Friday, November 2, 2012

Revelation Bible Study - Lesson 38 - Revelation 15:1-8

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. (1-2 NASU)
"Great and marvelous are Your works,
Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the saints!
Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested." (3-4 NKJV)
Then I looked and saw that the Temple in heaven, God's Tabernacle, was thrown wide open. The seven angels who were holding the seven plagues came out of the Temple. They were clothed in spotless white linen with gold sashes across their chests. Then one of the four living beings handed each of the seven angels a gold bowl filled with the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. The Temple was filled with smoke from God's glory and power. No one could enter the Temple until the seven angels had completed pouring out the seven plagues. (5-8 NLT)

For review, what was the purpose of the great and wondrous sign in chapter 12?

The previous great and wondrous sign was the sign of the woman clothed in the sun and all that followed in chapter 12. This was a synopsis of history from God’s point of view. It tells how God has provided for our salvation and Satan’s attempts to thwart God’s plans for the future. In the end times, it shows God’s divine protection for the woman. At the end of the sign Satan went off to persecute Christians.

How does this great and marvelous sign in chapter 15 tie in with the previous? What is its purpose?

This sign takes up where the previous one left off. It is a sign that contrasts God’s eternal provision for His saints with the culmination of His wrath for unrepentant people. Regardless of your view of the rapture, (pre, mid, or post tribulation) it certainly appears that the rapture has occurred. These next four chapters will be an expansion of the harvest of the unrighteous. The only mention of the saints in the next few chapters is to say that they are with the Lamb. There are no more warnings calling for patient endurance. The references to people are all people who have made war against the Lamb, worshiped the beast, cursed God, and refused to repent. God will spend four full chapters explaining and describing His wrath upon unrepentant mankind. 

How has the repetition of the number seven been used in Revelation and what does it now signify? 

As we went through Revelation, we started with the seven lamp stands and seven stars of the seven churches. These three sevens represent the completeness of God’s grace and provision for our salvation.

Judgment starts as we see the end times unfold with seven seals. The last seal yielded seven trumpets. The last trumpet has just sounded and announced seven plagues of God’s wrath. With the last plague, God’s wrath will have been completed. The finality is seen in the three uses of seven, the number of completion.

God’s Wrath

Who are objects of God’s wrath? 

Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (Eph 2:3-5 RSV)

Paul outlines the deep contrast between the lost and the saints (Eph 2:1-10). He is talking about us before we became Christians. At that time, we were following Satan just as surely those who worship the beast. Following Satan shows that all who are currently not Christians are by nature objects of wrath. We were like them. Anyone, no matter who they are, if they have not accepted Jesus and His grace and forgiveness, are objects of this calculated, deliberate wrath of God. These verses make it clear why. They have followed their own evil desires, lusts and disobedience, which naturally aligns them with Satan.  

What about God’s love, aren’t we taught that God is love and the He loves the world (John 3:16)?  

It seems a paradox that God views rebellious people as objects of wrath but that He also loves them enough to save them from His own wrath. Christians are people who were objects of wrath but, because of God’s love, were chosen by His grace and saved by faith. An object of wrath is normally something to be hurled, broken, or beaten. Rather than breaking us, He has raised us up to a position with Himself. This is a result of the kindness God has shown us in Christ. Riches and good works are ahead of us instead of brokenness and misery (Eph 2:10). 

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thess 1:9-10 ESV) 

These verses further outline who is an object of God’s wrath. We start by seeing the good news that Jesus has rescued those who have repented and turned to serve the true God. We were (but are no longer) objects of wrath. By inference, anyone who has not turned to God though Jesus is still an object of wrath. 

What is one thing that you think merits God’s wrath above other things? What verses to you use to support this? 

… They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. (1 Thess 2:15-16 NIV) 

Many people resist the Gospel and therefore will invite God’s wrath. However, the ones described in these verses not only resist coming to Jesus, but also actively hinder others from coming to the Lord. If we really think about people and their activities, many things that unbelievers do are hindrances to the gospel. Insisting that kids wait until they are “old enough” to make a decision before allowing them to be told about “religion” is one way that many parents hider the gospel. Even providing activities like soccer on Sunday for youngsters provides a hindrance. You could even make the same assertion about professional football that is played on Sunday. How many people stay home from church just so they won’t miss the kick off? We are either resisting the gospel or helping the gospel by our actions. 

Do Christians suffer God’s wrath?  

As we look at the wrath to come upon the earth, we need to understand that there is a big difference between God’s wrath and His discipline. In our previous lesson, we had two definitions of wrath and anger. God may be angry or disappointed with Christians when we sin. We may very well suffer His discipline for our actions or the consequences of our sin. We may also have to endure suffering and trials to make sure our faith is pure (1 Peter 1:6-7). We also count these trials as pure joy because we will develop perseverance and character from them (Rom 5:3-5, James 1:2-4).  

For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. (1 Thess 5:9-10 KJV)  

This must be about as clear as it can be stated. Christians are not to suffer wrath. This does not mean we will not suffer. We will not suffer the wrath of God because the opposite of His wrath is salvation though Jesus. This makes it clear cut, black and white. It is one or the other.  

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (John 3:36 KJV)  

John the Baptist said the same thing. Believers have eternal life but the contrast is the reality that His wrath will remain on those who reject Jesus. However, this isn’t what is in store for believers. Jesus told us that if we abide in Him, He will abide in us (John 15:4). The fact is that Jesus remains in us and it will be forever! 

What does Revelation 14:2 reveal about the possibility of people coming to Jesus during the tribulation?

Before the “Left Behind” series started, I had heard some people say that during the tribulation no one would be saved. They say that the rapture takes place before the tribulation and there is a full seven years of God’s wrath during which time it is impossible for anyone to be saved. This can’t be the case because we see that those who have been victorious over the beast are now standing in heaven. It is interesting that they are victorious not just over the beast, but also his image and his number.

This indicates again that one cannot pay lip service to either the image or the number to escape persecution and then expect to be saved. Acceptance of the number, worship of the beast or his image is unacceptable to God. The victorious are beside or on the sea of glass that we saw before in Rev 4:6. They are believers because God has given them harps. They are singing the song of the Lamb. They are people who were Christians at the same time that the Anti-Christ is revealed on earth. They either have died during this time or have been taken up in the harvest described in chapter 14. 

Are the children of believers going to go through these things because they had not reached a time of decision?  

I think that the children who God knows are not old enough to make a decision will be in the harvest with the believing parent if either or both of the parents confess Jesus.  

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. (1 Cor 7:14 KJV)  

I looked up the Greek for this verse and found that the word describing the unbelieving spouse’s spiritual state (sanctified) is almost the same word as the word for that of the children (holy).  

Hagiazo (hag-ee-ad'-zo); from NT:40; to make holy, i.e. (ceremonially) purify or consecrate; (mentally) to venerate.
Hagios (hag'-ee-os); from hagos (an awful thing) [compare NT:53, NT:2282]; sacred (physically, pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially, consecrated):[1]

They are derived from the same word, but it appeared that the spouse’s state is the process by which they could become holy after becoming a believer. They have more opportunity while staying with the believing spouse. The description of the children appears to be a statement that they are already holy. From this viewpoint, children with just one believing parent certainly are going to be spared from God’s wrath. 

Are the children of unbelievers going to go through these things because they had not reached a time of decision?  

This is the point where I believe many are mistaken. Most theologians state that the children of unbelievers will be raptured along with Christians. They believe that any child who dies before reaching the age of accountability will be saved. The “Left Behind” series certainly holds to this doctrine. They base most of their theology on the story of David and his statement when his first son with Bathsheba died.   

But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. (2 Sam 12:23 KJV) 

However, in this case, we must argue that David was a believer. Therefore, based on his faith, his son would be holy and therefore saved since he died well before coming to an age where he could make a decision of his own.  

But Jesus called for them, saying, "Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." (Luke 18:16-17 NASU) 

Most people will only quote Matt 19:14 or Luke 18:16 and leave off verse 17. Mark and Luke both include Jesus’ correlation of the children’s faith with our faith. He makes it clear that these children are coming in faith and that the kingdom belonging to them is not automatic because of their young age. Therefore we need to look further and more information can be found in the Old Testament because all scripture is useful for teaching (2 Tim 3:16). 

Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Sam 15:3 KJV) 

This is consistent with God’s commands to the Israelites in the Old Testament. Many times, He commands that all must be killed among the abominable nations. This is just one example and it occurred well after Israel took over the Promised Land. I really hate to say this, but it looks like these babies were killed because their parents were evil. In the same way, it is biblical logical to say that children who die with unsaved parents will not automatically be saved because of their young age. Neither will they be raptured if they are too young to make a knowledgeable decision. 

Why do people want to believe babies are automatically saved and what difference does it make what we believe? 

We really want to be compassionate and merciful. It seems so unfair that a baby would not go to heaven simply because it didn’t have the mental capacity to make a decision for Jesus. We want to play God and determine for Him who will be saved based on our emotions, not on what He has said.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. (Ps 51:5 NKJV)
The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. (Ps 58:3 NKJV)

Even though most solid Bible-believing churches have an article of faith that declares the utter depravity of mankind, we waffle when it comes to young children. We also don’t want to hurt the feelings of an unbeliever. We don’t want to appear judgmental. We want to be politically correct. In other words, we become people pleasers instead of God pleasers.

If we compromise God’s Word in this, we run the risk of killing our motivation to spread the Gospel. We quench the Holy Spirit whenever we compromise His Word. In addition, because we “know” these little ones will be saved we are less likely to share the Gospel with the parents. After all, they have made their decision and will deserve their condemnation but the children will not be harmed.

We may even expand the definition of who will be saved to those who have never heard the Gospel. Doesn’t it seem unfair that those who have never heard of Jesus would be punished? It is the same problem. We are ignoring what God has said. All have sinned and the wages of sin is death (Rom 3:23, 6:23). In doing this we lose the urgency of the Gospel.

Song of Moses

Exodus 15 is the song of Moses. How is this song of Moses and the Lamb like the one in Exodus? 

The song of Moses tells of God’s power to rescue against unbelievable odds. The song in Revelation is applicable for all saints. He has rescued us against the unbelievable odds that we would ever be declared good enough to be saved. Of course, by our own efforts, it is impossible; however, by Jesus’ efforts it is possible.  

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. (Matt 19:23-24, 26 KJV)  

This really summarizes our spiritual condition, whether we are rich or poor. There are things that are deep within each of us that make it impossible for us to be saved. However, God has made it possible. When we are about to give up on a loved one, friend, or even a well-known public figure that needs salvation, we need to remember that it is possible with God.

In the Revelation passage, all were given harps to use in worship of the Lord. We are not able to worship the Lord in our natural state of sin. As He gives them harps, He gives us the ability to worship Him when we are saved.

These people in heaven have seen the Lord’s rescue. As they sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb, it must seem unfathomable that anyone would not fear and worship the Lord. Yet, those who are left on earth do not fear God in a way that leads them to worship Him. Ironically, as the song of the Lamb indicates, all nations will soon come before Him and worship. Some will be forced to worship Him; however it will be too late for their salvation.

How do the plagues that are about to come on the earth show God’s ways are just and true?

The song also says that all God’s ways are just and true. The unrepentant will see that all of God’s acts are righteous, even the plagues that are about to be brought upon the earth. Just as the plagues that came upon Egypt came from God through Moses, His servant, so these plagues are coming from God.

Some say that nothing evil comes from God. They label anything that causes death, distress, illness, or even inconvenience as evil and coming from Satan. But here we see that great disasters and plagues are going to come from God as a result of His just nature. If punishment is deserved it is not evil. Since God knows all, He is able to judge fairly. 

What is true evilness? Does God promote evil? 

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. (Gen 50:20 KJV)

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28 KJV) 

It has a lot to do with motive and the desired outcome. God’s motives are always pure and He is able to take even the evil that men intend and use it for good.

We have seen in the previous chapters that God has allowed men to fight; He has caused natural disasters; He has done this to bring men to salvation. This is not evil. We only view things as evil because we cannot see the results from an eternal perspective. A murder is evil because of the wrong motives of the murder. On the other hand, disease is not evil because people don’t instigate it. Disease is one of God’s ways of bringing salvation, faithful endurance, or a saint home to Him. Even though the murder is evil, God can use it for good as He did when Joseph was sold into slavery. He can take advantage of what was intended for evil. In Gen 50:20, Joseph explains that God actually intended to use his brothers’ evil to save many lives.

We do not deny the evil in the hearts of man, but at the same time, we affirm God’s ability to bring good through it and can actually praise Him that He allows it because He has much more in store. If this were not true, then we would all be lost.

It was evil to kill Jesus on the cross. The motives and intentions of men were evil. Jesus had to die and God did more than just allow it. It was His plan from the beginning of time (Rev 13:8b). The problem then is not in whether or not God can author evil, it is in our perception of what is evil. God’s righteous acts will soon be revealed as He begins to destroy what is truly evil.

The Temple

What does the temple represent in the Old Testament and what is the significance of this temple in heaven being revealed? 

The temple is the dwelling place of God. In the Old Testament it was where God met men. The commandments were kept in the ark showing that the Law and punishment came from His Word. It was legalistic because God doesn’t tolerate sin. It was meant to show people what sin was and what was correct. It also showed that we couldn’t keep all of God’s righteous Law. Jesus took the punishment described in the Law on Himself and offered a way for us to escape that punishment. However, at this time in Revelation, all who are left on the earth have rejected the way of escape through Jesus. As a result, God is going back to the Law and will now judge by it.

The Plagues

How does the angels’ attire signify that the plagues are just and right? 

As the angels come out, their clothing is very similar to that of Jesus in Rev 1:13. We spent a lot of time talking about the believers’ white clothing. We saw that it represents purity. The angels’ clothing represents the same. These are the ones who are going to pour God’s wrath out on the earth. It is important to see that there is no sin involved in this and that it is a righteous judgment.

The bowls of wrath are given to them by one of the creatures who stands in the presence of God and pronounces that He is holy day and night (Rev 4:8, 9). The re-emphasis on the eternal holy God makes sure we know without a doubt Who it is that is pouring out His wrath. This is the God who has seen everything from the beginning of time. Nothing has escaped His notice. His decision is holy and just. 

How do the believers beside the sea of glass fit in with the Levites, the temple, and the plagues? 

Whenever it is time for the Tabernacle to move, the Levites will take it down. And when it is time to stop, they will set it up again. But any unauthorized person who goes too near the Tabernacle must be put to death. Each tribe of Israel will camp in a designated area with its own family banner. But the Levites will camp around the Tabernacle of the Covenant to protect the community of Israel from the Lord's anger. The Levites are responsible to stand guard around the Tabernacle. (Num 1:51-5 3NLT)  

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 RSV)

The tabernacle of Testimony referred to the tents, the Ark of the Covenant and all the furnishings that were included in the temple. There are two things that are important to note in these verses. If anyone not appointed by God came near, he was to be put to death. The other thing is that the Levites were to camp between the temple and the rest of the Israelites. Part of that was to emphasize that no one who was not appointed or was unworthy was to come near. In Revelation we see the saints who have come near. They are between the temple and the unbelievers on earth.

The plagues are the means by which God will put to death those who have attempted to come to Him by their own works or, like Aaron’s sons who offered their own ideas of what would please God and were burned to death (Lev 10:1).

All who worship the beast are like those in the Old Testament who worshiped other gods. Throughout the book of Jeremiah, God promised that He would consume by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence those who worshiped other gods or listened to false prophets. However, believers will come near to God because all believers in Christ are like the Levites in the Old Testament who carried out the priestly duties.  

What is the significance of the smoke from the glory of God filling the heavenly temple? 

When the glory of God filled the temple in heaven, no one could enter. This is symbolic of the finality of His decision. If no one can enter, then there is no way that God can “change His mind” by someone coming to Him and interceding as when Moses interceded for the nation of Israel in Ex 32:9-14. This could also show the finality of anyone coming to Him through saving faith in Jesus as He pours out His wrath on the earth. No one will come to God until the seven plagues have been finished. God’s wrath must be completed. For us it was completed on the cross. Jesus bore it. For all others, they must bear it themselves and the result is eternal destruction. 

If you were to go through these times in the future, where will you be standing and why? Would you be standing by the sea singing the song of Moses and the Lamb or would you be standing on earth waiting for the seven plagues of God’s wrath?  

If you are like those on the earth who shake your fist in the face of God and want to do your own thing, whether it is a sinful lifestyle or attempting to earn your way via one of many roads other than Jesus, then know with certainty that you will either be standing with those who suffer God’s wrath at the end or sooner.

If you can’t say with 100% certainty that you will be singing with those who are victorious over the beast, then I want you to know that if you surrender to Jesus now, confess your sin, admit that you need Him to forgive your sins and save you, you will be able to stand at His side in eternity. He will give you the ability to repent and overcome the evil in your life. Remember that now there is still time to turn to Jesus. There is no guarantee that there will be after the rapture. If you die before you choose Jesus, you won’t have another chance either.

If you are already certain, then please share the reason for the hope you have with others (1 Peter 3:15-16).

[1] Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.

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