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Lessons on the End of the World, Part I (Revelation Sermon 22 of 49)

Lessons on the End of the World, Part I (Revelation Sermon 22 of 49)

October 08, 2017 | Andrew Davis
Revelation 12:1-13:18
Second Coming of Christ, End Times

Introduction   

Today and next week we will undertake background work in texts other than Revelation to help make Revelation 13 a little clearer when we take it up. There are few theological topics that so inflame the imagination and engage the mind as end times teaching.

In the Book of Isaiah, God claims that unlike all the idols of the world, He is the only One who knows the future and is able to declare the end from the beginning. We saw this repeatedly in the prophecies of Isaiah. Isaiah 46:10 says “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand and I will do all that I please.” Most of the prophecies in Isaiah focus on the first coming of Christ. We can see the overarching flow and direction and purpose of Jesus’ life laid out in Isaiah: Messiah would be born of a virgin, be born in Bethlehem, live a sinless life, do signs and wonders, heal the sick, raise the dead, speak in parables. Predictions of his genealogy included that he would be born a Jew, a descendant of Abraham, a son of David. Even minute details were predicted, such as his death on the cross — how He would be lifted up, how his hands and his feet would be pierced, how his blood would provide the final atonement for sins as the animal sacrificial system symbolized, how he would drink gall at his death (there was a jar of wine vinegar, or gall, at the foot of the cross), how he would be buried in a rich man's tomb, hoe he would be raised from the dead on the third day, how repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached in His name to the ends of the earth. These things are predicted about the first coming.

But what about the Second Coming? Are details predicted that lead up to the end of the world? The Bible does give details of the future. Christianity, unique among all the religions of the world, makes specific prophecies and has a track record of these prophecies being fulfilled. Many, but not all, of those end time prophecies are found in the book of Revelation. This elaborate system of truth is very difficult to put together. It is even more complex than the three-dimensional puzzle of Big Ben, the clock tower in England, that my daughter Daphne got from my sister for her birthday. Eschatology is like a puzzle, assembling pieces from all over the Bible to put together an orderly system of truth: 2 Thessalonians, Matthew 24, Old Testament,1 John 2, and others.

How is this relevant to our lives? I do not know specifically how understanding the Beast from the Sea and the future Antichrist will affect your life today, but it will have some effect. Eschatology — end time teaching — has the power to shape the way you look at everyday life to realize we are moving to a definite end. That end has been thought out and predicted by the mind of God. It is a glorious end, but we also learn in the book of Revelation that it will be full of suffering and pain and difficulty.

Jesus wants us to know ahead of time so we will be ready. Even though we look around and wonder, as 2 Peter 2 predicted, where this coming that he promised; it seems that everything goes on just as it has since the beginning. Those who say that are fulfilling prophecy by Peter. We must look beyond immediate circumstances to see that we are heading somewhere. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. We are not looking at a circular, cyclical view of history but a linear view. We are heading toward a glorious end, but there will be, as Jesus says in Matthew 24, birth pains before the end. It is good to know in advance that we have some suffering to go through.

Eschatology is a popular subject. The Left Behind series, a fictional eschatological chronicle by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, has sold at least 65 million books. Several of the 16 volumes went to number one on the New York Times Best Seller list. Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, published in 1970, was that generation’s version of the same thing. He wove together current events, especially Cold War Soviet Union issues, and zeroed in on the relatively recent new establishment of the Jewish nation in Palestine. He predicted that within one generation of the Jews being re-established in 1948 in Palestine, the end would come. Calculating one generation as 40 years spurred many predictions regarding the year 1988, such as “88 reasons the Lord will return in 88.”

However, though inaccurate, we should not think that the methodology of such predictions is intrinsically flawed. It is biblical to apply Scripture to current events. But the establishment of the Jews in Palestine was only one of dozens and dozens of indicators that need to be in place simultaneously. Matthew 24:32-22 says, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things…” Those who see all the signs together will not be wondering, they will know, if they have studied Scripture — it will not be published in secular media. My job as a teacher of the Word of God is to try to make these things as clear as possible now while I am able.

There is good evidence for saying that the final generation will know the exact number of days till the Lord returns, will be able to count the days. The clearest indication of that is at the end of the Book of Daniel, which we will cover next week. 

A Powerful, Defeated, Enraged Foe

Satan’s Power

We are in the middle of studying the book of Revelation, which unveils things that we would not have any other way of knowing, invisible things from the past, present, and future — God openly says to John, “I will show you what must take place after this…” so there is no doubt that He is unveiling future events. 

We just finished an extraordinary chapter, Revelation 12, in which the activities of a monstrous red dragon are described. Revelation 12:3 says, “Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.” It is no accident that it sounds like the Beast from the Sea. It is hard to interpret symbolism in apocalyptic literature, but we are told in Revelation 12:9 who the dragon is: “The great dragon was hurled down — that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”

God wants us to know who the red dragon is — Satan — and how powerful he is so that we do not underestimate him. We are aware of his schemes, of his power, of the vast evil conspiracy in the world run by Satan. Bible-reading Christians are not surprised that there is a method to the evil and wickedness in the world. We need to see behind current events to demonic activity. The Bible teaches it. 

Satan’s Defeats

On the other hand, Satan is depicted again and again as a defeated foe. God is much more powerful than Satan, who is His frustrated, thwarted enemy, not His equal opposite. It is not a dualistic religion like yin and yang. The good God of the universe is infinitely more powerful than evil, so Satan is thwarted in his effort to kill Jesus before his time, in his effort to take over Heaven with his armies, in his multiple efforts to kill the woman and her children, though he brings much suffering in the world in his attempts.

The “Little Apocalypse”

The section ends with the dragon standing on the shore of the sea, to lead into chapter 13 in which a beast emerges from the sea. There is no doubt that the imagery links to Daniel Chapter 7. But the clearest unfolding of end times events other than the book of Revelation is from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24.

My desire is to make these things clear so that you will be ready. In 2 Thessalonians 2, the Apostle Paul said to the Thessalonian church that the end would not come until the man of sin appeared, whom we know as the Antichrist, the man doomed to destruction. He said, “Don't you remember that when I was with you, I kept telling you about these things.” That is pastoral methodology, to tell your people about what the Bible says about the future. Prepare your youth, your children, and prepare them to get their children ready. This information will be vital to their spiritual survival.

Seven Woes to the Leaders of Israel

Matthew 24, sometimes called the Little Apocalypse, is Jesus’s teaching about the end times. For context, Jesus has just finished in Matthew 23 proclaiming a seven-fold woe on the spiritual leaders of Israel, the Scribes and Pharisees. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees… you hypocrites!” Seven times, he exposes the hypocrisy of those who sit in Moses’ seat to the people whom they lead. He wants the people to understand that they are white-washed tombs — not what they appear to be — and their greatest sin is not recognizing and believing in Jesus, God in the flesh, Messiah, the Son of David. They did not recognize him, and thus they rejected him.

This was predicted very plainly in Isaiah 53: “Lord, who has believed our message?” questioning whether Israel would believe in Jesus. Isaiah 53:3 says “He was despised and rejected by men… and we esteemed Him not.” John 1:11 says, “He came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him.” The Jews’ rejection of Jesus was predicted, but Jesus nonetheless pronounces a prophetic word of judgment. Seven times he says “Woe to you”, then he expresses grief over Jerusalem:“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Behold, your house is left to you desolate. [empty, vacuous] For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” To illustrate and emphasize his point, he walks out of the temple. The essence of the desolation is Jesus leaving. In Ezekiel 10, the shekinah, or dwelling, glory of God moved out of the temple. Jesus linguistically linked his departure to their emptiness and desolation. “Your house is left you desolate for you will not see me again.”

The Destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, and Antichrists

As he walked out the disciples approached him to point out the magnificence of the temple buildings and their “massive stones” [Mark 13:1]. (After Pentecost when the Spirit came on the disciples, they were finally on message, but at this point they simply do not understand.) Jesus replied in Matthew 24:2. “‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’”  That is a direct prophecy of the destruction of the temple of the Jews.

The disciples found this troubling, so they came to Jesus privately on the Mount of Olives. His vision of eschatology confused them. Why would the temple be destroyed; was animal sacrifice not to be in place forever? They could not see that Jesus would abolish animal sacrifice by his own death. The temple would not be needed anymore. In their ignorance, they asked Jesus a three-part question.

Verse 24:3 says, “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this [the destruction of the temple] happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” To them, the destruction of the temple, the coming of Jesus, and the end of the age were all one event. One of the complexities of interpreting Matthew 24 is whether Jesus is describing the destruction of the physical temple, which happened about 40 years later in A.D. 70 by the Romans, or something beyond that.

Most likely, he is talking about both: the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 was a dress rehearsal or a type of the big future destruction. Verse 37 contains a key eschatological principle that I teach consistently: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” Dress rehearsals of eschatological events have been through history and will continue to be repeated, but the big events are yet to come. 

Perhaps the clearest and most relevant of these has to do with the “antichrist”. “Anti-” means substitute Christ, or instead of Christ. The Apostle John is the only one who used that term, in 1 and 2 John, referring to the “spirit of the Antichrist.” But the teaching of the Antichrist is found in Daniel 7 and 11, 2 Thessalonians 2, and other places with different terms. 1 John 2:18 says “… you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” In other words, first many antichrists will come, and then the one final Antichrist will come.

John does not preclude the final Antichrist by acknowledging false teachers and political leaders but rather predicts him. Jesus says the same in verses 4-5: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” They will perform signs and wonders and do many things to deceive people and draw them away. The Antichrist, as we will see in Revelation 13, has two aspects: a political/military/police state that applies laws with military force, and a false religious aspect. Throughout history we have seen military leaders who use their powerful, governmental position to persecute the church, and religious leaders who establish self-referential cults of followers who worship them. Both embody the spirit of Antichrist.

There have been and will be many small antichrists who will never be known outside of their small spheres of influence — big fish in small ponds. They dominate small flocks of people by extorting them and taking advantage of them materially, sexually and other ways. There have been and will be ones who are well-known who start world religions with great success. All of those will be consolidated in the end into one person. In the same way that wicked leaders like Hitler, Stalin, or Mao or others have used their power to crush the church, there will be one in the end who will have far more power than any of them ever had. He will demand to be worshiped worldwide.

Uncertain Signs of the End

Jesus goes on to talk about general sufferings that happen in every generation. He says “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars… famines, and earthquakes in various places.” [verses 6-7] That is general language, We could add hurricanes, natural disasters, and such. They will continue to happen. “All these are the beginning of birth pains,” [verse 8]. Worse birth pains will come later, as we are reading about in the book of Revelation.

There will be specific suffering for the people of God all the way through. We will be betrayed and hated and persecuted by various peoples in various places. This has been happening and will continue to happen, but it has all been dress rehearsal thus far. The worst is yet to come. Matthew 24:14 & 37 reveals the one overarching task: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come… As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” In the days before the flood, what was Noah doing? Building an ark, a place of safety and refuge to flee the coming flood. We are building an ark as well, a spiritual one. It is the universal Church through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We preach this Gospel as a testimony to all nations. Everyone will hear about this Gospel. That is the work we are doing.

Run for Your Lives

What are the specific signs that have to do with the end of the world? “‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” Jesus answers this question in verses 15-20: “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination of desolation’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel — let the reader understand — then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.”

He is warning those living in Judea and Jerusalem that when they see the abomination of desolation that Daniel talked about, they should run for their lives. This is likely about both the destruction of the temple in A.D 70 and an event at the end of the world. Christian Jews living in Jerusalem in 70 A.D who were seeing the destruction of the temple should run.

The Greek word for flight in verse 20 is fuge, from which we get fugitive or refugee. You hope that it will not be winter when the weather would slow you down. You hope you are not pregnant such that your physical condition would slow you down. You do not have time to go get a cloak or anything else. Jesus does not say what you are running from, what makes you run for your life, but Revelation 12 does. You are running from the devil, the red dragon. Revelation 13 says at the human level, you are running from the Beast from the Sea and his forces.

Revelation 12:6 says, “The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1260 days.” The woman will be protected in the desert for a set amount of time, 1260 days. Revelation 12:13-14 says, “When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time out of the serpents reach.” The human catalyst for flight will be the Beast from the Sea.

It is not easy to follow a linear pattern of teaching on this; I have already jumped ahead in Revelation. Jesus says in verse 15 to read the book of Daniel; he urges the reader to understand. Do you have wisdom and understanding to get what Daniel is saying? You must combine Daniel’s words with understanding current events. It is not only in the text of Scripture. We are to look around, wait, and try to understand whether we see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be. If so, then either those living in Jerusalem should run, or that is when the clock starts counting 1260 days.

Revelation 13:1, 5-7: “And the dragon stood on the shore of the Sea. And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name… The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. [Three and a half years.] He opened his mouth to blaspheme God and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them.” People will run for their lives, but many lives will be forfeit.

The “Abomination of Desolation”

The abomination of desolation, which we will study more next week, is mentioned three times in Daniel. In Daniel 9:27, in the middle of this complex teaching about chronology and 70 weeks, Daniel tells us that “he” —a person of authority — will confirm a covenant with many for one seven — one “week” or symbolic for a seven-year period.“In the middle of the ‘seven’ [three and a half] he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple, [NIV adds the word “temple” from a complex phrase in the original — on the wing of something] he will set up [erect or build in the Hebrew] an abomination that causes desolation until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” Daniel 11:31 speaks of a Greek king as a foretaste of the final Antichrist: “His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress [clear reference to a physical temple] and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. Further, Daniel 12:11 says, “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1290 days.” There is another piece to the puzzle: 1260, plus 30 days.

Something is set up in a place where sacrifice is offered. In Daniel 11:31, it is definitely a temple. In Old Testament prophetic language, the word abomination typically refers to idols and is commonly used to indicate something that is utterly repulsive to God. It is an idol that is connected to desolation. The NIV and other translations say abomination that causes desolation. I prefer what the actual text says, which is “abomination of desolation.” Desolation is emptiness. My dad, who was a real technology buff, would often say the phrase “nature abhors a vacuum.” If there is a momentary vacuum, something will be pulled in to fill the empty space. Jesus, talking about his exorcism ministry in Matthew 12:43-45, says, “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, [Empty. Desolate.] swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.” After Jesus died and ascended to heaven, Israel was like a vacuum. There was an emptiness, a desolation, that allowed demons to flood back in. This eventually led to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.

But at that time, there was no idol set up that everyone worshiped. Titus, the Roman general who was to destroy the temple, did not want it burned, Josephus tells us. He tried to put the fire out; he wanted it saved. Gentiles in the Holy of Holies in that event does not line up with the level of significance of the abomination desolation. There is a greater desecration yet to come. In 2 Thessalonians 2:4, the Apostle Paul says the man of sin who is to come “will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” That is not apocalyptic; that is Paul making a prediction of the future. The end will come after that occurs.

There must be a temple called God’s temple that this individual will set himself up in. I part ways with dispensational premillennialism and other similar teaching on this point. That theological scheme proposes a separate track for the church in Israel in which God in some way is delighted with the re-establishment of the animal sacrificial system for the Jewish nation in particular. I say an absolute, resounding NO to that. The Book of Hebrews makes it clear that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin, that Jesus put an end to animal sacrifice. When he died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, ending the animal sacrificial system forever as a God-blessed way to approach God. He will not accept the blood of animals ever again. It is an insult to his son to suggest otherwise.

But that does not mean it will not happen, or that the unbelieving Jewish nation does not want a physical temple rebuilt. The Jews who go to Jerusalem to wail at the wall are praying for the temple to be rebuilt. There is a mosque there now, but the Antichrist will have the ability to clear away any hindrance. We can hardly imagine how but we are heading toward one world religion, which will focus on him. A penultimate stepping stone of the end is the re-establishment of the Jewish animal sacrificial system. In the middle of the final seven years, he will stop animal sacrifices to God and focus everything on himself. That is the abomination of desolation. Revelation 13 speaks of an idol that the false profit sets up that everyones is supposed to worship; why not there?

The Final Persecution

When you see something like that, run for your life. Verses 21-22 say, “For then there will be great distress, [“a Great Tribulation” in KJV] unequaled from the beginning of the world until now — and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” That language goes far beyond anything that the Roman soldiers did in 70 A.D., trouble unequaled from the beginning of the world. If you want to understand trouble that has never been seen on earth, read in Revelation about how a third of the oceans turn to blood, a third of the fish die, a third of the plants and trees burn up, a third of the fresh water becomes undrinkable. Those events have never been seen in history. When you see those kinds of things happen, you know the end is near. After that, Christ returns.

The Second Coming

Matthew 24:27 says “As lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” The Son of Man had not returned as of 70 A.D. But these events are leading up to the Second Coming of Christ, and it will be obvious and glorious, like lightning flashing across the sky. Faith will be needed no more, and thus neither will salvation. Matthew 24:29-31, “Immediately after the distress of those days, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ [The book of Revelation] At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

Studying Current Events

Jesus said, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know, that it [or he] is near, right at the door.” We are supposed to look at current events. As we head toward fall, the leaves are changing, the temperatures are cooler, the days are shorter. It is a beautiful time. You do not need to wonder whether the new season is approaching. Jesus says the same thing. The Jews being re-established in 1948 is not enough; it is only one of many more signs that need to be in place.

Be Ready and Active Doing the Lord’s Will

What should we do about all this? Jesus, at the end of Matthew 24, says work hard to be ready at any moment. In verses 44-46, he says, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so or doing the right thing when he returns.” Be busy building a spiritual ark by preaching the Gospel. Help people get ready to find a place of refuge when judgment comes. The church should be using God-given spiritual gifts — hospitality, teaching, preaching, administration, helps — doing our work so that the elect can be saved and built up in their faith and the church can be strengthened until the Lord returns. It is not for us to know the days or times the Father has set by His own authority. One generation will be allowed to know exactly when these things will happen but we are not there yet, so our job is to continue to prepare faithfully.

Applications

These Future Things Will Come True!

First and most important, run to Christ. God sent his Son as the Savior for the world. There is no other way that our sins can be cleansed but by the blood of Jesus. We do not know the exact time of the end, nor the exact time of our death. Has the Lord promised you tomorrow? You do not know if you will be alive tomorrow. While you have time, flee to Christ. You do not need to do any good works for the forgiveness of your sins, just believe in Jesus. Cast your sins on him. Thank him that he died under the wrath of God, under the law, for your sins. 

Be Aware of and Expect the Suffering Essential to Salvation

If you are already converted, Jesus says be ready, be active, be busy doing the Lord’s work, be focused on what He has called you to do. Be aware of the suffering that we have yet to go through. Jesus said these are just the beginning of birth pains. It will ramp up greatly, so be willing to suffer for the gospel now, here in America, to share the Gospel with a co-worker or a fellow student or a total stranger; be willing to suffer a snarling face, rudeness, walking away or possibly being fired. Be faithful to share the gospel, be praying that the Lord would come and bring his Kingdom. Be ready as God has called us to do.

Closing Prayer

Lord, thank you for the time we have had to study and for the complexity and beauty of your Word. It is not easy to put all of these things together, but help us to be clear, to understand what is coming, to be ready, to realize we are surrounded by people who do not believe the Bible at all. Some people say they do not believe in an invisible spiritual world or life after death. They think they will simply cease to exist when they die. They do not know that after death comes judgment. God, I pray that you would help us to be faithful to share, to do our good works to encourage one another and build each other up in the body. Lord, we pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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