I’ve been studying the book of Revelation and it all started with the last few sessions of The Gospel Project1 Bible study in our 10:00 a.m. Life Group. I found as I read my daily summary from the World News Group (a Christian media company), I became aware of how often world events matched the Bible descriptions of the end times.
In Matthew 24, Jesus gives his disciples a detailed answer to their request: “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (v.3)
I was particularly drawn to His description of the “beginning of birth pains” (v.8) that includes wars, rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, famines, earthquakes and other “natural” disasters. We recently discussed in our weekly Care Group the frequency of these very things and their increasing destructiveness. You have probably noticed it as well – fires, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, heat waves, etc. occurring with greater frequency and broader impact – as well as wars, rebellions, uprisings, and conflicts around the globe.
In 2 Timothy 3:2-6, Paul describes the kind of behavior we would increasingly see and experience – sound familiar?
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
For both believers and unbelievers, reconciling a loving God with the extent of death and destruction we currently see in the fallen world is a real stumbling block to faith. And from the description of the Tribulation – the four horsemen, the seven scrolls, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls – we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. After completing my study, I felt a lot like John in chapter 10, vv. 9-10. I rejoiced in the defeat of God’s enemies, Jesus’ repossession of the earth He created, the vindication of His saints, and the establishment of the new heaven and earth. At the same time, like John, my stomach turned “sour” at the distress that precedes this final victory of God and His Messiah.
However, God both reminded me and revealed to me some important things I wanted to share with you.
One: God’s purpose is always to save those that are enslaved to sin and adrift in rebellion. He sent Jesus to seek and save the lost. It is His good and perfect will that none perish (Matthew 18:14, 2 Peter 3:9).
Two: God’s will and way are always just. Pastor Kris2 pointed out that God settles the question of whether His judgment is fair in Ezekiel, chapter 18. Human beings are given a clear choice and specific consequences of that choice. God shows that He does justice but loves mercy. We can choose either forgiveness or fairness. If we accept His gift of salvation, made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we escape His wrath and our broken relationship with Him is restored. Here we see God’s kindness, compassion, and mercy. However, most of mankind is stubborn in their rebellion and grows increasingly hard-hearted. When kindness doesn’t work, God uses calamity, distress, disasters, catastrophes, tragedies and misfortune to get our attention. As C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” If we remain deaf and reject His gift of salvation, then we get fairness. We get what we deserve, reaping the results of our own sinful behavior.
Three: a realization I missed completely in earlier readings of Revelation is that MILLIONS of people get saved during the Tribulation. God shakes the earth to show the inhabitants that created things can be destroyed and don’t last. He wants them to let go of the temporary and grab hold of the eternal. He is shouting to those that have gained the whole world and lost their souls. Praise God, many respond and lose their earthly lives but receive salvation and eternal life with Him. There they are under the altar in Revelation 6:9, wearing white robes dipped in the blood of Christ.
Now I have a new perspective when I watch the news. God loves us and often resorts to “desperate measures” to get our attention. When we don’t listen to His quiet whispers or patient words, He shouts to get our attention – DANGER AHEAD unless you repent and follow Jesus. For too many years I refused to submit to His authority and accept His gift of grace. It took several disasters to break my self-rule and independence. Based on that experience and my recent study of Revelation, I have a new prayer for my unsaved friends, family members and colleagues – “God, do whatever it takes to bring the prodigal home.” The stakes are enormous and the cost of saying “No” to Jesus is the loss of everything that is good and right – Forever.
1The Gospel Project is a chronological in-depth study of the Bible from Lifeway. The CCF team will be starting a new multi-year study in the fall so I invite you to join us. I have learned so much from the interactive discussions and great teaching/facilitation of Tom, Jim, Steve, Todd and Stephen!
2 If you are interested in an easy to use and yet comprehensive resource for the study of Revelation, I recommend Through the Word app. TTW has a seven-part combination audio and scripture reading study on the YouVersion Bible app called “Revelation Explained.” Each audio is narrated by Pastor Kris Langham, the teaching pastor at Refuge Long Beach in California.