Revelation Part 27
2 Corinthians 11:1-4
What is Your Trajectory?
One of the surprising and useful features of the book of Revelation, is how it gives us these short interludes to catch our breath and gain some perspective.
Let’s face it, we’ve been wading through some pretty deep waters. There is so much symbolism to unpack. And deciding what is to be taken literally and what isn’t is hard work. There is no question that many of the details will have to await their fulfillment in time before we REALLY know what is being revealed to us. When that day comes, we WILL get it. Until then, we walk through these passages somewhat tentatively, and continue to put our weight on the things that are most solid and useful.
Fortunately, the passage we are considering this morning comes complete with its own explanation for how to use it.
14:12 spells out what this passage is for. “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.”
It is first and foremost meant to serve the Believers – the saints, defined as those who keep the commandments of God; to remain steadfastly serving Him, and keep their faith in Jesus – in His substitutionary atonement on the cross – against the onslaught of all the lies of the enemy and the pressures of the world around us.
The point of the passage is clear: It is meant to be encouragement. And it does this by reminding us of the future that is immediately before us – The glories we enter into immediately should we die before Christ’s return. And, the reality of final justice.
But, there is a 2nd purpose in the text. That, is the depiction of the ghastly future of those who reject Christ and instead, take the “mark of the beast”. To those who live according to the values and priorities of this present world system. Just because the 2 may appear parallel doesn’t mean they share the same destination – like escalators.
And we are solemnly required to consider that as well. At the same time, never, even remotely to gloat in some way over those who find their end there, but to weep over it. To spark us to compassion for those outside of Christ – that we might plead with them with tears to be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ. In 1830’s Scotland, Andrew Bonar and Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne were close friends. They would often meet on Monday to discuss what each had preached the day before. One time, Bonar said he preached the previous day on hell – to which Mc’Cheyne answered without skipping a beat: “And were you enabled by God’s grace to preach it with tears?” Spiteful glee at the judgment of the lost is never a right response.
So hot off the bad news that ended the previous chapter, the rise of the antichrist’s false belief system and its spokesman the False Prophet – deluding the masses and marking them out in their hand or forehead, by what they think and what they work for – John is shown the bliss of those who instead are marked by God as His own.
For what can be more useful to people enduring dark days of difficulty and persecution than to be reminded that this time will end? And that it will end in a bliss that so magnificently transcends the memory of their trials, as to make them fade into obscurity.
Or as Paul will state it in Rom. 8:18 “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
I understand that the idea of a life set on a conscious trajectory toward eternity with Christ is not the norm any more. So much of our preaching and teaching today is almost exclusively focused on how to have our “best life NOW”; How to succeed NOW; How to be happy NOW; How to have all that life can give us NOW. Actually ordering our lives now in line with where we WILL be for eternity is off the table.
We tend to look at everything in the short term. Oh, we’ll plan for our retirement. We’ll plan for our eventual death in buying burial plots and enough insurance to provide for those we leave behind. But beloved, that really still is the short term. What about after? What about where and how we will spend eternity? Are we planning for that? Are we preparing our hearts and minds to be with the Savior? For an existence so utterly removed from this present fallen world that comparison is impossible? No one will stumble into Heaven accidentally. The only ones who will arrive there are the ones intentionally going there by God’s grace and means.
How many of us here have purchased a piece of clothing that is the size we would like to be rather than the one we are at present? And then, don’t we do what it takes to be able to wear that eventually?
Well Christ has purchased a robe of righteousness for all who are His. Are we getting ready to be clothed in that robe? Are we preparing to be His bride? Are we living now with an eye toward what we will be in Him? 2 Peter 3:11–12 “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!”
Are we getting ready now for what is to come in HIM? Or merely for today?
This is the driving consideration this passage forces on us.
So let’s look at the text and see how all this unfolds.
Rev. 14:1 “Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”
WHERE does the trajectory of the lives of those who are marked out by God as His in Christ lead?
To mount Zion. The idea here is not that the redeemed will be gathered into geographical Jerusalem. The writer to the Hebrews makes the difference clear: Heb. 12:22–24 “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
Nor is this thought new. As far back as Abraham, the anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promises even to the Jews was not a sliver of land in the Middle East: Heb. 11:8–10 “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
This is the life of faith – leaving the false riches of this world behind us, we go out seeking the Heavenly Jerusalem, the city whose designer and builder is God! We travel this earth now – walking daily toward the Heavenly City. This is what it means to BE a Christian.
Mount Zion is WHERE the Redeemed are headed. But we are not going there to be alone. WHO are we going there to be with?
- With the Lamb, & the 140K – all those that are His. Hear me beloved – if the great goal of your life is not to be with Jesus and those He has redeemed by His blood – then Heaven would truly be Hell for you.
As the Psalmist said: Ps. 73:25 “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”
What makes Heaven Heaven is that Christ is there! That the One who died in our place on the Cross, taking all of the just wrath of God against our sin upon Himself will receive us to Himself.
And WHAT will that be like? We get a most sweet and inviting picture.
ECSTATIC JOY, FULL OF GLORY. Rev. 14:2–3 “And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.”
Heaven will NOT be quiet. An innumerable chorus with one voice like loud thunder singing a song ONLY the redeemed can sing. A song so transcendent that the 4 living creatures we saw in Ch. 4 with their holy, holy, holy, and the 24 elders too look on in stunned amazement. Caught up in the spectacle of wretched sinners redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and elevated to such unspeakable glory. Can we even begin to imagine such a sight?
But this is what is just before us Saints, and why serving Jesus and not this present world system is worth everything we might have to endure in the meantime.
And I love how the saints are described here:
Not Defiled w/Women: Celibacy cannot be the issue here since marriage was ordained before the Fall, and later Scripture notes the marriage bed is undefiled.
It may mean that they govern their sexuality only within the confines of Biblical standards – i.e. monogamous marriage between a man and a woman or chaste singleness.
But it more likely refers to their singular devotion to Jesus and the truth of the Gospel as opposed to false teaching and the 4 pillars of the City of Man: Personal Autonomy; Well-being n Material Wealth; Man-made Religion; Cultural Morality.
It follows Paul in2 Cor. 11 where he says he has betrothed or engaged Believers to Christ as a “pure virgin” through the Gospels. Sinners of every stripe become that pure virgin in Christ.
They follow the Lamb wherever He goes. It would be hard to find a more succinct description of the Christian life. Every call to the Disciples was to “follow me.”
There is no such thing as a Christian who is not called to follow Christ Jesus. This was the failure of the Rich Young ruler in Matt. 19:21. Leave everything else and come and follow me was Jesus’ directive.
But what does that mean to us today who cannot physically follow Him?
Just what it meant to them when Jesus had His exchange with Peter on the night of His passion.
John 13:31-38 Jesus was going to the Father, by way of the Cross. And this is where we follow Him today. Renouncing sin and self, and trusting in His substitutionary death on our behalf – we begin to follow Him to the presence of the Father – to Heaven!
Firstfruits: Not chronology, but priority. These (Christians) have been redeemed that they might serve God as their priority above all else they give themselves to. They will pursue all kinds of things in life, but their service to Christ informs and supersedes all else. They are Christ’s first, and that is why they are the Fathers, Mothers, Employees, citizens and neighbors they are. They are honest because they are Christ’s. They are gentle because they are Christ’s. They are chaste and sober and self-controlled because they are Christ’s. They aren’t this way to gain Christ, but because He has already gained them!
No lie. Complete fidelity to the Gospel, to God’s Word. Especially as opposed to the lies of the False Prophet.
Blameless: Eph. 1:3–4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” No wonder the passage ends saying: “Blessed are those who die in the Lord.” Even in death we are blessed beyond comprehension.
Oh how I wish I could end there. I have deliberately spent the bulk of our time this morning on this opening portion. Both, because, as I mentioned above, the Holy Spirit told us this was to be the emphasis of the passage (vs. 12) but also, because we do not want to be ghoulish or needlessly preoccupied with the terrors the next few verses convey.
At the same time, we cannot ignore them.
Our theme has been trajectory, and there are but 2 from God’s point of view. Either you are at present headed to the things we just saw, or to the only other alternative given to us in Scripture. As you hear me today, you are on one of those roads. And you will leave having either switched them, or advanced further down them.
14:6–7 “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel 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 statement is not the Gospel, but the proper response called for having heard the Gospel.
In contrast to what was revealed to John for the saints, another angel brought some revelation as well. That having heard the Gospel men are called upon to believe it, to fear God and give Him glory – because judgment is at hand.
14:8 “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.”
This impending judgment is amplified by another angel who makes us know that the judgment is so certain, it is announced in the present tense: Fallen IS Babylon. Judged IS the system that caters to personal autonomy above the Lordship of Christ; of cultural morality above Biblical holiness; of man-made religion above the Gospel of Jesus Christ; of material wealth above the riches of Jesus.
14:9 “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,”
And then a 3rd confirming angel announcing how God’s certain judgment applies to everyone who is marked out by those 4 things – the mindset of antichrist, of this fallen world system. Of the City of Man – Babylon, versus the City of God – the Heavenly Zion.
To which 4 ghastly descriptors are appended as the most severe of warnings: 14:10–11 “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 sulfur 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.”
What is the end of those whose trajectory is not to seek eternity with Christ Jesus – who will not submit to the Gospel of grace in the substitutionary atonement of Christ on Calvary?
- God’s wrath without any dilution, mercy or grace to temper it.
- Torment in the presence of The Lamb Himself.
- Torment that is perpetual. To use the words of Jesus in describing it: Where the worm never dies and the fire is never put out. (Mark 9:48)
- And where there is never any rest from a perfected and tortured conscience. Forever guilty. Never pardoned. Never given any reprieve, any rest, of any kind.
Hear me Beloved – The revelation of God in this passage gives us only 2 ends. There is no 3rd option.
And everyone here today or in the sound of my voice is on one of these 2 trajectories. There are no other choices. You are either on your way to that eternal and ineffable wonder of eternity in with Jesus having been reconciled to the Father through His blood, or you are on your way to be tormented in the presence of the holy angels and The Lamb.
But if you are not yet Christ’s today – look at what lengths He has gone to in these verses to grab your attention and draw you to Himself. He has shown you the sweet wonders of the bliss of the saints in Christ to make you long for what is blessed and holy and good and glorious and everlasting. And He has shown you the horrors of continuing on your present path to make you hate your sin and its consequences. Especially how it separates you from God Himself.
But that view is a future one. It is not where you are already. Today is still the day of grace. You can be born again right now. Today you can begin to enter into the fullness of His favor and forgiveness. Every speck and spot of sin and guilt can be washed clean away in the blood of the Lamb of God who was crucified for our sins, and raised up again for our justification – that everyone who believes and casts themselves on Him might be declared holy in Christ, and given all that belongs to Him as though it is your own.
Oh that today you would turn from this world and its fake offers, and look to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God as your substitute, as your sin-bearer.
We want you to be able to sing the song of redemption with those who believe on that day. And to join even this very hour in the chorus the old hymn writer composed:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, Praise Him, for He is your health and salvation!
All you who hear,
Now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.