The biblical prophets are clear on the fact that the Messiah will set up His kingdom on earth and finally bring peace to the world, but they are also clear that many things have to happen before He does. Find out now what they are.
Before the Curtain Rises
Today, we arrive back at our study through the Book of Revelation.
If you were with us last Spring as we wrapped up our 30th study on that period of time known as the Tribulation, I did something I’d never done before – I covered an entire chapter of Revelation in one sermon; chapter 17. It took nearly an hour. And then the next Sunday, we covered all of chapter 18 in one sermon. By then you were ready for the summer series.
You were probably wondering what was happening for me to speed up like that; one sermon covering an entire chapter. I’ll tell you what was happening – God was answering your prayers.
Well, that too, but I was actually just trying to get us out of the Tribulation.
And we finished up at through 18 just before the summer break.
As I prepared to reengage in this study with you, it occurred to me that what we ought to do today is set the stage for the next event in prophetic scripture following the Tribulation – the most magnificent and glorious event ever to be seen on earth – the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ and his reign with us, his bride, in the New Jerusalem.
In order to set the stage for that, what I wanna do today is something I’ve never done before and that is to simply review where we’ve been.
Even though I know you have it all down pat . . . let’s take this study today and review . . . we’ve had so many new friends begin coming to Colonial over the past year, I’m also concerned that all of us start out on the same page.
If you’ve ever been to a play – maybe you’ve been to one on Broadway or you’ve been to your kid’s middle school or high school play – you know what it’s like before the curtain rises on the next scene.
You can hear movement . . . maybe a bump or two. If there’s a gap between the curtain and the stage floor, you can see feet moving all around the stage; you can hear the sliding of furniture and other set pieces that are being put in place.
You can’t see him, but you know the stage manager is in control of all the moving parts; he is directing the stage crew and readying the actors to make sure that every prop and every person is in place.
And then the curtain rises and the audience is swept into another scene as the drama unfolds.
That’s us . . . right now.
We are the audience, watching and listening while the stage is set.
The curtain is closed so we can’t see all the details, but we can catch glimpses of movement; we can’t interpret all the sounds we hear – but we know the Director is in control and all the set pieces and all the players are under His sovereign direction.
The stage is being set.
And let me say quickly, if you’ve never given your heart, life, mind and body to Jesus Christ – do it now. The curtain might rise before this sermon is over.
Accept Christ as your sovereign Lord, now. You don’t have to wait to walk up at the end of this service – which we certainly invite you to do if you want counsel or help; you don’t have to join this church, give money away, get baptized or turn over a new leaf.
Those might be wonderful evidences that you genuinely belong to Jesus Christ, but they come after the fact.
Settle it with God, right where you sit.
The curtain could go up at today.
Now, when you attend a play, you typically get a program and it tells which scene will occur next and sometimes the programs include a brief synopsis of each scene.
The Body of Christ has also been given that kind of program – it’s called the Book of Revelation . . . and we can read a brief synopsis of each scene that will occur as well as a list of scenes yet to unfold.
By studying our program, taking it at face value, we know that we’re in the first few chapters Revelation; that period of time known as the church age.
And we also know that when the curtain rises on the next scene in God’s redemptive drama – the rapture of the church – what will follow closely behind it in the next scene is the Tribulation period – and then the next scene opens with the coming Kingdom of Christ on earth.
You got all that?
Well, let’s slow it down a little . . .
I wanna push the rewind button today and before we get to the next scene, let’s spend some time reviewing what we’ve already witnessed and how it prepares us for what happens next.
I have outlined the Book of Revelation into 4 main sections.
I gave you this outline when we started this study, 2 years ago; some of you might have lost it, so let me give it to you again.
The first section is chapters 1-5 which I’ve outlined as: The Sovereignty of Christ in His Church.
The church appears in the first 5 chapters of Revelation. The first 3 chapters, the church is on earth. In Chapters 4 and 5 the church is worshipping God in heaven – having been raptured from the earth.
Not surprisingly, there are no more appearances of the church on earth until after chapter 18. Why?
Because from chapter 6 of Revelation through chapter 18, the time of Tribulation occurs on planet earth – and the church has been promised to be removed away and apart from the presence of God’s wrath on earth during the Tribulation period.
So chapters 1-5 reveal the sovereignty of Christ in His relationship to His Bride, the church.
The second major division of our program, is The Severity of Christ in His Chastisement (chapters 6-18)
This is the Tribulation period where God pours out His wrath on humanity and planet earth.
To set the stage for the next event on God’s calendar, what exactly is this period of time – the period of time on this timeline that takes place between the yellow arrows – one going up, representing the rapture of the church, and the arrow pointing down, representing the return of Christ with the church to set up His kingdom?
It will be 7 years of unparalleled human suffering; demonic boldness, cosmic disturbance, Jewish awakening, gospel preaching and global crises the world has ever witnessed in its history.
The four horsemen of the apocalypse thunder forth unleashing the plagues of God’s wrath and human suffering through one act of judgment after another.
Cosmic disturbances will occur, from the moon turning blood red to the Sun flaring in heat to strike the earth with great heat.
Natural disasters will come one after another, striking the earth over and over again as the angels sound trumpets and then the final blows of God’s judgment come one upon another, signified by the pouring out of wrath as water is poured from bowls.
No one will be worshipping mother earth anymore. There will be no more earth day. Mother nature will no longer be a cute title for the politically correct, it will be a monster of great torment.
Why? Because the created order, which by this time has reached the status of divinity – and the universe considered almighty, as it is today – creation will turn on mankind at the command of Creator God, and nature will become the agent of God’s punishing hand.
Matthew Henry wrote a century plus ago that the unbelieving world thinks that everything belongs to them. He wrote, “they believe this is their earth, their air, their sea, their rivers, their world and that they alone have the right to judge. / Stewart Custer, From Patmos to Paradise (BJU Press, 2004), p. 174
The world will discover their error – all along – this was the Creator’s earth; this is His air; His sea; His rivers; His world and He alone has the right to judge.
And God will use the idols of mankind to crush mankind.
Nature will run riot as natural disasters along with disease and unparalleled crime and starvation will reach such devastating levels that by the end of the Tribulation, coffins will not be crafted fast enough and corpses will lie out in the open.
In fact, Revelation informs us that by the end of the Tribulation, half the world’s population will be dead.
During this 7 year period, primarily the last half of the Tribulation as the Antichrist declares himself to be god, demonic activity will also run rampant as Satan and his Antichrist have their way in ruling the world.
Why does all of this unfold – what is the purpose of the Tribulation?
First and foremost – for Israel. I remember reading one critic of Revelation who said, “The Book of Revelation is so Jewish!”
All the prophecies of Israel’s re-gathering and awakening will come to pass in Revelation as Israel is not only re-gathered but converted.
Isaiah, Amos, Zechariah, Daniel and more – these prophets spoke with certainty of Israel’s national conversion as an ethnic people and a return to the land of their fathers.
In fact, you need to understand that one of the ongoing evidences that God will keep His promise to Israel is that Israel not only exists today but they have a national conscience and a national heritage and a national vision.
From Father Abraham, now thousands of years later, the Hebrew people exist.
When the Olympics were held not too long ago, you did not see any athletes marching into that stadium during the opening ceremonies from the Hittite nation, did you. You didn’t see any Ninevites either or Girgashites or Jebusites, or Ammonites or any other mosquito bites.
You didn’t see any Philistines competing in the long jump, did you? No, because long ago they lost their national identity, absorbed into the peoples of the world.
But not the Israelite.
The Tribulation will be that period of time when ethnic Israel – this elect nation will experience national conversion and the fulfillment of God’s covenant to them as they inherit the land and promise and throne forever – Romans chapter 11.
Let me remake the statement again – perhaps the last time – if you keep praying.
The Tribulation is not a time for the church to suffer the wrath of God – then or at any other time, for that matter.
I’ve had people say to me, “Stephen the only reason you believe in the rapture is because you don’t wanna go through the Tribulation.”
No kidding . . . you came up with that all by yourself?”
I won’t say that . . . but I’ll usually ask them, “Why do you think the church should suffer through the Tribulation?”
And they will typically say something like, “Because the church needs to be purified.”
First of all that’s terrible theology – both practically and biblically.
It’s terrible practical theology, because when someone says, “The church really needs to be purified first before it enjoys the kingdom of God,” I want to ask them, which church are you talking about?
The church in Sudan – where thousands of believers have been slaughtered?
Are you talking about the church in Iran and Saudi Arabia, where to accept Christ is to lose your life?
Are you talking about the church in China which is continuing to imprison and torture believers?
The problem is they are interpreting prophecy through American eyes – through Western eyes.
The blood of the martyrs is flowing now more than ever around the world.
I received the latest publication from the Voice of the Martyrs organization which surveys the world scene for testimonies of those who die for their faith in Christ. I could hardly put down this updated version which added the years 200 to 2006.
Testimonies like an evangelical pastor named Benestey Escobar in Columbia who was confronted by Marxist guerrillas as they stormed into his church service, dropping onto the floor the body of a Christian they had recently killed. They told the 35 year old pastor that unless he left their village he would end up like this person. He refused to leave. Two weeks later, they returned to that church service, walked up and shot him in the leg, warning him again to cease his preaching in their community. He refused, saying he would obey God and continue his ministry. They said they’d return in two weeks . . .they kept their promise and returned two weeks later, dragged him out the pulpit and into the street where, in front of his wife, children and congregation, shot him repeatedly until he dead. / Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs (Bridge-Logos, 2007), p. 472
Not long ago, North Korean Christians were herded together and their children were taken from them to be hung until they died unless the parents recanted. The parents refused to abandon their faith in Jesus Christ and as their children were being hanged they all began to sing together through their tears, “More love, O Christ, to Thee, more love to thee.” / Ibid, p. 425
This latest publication documented the suffering and even martyrdom of believers in country after country over just the last few years.
So when I hear some well meaning believer say, “The church needs to go through the Tribulation because it needs to suffer,” I think, how utterly embarrassing!
That’s terrible practical theology simply because the church has been suffering as the scriptures prophesied since her inception 2,000 years ago. You will suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)
But it’s also poor biblical theology – that is, according to the doctrinal teaching of the believers’ position in Christ.
The Christian does not have to be further purified in order to enter God’s presence, the believer has been purified in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We are not earning the righteousness of Christ; we have the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote in Philippians 3:9, Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.
We’re not earning it . . . we have it!
Furthermore, the church does not merit the grace of God – that’s unbiblical theology – there’s not a list of things to do to earn the grace of God – we have been given the grace of God through the merit of Jesus Christ.
Grace is defined as unmerited favor from God. In other words, if you earned it, it wouldn’t be grace.
Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:8)
And we watched the scene unfold earlier in Revelation chapters 4 & 5 where we, the raptured church, sing to our gracious Redeemer.
The church, symbolized by 24 elders, wearing white garments as Christ promised His church; wearing crowns upon their heads, as Christ promised the church; seated upon thrones promised by Christ to the church, in fact, reinforced by the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Corinthian Christians and said, “Do you not know that the saints will one day judge the world?” (I Corinthians 6:2)
In other words, the church, in heaven during the Tribulation, will return with Christ as the Tribulation comes to a close and as Christ sets up his kingdom and we, as co-regents with Him, will rule and reign during this dazzling, glorious kingdom on earth for 1,000 years – and then a new heaven and earth beyond that.
While we do not know when the rapture will occur, we do know that after the rapture occurs, the Tribulation will begin with an amazing peace treaty that brings peace to the Middle East.
Matthew chapter 24 and Revelation chapter 6 provide a complimentary commentary on one another and we learn that the Tribulation period begins with the presence of peace between the nations surrounding Israel.
The peace maker is the soon to be revealed Antichrist. He is able to broker a peace deal that settles the Middle east for a period of 3 ½ years.
Then at the midpoint of the Tribulation the enemy will launch a blood bath, primarily aimed at the Jewish people as he seeks to wipe them out in one final holocaust.
That’s one of the reasons the Jews flee from the Antichrist who seeks to exterminate them in one final holocaust. (Revelation 12:17)
It isn’t simply anti-Semitism. It is Satan’s attempt to keep the prophecies of a reconstituted nation Israel in their land, which, if he can do that, will make null and void further prophecies of Christ ruling from David’s throne in Jerusalem.
And so we studied the flight of Israel where God provides supernatural protection while they hide out.
Many evangelical Bible scholars have suggested Petra as their hiding place . . . and for good reason.
Most of the buildings in this ancient city were literally carved into the sandstone hills 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.
Around A.D. 551, an earthquake caused the people to abandon it, fearing for their lives, should the mountains collapse.
Some of the buildings were beautifully carved into the mountains.
Excavation has revealed major roadways, shops and homes carved deeply into the sandstone.
Petra was rediscovered in 1812 and has been a point of fascination ever since.
One of the reasons Petra would make such a great place to retreat during the Tribulation is the fact that it is easy to defend.
Most of the buildings can only be reached on foot, or on a donkey or camel.
In fact, enemy soldiers would have a difficult time sending a large army into this area without having to march in single file.
Since much of Petra is surrounded by sheer cliffs, this would certainly be an easy area to protect.
We also know that the Antichrist’s agenda is not only the extermination of Jews, but the exaltation of his own divinity as he forges a one world government and a one world economy.
The concept of a one-world government and a one-world economy and a one-world religion are not new to us today.
Throughout history, the world of mankind has fought for world domination. Alexander the Great had his dreams and hoped one day to rule the world from Babylon.
Napoleon attempted it as well and had plans drawn up for the rebuilding of Babylon.
None of the attempts at a unified world system under the rule of one man has yet to succeed.
As you look around today at the rising volume of nations clamoring for a one world government and a one world economy, and you look at major religious bodies shedding as much of their beliefs as they can in order to somehow forge a unified religion, you can’t help but wonder if this indeed the time.
You can’t help but wonder if those footsteps you see under the stage curtain scurrying around and the sounds of props being slid into place signal that this is indeed the moment in world history where the curtain will rise; the church be raptured; and the Tribulation soon begun.
I found it fascinating that between our last session and this session, several news items came across my desk.
This summer, the summit was held by the largest governments in the northern hemisphere – commonly known as G8. The delegations that met included the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada.
Each year these countries hold a summit meeting. Part of their agenda is discussion of a global economy.
In fact, what made news this summer, following this latest G8 Summit, was the president of Russia calling for a currency to replace the dollar and the euro and every other national currency.
He even pulled from his pocket a sample coin that had already been minted in Belgium and presented to each delegation at the summit.
On the face of the coin are the words, “unity in diversity”. The president of Russian said, the fact that these coins are being minted means they’re getting ready. It think it’s a good sign that we understand how interdependent we are. / Bloomberg.com 7/10/2009
From what I read, Russia and China are particularly interested in seeing this global currency rolled out.
Another news item caught my eye; on the eve of the G8 Summit, Pope Benedict issued a statement that was presented to all the G8 leaders. His statement, issued by the Vatican, called for these leaders to establish a world political authority to oversee the economies of our world. He went on to urge the members of these 8 industrial giant nations to work together to form a global political body. / Rachel Donadio, “Pope Urges New World Economic Order” (NY Times, 7/7/2009)
This particular Pope has already called for unity among the major religions of the world, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
10 years ago Robert Reich of Harvard University said with almost prophetic precision, “We are living through a transformation that will re-arrange the politics and economics of the [21st] century. Each nation’s primary political task will be to cope with the centrifugal forces of a global economy.” / Mark Bailey, The Road to Armageddon (Word Publishing, 1999), p. 50)
This is no surprise to prophetic scripture.
We have studied at length the rise of a 10 nation coalition, headed by the Antichrist, which will bring about this one-world government and one-world economy and, during the last half of the Tribulation, a one-world religion.
Just as Nimrod attempted in Genesis 11 to defy God, as he brought the peoples together in that region between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers to build their tower of Babel; so the last Nimrod – the Antichrist, will call everyone together in one unified voice to defy God and ultimately march against His city, His people and His coming kingdom.
Just as Nimrod’s ancient Babylon was the first city of man to defy God, so the Antichrists Babylon will be the last city of man to defy God.
There on the banks of that same river in modern day Iraq, the capital city of Babylon will be rebuilt as the capital city for Antichrist’s world-wide empire.
Babylon will rise again as the great city of man’s power and man’s rebellion against God.
You see, after Nimrod was defeated by virtue of God’s confusion of mankind’s one language into many languages (Genesis 11). For centuries afterward, Babylon as a city was fairly insignificant.
But then it was built to unrivaled splendor under the rule of a King named Nebuchadnezzar.
Nebuchadnezzar built the empire city of Babylon more gloriously than any city had ever been built.
His hanging gardens would become one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – with gardeners working 24/7.
The walls and gates of Babylon were stunning.
The most famous inner gate in Babylon was the Ishtar Gate – named in honor of Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess who was considered the Queen of Heaven.
The gate of Ishtar was made of blue slate tiles and painted with gold dragons and bulls. It was built by Nebuchadnezzar, and was also considered one of the ancient wonders of the world.
Much of the gate has been excavated and preserved.
In fact, the inscription on the Ishtar gate, dating back to Nebuchadnezzar, was excavated and is now in the museum in Berlin.
Let me read to you a translation of some of that inscription, ordered by Nebuchadnezzar about himself, and I quote,t:
Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the faithful prince appointed by the will of Marduk (their chief god) has learned to embrace wisdom, who fathomed their divine being and revere their majesty; the untiring governor who is constantly concerned with the well-being of Babylon… the wise, the humble (I like that part), the King of Babylon. Near the end of the inscription he dictated these words, “I placed bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze upon them in wonder.”
And the world would indeed marvel as they entered through these gates at the glory of Babylon and the greatness of this city of man.
It was this Babylon that defeated Jerusalem and took the Israelites into their Babylonian captivity.
One particular Jewish exile would walk through these very gates and probably gape with amazement at things he had never seen before.
This teenage exile would eventually rise in power to second in command of the entire Empire of Babylon – a man named Daniel who would one day prophecy that this city of man would ultimately be defeated by the city of God.
John adds the details that we’ve studied thus far in Revelation that Babylon will be rebuilt – to greater glory than before – and it will try once again at the end of human history to overthrow the New Jerusalem as Christ descends at the end of the Tribulation.
Only in that epoch battle of Revelation 18 called the Battle of Armageddon, Jesus Christ with his returning Bride defeats the armies of Antichrist as He touches down with His New Jerusalem descending from the skies.
Since the time of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon crumbled into the dust.
Saddam Hussein attempted to rebuild some of its glory, claiming kinship with his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, of old.
Saddam even rebuilt a smaller version of the Ishtar gate which didn’t quite bring back the glory.
He even rebuilt some of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and surrounding walls, which does give you a picture of the splendor of this ancient city.
The one who will succeed in rebuilding the glory of Babylon will be the Antichrist – empowered by Satan himself.
And the city of man will march against Jerusalem, the city of God and be defeated with one word of the returning King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
At that moment, the next major section – the third section – of Revelation unfolds. We’re ready for the next scene in this drama of God’s redemptive plan.
We’ve studied the sovereignty of Christ in His church – chapters 1-5.
We’ve studied the Severity of Christ in His Chastisement – chapter 6-18.
And now we’re ready to begin studying this third section in Revelation which I’ve outlined as, The Supremacy of Christ in His Coming – chapters 19 & 20.
Now some of you type A students heard me say earlier that I’ve outlined the Book of Revelation into 4 sections. And I’ve only given you 3 of them. So you’re going to come up afterward and ask me what that fourth section is called.
So I’ll give it to you now . . .
The Satisfaction of Christ in His New Creation (chs. 21 & 22)
How long will it be before we study this fourth and final section on heaven? I don’t know – we just might enter it before we study it.
I’m convinced the stage is being set! We can see movement beneath the curtain . . . we can hear muffled sounds that indicate the props on the stage of human history are being set for the next scene.
I like the words to that old gospel chorus that sums it all up rather simply – it goes like this;
It won’t be old Buddha who’s sittin’ on that throne;
And it won’t be old Mohammed that’s calling us home;
It won’t be Hare Krishna who plays that trumpet tune,
Cause we’re going to see the Son, not Reverend Moon.
Amen to that!