Rev.14:1-5 — FIGHTING THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on September13, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click this link – Rev 14A.
This morning we want to look again at this section of the book of revelation that started in Chapter 12. We are in the middle of a complex of visions that started with the woman clothed with the sun and the great dragon Satan. We have been looking at how the great dragon – Satan, the accuser – makes war against the followers of Jesus through accusations and lies. We have seen how Satan makes war against Jesus and his followers by influencing governments, turning them into beasts that serve his purposes.
The images of the great dragon and the two beasts in Rev. 12-13 are terrifying, overwhelming pictures of the spiritual battle. They show the scale of the spiritual conflict that we are involved in. And when we see how big how all encompassing the spiritual battle is, we tend to have one of two reactions…
1. I need to be doing something more important – something that will be meaningful in this spiritual battle.
2. I am afraid that this is way beyond me. I am just trying to get along spiritually – I don’t want to deal with this.
The question we want to address this morning, then, is how do we become adequate for this spiritual battle? What do we need to be equipped to fight? And then, How do we get involved in the spiritual battle when our lives seem so “regular”- and – If I were even ready for spiritual battle, what would it look like?
The Spiritual Battle is About Believing – Believe!
Believe That You Have Been Sealed: Back in Ch.7 we saw that the image of the 144,000 is not about excluding believers, but that they represent the new order – the tribe of Judah is now the tribe of honor – Jesus’ tribe, and he rules over his brothers. They represent the incorporation of outcasts – half-breeds – into the new community of God’s people – a theme which runs throughout Scripture (Rahab, Ruth).
But now, on the other hand, we want to see that the 144,000 are exclusive – they are the followers of Jesus who have been sealed by God (see Rev.7:12-13 – then Eph.1:13-14) with the promised Holy Spirit – who have the Father’s name and Jesus’ name written on their foreheads. They are the followers of the Lamb who are standing on Mt. Zion singing the new song.
Understand, then that this vision is one of deliverance. In the middle of the terrifying visions of the beasts and the dragon and the prostitute, there is this picture of the followers of Jesus, who are already victorious in the battle – who have already overcome. This vision is given to show us that, as believers, we are sealed with the Spirit – we are stamped with God’s name – and that we are fighting this battle from a position of strength.
Believe That You Are Standing in the Presence of the Lamb: This is what the vision focuses on – that the 144,000 are standing, powerful, because they are standing in the presence of the Lamb – specifically, the Lamb that was slain and whose blood has bought their forgiveness. These are not elite troops better than your average Christian – these are redeemed and forgiven people – you and me and our brothers and sisters in the faith. We Stand! because we stand in the forgiveness and righteousness of Jesus – and for no other reason.
And the great spiritual battle that you and I are already fighting is about our willingness to receive and believe these things. We fight to believe against the accusations of our enemy. We fight to believe despite the lies of our enemy that our faith means and accomplishes little. Our faith is glorious and our standing is secure in the grace of Jesus – and the battle to believe is a meaningful battle that we can fight.
The Spiritual Battle is About God’s Deliverance – Give Thanks!
You Have the New Song: “And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.”
The image of the new song goes back to Exodus 15, where the Israelites sang about how God delivered them from the Egyptians and threw the horse and rider into the sea. They sang it as they stood on the far side of the Red sea after their deliverance. They sang it as they prepared to go into the wilderness to travel to the promised land. So the vision of the new song in Rev.14, takes its meaning – it’s interpretation from Ex.15.
Therefore we are to understand that the new song that the 144,000 sing is a song of God’s deliverance. It is the song that each believer knows as we look back at our lives and recognize ways in which God has delivered us from sin, from danger, from unbelief. You sing the new song as only you know it because it is about how God has delivered you – but, as followers of Jesus, in a sense, we all sing the same song – because the song is about how Jesus delivered us. No one can learn this song except those who are delivered by the Lamb – it makes no sense to those who have not been delivered.
Give Thanks for Your Deliverance: There is a difference between knowing and remembering that God has done great things for you and actually singing the new song. To sing the New Song means to Give Thanks – to remember verbally – to speak about what God has done for you – to praise God for his deliverance with your lips – both in your prayers, when you are alone, and before others.
To sing the New Song is to bring glory to God – it is about rejecting the lies and accusations of Satan – it is about speaking the truth to yourself and to the world. To sing the New Song is to meaningfully and powerfully take part in the great battle – and this is a battle that we can fight as followers of the Lamb.
The Spiritual Battle is About Holiness – Follow!
Set Yourself Apart from What Defiles: “These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure.” The Greek here actually says, “These are those who did not defile themselves with women for they are virgins”.
Because of this and other passages, the early church valued celibacy – even to the point of practicing celibate marriage (see 1 Cor.7:1-7). However, the point being made here is not that true believers are celibate – nor that marriage is a second best – nor that women in and of themselves are somehow unclean. Rather, it is, like much of the rest of Revelation, a symbolic picture of the purity of the followers of Jesus. They are to be the pure and virginal bride of Christ.
The image of the virginal followers of the Lamb, then, is about being set apart from everything that defiles – it is about recognizing that there are practices – behaviors – entertainments – jobs, that are unclean. You can’t be a stripper for Jesus… you can’t work for the Mob and be a follower of the Lamb. The followers of the lamb are to remain “unstained” or “unpolluted” by the world – (James1:27, Jude 23).
Follow the Ways and Teachings of Jesus: “They follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” The spiritual battle is about following the Lamb. That can sound very vague because there is a lot of religious speech about being Christian, and our culture has created several pictures of what a Christian is supposed to look like.
But if we are going to be followers of the Lamb – if we are going to follow him wherever he goes – then we must – must become students of the teachings of Jesus – of his parables – of his life. It is impossible to follow Jesus if we are unfamiliar with his teachings which are preserved for un in the Gospels – and the teaching of his Apostles which are found in the letters of the NT.
We are called to follow the Lamb – to hang on his words – to put his teachings into practice in our lives.
Recognize You are Not Your Own but Were Bought with a Price: “They were purchased from among men and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb.”
Thirdly, the spiritual battle of holiness is about the recognition that we have been bought with a price and that our lives are not our own simply to live in any way we please. This does not mean that we have to go out and find something that we hate to do which looks holy so that we can please God. Rather, to have been purchased for God means that our talents, our gifts, our desires now belong to God to be used to honor Him – in our jobs – our education – our friendships. Our lives belong to God – they fit into what God is doing in the world – in the church. God has bought us with blood.
Speak Like the Lamb: “No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.” Finally, the followers of the Lamb are known by the words that come out of their mouths – and by the words that do not come out of their mouths. If we are following the Lamb then we are learning to speak the truth. Speaking the truth means more than just not telling a lie. For instance, exaggeration distorts the truth. What we say when we talk about people – about the church – about other believers, can either reflect the truth or become a lie, told for our own amusement or told to make us appear more honorable or righteous than we are.
The speech of the world is deceptive, blasphemous, spiteful, profane, malicious. The followers of the Lamb speak and are learning to speak like Jesus spoke – with grace and with truth.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on September 20, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 14B.
Revelation 14:6-20 — PERSEVERE UNTIL THE HARVEST
We are in the middle of the second section of Revelation (beginning w/ Ch.12) that describes the great spiritual battle between the Dragon (satan) and the children of the Lamb. We have just seen a vision of the church (144,000) standing on Mt. Zion with the Lamb, singing the new song and victorious.
This next passage – the harvest of humanity – has a very intentional structure – a chiasm. In the chiasm, there are three sets of parallel verses and then a central point.
Verses 6-7 (the first angel) and 15-16 (the fourth angel) are a call to men to worship God and a call to the Son of Man to reap the wheat (those who were sown by the Word and grew to maturity.
Verses 8 (the second angel) and 17 (the fifth angel) are an announcement of judgement and the appearance of the fifth angel out of the Temple with the sharp sickle (a picture of judgement – and also the origin of our image The Grim Reaper).
Verses 9-12 (the third angel) and 18-20 (the sixth angel) are a warning against worshipping the beast – those who receive his mark will drink “… of the wine of God’s fury” – and a call to the fifth angel, (from the sixth angel) to reap the grapes which are ripe – presumably ripe for judgment.
The central point of the chiasm is verse 12-13 – the call for the Saints to Patiently Endure and the benediction on the faithful who die.
The Harvest is Coming.
Only the Gospel is Eternal: 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. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
We are given the privilege to see ahead here – the one thing that will matter at the harvest – on the final day – is the Gospel – which is eternal and has always been the only thing that really mattered… That we should Fear God and give him glory.
This is what will matter on the final day. As believers we should recognize that what is going to be of final importance is what the Gospel produced in us. The Gospel of the forgiveness of sins must be more than just therapy for us – it is spelled out here. The Gospel of grace is poured out on us in order to produce reverence, holy fear – to move us to bring glory to God with our lives – in our speech, in our actions, in our thoughts, in our pursuits. The Gospel is poured out on us in order to produce worship. This is what God desires and what he has always desired – is to be in a relationship with human beings where he is worshiped and honored.
The Maddening Adulteries of the World Will Fall and Fail: A second angel followed and said, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”
We will deal with Babylon the Great in greater detail in the chapters to come. For now, all we need to understand is that the things that take us over – the idolatries of the soul – the desires that carry us away – are personified here as an enormous world wide figure or city – “Babylon the Great.” She is personified for us later as a woman – a prostitute who leads the world astray.
That Babylon the Great will fall is terrible news to the world – to those who run after sinful appetites and pleasures. It means that all the corrupt playground of the world will fall apart, and those who worshiped and pursued a life of appetite and pleasure will be left empty. But to believers this is like a cry of deliverance. Temptation and the appetites that lead us astray into evil – the enticements of the world – will one day collapse and be no more – and we will be delivered.
The Corrupting Worship of Power Will Be Judged: A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. The mark of the beast in question (666), as we have seen, is a Gematria – Nero’s name in code. And the warning not to worship the beast or receive his mark referred specifically to Nero – who claimed divinity – who demanded worship – who persecuted believers. Nero demanded loyalty – that his subjects receive him as a god.
What we are given to see here is that those who worship power – who give themselves to the pursuit of power and are corrupted by it – will face the wrath of God’s fury at the harvest. Those who, like Nero, like Rome, set themselves above others like gods – and so become a blasphemy – a corrupt misrepresentation of God who laid aside power to become a servant – have already separated themselves from God and will be judged.
Practice Patient Endurance.
Endure in Faithful Obedience: This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.
We know that the harvest is coming. We know that the false power of the world and the false allurements of the world will be judged. We know also that the eternal Gospel that we have is being poured out on us – the blood of Jesus – his righteousness – in order that we might respond by bringing glory to God. How, then are we to do that?
First, we are to obey God’s commandments. To endure patiently in obedience is to increasingly love God with heart and mind and soul and strength – and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. This means loving God in the way we speak, in purity, in truthfulness – and it means expressing the Love of God towards other people.
Secondly, we are to remain faithful to Jesus. To endure patiently in faithfulness to Jesus means to continue in receiving the grace of Jesus and refusing to despair. It also means that Jesus is to remain, for us, the central desire and worship of our lives – not to be replaced or pushed aside by any other pursuit or desire or interest.
Endure Until Death: Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
Those who continue in their faith to the end will be blessed – they will find rest – “Shalom” – which means more than just the absence of strife – but rather the ecstatic joy of the setting right of all things – the remadeness of their bodies and of creation without the curse – and in the presence of God.
Not only this, but their works will follow them – which is to say that our very imperfect actions of faithfulness will be – through Jesus Christ – presented before God as righteousness. So that, just as Abraham believed – and that became this act of righteousness that God himself speaks about in glowing terms (despite his failures to believe at other times) – so our halting, partial, weak righteousness will become glorious acts of righteousness.
Persevere Until the Harvest (the process of becoming).
There Will Be a Harvest of Righteousness: The harvest of the wheat that takes place in vs.14-16. The very image of harvest is one that suggests completeness – the end of a process. Scripture often talks about judgment in this way (see Gal.6:7-9 — Luke 8:1-15). The harvest of righteousness is about more than just a declaration – walking down an aisle at one point and stating that we believe – it is about the development of the wheat – a slow almost imperceptible growth towards maturity.
As we are slowly watered with the word, as we haltingly try to put it into practice – as we struggle to learn what it means to follow Jesus – something is developing slowly – the wheat -the harvest of righteousness that God desires. We must not lose heart, but believe that God is doing a great work in us as we persevere. of God.
There Will Be a Harvest of Unrighteousness: But there is also a development going on in those who do not believe. The unrighteous are like grapes – like ripe fruit – the image suggests that the life apart from the gospel gradually develops into this perverted fruit – full of blood – and that, over time it becomes swollen with blood, corrupt to its full extent until it is ready for harvest. That harvest is one of God’s wrath in which those swollen corrupt grape clusters are crushed – and the blood with which they are filled – their violence and impurity – covers an area of about 200 square miles about five feet deep. It is a picture of the extent of the violence and impurity that God judges.