At all cost- do not compromise ! Do not like Esau,  who for the sake of temporary gain  forsakes his inheritance. Obey God's commands and remain faithful to Jesus. You must endure !
           
3.     A  Word of Encouragement  (v. 13)
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
The voice from heaven comes to us  as  an encouragement  as we persevere  in our  obedience to the commandment of God  and of  our faith in Jesus. And if you die for the Lord’s sake, you are blessed. John needed that assurance for Himself. He needed that assurance for his seven churches  which were  experiencing various forms of persecution. The Christians in Iraq, and in Syria  need that assurance today.  You and I need that assurance to persevere in our faith , lest we be tempted to give up and pursue another gospel which is no gospel at all ! Many are doing so already .
Persevere dear friend, and you will be blessed. And the Spirit of God says: "…you will rest from your labours, for your deeds will follow you."
This is direct assurance from heaven to you. These are not the words of a man . This is the voice of  your heavenly friend.  Take courage and stand firm.
Let’s conclude with the words of  1 Cor. 15:58:
"Therefore , my dear brothers, stand firm . Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the  Lord is not in vain." AMEN




[1] This is the only place in the revelation where the word "gospel" occurs.  There is no definite article in the Greek here .  The NIV  translates incorrectly  “the eternal gospel” ,  whereas  the  ESV  translates correctly “ an eternal gospel”
[2] ( Gen 10: 8 - 12)
[3] [ Significantly we realise then , that there was a time in O.T. history when the children of God where almost as it were 'wiped' out à pointing to the 2 witnesses of Rev 11 who were lying slain in the street]

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