Armageddon – the End

“Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur. Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse. And the vultures all gorged themselves on the dead bodies.”
Revelation‬ ‭19:19-21‬ ‭NLT

The scene before John moves on and once again he sees the armies and their leaders. Royalty amongst them. And he also makes out the beast, strutting and boasting before them all. With him was his sidekick, the false prophet. But the soldiers were becoming uneasy. What is that they’re seeing in the distance? For those too far away to see, the word starts circulating that someone has captured the beast and his prophet? Surely not! After all those miracles the false prophet committed? Surely he has another miracle up his sleeve? But no. Before them all, they saw the beast and prophet put in chains, powerless to stop what was happening. Before them a lake of burning sulphur appeared and the army watched as the beast and his prophet were thrown in alive, their screams of pain and terror suddenly extinguished as they disappeared into the fire.

The One sitting on the horse and all His army were looking on. They hadn’t even unsheathed their swords yet. But the removal of the beast and his prophet was the signal for Jesus to unleash His weapon. His Word. And as it went out through the air, the enemies of God, the whole army of generals, soldiers and kings, fell down dead. And the vultures flapped down. Tentatively at first. But there was no life anywhere. And the scene before John slowly faded away. The silence terrible in its implications.

All highly symbolic, I hear you all say. It didn’t really happen that way. Of course we don’t know what Armageddon will be like. There have been many attempts over the years to come up with a scenario we can better relate to. There have even been films made, that graphically try and present the film-makers views of this final battle. But the vision Jesus gave John was in a form that he could understand and describe so that he could write it down. It’s a vision that we can understand as well. We have kings and generals, soldiers and weapons. The tactics and weaponry might have changed from what it was in John’s day, but it is still something we can get our minds around. However, Armageddon will be a totally different event, far beyond our imaginations. After all, we have no concept as to how a Word can achieve such a fatal devastation.

It is for this reason that we pilgrims trust in the One who is the ultimate Wordsmith, God Himself. Only He knows the end from the beginning. However, the End Times pan out, it is God in whom we can trust. He will look after us.

Father God. As Your committed and loving children, we look to You, trusting in the One who holds the world in the palm of His hand. We praise and worship You today. Amen.

A Gruesome Invitation

“Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, shouting to the vultures flying high in the sky: “Come! Gather together for the great banquet God has prepared. Come and eat the flesh of kings, generals, and strong warriors; of horses and their riders; and of all humanity, both free and slave, small and great.”
Revelation‬ ‭19:17-18‬ ‭NLT

The scene before John in his vision paused. There was a stillness hanging in the air, with a growing sense of impending doom. The angel was clear to see, illuminated by the sun, and he was gathering the vultures. Carrion eaters, with the ability to spy out and find dead bodies of all types. Keen eyes that could spot a meal from miles away. But on the upcoming occasion, they wouldn’t have to seek out their next meal. It would be laid before them. Food beyond their highest expectations. But sadly, the flesh they would gorge on would be human. Before them would be many dead people.

We’re told in the vision that there would be royalty, senior members of the armies, the soldiers, and many more civilians caught up in the conflict, regardless of their status in life. The coming war was to be no respecter of persons. Presumably, all the combatants were unaware of their fate. They would be looking around and seeing their fellow soldiers. The leaders would be oozing with self-confidence, their battle plans in place. We’re invincible, would be the mood. Morale would be high. If only that angel would stop bothering us, would be the thought. It won’t be us lying dead on the battle field, they confidently declare. I wonder if any of them had any doubts creeping into their minds? But they would have dismissed them. After all, they think, we killed the Son of God before. We’ll do it again.

The arrogance of mankind can be breathtaking in its extremes. We see it from all parts of society. The business leader, claiming supremacy in the market place. The politicians boasting about their electoral successes. The general about his wartime exploits. But none stopping to think about what God said in Psalm 2. We read, “But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them. Then in anger he rebukes them, terrifying them with his fierce fury. Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the Lord with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling. Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities— for his anger flares up in an instant.….” (Psalms‬ ‭2:4-5, 10-12‬)

As far as us pilgrims are concerned, we take comfort in what God said to his prophet in Isaiah 45:23, “I have sworn by my own name; I have spoken the truth, and I will never go back on my word: Every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will declare allegiance to me”. And in Philippians 2:9-11, “Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honour and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. Not one of God’s enemies stopped to think that one day they would be lying prostrate before God, whether dead or alive, declaring the Lordship of Christ.

The day that Armageddon comes is still before us. We pilgrims may be caught up in it, but we hope we won’t. Back to what God promised in Isaiah 41:10, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand”. We see the heart of Jesus in Luke 19:41-42, “But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.”” It breaks God’s heart to finally declare His judgement over the sin and wickedness infecting Planet Earth. Especially as His only Son died for His creation.

Sombrely, we pilgrims once again bow before our God. With grateful and worshipping hearts. Declaring our love for the One who cares for us.

Dear Lord. Thank You for Your many promises of love and care, that we read in Your Word. In worship we hallow Your name today. Amen.

The Army of Heaven

“Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all Lords.
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭19:11-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The events leading up to the final and bloody battle, Armageddon, were building. It all started with a rider on a white horse. But who is this rider? And why a white horse? The most likely person riding that horse is Jesus. The Son of God leading His forces into battle. And the colour of the horse, white, signifies righteousness. The cause Jesus was fighting for was just and righteous. In our verses today, the rider’s title was “the Word of God”, which was how Jesus was described in John 1:1, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

In John’s vision, Jesus was described as having “eyes … like flames of fire”. What else could that be other than Jesus having the capability of seeing through all situations, piercing the darkness, the lies, the sin, the wickedness, the ploys of the enemy. He could see far more clearly than any man-made radar or similar technology. The “many crowns” on His head refer to His lordship – He was and is the Lord of lords and the King over all kings. And His name, “that no one understood except Himself” indicates that Jesus was without description. He was far beyond that. The picture emerges of the Son of God, once a humble baby in a stable now coming as the victorious Ruler over all. 

Jesus’ garments were “dipped in blood”. Isaiah prophesised about this very event, which we can read in Isaiah 63:2-3, “Why are your clothes so red, as if you have been treading out grapes? “I have been treading the winepress alone; no one was there to help me. In my anger I have trampled my enemies as if they were grapes. In my fury I have trampled my foes. Their blood has stained my clothes.” And the righteous army was arraigned on their white horses, ready to do battle.

The language on John’s vision was highly symbolic, but we can somehow get the picture of a four-dimensional event. The usual battle picture, the army, it’s accoutrements, it’s vast numbers, forming a three-dimensional scene, but with a fourth dimension describing the background and characteristics of the main player, Jesus.

We pilgrims know what is going to happen. Jesus is “Faithful and True” and He has come back to earth for the second time, this time to judge all those who wronged Him the first time. His first-coming mission has been accomplished. Salvation has been freely available for all those called by God. As we read in Philippians 1:6, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” The work is finished. Finally and forever.

Dear Lord Jesus. We look forward to Your second coming, patiently but with great expectation. Judgement for all the wrongs committed against Your people at last. We praise and worship You today. Amen.

Righteous War

“Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war.”
Revelation‬ ‭19:11‬ ‭NLT

The curtains preventing a glimpse into Heaven were parted. And standing there for all to see was a white horse and rider. And the rider had a special name. He was called “Faithful and True”. He had a responsibility to judge fairly, but that wasn’t a problem, as we can see from his name. But what is a “righteous war”

This is a difficult concept for many because they believe all wars are wrong. And it is true to say that a sinless world would not experience war. But that isn’t reality. We live in a world under the jurisdiction of the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4a, “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe ….. ). Wars between peoples and nations happen in a world blighted by sin. In schools, ethics lessons consider “Just Wars”, and here is a definition found on the BBC schools web site:

“A just war is a war which is declared for right and noble reasons and fought in a certain way. A just war is not a war that is ‘good’ as such – it is a war that Christians feel to be necessary or ‘just’ in the circumstances, when all other solutions have been tried and have failed. It is a necessary evil and a last resort.”

But we don’t need to turn to secular material to define the type of war our Revelation 19 rider was waging. Deuteronomy 20 is a chapter full of instructions about waging war. Verse 1 reads, “When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you!” (‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭20:1‬ ‭NLT). The Israelites of old regularly fought battles with God on their side. In fact, in one battle God held the sun in place for a whole day to facilitate an Israelite victory (Joshua 10:12-13, “On the day the Lord gave the Israelites victory over the Amorites, Joshua prayed to the Lord in front of all the people of Israel. He said, “Let the sun stand still over Gibeon, and the moon over the valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies …). 

In the New Testament, there are no specific references to support pacifism. And it is true to say that the wars that have taken place in recent times have been necessary to prevent a greater evil. Jesus wasn’t a pacifist and His second coming, which we are about to explore in the next few verses in Revelation 19, was going to be accompanied by an extremely violent and death-filled war. Those who opposed Jesus were not going to have a peaceful death in their beds!

What do we pilgrims do in a time of war? We face into that dilemma right now as war in Europe continues unabated in Eastern Ukraine. We do what the Bible encourages us to do – we pray for our leaders, we pray for our soldiers, we pray for safety for civilians, and we pray that God will bring about a quick and righteous end to the turmoil of sin and strife.

Dear Father God, we don’t like wars. It brings so much pain, misery and death to so many people. We pray for our politicians and the leaders in the armed forces, that You will help them and lead them, in the conflicts that they encounter. And, topically, we pray about the situation in Ukraine, that You will quickly bring this conflict to an end. We pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe, and especially those caught up in this tragedy, that You will strengthen them, protect them and help them in these difficult times. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Witnessing Prophecy

“And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God. For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.””
Revelation‬ ‭19:9-10‬ ‭NLT

It is almost as though the angel tossed in a throw-away comment. A nugget of gold emerging unexpectedly in John’s vision of the wedding feast. The angel made the statement to John, “For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus”. What was the angel saying here? 

What is prophesy? Many people think that they can foretell the future and call their message a prophecy. Christians can get excited when a brother or sister brings a “prophetic word” in a meeting. “Prophecies” can take the form of pictures or visions, poems or songs. There is a prophetic gift of the Holy Spirit, as we read in Romans 12:6, “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.” But three things must be noted. Firstly, any prophetic message must align with Biblical truth. So a “prophesy” that declares something that conflicts with Scripture, or tries to add something to it, must be viewed with suspicion, and, if necessary, discarded. Secondly, prophecies are for edification. We read in 1 Corinthians  14:3,  “But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them.” Thirdly, as our verse records today, the angel reminded John that prophecies must provide “a clear witness for Jesus”. 

Ultimately, the purpose of a prophetic word must be to point the hearers back to God. It could involve the speaking out of Scripture, God’s Word. It could involve our testimonies of God’s grace and love. It may even connect a Biblical message with someone’s life and future. But in the end, it is all about God.

We must always be on the lookout for prophecies that don’t stack up, and we must beware of false prophets. The Apostle Peter warned about them, as we read in 2 Peter 2:1, “But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves.” Jesus warned His disciples about false prophets, in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves”. 

We pilgrims can be assured that the angel’s words describing to John what was about to happen – the greatest and most devastating war that this planet has ever seen – were true and came directly from God. Prophetic they may have been in John’s vision, but they gave a “clear witness for Jesus”. The marriage feast and Armageddon will both happen one day. Probably sooner than we think.

Dear Lord and Father God, we thank You for Your prophetic words recorded by John. Please never let us despise prophesy. We pray that You will give us the discernment to separate the good from the false. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Armageddon

Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great Euphrates River, and it dried up so that the kings from the east could march their armies toward the west without hindrance. And I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs leap from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. They are demonic spirits who work miracles and go out to all the rulers of the world to gather them for battle against the Lord on that great judgment day of God the Almighty. “Look, I will come as unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their clothing ready so they will not have to walk around naked and ashamed.” And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon.
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭16:12-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

John’s vision describes a scene with some key features. We have the Euphrates River, an effective boundary to the movement of troops and equipment from East to West. Three frogs, representing evil spirits, emerging from the devilish leaders at that time, and they, by their dark and evil trickery, deceiving other world leaders into thinking they could join together and defeat God Himself. Psalm 2:2-3 describes their thinking, “The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the Lord and against his anointed one. “Let us break their chains,” they cry, “and free ourselves from slavery to God””. If only they had read the next bit, “But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them. Then in anger he rebukes them, terrifying them with his fierce fury. For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”” (Psalm 2:4-6). But in their arrogance the earthly rulers and their armies were confident that they would win.

The word “Armageddon” has come to mean two things. It is believed to be a physical place located in Northern Israel, on the site of the ancient town of Megiddo, which only exists as a mound today. But the word has also come to mean the ultimate battle of destruction, catastrophic for the human race.

So all the worldly forces mobilised by the “ dragon, the beast, and the false prophet” come together on the plain in Israel ready to take on God’s chosen King in Jerusalem. Their fate is assured, but God gives the armies and their rulers one last chance to pull back. Again from Psalm 2, the last verse reads, “Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities— for his anger flares up in an instant. But what joy for all who take refuge in him!” We know what happens as John’s vision unfolds in the next verses in Revelation 16.

In the middle of these verses today, Jesus encourages His followers to be ready for His return, to avoid being shamed otherwise. Jesus taught about readiness in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. We truly don’t know when He will come again but it could be anytime. In the next hour or in one hundred years time. It may occur in our lifetimes, it may not, but the temptation is to think it won’t, and we therefore can behave like the five foolish virgins in Jesus’ parable. So instead we pilgrims live our lives in a state of readiness, with the expectation that Jesus really is coming soon. But we also plan accordingly in case He is delayed, making sure we are faithful in doing what He has asked us to do. 

We pilgrims can only think of the cataclysmic Armageddon event with a shudder. We pray that these days really will be cut short. And we pray for our loved ones, our friends and families, that they will come to know the love and grace of our Heavenly father before it is too late.

Dear Father God. We thank You for this season of grace, in which You have held back the forces of darkness. Please help us to be diligent in seeking You and being obedient to Your ways. And we pray for our families and friends, that they too will embrace Your love that You make so freely available. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

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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.