What’s the World Coming To?
From the series The Revelation
We'd all like to know details about what the future holds. Chip opens this series in Revelation with words of great hope. As he does so well, Chip then makes great application of the passages studied, focusing on God's promise, provision, presence, and power.
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About this series
Living Daily with the End in Mind
Chip Ingram cuts through the imagery and the metaphors in the book of Revelation to deliver one of the most compelling and inspiring presentations on this often misunderstood part of Scripture. This series puts life into perspective and brings a clarity, and purpose, to your everyday struggles like never before. If you long to make wise choices, live your life with a steadfast purpose, and experience joy and peace, even in the midst of uncertain and chaotic times, this is a great place to start!More from this series
I want to ask you two questions as we get going. Question number one is macroscopic, question number two is microscopic. The macroscopic question is this: When you look at the world, big world, what most concerns you?
I mean if someone put a little grocery list in front of you and said, “Let’s look at the world. We now have Pakistan in turmoil, we have North Korea, we have terrorists, nuclear capabilities in the hands of people that would like to destroy the world are not something that might happen someday, somehow, someway. We are living in that day.
The planet, the weather, global economy, it’s almost like we act like it’s not there. We have a plague that’s incurable, and orphans like never before all over the world, which are HIV positive. I have a good buddy that has a series of orphanages in Zimbabwe - tens of thousands of orphans. The average life expectancy is under thirty years old.
The inflation rate doubles or triples every week. We have issues in the world today like never before.
Which one of those overarching issues, if you had to just narrow it down to one, kind of causes you to breathe a little faster, your heart to beat, and when you begin to have those anxiety moments, which one of those do you struggle with the most? I mean, I didn’t even mention another 9/11, a plane going down, biological warfare.
The second is microscopic. What’s the most discouraging, just emotionally discouraging issue that you’re facing in your life right now? I mean I’m thinking in categories. Is it a relational issue? Is it economic issue? Is it a health issue? Is it a ministry issue? Is it a job issue?
I mean if I had to get a 3x5 card and give it to you and on one side you wrote, “The big things in the world that really scare me, and discourage me, and make me feel overwhelmed and cause me to lose hope, number one would be this,” and then turn over the card. “The individual thing, the thing in my own personal life that discourages me the most is…” what would you write down?
Now, some of you when you hear people speak you think, “Oh, that’s interesting.” No, I want you to write it down on the card in your mind. Because until you get specific about what those things are, because you have them and I have them, until you do a good diagnosis a good prescription or solution isn’t nearly so powerful.
So ask yourself, “What is it?” Is it terrorism? Is it economic issues? I don’t know.
Let me tell you a little story as we jump in. This is a true story, it’s kind of a parable. A few years ago I’m on the other side of the world, I can’t remember whether it was India or Asia. And I was traveling with a guy and we were doing a lot of teaching, and it was during the Olympics and the United States basketball team, it might have been several years ago because they actually were doing pretty well at one point.
But it was like the second or the third Dream Team, they’d had all the very best players in the world and I was traveling with a guy and his son was a, and I can identify with this, his son was a basketball junkie. I mean, he goes to sleep with the ball in his bed, you know? And he saves up his money to get the special kind of tennis shoes and wears his player’s jersey. It’s all he can think about: Basketball, basketball, basketball.
So, he’s on the phone and his dad is trying to call to let him know, “Hey, everything is okay, and the ministry is going well, and we’re safe,” because there were some crazy things happening where we were.
And this little boy goes, “Dad, dad, dad, dad! I can’t even talk to you right now. Do you understand what’s happening right now, right now, right now?” And he said, “No, what’s going on?” “Dad! The Dream Team III! We’re down by fifteen points at half time and I think we’re going to lose! What’s the world coming to? What’s the world coming to, Dad, when the Dream Team, the best players in the world, my heroes, they’re going to lose!”
And his Dad, very calmly, said, “Son, son, relax, wait a second. First of all, how is your mom?” “No, Dad, you gotta…” You know? It was like the only thing that mattered was this basketball game.
So his father said, “I guarantee, I guarantee that they’ll win.” “Really, Dad?” “Yeah, take my word for it, son. I promise you, without a doubt, just relax, take a deep breath, go back in front of the TV, the second half will be played, they will win the game. You can bank on it. I’m your father and you can trust me.” “Really, Dad?” “Yeah.”
So he says that and the kid gets, “Well, okay….think things will be pretty good.” Now this fellow does not have the gift of prophecy. There’s a twelve hour time change. The Olympic game is being viewed in America twelve hours later than it actually happened. This fellow and I saw the last four minutes of the game. It actually happened.
We knew the final score even when, in the midst of the game, it looked like, “What’s the world coming to?”
And if you want a little parable about the message of the book of Revelation, it’s a word of hope from another world from your Father. It’s a word of hope from another world from your Father.
And your tendency and my tendency is to look at the scoreboard, and the scoreboard goes up and it goes down and sometimes we feel like we’re ahead and sometimes it’s a health issue, or a relational issue, or there’s a terrorist attack, or something happens, or the stock market crashes, or the housing market collapses, or one of our kids goes off this direction or that direction, or we get a biopsy report and we look at the scoreboard and we say, “What is the world coming to? God, where are You?”
And what the book of Revelation, written to a very specific group of people, when things were very, very difficult was a word from another world from their Father who already knows the end score and says, like my friend said to his son, “Relax, son. Just sit down and relax.”
You’ll notice, in your notes, that was a word of hope from another world for a little boy in America. There is also a word of hope for a lonely disciple in Patmos. Patmos was an island; the year is about AD 95, 96; the disciple or the apostle, His name is John; he’s exiled.
Now, if you think your life has problems and you’ve kind of thought through a couple of them John had some good buddies, they were called the apostles. And every one of them, by this point in history, has been martyred. John is the only one that isn’t martyred. He is exiled on this rock island.
The emperor is a fellow named Domitian. The church has been in existence for about six decades now, plus or minus. There’s been Nero and there was a time of real persecution but Domitian is sort of like Nero on steroids.
Domitian has declared that he is God, and you must worship the emperor, and anyone who doesn’t worship the emperor would be put to death. And so the early Christians were called Atheists, can you believe that? Atheists because they didn’t believe in “God,” the god who was supposed to be the emperor.
So, the scoreboard is not looking good for John. His friends are dead, he’s old, he’s on a rock, he’s lonely, he assumes, “My life is washed up,” maybe there’s some of you here who think, “You know, I’m old, my health is not very good, I can’t do very much now.”
He’s thinking, “You know, my life won’t amount to much now.” And it’s very interesting that it’s while he’s on this isle of Patmos when his life isn’t going to amount to anything, when he can’t go anywhere, when he can’t do anything, when he sleeps… there’s a place, if you go there, where they say he slept and, you know, every tour guide is trying to make a dime so, “He slept here! See where it’s really worn on this rock?” And I’m going, “You’d have to be a pretty hard sleeper to wear out a rock,” but, you know, whatever.
But the point is, we’ve got twenty-two chapters of the New Testament, the only prophetic book in the New Testament, written by a man who, when he got it, if he looked at the scoreboard felt like, “What’s the use?”
You know, he had to have times like “What about the kingdom, God? What about the promises? What about, ‘I will be with you always?’ Jesus, what about those times we had together? You know, was that just an illusion? I mean, remember that, it was me and James and Pete and I remember when the cloud came down and your face was radiant and it was up on that mountain and you made those promises and it seemed like such a, it seemed like such a long time ago.”
And the church seems to be wavering, Gnosticism is now full-blown, people are saying that Jesus really didn’t come in the flesh and you have to have this higher learning, and false teachers were infiltrating the church and the guy is looking at his life, and looking at the Lord, and looking at the promises, and I’ll tell you what, he needs a word of hope from another world, from his Father.
And I would suggest that you need that, and I need that today, too. We’re living in a pretty, let’s just call it “interesting,” day. There are some things happening right now that, ten years ago, many of us never dreamed could happen. Twenty years ago, unheard of. Forty years ago, wacko people would predict and we would laugh at them.
Did you ever dream that the major worldviews at the turn of the twenty-first century would be between radical, fanatical Islam with a goal to destroy the whole earth and blow up people, that you would just routinely look at a clip on TV from Afghanistan, or one from Iraq, or hear about a bombing in Bali, or indiscriminately people put bombs and kill people all over the world with a belief system that says, “You are just evil because of who you are, and I don’t even know you, and when innocent people die it’s just fine.”
What we tend to do is, especially as Americans because it’s a little farther off … I’ve been in places where you walk by a place in the morning and later that afternoon it blew up. It comes home when you’re in those places.
I taught in a place in Indonesia just this last summer where we taught here, and about three blocks over is Al-Qaeda and some terrorists. That’s one of their headquarters.
And one of the guys said, “Well, aren’t you guys kind of nervous?” I said, “Yeah, I am! I’m real nervous, to tell you the truth.” And then they asked the guy who is the head of the organization, he said, “Well, what are we going to do? Jesus is the Lord, He’s the King. They’ve done a lot of things, but it would be very unpopular if they did anything. They’d get a lot of bad vibes because we were the group that helped the most in the tsunami, so we have a good reputation. They know better than to blow something up here.” And I’m thinking, “I hope he’s right!”
But it’s a different world. I think like never before, we need a word of hope from another world, from our Father, because what we tend to do is, we tend to block all that out, and we just keep pushing the number on the remote until we watch something that helps us forget that, and then we unconsciously think if we can just get in our safe, gated community, or in our safe America - or if my retirement is going to work out, or if my business does okay, and if my family and my world is okay - I unconsciously put my hands over my ears and say, “Eeeeee, that’s terrible, that’s terrible, terrible but as long as it doesn’t impact me…so what?”
And God wants our hope not to be in changing circumstances, or relationships, or jobs, or money but in Him.
Some important questions I want to kick around and the challenge of the book of Revelation is not only that it’s very long, that it’s unusual, that it’s controversial. I’m thinking, “Why did I do this?”
But I think because of those reasons, it’s not taught very regularly, or it’s taught in some ways that I think are helpful but we get so down into all the minutia where we know, you know, three and a half years here and twelve hundred of this and a hundred and forty-four thousand of that and the Beast did this and the Babylon that, of Rome of that, or do you take this position, this position, or this position?
And we have all this stuff and two years later, when you’re done with the book, “So what’s the meaning of Revelation?” “Yeah, I don’t know except that I’m wondering whether chapter 12 verse 7 is this position, that position, or this position and I’ve read seventeen commentaries on it.” I think we miss the point.
I think there’s a major, major message of hope and so I’m going to try something I’ve never done. I want to give it to you, in five installments… five installments that will give you the big picture of the book, and the message of the book, that will give you hope.
The subtitle of this series is, “Living Daily with the End in Mind.” That was the goal of Revelation when John got it. It’s living not someday, someway or when you hear a series but living daily with the end in mind, knowing the final score, and living regardless of what your scoreboard looks like day in and day out, with the end in mind.
So, why teach this book? Let me give you a few reasons. External reasons: We’re living in a pluralistic worldview, we’re living in a day where people say, “Hey, whatever you believe about anything is equally important.” We’re living in a day, in a world situation, that we’ve described that I think is potentially terrifying and the Church better understand where their hope is. And I think there are just signs of the times.
I mean, Jesus was clear about wars, and famines, and earthquakes, and tsunamis, and rumors of wars and, I don’t know when the end is coming but we certainly have a pretty significant basis over the last thirty or forty years to say, a lot of what the Scripture taught about, “Men will be lovers of self, moral collapse, family collapse.”
And then I think there are internal reasons. In the Church, when John received, it the Church was being infiltrated with a lot of false teaching. We live in an anemic Church today. I love the Church pastors, so I’m not down on the Church. I’m a pastor of twenty-five years. I love the Church.
But when I read Gallup research, Barna research, when I have traveled to Africa, India, Asia, all over the world and I will tell you, unless there’s persecution or very high intentionality toward discipleship the average believer around the world says, “I love Jesus,” with their lips but not very much with their life.
There’s not much difference between their morality, their integrity, what they do with their money, what they do on the job. In fact, in America, it’s about only about one out of every ten or one out of every twelve Christians lives “the life.”
And part of that is, we need to understand there is a day coming when He is coming back, and we’re going to get a report card. And we need to see who He is, and remember who He is, and what He said and that was part of what you’ll see, especially next week, where Jesus is going to spend two whole chapters addressing His Church, judging His Church, evaluating His Church, making some affirmations, but some very strong warnings about what needs to happen in His Church.
So, I think there’s external reasons, internal reasons, and I just think individual reasons. As I meet people, they feel isolated, fearful, overwhelmed, uncertain. I think people today, like never before, need hope.
Life feels more fragile, I think, than ever before. I mean, remember when a jump in the stock market was, like, ten, twenty, thirty, forty points? And now it’s two hundred and fifty, up three hundred. I mean it’s a picture. We live in a volatile, volatile world. And people need hope.
In terms of how we’re going to approach the study, let me just go through it, and I’ll go through this a little bit rapidly because some of you who take notes, I’m going to go through some things, and you’re going to go, “My head hurts.” Okay? But I’m going to, because this is the part I think is in good books and you can get. And if we have to, we’ll put them on some notes or something.
But I think the most important thing, to get a background, is I want to actually get into the text. But how are we going to approach our study? There are basically four views of how to handle the book of Revelation, historically.
One is called the Preterist view, P-R-E-T-E-R-I-S-T. And basically it says that everything that happened in the book of Revelation is past, it was happening - all those beasts, all those numbers, all that stuff, it all happened. And when you read it, it’s all past history.
Traditionally, this was a view of liberal scholars who didn’t take the Bible as the Word of God. But there has been a resurgence of it among some evangelicals in recent days. But basically, all of Revelation is not future, it’s in the past.
The second historic view is called the Historistic. History with an “I-S-T.” You got it?
And basically, it’s a picture that Revelation was this broad panorama of all the history of the Church, through the ages to come. And Luther and Calvin both accepted this view. And so it’s a picture that the church in Laodicea was the early apostolic Church, and then this Church, and this Church.
The problem, with different times and different ages is, people really disagree about which ages they’re talking about. And so it’s developed, it’s the Reformed view.
The third view would be the Idealist view. And this basically is that none of this is historical, it’s symbolic. It’s a battle of good and evil, it grew out of when there was a time in the church when allegory, interpretation, was really blooming. And so it was like all of these are just stories and symbols. None of it’s really true but it’s a good reminder that good is going to overcome evil.
And then the fourth view is the Futurist. And that basically says I’m going to read the book of Revelation like I read all the rest of the Bible, and I’m going to take it in a literal, grammatical, hermeneutic view.
In other words if it says, “As,” or “Like,” it means it’s a simile or a comparison. If it says, “A thousand years,” it means a thousand years. If it says, “These things will happen in the future,” I’m going to take it, “Well, I guess it’s future.”
And so that has been the view of probably a great majority of evangelicals, especially if you read the Left Behind series, years ago. I just read recently, there are forty million copies of The Late, Great Planet Earth that have been published. This was that view, that there’s an actual history. This is a picture of the future of what will happen.
And my best understanding of Scripture, mostly from just consistent hermeneutic study, is that’s how you have to take it. I’m just going to take it as the Word of God and I don’t understand necessarily all of it, but I’m going to read it, historically, for what it is.
So, that’s how we’ll be approaching it. The structure of the book, there are a number of ways to look at it. One, there’s an author’s outline. If you look at chapter 1 verse 19, he will give you the outline of the book.
And what he will say in chapter 1 verse 19, Jesus will say to John, “I want you to write what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place in the future.” And so it’s a little outline. Chapter 1 is what you have seen, the risen Lord; what is now, His recommendations to the Church - chapters 2 and 3; and what must take place - the rest of the book.
Another, different way, is there’s a little literary mark that four different times it says, “Now, I was in the Spirit.” And if you look at the whole book, and you study it, you’ll find there’s vision one, vision two, vision three, vision four.
And so that’s another way that you can outline the book. And so you have Christ in His glory, you have Christ in the Church, you have Christ as the king who is in battle winning the earth, and you have Christ in the new heaven and the new earth. So there are different ways to outline the book.
Another way, there’s the word “seven,” or the number “seven.” There are seven Churches, there are seven bowls, there are seven seals, there are seven trumpets, there are seven signs, there are seven last things.
So, there are different ways to outline or structure the book, but the way we’re going to look at it is, I want to look at it with you through the idea of a Christocentric look.
Who is He talking to? What did they need to hear?
So, here’s how I’m going to look at it: I’m going to look at chapter 1 and what I want us to see is that Jesus is our hope. Who is Jesus? He is our hope and He’s going to speak to us a word of hope.
Second then, I want to look at when Jesus speaks to John… now He’s going to speak to the Church. And He’s going to say to the Church, here’s our warning, He’s going to say our warning is: “I am coming back soon so you need to be alert and you need to be ready.”
Chapters 4 and 5 then, it takes us to heaven. In chapter 4, we’ll see God the Father, in heaven, and He’s being worshipped. In chapter 5, the Lamb who was slain is in heaven.
And so you get this picture: He is worthy to judge. And we’re going to get a picture of, “Who is Jesus as He’s worshipped in heaven?” And then chapter 6, all the way through chapter 21 verse 8, we’re going to see that Jesus is going to be the one who judges the earth.
And all the tribulation, and all the battles, and how He handles evil, and how He rules, and at one point in time finally evil is done and conquered - from evil people, to Satan, to demons, to the Antichrist, to the absolute when they’re thrown into the lake of fire forever and ever and ever, and it’s done.
And then finally, we have Jesus in the new heaven and the new earth, where there’s no sun, there’s no moon, there’s no need for light, where anyone who comes who is thirsty it’s free, out of relationship by His grace, you have Jesus in this new eternal state.
And so that’s how I want to look at it is Christ with John, Christ with the Church, Christ in heaven, Christ as Lord over the earth, and then Christ in the new heaven and the new earth.
So, as you can see, our time when we go through chapters 6 through 21 is going to be a run together. That ought to be a lot of fun. I have no idea how I’m going to do that actually, so it’ll be really interesting to see how that comes out.
So, that’s the structure. There are some unique characteristics in that it’s the only prophetic book in the New Testament. It is filled with symbols. There is a beast, there’s the woman, Babylon, there is the dragon. All kinds of symbols.
And what you need to understand about symbols is, one, they’re timeless. They also create emotion and interest. I mean rather than saying a “dictator,” “a beast” gets your attention a little bit more.
The other is, John wrote this in a time where it needed to be in code. In other words, he couldn’t come out and say things about the emperor knowing that everyone is going to get killed.
So, some of these symbols are in code for the early Christians to understand this is what God is doing, this is what He said, this is who Christ is. And so there are lots of symbols.
At times, different scholars will disagree on the meaning of some of the symbols. But what I want you to get is that that’s a unique characteristic of the book.
There are some major themes. The word “seven” is used fifty-four times; the word “throne,” forty-six times, the word “king,” thirty-seven times; and the word “power” or phrase “power and authority,” over forty times.
The major theme of this book is that Jesus is the King, Jesus is the Redeemer, and Jesus is the Judge. And you will take those themes all the way through. The King is sovereignly in control, the Redeemer takes that which is broken and He forgives, and He restores, and He makes new. And finally, the Judge is the righteous judge that will one day come and He will make all things right.
I don’t know about you, and I’m not ashamed to say this, I read the Psalms, David got pretty ticked off about evil. I mean you read some of these Psalms, you can’t pray them in Church.
“God, dash their head against the rocks,” “God, take them out tomorrow,” God, these evil people!” Now, I’m going to just assume that David was praying in light of, “God, if they’re not going to repent, then take them out.”
I don’t know about you, but when I see yet one more time, a hiker is assaulted and killed, an eight year old girl is taken up in the mountains by two twenty year olds and raped and then murdered, so and so walks into a café where a bar mitzvah is happening and blows himself up and kills twenty-eight innocent people, there has to be a day when a righteous judge says, “That is wrong! That is evil! And there are consequences.”
When you read this book, that righteous Judge shows up. In fact, one of the things I want you to see, as we jump in tonight, is that the Jesus that you have painted in your mind, and it’s a little bit from our Sunday school, not bad Sunday school, but some of the pictures we have of this Jesus meek and mild, this Jesus, “Suffer not the children to come unto Me.”
Jesus, in His first coming, came as what? He came as the Savior of the world. Now what was interesting… (now isn’t this funny?) He came as the Savior of the world and His own people missed Him, because who did they want, and who were they expecting? The ruler! The king with an iron scepter of the messianic prophecy, He’s going to take out Rome!
And He didn’t. He came as the suffering servant. You know, the bruised reed, the gentle one, the shepherd. Now everyone, I think, is expecting that Jesus to come back. I got news for you. That ain’t the Jesus coming back.
The Jesus coming back is with an iron scepter to rule. He will pour out His bowls of wrath and that which has been wrong will be made right, and those who will not turn from their sin and have done evil and wicked against others and against God over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and don’t repent, they will get their just due because He is just. And that’s the God who is coming back.
In fact, when John gets this vision, we’ll see it in a minute, when he gets this vision there are all these Old Testament allusions in it, but His eyes of fire, His feet of bronze, His hair is white as wool. There’s a double-edged sword, it’s a two-foot sword that was used in hand-to-hand combat, coming out of His mouth.
John gets a picture. Now remember, what’s happening in his life? “Life stinks, the Church is going downhill, all the disciples are dead, I’m sleeping on a rock every night, false teachers are coming in. What’s … where are you, Lord? What about Your kingdom come, Thy will be done?”
And he gets this vivid image of the resurrected Christ [wheeeew]!. And His face is like the shining of the sun and he falls down as one dead. He is the righteous, powerful, sovereign Lord of lords and King of kings. This is the One that will return on a white horse and on His thigh it says, “Lord of lord and King of kings.”
This is the One that will vanquish, once and for all, sin and death, and Hades, and Satan, and demons, and make all things right. And He’s the One who gives you hope.
And that’s what this book is about. But we, see, “- Living Daily with the End in Mind.” We don’t think of Jesus like that. And I don’t know about you, I get discouraged when I see another bomb go off and kids die. I get upset and angry when I hear of another group of kids that are sexually molested.
And in my weak moments, in my times when I just get just overwhelmed, and I just see pain, and suffering, and evil, there are moments… I don’t know about you, I say, “God, where are You?” I mean, “God, where are You? If You love people, if You care, God, where are You?”
And His answer to me is, “Let Me give you a word of hope from another world. I’m just; I’m righteous; the scales will be perfectly balanced, maybe not your way, or in your time, or as you see it, Chip…”
But I will tell you, you read chapter 6 through chapter 21 verse 8, and it’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
He is loving, kind, all knowing, compassionate, and wise. And He is righteously just. And He will bring about justice, and He will recompense evil, and evil and wicked people, for all that they’ve done. And that’s the God that we worship.
Well, those are some of the unique characteristics of the book. And the goal of our study, as I said, is not to get all the symbols figured out, not to figure out which positions everyone holds. But the goal of our study is to see, clearly, Jesus as the resurrected Lord, offering a word of hope to an ordinary person like you and me, or John; to see what He would say to us in the Church, chapters 2 and 3; to see Jesus high and lifted up in heaven, and see who it is that we actually worship, and that He is the King and that ,He’s worthy and that He’s in control, and that whatever you’re facing He can not only handle, He’s got it done.
And then to see the Jesus who will systematically, through the seals, then the trumpets and the bowls, and bring about a systematic judgment, always offering grace, always offering one more chance that will be stiff-armed. And finally, bringing about the consummation of all things we call “time.”
And it’ll be the Jesus that we will spend all eternity with, where there are no tears, there is no suffering. We will know Him intimately, we will enjoy forever and ever and ever and ever and ever the life that is truly life. And that’s our hope. And that’s our future.
So are you ready to dig in to the specifics of the book? Well here we go. The question I want to ask and answer is, “What’s the world coming to?” A word of hope from our Father, verses 1 to 3.
The Revelation, literally, the unveiling, the apocalypse – what the word means – the pulling back to see it for what it really is. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show His servants, what must soon take place; He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John, who testifies to everything he saw – that is, the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Now notice, Promise: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it, and take to heart what is written in it because the time is near.”
Now, did you notice what I put in bold? In bold is the word “Revelation,” there’s an unveiling of Jesus Christ. You’re going to see Jesus like you’ve never seen Him in all the New Testament.
Notice, also in bold, I put “What must soon take place…” right? That has to do with, that means, something is going to happen.
Second, “Words of prophecy…” What’s prophecy? Prophecy is a prediction that God makes, about future events that are one hundred percent accurate.
And then notice, the last thing, in the very last clause, “The time is near.” And what I want you to see, too, there is a very interesting communication process. If you had time, you’d see it for yourself. It starts with: God gave Him, Jesus, to show His servants what must soon take place, by sending it to the angel, who will give it to John, and John will give it to the people.
So He says, “God is going to give this unveiling of who Jesus is, to Jesus, to an angel, who gives it to John, who gives it to the people, and now we’re the recipients.
I think the message from the Father is very simple: Don’t be deceived; the future is certain. See, John was tempted to be deceived. “I wonder if I can believe all this stuff.” You ever feel that way?
I mean, it’s kind of narrow. Jesus is the only way? I mean, do you still really believe that? I mean, Eastern mysticism - maybe life is all these cycles and cycles and cycles, there’s no beginning, there’s no end? All the specials on TV, the historical Jesus, and the epistles of the Gnostics that people are pulling up like, “Ah, have you seen this?” Of course we’ve seen it. It’s old stuff; it’s junky stuff; it’s been rejected for three or four centuries; it’s nothing new. But it makes a good special. Movies that attack the character of Christ.
The word from the Father was, “Don’t be deceived; the future is certain.” History isn’t cyclical, it’s linear. Did you get the idea here? “What must soon take place. The time is near.”
It started in a point in time, it will end in a point in time and, by the way, that gives you a lot of hope. One of the reasons we cave in in relationships, or we cave in in our relationship with God, or we cave in to temptation is we think, “The way it is, is the way it is, and the way it is, is never going to change, and I can’t hold up under this, and it’s really hard, and it’s really hard and it’s not going change, and if it’s never going to change, I can’t hold up, and well, I might as well give in.”
And one of the things He said to John is, “Dude,” I mean, this is the Hebrew of course. “Dude, it started; it’s going to end; and the end is going to come, and you need to focus on the finish line. You need to focus on the finish line.” The future is certain. The future isn’t up for grabs. The future is not, “I wonder what the terrorists are going to do?” The future is not, “I wonder about global warming.” The future is not…
Now, do we have responsibility in all of those? Absolutely. But God’s purposes will not be thwarted. He is the sovereign King of the universe.
Circumstances… you can be deceived into thinking, “God doesn’t care - my future is bad, my marriage has gone south, one of my kids isn’t doing well, my health is falling apart, I had some money now I don’t have some money…”
We start doubting and we struggle. Or we just live in fear, “The world is falling apart.” I mean, you can watch the news, if you get sick or you can’t sleep, you can stay up, you can watch the news 24/7 now with all the cable stuff.
You watch two days of news, I guarantee you, it’s better than a pill for depression. You can just watch it, watch it, watch it and then you’re depressed! I mean, tchoo, tchoo, tchoo, tchoo, tchoo, tchoo. It’s just evil and bad stuff happening, happening, happening, happening, happening.
And pretty soon, you know what you get thinking? You get thinking that’s the way the world is everywhere, and then you make the assumption that’s the way it will be for you.
A word of hope from your Father, “Don’t be deceived.” Circumstances don’t have the power to make you or break you. There is an end, you won’t go through what you’re going through forever, the future is certain.
And then notice, He’ll move from that to - He has a word for the Church, where He’s going to develop what this certain future looks like. Verse 4: “John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from who is, and who was, and who is to come,” that’s the Father, “and from the seven spirits before His throne,” seven – perfect number – the Holy Spirit.
“And from Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is the faithful Witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” So He’s giving us, there’s a message and here’s the authorship. The authorship is the Trinity. This is coming; this is huge; this is loaded!
This is coming from the One who is, who was, who is to come, the Father. This is coming from the perfection of the Spirit of God, and this is coming from the faithful Witness. Our word “witness,” is “martyr.” It is someone who is willing to witness about the truth to the point of death.
Jesus was the faithful Witness. He witnessed to the truth of who God is, the salvation of God, called people to repent of their sin, that was what He did in the past. Then notice, He’s the faithful Witness, the One who has risen from the dead, that’s present, right?
He’s now alive! And then notice what He says: “And the ruler of the kings of,” that’s the future. And so what He’s saying here is, there is a big message and the authorship is from the Tri-unity of the Godhead and it’s especially from Jesus, who is this faithful Witness - work in the past; firstborn from the dead - work in the present; and the ruler of the kings of the earth - that will be His work in the future.
And then we get a reminder. He reminds us, “So now, let’s see… this rock is really hard, all my buddies are dead, I’m feeling pretty discouraged…”
And so he gets a reminder, “To Him,” speaking of Jesus, “who loves us and who has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father – to Him be the glory and the power forever and ever! Amen.”
Did you notice the changes in the tenses? “John, this is a word from your Father; this is a word I want to give you for the Church; this is from the Godhead, alright? This is from… remember Jesus, who loves you? Not loved you, loves you. That means today, John, in your situation.” That means today, Chip, in your situation.
And remember He’s the one who freed you, past tense. He did it in the past. You are free of your sin; you are free of judgment; you are forgiven; AND this is the one who positioned you.
Look what it is, “And to be a kingdom. The kingdom that you’re seeing falling apart is the kingdom of THIS world. There is an invisible kingdom that I’m about, that I’m the King of, that I’m going to usher in, and you’re on that team! You’re on the winning team, John.”
In fact, He made you a kingdom and a priest, why? “By the way, John, don’t put up your tennis shoes yet.” What’s the word say? “To serve His God and Father.” That’s the focus. It’s not, “Is my world perfect?” It’s not, “Is everything wonderful?” It’s not, “How much did I lose in the stock market?” It’s not, “Is every relationship exactly how I want it?”
It is, “Wait a second… this God, who loves me, Christ, who freed me, who made me a kingdom - and there is a cosmic battle going on, and I am a priest…” and a priest does what? A priest only does two things. A priest takes truth from God and represents God to the people, and a priest takes the needs of people and brings them to God to get help.
And if you’re a born again believer in Jesus Christ, that’s who you are. You’re a priest of a kingdom that has no end, that is energized and empowered by the divine King of the universe who will, what? Will be the ruler of the kings of the earth – to Him be the glory and power forever and ever.
Now, you want to get His message? We’ve got the authorship, we’ve got the reminder of who it’s coming from, a reminder of what He’s done for us. Look at verse 7, “Look, He is coming in the clouds and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him so shall it be! Amen.”
What did He say? The future is certain. And now He’s saying, “John, you Churches, your future is certain. He is coming.” See, why do we lose hope? We think it’s always going to be this way. And, boy, in the world’s situation, it was in the first century, there have been other windows of history, when the book of Nehemiah was written, you would think if you could just come down on a spaceship, you would think all of God’s purposes were just up in smoke.
There have been times, the Middle Ages… there have been times where, “Is there a real Christian anywhere? Is the work of God…”, I mean, terrible things have happened and then God has a remnant, and God restores things, because there’s a kingdom that has no end, that’s led by a King who is a conqueror.”
And then, what’s He say? “He’s coming.” And then it’s like the very last line is the official insignia of the Father saying, “You know what? Everything you just heard? Let Me just pull out some Old Testament pictures of Me that, John, you’ll understand.” This is for-real stuff. This is like: Take this seriously. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, who was, who is to come, the Almighty One.”
The all-powerful One, the One that has the ability to make whatever He even thinks, or wants, to happen instantaneously, without a modicum of energy given out or lost. He just does it.
You see what He’s saying to him? The message is, “Don’t be discouraged; God is in control. Number one: The future is certain so don’t get deceived, don’t get thinking that somehow…” and second, don’t be discouraged: God is in control. Don’t look at your life through the scoreboard. Look at your life through the lens of the scorekeeper.
Don’t look at your circumstances, and your relationships, and your finances, and your health, and CNN and Fox, and look at what’s happening and draw the conclusions about what’s going on in life. That which is seen is temporal. That which is not seen is eternal.
And basically, God is saying to one probably pretty discouraged disciple, “You ain’t seen nothing yet, buddy. I’m coming; I got a plan; it’s on track; it will happen; you just trust Me and I’ve got something I want to say to you and to all My Church that will anchor and ground them for the future. Because you’re not the first, and you won’t be the last, of people that have struggled with discouragement and wondering, ‘What in the… what’s the world coming to?’”
And so He says to them, “God is in control. Look at the win/loss column, not the scoreboard.”
“God is in control. Look at the win/loss column, not the scoreboard.” But I, if I was John, even if I got that, or if I was you sitting here I’d think, “Well, life’s hard and I am discouraged. In fact, I got drug here.” You know? Have you ever been in one of those…? Some of the biggest things that ever happened in my life… I think I was the spiritual black sheep of the college ministry and a pretty girl would ask me, so maybe I would go to a meeting and God would speak to me.
And I had a roommate that was memorizing some Scripture, and I didn’t want to memorize Scripture but I wanted to beat him, so I ended up memorizing about sixty verses and God changed my life.
And it’s amazing how God can work, when you’re not really trying to let Him work on you. And so I’m just thinking there might be someone here that really is not all that interested in being here, that might be kind of discouraged and thinking, “You know, I think life really stinks.”
And God brought you here to say, “You know, the future is certain and I want you to know I’m in control,” and just before you go into your full-blown pity party, and we all have them, let me just… I tried to sit down and think, if I was John receiving this - here’s John world: As far as he can see, it’s falling apart. He’s been faithful. He’s written two books, three actually. I John, II John, III John. Four, Gospel of John. (I keep going, I might come up with another one. No, that’s just it.)
His world is falling apart, his friends have been martyred, the Roman Empire demands worship or death, he is exiled, he’s on a desert island, Gnostics, false teachers are polluting the minds of people that he loves, and he’s seeing people that he loves lose the faith. He’s alone. He feels useless, the world stage seems to contradict all of Jesus’ promises about inheriting a kingdom and His will, and…
I think he must have wondered, in his old age, “I wonder what the world is coming to? Where is God in all of this?” And then he hears a word from his Father. He says, “John, John, John, John! Don’t be deceived, don’t let your mind go there, the future is certain. John, John! Hey, hey, don’t you get discouraged, don’t look this way, I’m in control.”
And then just about the time when I think John is hearing this, and writing this down, then he gets the most powerful communication. The risen Lord, Jesus, visits him. But He doesn’t visit him on the beach with a charcoal fire.
He doesn’t even visit him like, “Wow! This is the Mount of Transfiguration and Peter thinks it’s really cool and we were kind of falling asleep, but this is really wild, and Elijah and Moses – wow! And, ‘Should we build something?’ Shut up, Peter. And the voices and… you know? I mean, that was cool!”
But it’s not even that. Jesus is going to appear with His glory, not completely unveiled or John would be dead. But he’s going to get a picture of Jesus that is absolutely one hundred percent accurate, that will so burn in his mind, and burn in his soul, and in his emotions, and his intellect, it will so burn in such a way that he will be able to endure whatever, for however long, because he understands who will bring the certain future, and who is actually in control, and he will have a mix of feelings, I believe, of being overwhelmingly loved when, toward the end, Jesus actually touches him.
And I think he’ll have a feeling of being absolutely terrified to do anything less than his absolute best for the Father. It’s called, “The fear of the Lord.”
Let’s pick it up, he gets a word from the risen Lord. “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Christ.”
“So on the Lord’s Day,” a lot of research there, basically, is probably Sunday, “I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
Now, before we get to the vision, I just made a little note in my notes, you might put it on yours, “Normal Christianity in a fallen world,” and I made four little observations. He says, “I, John,” One: “your brother” - we’re in it together.” Two: “Companion in suffering.” Three: “We’re a part of the kingdom” - you can’t see it but we’re a part of the kingdom.” And four: “Patient endurance” - that’s the normal, Christian life, people.
The normal, Christian life is not, “Trust Jesus and you’ll never be sick, you’ll really be healthy, you’ll get that second or third home, and you’ll make all the big wins in the stock market.”
This is a godly, godly, godly, godly man. And when he’s talking to that group and when he’s talking about what it’s like to make a difference in the kingdom, he says, “I’m your brother, your companion in suffering. Hey, hello! Suffering is normal for people that are swimming upstream in a downstream world.”
And I’ll tell you what, if there’s anything I think we have fallen into in evangelical Christianity, we have just totally made Jesus our self-help genie. And every time we suffer we start questioning God’s goodness instead of thinking, “This is normal. This is normal.”
And notice the last line, “In patient endurance.” I mean it’s like double, double. I mean, patient is to have a long fuse; endurance is to hold up under stress. And you know what? If you’re going through it, you know what he’s saying? “You’re not in it alone.”
Everybody else that’s really walking with God; that really wants to make a difference; that really wants to live a life; that really wants to honor God; who really believes He’s coming back; who really wants to be God’s man, or God’s woman, or God’s student – he just says, “We’re brothers; we’re in it together and we have this kingdom and it’s real but, whoa, it’s suffering in patient endurance. It is hard.”
And that’s why we need to encourage one another. And that’s why we’re going to need the snapshot that we get to remember who Jesus really is.
Then notice this, “I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like the Son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet, and with a golden sash all around His chest. His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were blazing fire. His feet were like bronze in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters.” Picture Niagara Falls.
“In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. Then He placed His right hand on me and said, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and of Hades.”
Now, you might jot on your notes: This is who is keeping score. What you read here, the scoreboard: your circumstances, your ups, your downs, your struggles, your job, your sickness, your relationships, world issues – this is the One, is the Father who keeps the score, of what’s already accomplished and will let you know, not only what’s happening in the future, but this is who you can depend on.
And I wish we had a little more time, we did a series about a year ago called, “Jesus of Nazareth: Man, Myth, or Messiah?” And I did a whole message just on those verses, where I could develop each one of those. But what it is, He takes these Old Testament images, and I’ll try and go over them, but all I want you to get is this sense of absolute holiness and purity.
There are three images that will come out of this: The robe and the sash is what the high priest would wear. The picture of the radiant face of the sun is a brightness of overwhelming glory. The feet of bronze, bronze has the idea of judgment. He’s going to be the righteous judge. He’s going to judge things, that word, “…out of His mouth…” You’ve got the sword, the Word of God, you trace that word, and that phrase, and that word is used for judging, and judging, and judging, and making things right, and executing His will.
So, you have this picture as you look at that is, first of all, it says He’s among the lampstands. And we’re going to learn, in just a minute, that the seven lampstands are the churches and don’t miss this - He’s in the midst of them. He’s in the middle of them. He’s in the middle of the suffering; He’s in the middle of the struggle; He’s the invisible King bringing about the kingdom that we can’t see; He is the strengthening One, for the patient endurance. So He’s in the middle.
The stars, we’ll learn in a couple of minutes, are the messengers. The people He’s going to give messages to - these specific, historical churches, and those messages go on, and on, and on, for us throughout the ages, because those issues of those churches are certainly the issues that the Church has struggled with, since the beginning.
And with that, then, He talks about the Son of man, that’s Daniel’s term for the Messiah, the robe is of the high priest, the head and the hair of white have the idea of wisdom and holiness. His feet bring the idea of judgment. His voice is of power. In His right hand, His authority. Out of His mouth is His double-edged sword, and then you have this amazing picture of the Son of God, the resurrected Christ.
This isn’t a limp body with holes hanging up on a cross that you hope someday, someway, somehow might be able to help you if you’re having a bad day. That is not the Jesus that we worship. That’s the Jesus who died, who we thank, it was an act of love for sacrifice.
The Jesus that we worship is off the cross, has all power, all authority, and He’s the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the righteous Judge, and the redeeming One. That’s the picture John saw. And then, notice what he says, he falls at His feet and, out of love, he gets touched, and the message he gets is, “Don’t be afraid.”
And I think, behind the idea of the living One is, “I’m alive forever, death can’t touch you, Hades can’t touch you.” The message is, “Don’t be afraid; your future is secure.”
That’s what that little boy who sat down on the couch… and it was a silly, little basketball game, but he heard his dad say, “Lighten up, your future is secure. I promise you, they’re not going to lose. So just, just sit down.”
And that’s the word to John and that’s the word to us.
By contrast, every relationship will let you down someday, in some way, because people are made of flesh and they’re like you and they’re like me. And I don’t care how wonderful, how godly… I don’t care whether you’re married to them or whether you gave birth to them, whether you’re related to them, or whether you’re best friends.
Every relationship in the world will let you down someday, in some way. They’re a false hope. They’re a wonderful gift, but they’re a false hope.
Wealth is fleeting and unpredictable. If you’ve been in the stock market at all lately, you know that. That’s why we’re told wealth is a great gift from God, used by Him. If He’s given you a lot, thank Him for it; be a good steward. Just don’t put your hope in it because it will let you down.
Health can be given and taken in a moment. See, there’s this awareness of this King, this righteous One. Literally, His eyes… the text, literally, is flames shooting out of His eyes, that He penetrates between the bone and marrow, and He looks in your heart, and my heart, and He sees not just what we do but our motives, and what we do, and why we do it, and how we do it, and who we really do it for, and who we’re trying to impress. And all that is bared before Him.
And so He says, “Don’t trust in a good life, don’t trust in people, don’t trust in wealth, don’t trust in your plans and dreams. You’re a crash, a hurricane, an earthquake, a tsunami away from anything that you would put your trust in; a drunk driver going left of center and that person, or that thing, or that job, or that dream, or that plan – it’s here today, and it’s gone tomorrow.
And Jesus is saying to John, “I’m the living One, I am forever and ever and ever. John, look, what’s the worst that could happen to you?” Have you ever played that game when you’re really discouraged? Maybe a lot of debt, things are really going south in a relationship? I’ve played this game!
“Well, the worst thing that could happen is I could die. Then I’d go to heaven! Hey! I guess it’s not all that bad.” You see, when you surrender, when you realize you don’t control things anyway, and when you can offer them up and say, “Lord, I want to be a good steward; please help me.”
I love Corrie Ten Boom made this great statement. She says, “I try not to hold things too tightly because that way it doesn’t hurt so much when the Lord has to pry them out of my hands.”
And He’s saying to John, “John, your hope wasn’t in the other disciples. John, your hope wasn’t in your usefulness to Me. You don’t know what I’m doing. You think your life is washed out sleeping on this rock on this island? These twenty-two chapters are going to do more than anything you’ve ever done. More than all the messages, all the preaching…”
And He may be saying that to some of you. He’s the risen One. Death and Hades… He holds the keys. And so His message, “Don’t be afraid; your future is secure.”
And finally, He gives John a little assignment. He’s met Him, he’s got a word from the Father, he’s got a word for the Church, he’s got a word from the risen Christ.
And now Jesus says, “John, I got a job for you. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in My right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels or the messengers of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
And then He closes it out. And then, by way of application, let me just summarize what we’ve said so you have something… sometimes I picture a little hat rack. Have you ever been to a restaurant and they have those little hooks that stick out? Sometimes when you hear a lot of information… if I could put this part on one peg, and this part on another peg, to get it really clear.
Here’s His hope for you: First, His promise: The future is certain. He promised that in verse 7, “Look, He’s coming.” The future is certain; God is in control. He’s in control of the world, and He’s in control of your world.
Second, His provision: We are secure. You are presently loved, you have been forgiven, empowered to serve in His kingdom in a fallen world. Jesus is not only your hope; He’s your peace.
Third, His presence: We will never be alone. “I’m the one who is, who was, who is to be. I will never, ever leave you or forsake you. I’m the living One. I’ll be with you forever.”
Did you notice how many times we heard, “Alpha, Omega; the first, the last.” He’s the bookends of your life. He’s your hope.
Finally, His power: He will judge the world. Justice will prevail, evil and evil people and wickedness will be fully compensated for their deeds and you will be justly rewarded.
Life is hard. There is a promise for suffering righteously, for swimming upstream. There is a forever, and a forever, and a forever, and a forever, and a forever, and the quality of your forever will be determined by the faithfulness of your now.
And God entrusts some of you with unjust suffering, and He entrusts some of you with painful health and difficulty, and He entrusts some of you with injustice, and He entrusts some of you with people attacking you, and His desire is that you would righteously follow your Master and make Him your hope, so you would respond the way Jesus would respond. And as you do that, you bring glory to His name, and you bring blessing to other people.
At the very end, I put a couple of discussion questions and the first one is: What world issue concerns you most? And I’d like you to think about that, in just a minute, in light of the risen Lord and the certain future.
The second question is: What personal issue most discourages you? And I’d like you, in just a second, to think about that, but think about it in light of, “I’m really discouraged, and this was John’s situation, and what did God say to him? And what He said to him, He said to me, tonight.”
And then the third question is: Why is it unwise to put your hope in people, things, or circumstances? And maybe the question underneath that that I’m really trying to get to, but in print I tried to be a little softer - idol worship is deathly.
When I put my hope in someone, or something, or any future event that I think is going to cause my life to work out, and be the secret to satisfaction and happiness, I just put myself in a no-win situation. I want to hold things loosely.
The final question is: When life is hard, do you tend to look at the scoreboard, present circumstances, or do you listen to your Father’s voice from another world?