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Revelation 14:1-20: Eternal Blesing, Eternal Torment Print E-mail
Sunday, 20 May 2012

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I often talk about the importance of having an eternal perspective.  We have a tendency as humans to be only concerned with the here and now.  We focus on what is directly in front of us and forget completely about the eternity that is to come.  The Bible, of course, encourages us to fight against this obsession with the present by always keeping eternity in front of us.  As Christians, we donít just live for today, but for forever.  Likewise, the book of Revelation has much to say about eternity.  Of all of the books in the Bible it gives us the clearest descriptions of what eternity will look like.  Why does it do this?  Why does the Holy Spirit inspire John to give us these visions?  So that we, along with the original recipients (the seven churches in Asia), would not lose our eternal perspective even in the midst of difficult suffering.  We know what our eternities will look like, John tells us what the Lord is going to do, so that we can hold fast to Him and trust in Him no matter what the enemy throws at us in the present.

In Revelation 14 we are given a picture of two different eternities.  One is the eternity of those who have refused to turn from their sins and follow Christ.  It is the eternity of those who worship the beast and are given his mark (ch. 13).  The second eternity is that of those who repent and trust in Jesusí sacrifice for their sins.  They are the ones who loved Christ even more than their own lives (12:11).  Two contrasting eternities: one of blessing and one of torment.  As we look at these this morning I want to challenge you with one question: where will you be?  Which eternity will you be given?  We will return to this question at the end, but letís begin by looking at how God is going to bless His people.

Godís blessing for His people:

The next vision that John has speaks of the 144,000 who were sealed in chapter 7.  Look at verses 1-3.  Once again we are given a picture of worship.  The 144,000 are gathered at Mt. Zion (either on earth at Jerusalem or the heavenly Jerusalem) with the Lamb.  Instead of having the mark of the beast on their forehead (see 13:16-18), they have the name of the Father, which symbolizes His ownership of His people.  And they are there singing a new song, probably the same new song that is mentioned in 5:9 which declares that the Lamb is worthy of praise for His work of redemption.  Then the 144,000 are described in verses 4-5.  Look at those with me.  We get three descriptions here. 

First, they have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins.  Although some take this literally, it seems best to take it figuratively.  The contrast is between those who have given themselves to idolatry (see 17:1-6) and those who have remained faithful to Christ.  Believers are often called the Bride of Christ (19:6-10) and their purity and devotion to Him is sometimes described as virginity (see 2 Corinthians 11:2).  Second, the 144,000 are those who follow after Christ.  They are faithful in their purity and their devotion and service to Christ.  Wherever He leads, they go.  Third, they are called the redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb.  They belong to God.  He has redeemed them and they are an offering to Him.  Again, they keep themselves pure and no lie is found in their mouth.  Thus, with these descriptions I still see the 144,000 as a reference to the Church in general, but in particular, to the Church of the last days.  They are blessed by God.

The next vision that John has involves three angels declaring judgment on the earth (v. 6-13).  Yet, even in this he notes Godís blessing on His people.  Look at his description of the first angel in verses 6-7.  The first angel brings the message of an eternal gospel.  Some see this as one final opportunity for people to repent.  Others just see it as a statement of why men will be judged, namely for rejecting the gospel of the Creator.  But either way, as believers, we can see it as great hope because the gospel that we believe in, the gospel that has saved us from our sins and reconciled us to God, is eternal.  That does not mean that it will be offered eternally.  Rather, it means that its impact on our lives will last forever because it is grounded in Godís eternal character.  In contrast with everything on this earth, it is eternal.  Why would you spend your life on anything else but the eternal gospel?  What a blessing for Godís people?

Finally, after the angels describe the coming judgment, which we will look at in a moment, he comes back and notes the rest that will be given to believers.  Look at verse 13.  This life will be hard for believers.  The enemy has declared war on Godís people and he will do all that he can to deceive and destroy them.  Yet, he cannot change what God has promised, namely eternal rest in Christ.  Those who die in the Lord are blessed.  Thus, no matter what the enemy does, even if he has us slain, he cannot take away the blessing that God has for His people in eternity.

Godís wrath for His enemies:

What about those who do not follow Christ?  What happens to them?  What does their eternity look like?  The second angel gives a description of what will happen to Babylon, which is a symbol for manís rebellion.  Look at verse 8.  Babylon, the idolatrous city of the Old Testament, represents manís idolatry and rejection of God (manís immorality).  The angel announces that the city is fallen.  She is no more.  Even though it seemed permanent, her rebellion has ended.

The third angel gives us a grim picture of the punishment that awaits those who reject Christ.  Look at verses 9-10.  Those who receive the mark of the beast, those who refuse to follow after Christ, they will be severely punished.  They will drink the wine of Godís wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger.  Nothing in the world should cause us more fear than the righteous wrath of God.  Nothing compares to Godís holy response to sin.  The angel says that they will be tormented with fire and sulfur.  How long will such suffering last?  Look at verse 11.  It will last forever.  Eternal torment.  Eternal fire and sulfur.  Eternal suffering under Godís wrath.  This is the eternity that awaits all who reject Christ.

Many are not comfortable with such teaching.  And this is understandable.  It is harsh and severe and terrible.  But it is real.  And it does not teach us that God is some awful tyrant.  Rather, it shows us the weight of our sin and rebellion against the Holy One.  Some want to believe that God would never sentence people to eternal torment.  They believe that His love would never allow that.  In fact, a popular pastor (Rob Bell) recently published a book (Love Wins) that seemingly argued this view of hell.  People do not want to believe that the Bible teaches eternal torment.  They reason: ĎSurely our sins are not that badí or ĎSurely God loves us too much.í 

Unfortunately, both of these arguments reveal a very low view of manís sin and Godís holiness, which the Bible does not support.  Our God is holy.  He created us good, giving us all that we needed, and we spit in His face and went our own way.  Such rebellion deserves punishment and Godís character demands justice.  Thus, we have only two options.  We either turn from our sins and believe in Christís payment at the cross, fleeing the wrath to come.  Or we justly pay for our sins by spending eternity in hell.  These are the only options.  One or the other will happen to all.

We see even more about the coming judgment in verses 14-20.  John is given two visions of the reaping of the earth.  The first is found in verses 14-16.  Look at those with me.  Some view the son of man as no other than Jesus Himself, which does fit the description of him having a golden crown on his head.  Yet, others argue against this since he is commanded by another angel.  Either way, we see that the son of man reaps the earth.  This reaping is called the grain harvest and some see it as referring to the saints while others view it as judgment for the wicked.  Although it is hard to choose, I lean towards seeing it as judgment in light of the context and, in particular, the use of the sickle. 

The second vision of reaping, the grape harvest, is definitely referring to the judgment of the wicked.  Look at verses 17-20.  Again, we see the terrible fury of the wrath of God.  The description is bloody and gory.  It is horrific.  Yet, it is just.  It is exactly what my sins deserve.  It is what I deserve for my rebellion and rejection.  Donít miss that.  This is what we have earned.  But let me read you something unbelievable glorious: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).  God sent His Son to die on a cross in our place so that we would not be destined for wrath.  Jesus hung on a tree and suffered under the wrath of God so that we might obtain salvation and avoid the wrath to come.  O come let us adore Him!  Let us worship Him with everything we are!  Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to save us from the wrath to come!  Worthy is the Lamb!

In light of the visions that John gives us here of these two eternities, let me return to my original question: where will you be?  If you are afraid that you are bound for eternal torment under Godís wrath for your sins, then let me tell you the best news of your life: Christ has died for your sins.  If you turn from your sins and follow after Christ, then you will be saved.  Christ endured Godís wrath in your place.  He loved you enough to endure your punishment.  He is worthy of your devotion and faith.  Turn from your sins and follow Him today!  Flee the wrath to come.

If you are here and because of your faith in Christ you can say with confidence that God has not destined you for wrath but for blessing, then just take a moment to marvel at Godís grace in your life.  Godís mercy has radically changed your eternity.  Be amazed.  Now run, donít walk, but run to tell the world of the grace that has shown you in Christ.  Warn them of the wrath to come and share with them the love that God has shown us at the cross.  Donít wait.  And when life gets hard, when the world rejects you and persecution finds you, and you feel like you doing everything you can to just keep your head above water, then you remember that rest is promised.  We are promised suffering in this life, but we are promised rest and blessing in the life to come.  The enemy will rage and roar, deceive and destroy, but he will lose in the end.  Do not be tempted to give up and side with him. 

The contrast is plain: you can either have blessing for a season and suffering for eternity or suffering for a season and blessing for eternity.  So then, remember these visions and endure.  John tells us: Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (v. 12).  O Lord we look to you for the grace we need to endure to the end for the glory of the Lamb.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 31 May 2012 )

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