Seven Spotless Angels

“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.”
Revelation‬ ‭15:6-8‬ ‭NLT

As John’s eyes remained fixed on the Temple vision, he noticed seven angels appear. They were holding the seven plagues. He didn’t elaborate on how this would be possible. How do you hold a plague? But the origins of plagues aren’t visible to human eyes without optical or similar assistance. Viruses and bacteria are incredibly small living organisms, so John, perhaps through his spirit, knew the angels had something terrible to unleash on the earth. As we know, a small glass phial would have been sufficient.

The seven angels “were clothed in spotless white linen with gold sashes across their chests”. In other translations, there is a hint that these angels were clothed in a precious stone, but we get the picture that the clothes represent purity and righteousness. Back in Revelation 1:13, John recorded, “And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest.” Perhaps the gold sashes were a badge of honour for those belonging to Christ.

In John’s vision, one of the “living beings” enters his field of view. This time he appears to be a messenger, carrying seven bowls, one for each of the angels. These bowls contained God’s anger, ready to be poured out on the earth and all those remaining in it. And the scene finishes with the picture of the seven beautifully dressed angels, carrying golden bowls and glass phials containing the plagues, and the Temple full of smoke from God’s glory and power.

Back in Isaiah 6, the earthly Temple was filled with the smoke of God’s presence. Isaiah wrote, referring to the seraphim flying around in God’s presence, “They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.” (‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭6:3-4‬ ‭NLT). This wasn’t your ordinary smoke, pouring out of a chimney or from a burning trash can. This was the glory and power of God, so tangible that it appeared to natural eyes as smoke. But surely the original “Holy Smoke”?

The seven bowls contained “the wrath of God“. An angry amalgam of God’s anger, that had been building up for ages, anger with the stubbornness of mankind, who were still unrepentant until, literally, the last minute of time. And before them was the stubbornness of previous generations, who had died in their sins. There was no more opportunity to repent now. The Gospel had been declared. God’s grace and patience had finally ended. The seven plagues were the final judgement, completing the End Times and allowing new beginnings to be established.

To us pilgrims, it is inexplicable that so many people in our families and communities have stubbornly resisted all contact with God. But we keep trying anyhow, with our appeals, our sharing, our love and grace. We never give up sharing the Good News about God, making opportunity of every moment. But just to let these people face the consequences of their reluctance to embrace the One who created them is not in God’s plan. Not yet anyway. As long as we have breath we will share our faith in the One who deserves all the glory, all the honour, all the praise, all the worship.

Dear Father God. We don’t know when the clock will finally click over into the ultimate End of Time. But we do know the Clockmaker. And we praise and worship You today. Amen.

The Temple of the Holy Spirit

“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.”
Revelation‬ ‭15:5-6 NLT

God’s house in Heaven is open. Wide open. But why should there be a Temple in Heaven? One reason could be that it has been ordained by God. He gave Moses detailed instructions about what would be a suitable place for Him to live in when on earth. It’s a fascinating set of ancient blueprints delivered, not as a set of architectural drawings, complete with material specifications and fabric requirements, but as a written set of instructions, embellished with guidance from the Holy Spirit when needed. In Exodus 25:8-9, God said to Moses, “Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. You must build this Tabernacle and its furnishings exactly according to the pattern I will show you”. Perhaps God gave Moses a picture of how the Tabernacle would look and he wrote down the “pattern” for subsequent generations to follow, if necessary. But notice it wasn’t either God or Moses who built the original Tabernacle – it was the people. Ordinary, everyday, people who used to be slaves in Egypt. The instructions that God gave Moses for building the Tabernacle were incredibly detailed, even down to the quantities of materials. Don’t forget that Moses was not a qualified architect, designer or quantity surveyor – he had been a sheep farmer for most of his life. But God is our Heavenly Architect who knows everything. So Moses, and the obedient people, built a home for God.

Are we pilgrims Tabernacle builders or do we lack interest in doing such a thing? Do we need a Tabernacle today, to act as a home for God, or do we find such a concept unnecessary? Of course, in these times of the New Covenant, there is no need for a physical building to focus our worship, though this has not always been the case. Just look at the amazing cathedrals and churches that have been built over the centuries, to act as places of worship. That fact that so many of them are still standing today is a testimony to the skills of the architects and construction workers of bygone years. 

So we can, rather smugly perhaps, look back at the paraphernalia of the Old Testament accounts of the Tabernacle and the Temple and think such things are of no relevance for modern day pilgrims. That is, until we read in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Don’t you realise that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself,”. The Temple of the Old Testament becomes our bodies in the New Covenant. And all of a sudden, as the penny drops, as the implications of what this means hits us, we see the importance of the Temple, God’s Tabernacle. There was nothing impure and unholy in the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple. And the Temple within us has the same requirement. We are called to be pure and holy, a fit place in which God can dwell. In 1 Peter 1:14-16 we read, “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy””. Of course, no-one can ever achieve this holy state, totally conforming to God’s definition of holiness, through their own efforts. It is only through faith in the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood that we can stand righteous and holy before our Heavenly Father, becoming a temple fit for Him to live in.

Dear Lord, how can we ever thank You enough? You gave up Heaven to join mankind on earth so that You could show us the way home. Thank You. Amen.

The Temple in Heaven

“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.”
Revelation‬ ‭15:5-6 NLT

For anyone who is of a religiously non-conformist outlook, all these references to the Temple, “God’s Tabernacle”, may seem a bit strange. Particularly if their church-going involves a rented room in a hotel or conference centre, or even a bare utilitarian building of the Presbyterian faith. But to the Jews of old, the Temple had a significance far beyond its architecture.

John’s vision of Heaven was incredibly detailed and he seemed to be able to zoom in and out picking up details of this wonderful place. So far we have seen God’s throne there, with other thrones occupied by twenty four elders. We have seen a glassy sea intermingled with fire. Countless martyrs with harps. Four “living beings” of a form unknown in our earth-bound experiences. And the music and song emanating from Heavenly choirs was breathtakingly beautiful. But now John’s vision exposes the Temple. John rubbed the spiritual sleep from his eyes as he noticed that the Temple was wide open. A bit like one of these artist’s impressions of how a building looks inside but from without. Even like a film set, where the cameras have unfettered access from outside a room but giving the impression that the viewer is inside along with the actors. The Temple was wide open. God’s Tabernacle was internally visible to all those qualified to be in Heaven with Him – and of course John through his vision.

There was another time when God exposed His earthly home. When Jesus died on the cross, something significant happened in the Temple, the building in Jerusalem at that time. We pick up the narrative in Matthew 27:50-51, “Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom…”. The curtain was a very heavy and thick piece of fabric that hid the Most Holy Place from outside scrutiny. It was only entered once a year by the priest on duty. He entered with considerable fear and trepidation, to the extent that he had a cord tied to one of his ankles, so that he could be pulled out by those outside the curtain, in the event that God had zapped him because of some misdemeanour. There’s a fascinating story about one of the priests in Luke 1, called Zechariah. He was the father of John the Baptist. We read, “One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar….. Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realised from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:8-9, 11, 21-22‬ ‭NLT). The Jews expected something significant to be associated with the Temple, God’s Tabernacle.

But here we have in John’s vision God’s Temple exposed for all those in Heaven to see. God and His presence totally transparent and visible. Any relevance here for 21st Century pilgrims? Yes there is, because when Jesus died, the veil, that heavy and dense curtain, was torn in two. Not just a little tear in a corner, but a total schism from top to bottom. I visualise it as the complete disintegration of the curtain, which ended up as a pile of dust on the Temple floor. We read about the significance of this in Hebrews 10:20-22, “By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” There is now no veil to stop blood-bought Christians from entering God’s presence. Through Jesus’ death at Calvary, He took on board our sins and instead made us righteous in God’s sight, to the extent that we can enter His space, and refer to Him as “Abba”. We read in Galatians 4:6, “And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”” What does this word “Abba” mean? It means “Daddy” or “Papa”. Folks, we have the opportunity to enter into the very presence of our Heavenly Dad. How amazing is that? Let’s not hold back. Let’s rush in and grasp all that He has for us. He’s the perfect Dad!

Dear Dad, thank You for allowing us to enter the presence of the One who loves us and cares for us. We may hold back in awe from You but nothing delights You more than to welcome us in to Your very home. We are so grateful. Amen.

The Song of Moses and the Lamb

“I saw before me what seemed to be a glass sea mixed with fire. And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name. They were all holding harps that God had given them. And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvellous are your works, O Lord God, the Almighty. Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous deeds have been revealed.””
Revelation‬ ‭15:2-4 NLT

In his vision, John saw a “marvellous event of great significance” and here we have the End Time martyrs standing before God singing a song, the first line of which goes, “Great and marvellous are your works, O Lord God”. This was the “song of Moses” and the “song of the Lamb”. Moses was very much a part of the Old Covenant, the foundation of the pre-Christ Jewish nation. Jesus, the Lamb of God, brought in the New Covenant. The essence of the Old Covenant we can find in Deuteronomy 30:15-16, “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.” The Epistle to the Hebrews links the two in 8:9-10, “This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the Lord. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” But in naming this song after both Moses and Jesus, in some way the two covenants are being brought together.

The song the martyrs sang didn’t include any references to the terrible times and earthly deaths they had experienced at the hands of the beasts. It was totally God-focused, the words “you” and “your” mentioned seven times. It was a song dedicated to God, in whom they had the victory. They, of course, had been victorious over the beasts because they had arrived in Heaven and were in God’s presence. The one thing the beasts were trying to stop had happened regardless. We saw it with Jesus at Calvary. The devil and his forces thought they had conquered the very Son of God, but soon found out that when Jesus rose again, the devil’s defeat was announced and resulted in his public humiliation. 

We pilgrims are assured that, regardless of what plans the devil may try and concoct against us, we are on the winning side. Jesus, through His sacrifice at Calvary, defeated death itself. We transition, at the end of our lives, into experiencing Eternal Life in God’s presence. The End Time martyrs found that their transition happened earlier than it would have done otherwise, but the result was the same. And if we know of anyone who isn’t on the winning side, we double our efforts to make sure they know all about our wonderful Heavenly Father, and His Son Jesus.

Dear Heavenly Father. We thank You that through You we are winners. we are so grateful. Amen.

The Glass Sea

“I saw before me what seemed to be a glass sea mixed with fire. And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name. They were all holding harps that God had given them.”‭‭
Revelation‬ ‭15:2‬ ‭NLT

The Apostle John must have been approaching exhaustion with all these visions. Daniel too received visions and we read in Daniel 10:8, “So I was left there all alone to see this amazing vision. My strength left me, my face grew deathly pale, and I felt very weak”. But John, like Daniel, faithfully recorded what he saw, casting aside the human weaknesses that threatened to close down God’s revelations. John could now see “a glass sea mixed with fire”. That fact that he used the word “seemed” described something he had never seen before, so he wrote down what it appeared to be. But what was this sea of glass? Glass is a reflective substance, as well as being something that is transparent. So perhaps the “glass sea” was a reflection of God, and the transparency allowed all to see His character. The fact that the glass was mixed with fire could indicate the judgement to come. 

The glass sea was a special place for all those dear saints who had endured to the end, in spite of all the attempts of the beast to ensure otherwise. They resisted worshipping the beast’s statue. They resisted having the mark of the best applied to their persons. And they were therefore victorious over the beast. It is interesting to note that victory took place in spite of their possible demise at the beast’s hands. Victory was recorded when they triumphantly stood before God. Winners indeed.

They were each holding a harp, John’s vision records. Now before this, the only harp-holders were the twenty four elders, who appeared in Revelation 5:8, “And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people“. So those standing on the glass sea, were worthy of making music in Heaven. And it was God Himself who handed them out. Can you imagine that? So all those people who hold the populist view of people wearing a white gown, wings protruding from their shoulders, sitting on a cloud and playing a harp is probably just fiction.

The problem with human beings is that we often look at short term goals and gains, instead of looking to the long term. We want to receive any rewards in the now, rather than bank them for some time in the future. But we pilgrims have to consider our lives as extending into eternity. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal“. (Matthew 6:20). Jesus’ teaching was clear – looking for rewards during our natural lives will be of no benefit to us once we reach Heaven. We cannot take anything with us out of this world. The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes said, “We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us. And this, too, is a very serious problem. People leave this world no better off than when they came. All their hard work is for nothing—like working for the wind“. (Ecclesiastes 5:15-16).

So those pilgrims who could see the truth were intent on ensuring that one day they will be with God. Their faith was unshakeable. Their resolve faultless. I’m sure there were times when the going was so tough that they considered giving up. But once they stood on that sea of glass, all become OK. What was behind them was just that – in the past. May we too take inspiration from their example, and pray too that we will endure to the end.

Dear Father God. The feeling of standing in Your presence, worshipping the only One worthy of such a focus, must be amazing. Please help us when we throw a wobbly, and the thought of giving up flits across our minds. Our strength is in You. Amen.

The Seven Last Plagues

“Then I saw in heaven another marvellous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion.”
Revelation‬ ‭15:1‬ ‭NLT

John’s vision moved on to “another marvellous event of great significance”. Why should even more misery in the form of plagues be marvellous? Hadn’t the occupants on earth had enough? But in John’s vision, he saw another seven angels and they were holding these plagues. But these plagues were about to bring an end to God’s wrath. No more after this.

One thing we don’t know in all these End Times events is how long a period of time occurred as they were rolled out. I have always been under the impression that these days haven’t yet started, but as I dig further and further into John’s revelation, I am increasingly aware that the End Times epoch commenced some time ago, probably not long after Jesus returned to Heaven. And ever since then bits of John’s vision have appeared, working their way through global events. For example, was the recent Covid pandemic, global in its reach, one of the End Times plagues? Will we see a requirement for global ID’s in our lifetimes? Don’t we already have the technology? But in these days, however they occur in the history of Planet Earth, we displace any feelings of fear with those of faith. Faith in our wonderful Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus, who is preparing a place for us in Heaven.

John saw “another marvellous event of great significance”. What was that? Perhaps the beauty of the angels, all the seven who appeared at once? Or the nature of the bowls containing the plagues? Or the introduction to this last episode of torment for the global population? We don’t really know, but one thing I do know. As a pilgrim myself, I also experienced a “marvellous event of great significance”. There was a day when I moved from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light. I became a Christian. Nothing can be more significant in a person’s life than receiving the assurance that one day that person will live in God’s presence for all eternity. 

I have met many people over the years who do not believe that there is an afterlife. Or that there is going to be a time of judgement. I share my faith with them, warning them in the process that they are walking a dangerous path. The 17th Century philosopher, Blaise Pascal, a Catholic theologian, came up with this quote, “If I believe in God and life after death and you do not, and if there is no God, we both lose when we die. However, if there is a God, you still lose and I gain everything”. But ultimately, reason and logic are poor substitutes for the love and grace of God. There was that day when I discovered that God was, and is, real. His love for mankind is real. His presence is real. Jesus is real. The Apostle Paul, writing in Romans 8, said this, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” To me, and in my experience, that is not just “another” event, but the “marvellous event of great significance”. I

Father God, we pilgrims are so grateful that You graciously performed a significant event in our lives. You accepted our stumbling and stammering words of repentance and in turn declared us righteous before You through the Blood of Jesus. No words can describe our thanks. We worship You today. Amen.

The Winepress

“After that, another angel came from the Temple in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. Then another angel, who had power to destroy with fire, came from the altar. He shouted to the angel with the sharp sickle, “Swing your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are ripe for judgment.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great winepress of God’s wrath. The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle. 
Revelation 14:17-20 NLT

John’s vision has become rather gruesome. In fact, he describes a scenario that, if taken literally, would be inexplicable. So to make any sense of what is going on, we have to try and interpret the events. If we take the key players in the scene, we have angels, the Heavenly Temple, sickles, fire, grapes, a wine press and lots of blood. They all add up to nothing short of a devastating war of some kind. This might even be a picture of the Armageddon that appears so often in literature and film. As in all good films there are “goodies” and “baddies”. We know who the “goodies” are because the angels are associated with the Temple. The clusters of grapes are the “baddies”, and the picture emerges of a complete victory over the “baddies” by God’s forces, His angels, and their subsequent annihilation. The reference to the quantity of blood perhaps implies that the forces arraigned against God’s angels were numerically considerable. We don’t know what weapons the “baddies” had, but they turned out to be totally ineffective against the angels, who had sickles and fire.

So what do we pilgrims make of all this? It seems that a war of proportions never seen before on Planet Earth is coming. And the slaughter of those who dare to take on God will be complete. This must be a comforting thought for all those who are, and have been, persecuted during their lifetime, for being counted amongst God’s holy people. Those people who have been crying out to God for relief from the abuse they have been receiving will be encouraged to keep on, because they know what will happen, in the end, to their abusers. 

As we read the next chapters, the world will enter a period of effective meltdown, as a number of events are rolled out to complete the End Times. But at this point, God’s wrath against sin and wicked people is finally being dispensed. The season of grace is over. In the end we know that a holy and righteous God, no matter how patient He has been, has to set right the imbalance between holiness and unholiness, between purity and impurity. In the post-End Times world, whatever form that will be, wickedness and sin will be unknown. Evil will have been flushed away in the blood flowing from the wine press of God’s wrath.

We pilgrims, perhaps becoming a bit weary of the increasingly bleak scenes coming our of John’s vision, must follow the Scripture written in Hebrews 12:12-13. “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” Our journeys haven’t yet ended. Our promised land is just over the horizon, but we will arrive there one day, if we “endure to the end”. And those brothers and sisters journeying alongside us, who are perhaps finding the going too tough and who want to give up, the “weak and lame”, they need our encouragement and support as well. They need kind words and friendship. They need our prayers and, often, practical help. Together God’s people will arrive at the finishing post, listening to the cheers of the angels and those brothers and sisters who arrived before us. The pilgrim’s journey through life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. 

Dear Father God. We thank You for the Heavenly home, within which we will be a resident one day. Please help us to stay true and firm in our faith on the journey ahead. Amen.

The Sickle

“Then I saw a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was someone like the Son of Man. He had a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came from the Temple and shouted to the one sitting on the cloud, “Swing the sickle, for the time of harvest has come; the crop on earth is ripe.” So the one sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the whole earth was harvested.”‭‭
Revelation‬ ‭14:14-16 ‭NLT

In this next scene in John’s vision, Jesus appears. The Son of Man, the Son of God. We gaze, together with John, with a feeling that the time has finally arrived. The time for dealing with the peoples of the world and their sin and wickedness. John saw that Jesus was wearing a golden crown. This wasn’t just some ornamental piece of headgear. This was a crown won in battle. The crown worn by the Overcomer, the defeater of the devil and all his minions. We remember poignantly the last time the world saw Jesus. He was wearing a crown of thorns. Cruel spikes piercing the skin around His scalp. At a time when the devil and his helpers thought they had defeated God’s own Son. But they couldn’t have been more wrong. Jesus, and His father, were graciously playing the long game. They could see down the millennia to the time when the harvest was ripe. Sin and wickedness had run its course. There would be no more.

Jesus was seated on a cloud and he was carrying a “sharp sickle” in His hand. This was an implement used before the age of farm machinery, and skilled harvesters used it cut the fields of wheat and other cereal crops, before it was gathered in and threshed and winnowed and ground, to provide a staple diet for peoples everywhere. An ubiquitous tool, but here, in John’s vision, it had a special role, before it was finally discarded. After this harvest there would be no need for such an implement.

Jesus told a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven, and the final harvest. It is recorded in Matthew 13. And to make sure His disciples understood the message, Jesus explained it to them later in the chapter. Jesus’ audience were the people of His day, and they all claimed to be Jews. But Jesus used this parable to explain that His true followers were the good seed, but the weeds were those people belonging to the evil one, the devil. Both were allowed to live together in the nations of the world. One day, on the Day of Judgement, the two would be separated. The implication is that not all who claimed to be Jews were in fact His true followers. And so it is today with our Christian communities. But God sees every heart. He knows what resides inside a person’s mind. He knows who His true followers are. In His explanation of the parable, Jesus said, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭13:41-42‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

Christian brothers and sisters can be offended, if there is a hint of discrimination between “nominal Christians” and true followers of Christ. I have had a discussion with people who sincerely believe that if they go to church, they will be OK on Judgement Day. They may well be – I am not in a position to judge and it’s not my place – but Jesus was concerned enough to give the story of the Wheat and the Weeds, and also another parable in Matthew 25:31-46 about the Sheep and the Goats. There was even another occasion towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus defined who His true disciples were. We read in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” So we pilgrims need to know where we will stand once the sickle starts swinging.

I suppose there is always the question – what about those who died before these grim and scary days in the End Times? The impression I personally get from Scripture is that when we die, we will go to some holding place. As far as I am aware, Jesus is still preparing a place for us (John 14:3). And He said to the thief hanging next to Him at Calvary, “… I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). So I believe that Christians who die before the end times will end up in a place Jesus called Paradise. It may be Heaven by another name. But there our spirits will reside until the event described by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 happens. “For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died“. For those who are not Christians, I do not know where their holding place will be, because hell hadn’t been created at this point in the End Times. All sorts of theories abound, and I particular like the fictional account by C S Lewis in his book, the Great Divorce.

But back to the sharp sickle. This marked the final days of all the peoples on Planet Earth. All those dear pilgrims who have faithfully stuck it out to the end, will be rightly rewarded. Let’s make sure we will be counted amongst them.

Dear Father God. The End Times will be hard for those still alive when it happens. So we pray for ourselves and for those still to come, that we will all stand firm to the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Enduring Persecution

“This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently, obeying his commands and maintaining their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!””
Revelation‬ ‭14:12-13 NLT

The third angel continued throughout the earth with his grim message of the consequences for those who decided to follow the beast and his ways. For those who do there may be a short term freedom from difficulties, persecution or worse, but they would then find that their position before the Great Judge would one day be untenable. Their defence counsel, even if there was such a person, would find nothing to offer in mitigation. 

The beast’s demands included, firstly, worshipping the apparently-living effigy of the first beast, the one with the fatal wound that was healed, and, secondly, being marked with an ID on their hands or foreheads. Those who resisted the beast’s demands were finding that their ability to live God’s way was becoming more and more difficult. They found that going about their daily business of working to earn a wage to support their families was getting harder and harder. Not having the beast’s ID was cutting them off from all the benefits of being in society. We get a hint of the difficulties they will encounter by looking at the situation here in the UK for those who neither have a permanent address or a bank account. Such people end up living on the streets and rely on charities to provide the occasional meal, hot drink and clothes. But in these desperate times of the beasts, such charities would be discouraged I’m sure. 

God’s holy people, Christians, were being marginalised by the new world order. We must remember that there is no compassion at all in the ways of the devil and his minions. Nothing but cruelty, wickedness and evil. Non-conforming people would end up facing the stark reality that they would eventually starve. Can you imagine the scene, with someone trying to use what little money they had remaining to purchase some food, and being turned away because of the lack of the beast’s mark? Desperate times for God’s holy people indeed.

But John saw all this in his vision, and he marvelled at the fortitude of those Christians who still held out, refusing to bow their knees before the beast and his ways. They had the spirit of the three Jewish men, that we read of in Daniel 3. The key verses that have echoed throughout the ages right through to these desperate End Times days. We read in Daniel 3:16-18, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”” Jesus gave His disciples a sobering hint of what these days would look like. In Matthew 24:9-10 we read, ““Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are My followers. And many will turn away from Me and betray and hate each other.”

In his musings, John heard a voice from Heaven. A voice of encouragement and pride. Pride in the fact that there were people on earth who would rather die than sacrifice their faith on the devil’s altar. And the reward waiting for those who stood firm to the end was far more valuable than the short term gain of conforming to the ways of the beast.

I have heard Christians say that they were very concerned that they are not strong enough to be able to withstand such persecution. But many millions of Christians over the world, in today’s world, do suffer terrible persecution and they stand firm regardless. Sometimes we underestimate the help and support that our Heavenly Father offers those who choose to follow His ways. Jesus encouraged us with His words from John 14:26-27, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid“. Not only will the Holy Spirit be close to us, helping us, giving us the right words to say, but He will also give us an inner peace, something that will be missing from those who don’t know God.

If anyone suffered persecution, it was the Apostle Paul. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “Each time He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong“”. We pilgrims have chosen a hard road, and it will get harder in the End Times. But regardless of where we are in our journey, God is there to help us. “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble“. (Psalm 46:1).

Dear God. We praise and thank You for Your grace and mercy, Your loving kindness, Your provision. Troubles may lie ahead in our journey to our Promised Land, but we know You are joining us in every step. Amen.

The Third Flying Angel

“Then a third angel followed them, shouting, “Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.””
Revelation‬ ‭14:9-11 NLT

It’s time for the third flying angel to make his appearance in John’s vision. And his message is grim. It will obviously be delivered at a time when people are newly acquainted with the beast’s demands, and still have a choice about whether or not to wholeheartedly embrace the statue worship and accept the beast’s mark, the 666 reference, on their hands or foreheads. So just in case there were any who were having doubts about this, an angel appears. He gives them a stark warning – if they choose the way of the beast they will spend eternity in his company. He used words designed to instil terror into his hearers. Words such as fire, sulphur, continual torment. 

From the messages delivered by the three angels it is easy to question why the peoples in the global nations still rejected God and His grace. Everyone by now has heard the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, the Son of God, and what He did for mankind through the cross at Calvary. They now know that the party is over. Their sinful and wicked ways, the immorality of their life styles, has come to an end. And here we have the last warning. Worship the beast, receive his mark, and there’s no way back. In spite of all this, most of the people still alive at this time rejected the angels’ messages. Why? What were they thinking?

In my meanderings around the community where I live, I occasionally have the opportunity to share about Jesus and what He did for mankind, and in particularly for what He has done for me. I find that most people I meet are aware of a spiritual life after death. Not something they want to talk about, but the awareness is there. But I have been taken aback by the anger in some that is directed against anything to do with God. They blame Him for so much. For the death of a loved one. For the state of the economy. For their ill-health. For a natural catastrophe (even insurance companies refer sometimes to an “Act of God”). And I have heard rants against churchgoers, and all that is wrong about them. Are these the sort of people who will hold out to the end, preferring eternal torment to repentance and a life with God? Do we find that inexplicable?

Jesus experienced unbelief and resistance even in the face of His miracles. We read in John 12:37, “But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him.” Why would that still be the case even in His day, when the people were in the presence of the Son of God? The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:4 wrote, “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” Scripture is even more revealing in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, where we read with a reference to the beast, “This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.”

It is so sad when we read these verses. To think that eternal life with God is so close. So accessible. And what makes the situation even more distressing is that there are those in our families, and groups of friends, who will be counted amongst those deceived by satan. What can we do? Thankfully, we are not in a hopeless place, because our loving Heavenly Father is a gracious and loving God. He wants no one to end up in that place we call hell. So we pray. We passionately pray. We call out to Him for our loved ones, that His mercy and grace will somehow penetrate hardened hearts and draw them into that place of grace where they embrace God’s son with love and acceptance. 

Dear Father. We pray for our loved ones today. And we’ll keep on praying until they too find Your grace and mercy. Thank You for Your love and acceptance of every sinner who repents.