The Second Death (2)

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.”‭‭
Revelation‬ ‭21:8‬ ‭NIVUK

“But as for the cowards and unbelieving and abominable [who are devoid of character and personal integrity and practice or tolerate immorality], and murderers, and sorcerers [with intoxicating drugs], and idolaters and occultists [who practice and teach false religions], and all the liars [who knowingly deceive and twist truth], their part will be in the lake that blazes with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Revelation‬ ‭21:8‬ ‭AMP‬‬

In the last blog we unpacked what God was saying about the cowardly and the unbelieving. And we now move onto to consider the “vile” and “the sexually immoral“. Other translations use words such as “corrupt”, “abominable” or “dirty-minded“. The Amplified version of Revelation 21:8 expands the meaning to include all those, “who are devoid of character and personal integrity and practice or tolerate immorality”. 

Sexual immorality is often seen as a grey area, depending on, or influenced by, societal attitudes, liberal theologians, or just downright ignorance. Many have a “if it feels good just do it” attitude. Thankfully we have the God-view as recorded in the Bible. A good place to start is perhaps 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 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, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.” Earlier in 1 Corinthians 6, we read this, “Don’t you realise that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality”. Some try and rationalise their behaviour by saying that society has changed since the First Century, and the restrictions and attitudes that were the norm then don’t apply today. The old philosopher, Solomon, writing in Ecclesiastes, noted, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new.” (‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭1:9-10). The Biblical teaching about sex, morality and ethics is just as valid today as it was two thousand years ago. 

Sadly today we have some of our churches and denominations embracing sexual attitudes and customs that are directly in contravention with Biblical teaching. “We have to move with the times”, they say, and in the process they consign themselves to obscurity and, ultimately, the fires of hell. And our political leaders are even introducing legislation that directly opposes the morals and practices that are deeply embedded in our Christian faith. God’s words to John in Revelation 21:8 make it very clear that those who choose to select the Scriptures they like and reject those that they don’t, thus trying to justify their sinful behaviour, will be heading for the second death. 

God also mentioned to John about the fate awaiting “murderers“. I can hear many breathing a sigh of relief because they have never murdered anyone. But before they adopt the moral high ground, Jesus too said a few words about murder. We read them in Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” It’s not just the act but also the attitude, the thought, that constitutes murder. 

We pilgrims must always honestly and soberly assess what we are thinking and doing. It is so easy to get sucked into societal thinking and end up diluting the purity of our faith. Whether it is sexual temptations or murderous thoughts, we must be remember the warning Peter included in his first epistle, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭5:8). We all have our weaknesses. We must bring all our thoughts and deeds under God’s spotlight and allow the Holy Spirit to help us “stand firm…” in our faith. 

Dear Father God. Again we thank You for reminding us of the things we must avoid. We thank You for Your grace and patience. Please help us to “Stay alert” as Peter advised. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Halloween and the Magic Arts

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.’”

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:8‬ ‭NIVUK

“But as for the cowards and unbelieving and abominable [who are devoid of character and personal integrity and practice or tolerate immorality], and murderers, and sorcerers [with intoxicating drugs], and idolaters and occultists [who practice and teach false religions], and all the liars [who knowingly deceive and twist truth], their part will be in the lake that blazes with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Revelation‬ ‭21:8‬ ‭AMP‬‬

We’re going to look at Revelation 21:8 slightly out of verse order, because we’re at the end of October and this is Halloween, a day much celebrated in Western society, especially amongst children. God asked the Apostle John to write down some character traits that, if followed, would consign them “to the fiery lake of burning sulphur”. Amongst these, God mentioned “magic arts” but what are they? The Amplified version goes further, describing the “magic arts” practitioners as “sorcerers” and “occultists”, and as an aside He included the involvement of “intoxicating drugs”. 

We look at these words and wonder if they are still a problem in today’s society. After all, we don’t generally see women dressed in black cloaks decorated with embroidered stars and planets and wearing pointy hats, wandering around our shopping malls. But before we discount the role of the “sorcerers” and “occultists” in 21st Century Planet Earth, there are some things that should be making us think.  As I write this, Halloween is almost upon us. The celebrations are just a bit of fun, those in society will say. But what is Halloween all about, if not a manifestation of occultist practices? It has its roots in ancient Celtic and Druidic customs that include a celebration of the joining together of the spiritual and natural worlds. The early adherents of this custom thought that on Halloween, the spirits of people long dead, together with a motley selection of demons, goblins and the like, could pass from their world to ours. According to the tradition, the demonic forces had to be appeased with sacrifices or gifts of sweets, and if the Halloween celebrants could dress up in scary clothes, then all the better. So in today’s Halloween parties and customs, we are continuing the practice of celebrating and recognising the devil’s dark forces.

But that is not the only manifestation of “those who practise magic arts”. Behind the scenes there are spiritualist “churches” meeting down a dark alley, or in a back room somewhere, and engaged in practices such as contacting the spirits of the dead. We have seemingly innocuous horoscopes included with our newspapers. Magicians wow audiences with deceptions. The occult, involving the supernatural, paranormal, black magic and all, emerges in seances, fairs and even at church fetes or community galas with palm readers and fortune tellers. And there many other manifestations of “magic arts”.

The Bible is no stranger to tales of magic and communication with the dead. We have the occasions in the early chapters of Exodus where Pharaoh’s sorcerers mimicked some of Moses’ miracles. Or there was the time when King Saul tricked a medium to summon the spirit of Samuel from Hades – we can read about this in 1 Samuel 28. In the New Testament, there was the episode when Paul was harassed by a young slave girl who had a fortune telling spirit. Paul discerned that the spirit was a demon so he cast it out of her through the name of Jesus Christ. The narrative about this is in Acts 16. But in it all the actions of mediums and others, who practise the “magic arts“, is forbidden by God. We read in Leviticus 19:31, “Do not defile yourselves by turning to mediums or to those who consult the spirits of the dead. I am the Lord your God.”

We pilgrims have to be clear about the origins of the “magic arts”. The Apostle Paul warned his protégé, Timothy, about the dangers of the devil’s domain. We read in 1 Timothy 4:1, “Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons.” Jesus spent a lot of His time, while He was here on earth, casting demons out of people. And He instructed His followers to do the same, as we read in Matthew 10:8, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!”. Paul also wrote to the Corinthians with a warning, “… And I don’t want you to participate with demons. You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too.” (‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭10:20b-21). 

Whatever the date on the calendar, we pilgrims need to be careful and diligent, in discerning the works of the devil and his minions. What might seem to be an innocent occasion, dressed up in fun, may turn out to be a back door into the devil’s domain. Halloween celebrations, horoscopes and palm reading can all seem innocuous and problem free, even entertaining, but once we become sucked into the “magic arts” we will end up in danger of ticking God’s second death box. The devil knows where he will end up and he is determined to take as many with him as he can. 

Dear Father God. We are so grateful for Your love and care for each one of us, and for Your timely warning about the “magic arts”. Please help us to discern the times and follow Your ways alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Burning Lake

“Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulphur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Revelation‬ ‭20:10‬ ‭NLT

The armies of the earth have been destroyed by fire. A sad end to man’s rebellion. They will of course be present at the second resurrection, and the consequences of this we will see, in a future blog, that it will not end well for them. Fire will be with them for all eternity, not just for the brief moment when they, and their fellow soldiers, were incinerated. But in today’s verse we see that the devil is seized once again. He seems impervious to his own limitations, and his inability to avoid God’s judgement, even though he must have known it would come to this. Look at the sequence of events. He was thrown out of Heaven. He was defeated at Calvary. He was incarcerated in the bottomless pit. And now he has been assigned to his final home – the fiery lake of burning sulphur. And in his vision John saw that the devil would be tormented, along with the beast and his false prophet, forever. Without any rest or parole. But he can never claim he didn’t know what would happen to him.

The devil overreached himself. He thought, in his arrogance, that he could take God on and win. Have we pilgrims ever met anyone who is so full of themselves, apparently impervious to their own limitations? They think that they are someone when, in reality, they aren’t?  But isn’t it strange – we can see this character trait in others but not ourselves. The Apostle Paul reminded the Romans of this in Romans 12:3, “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us”. Paul said we should assess ourselves honestly, but how do we do that? One piece of Scripture that has helped me greatly on my pilgrimage through life is Ephesians 4:22-23,“throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes”. Personal deception is part of our old sinful lives. Through the renewing that comes through the Holy Spirit, we get the help we need to evaluate ourselves honestly. 

Jesus described hell as being dark, and full of wailing and gnashing of teeth. At the marriage feast He found that there was someone not wearing the right wedding clothes, and he was removed from the banquet. We read in Matthew 22:13, “Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”‭‭ Jesus gave a graphic description of the eternal regret that an unrepentant person will experience – in darkness and deep sorrow. But in John’s vision in Revelation 20, as we will see in a future blog, those whose names are not recorded in the Book of Life will be joining the devil, the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire. Either way, though, eternal separation from God in a place of torment, shows how seriously God views sin and wickedness. We must view it the same way, particularly in our own lives. And pray for our loved ones, that they too will take advantage of God’s love in this season of His grace.

Dear Lord. In humble gratitude we thank You for your grace and love. Amen.

Gog and Magog

“He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.”
Revelation‬ ‭20:8-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The devil has been released from prison, the bottomless pit, and he wastes no time. He is the master of deceit and he goes out and convinces the nations, called Gog and Magog, to form a mighty army. 

Firstly, who or what was Gog and Magog? We know that Magog was a grandson of Noah and he is thought to have moved north of Israel, possibly to what is now Europe. And in Ezekiel 38;1-2 we read, “This is another message that came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, turn and face Gog of the land of Magog, the prince who rules over the nations of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him”. But whoever Gog and Magog were, and there has been much conjecture and quite a few suggestions, the facts are that a huge army was put together, comprising people from “every corner of the earth”. Who were these people? They must have been all those alive during the latter stages of the millennium, who were still rebelling against God, and had been deceived by the devil, who had promised them that they could defeat Jesus and His people, thus being able to enjoy their evil and sin-filled lives once again. There were many of them – John, in his vision, saw that they were as “numberless as sand along the seashore”. As John watched, they “surrounded God’s people and the beloved city”, which was of course Jerusalem. But God’s solution to all of this was to burn them all up with fire from Heaven. We read in 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-9, “… He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power”. Hebrews 12:28-29 reads, “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire”. Fire appears throughout the Bible as the instrument of God’s judgement on those who reject Him and His grace. 

We pilgrims work for God. We build on the foundation, the corner stone, that is Jesus. We hope and pray that the work we do is of value to God, but in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 we read, “But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames”. ‭‭‭‭God is the master builder. He teaches us all well. But the implication is that we can get involved in much that is of no value and one day it will be destroyed by fire. Only the work that God wants us to do will last. Pilgrims like us can easily get involved in things that don’t fit in with God’s will and purposes for us. And the result can be overload and burnout. I often think about Jesus and the incident in the Pool of Bethesda, where there were many sick people, all waiting for bubbles to appear (they believed that an angel with miraculous healing powers occasional stirred the water and the first one in got healed). Jesus only healed one person that day – a man who had been sick for thirty eight years. But He didn’t heal the rest. Why? Because Jesus only did what His father wanted Him to do. The Amplified version of John 5:19 reads, “So Jesus answered them by saying, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself [of His own accord], unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever things the Father does, the Son [in His turn] also does in the same way.” 

A problem in Christian churches can be that about ninety percent of the work required seems to be accomplished by ten percent of the people. And in many churches, it is the minister who tries to fulfil the five fold ministries described in Ephesians 4:11-12, “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” So a question we pilgrims must ask ourselves is this – is the work I am doing for God what He has asked me to do? And, conversely, the second question – is there work that God has asked me to do and I’m being disobedient and not doing it? Questions we must bring under the gaze of the Master Builder. He will enlighten us, I’m sure.

Father God. Thank You that we are part of Your master plan for the human race. Please lead and guide us through our daily lives, helping us do just those tasks You want us to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Satan Released from Prison

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison.”
Revelation‬ ‭20:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The thousand years are up. Christ’s millennial reign has come to an end. And, presumably, the angel returns with the key, opens the door to the bottomless pit and releases satan from his chains. Why? 

The last one thousand years have been peaceful. No sin has been allowed to flourish. No financial frauds. No opportunities for gang warfare. No proliferation of drugs. No fighting and wars. Just a wonderful thousand years spent in Jesus’ presence. It can’t get much better than that! But not everyone will have thought so. There would still have been many who refused to bend the knee to Christ. But you would think that even living in such a peaceful time would have been preferable to how it was before.

Perhaps satan was released to show the contrast between his kingdom and God’s Kingdom. Between good and evil. He would have tried to reassert himself as the “god of this age”, once again waving his rebellious fist in God’s face. And encouraging those sinful and evil people on earth to join him once more. Perhaps, in his arrogance, he thought he had learnt enough this time to properly defeat God. After all, he’d had a thousand years to plot and scheme. Or perhaps the devil was released to test the population, who may have become complacent after a long period of stable and euphoric rule. Perhaps he had been released to stand trial before God on the day of judgement, and had been given one last opportunity to bow his knee before God, unlikely though that was. But in any case, deep in thought, in his incorrigible wickedness, the devil heard the scraping of the key in the lock. He rushed to the door as it opened, hurried the angel to undo the chains, and then burst into the sunlight. Desperate to wreak his evil mischief on mankind once again.

The devil would have struck fear into the hearts of many on earth at that time, as he does today. But Christians have nothing to fear from him. They have God on their side, and His instructions about how to deal with the devil were there in God’s Word, the Bible. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm“. (Ephesians‬ ‭6:13). But we have to be careful when the devil is around. He is the master of deceit, and his whisperings can sound so plausible sometimes. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:8, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour“.

We pilgrims might be thinking that this is all a bit academic. After all, we’re not going to be alive in a thousand years’ time. But hang on a minute – we will be, because we will have been resurrected at the start of the millennium and will be ruling and reigning with Christ for a thousand years, resplendent in our new bodies. So we have been forewarned. We’ll get to see what the devil is going to do in the next blog.

Father God, we praise and worship You today. We pray, as taught by Jesus, that You will deliver us from evil. Thank You Lord. Amen.

Satan in Chains

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain in his hand. He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while.”
Revelation‬ ‭20:1-3‬ ‭NLT

The memories from Armageddon were just fading from John’s vision, when another angel appeared. He came down from Heaven carrying a key and a substantial chain. This angel was obviously no wimp, because he was able to overpower satan and chain him up. Satan was to be imprisoned for a thousand years – quite a few human life sentences there – and his jail was to be “the bottomless pit”. He wasn’t handled too gently either because he was thrown in there – no “would you mind”? on this occasion. And then the angel shut the door and locked it. 

As a reminder, who was and is satan? Some scriptures describe him as Lucifer, the senior angel in charge of worship in Heaven, but he becomes proud and wanted to take over Heaven through a coup. Needless to say, it was unsuccessful and he was cast down to earth. In a conversation with the religious leaders of His day, Jesus described the devil as being a murderer and liar. we read in John 8:44, “For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies“. The Apostle Peter warned us about him. We read in 1 Peter 5:8, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour“. But we can resist him, as we read in James 4:7, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

But what is, or was, the bottomless pit? The commentators and translators think it was a holding area for the extremely wicked, an abyss to hold them until their time of judgement could be scheduled. The best explanation comes from 2 Peter 2:4, “For God did not spare even the angels who sinned. He threw them into hell, in gloomy pits of darkness, where they are being held until the day of judgment”. The word Peter used in his epistle was “hell”, which may give some indication that it is a terrible place. In C S Lewis’s fictional book, The Great Divorce, hell was a dismal place that never ended, so “bottomless” might be a good description of where the devil ended up, at least for a millennia. And, of course, once there, the devil’s ability to deceive mankind ended.

It would be difficult to imagine what Planet Earth would be like without the devil. However, these verses in Revelation say nothing about sin and evil being locked up with satan, so we can only assume that mankind remained infected with sin during Jesus’s thousand year reign. But more of that in the next blog. One thing for sure – the excuse “the devil made me do it” wouldn’t be valid anymore!

Dear Lord. Our enemy, the devil, has caused terrible things to happen here on earth. I thank You that You have defeated the devil, and his power has been curtailed for all believers everywhere. I thank You that through You we can stand firm and resist his attacks. Amen.

Number 666

“And with all the miracles he was allowed to perform on behalf of the first beast, he deceived all the people who belong to this world. He ordered the people to make a great statue of the first beast, who was fatally wounded and then came back to life. He was then permitted to give life to this statue so that it could speak. Then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die. He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.”
Revelation‬ ‭13:14-18‬ ‭NLT

In John’s vision he saw a horrifying attack on the liberty of mankind. Everyone had to be registered. There were no exceptions. Of course, in the UK, registration, in one form or another, is already in place. We have National Insurance numbers. NHS references. Entries on the Voter’s Roll. My banking is defined by a sort code and account number. My driving Licence has its own unique number. We have passports. A young person sometimes has to have an ID card detailing their age, so that certain age-limited purchases can be made, or entry allowed into some premises. In many respects, personal identification details are essential in UK, and other Western, societies so that the lives we lead can be as smooth as possible. But what the devil had in mind was much more insidious than this. The identification mark was to be visible to all. And this mark was necessary to allow life to be lived the devil’s way. Without the ID, “no one could buy or sell anything”. But how could personal freedom deteriorate to become like this? And why would the “beast” require such a universal action?

First of all we already have the technology to give people a “mark” or ID. Think of bar codes, QR codes or the semiconductor chips contained within bank cards. Dogs in the UK are legally required to have a “chip” inserted in the loose skin around their necks. A few years ago, a media report disclosed that thousands of Swedes were having microchips inserted under their skin, to make life easier when faced with login requirements. So technology is not the problem. The world today has reached the stage where ID requirements have become ubiquitous.

So as populations increasingly become familiar with presenting their ID, perhaps a universal and unique code, visible to all, sounds like a good idea. No more fragmented login requirements. And if a universal login is used for good, I don’t think anyone would complain – it would make their lives easier. But what the devil is up to is more insidious. Once he has the world population marked in this way, he will be able to exert total control over them. And that is really the problem – God created mankind to be able to think for itself, but our enemy the devil wants to control us, thoughts and all. And those who refuse to be “marked” will be effectively outcasts and unable to function within society.

I believe the mark the devil wants to apply will ultimately be capable of being remotely monitored and controlled. Where God created human beings with the ability to make their own choices, the devil’s world wants automatons. John’s vision described a scary world. If the population behaved in a way that suited the devil, the people would be able to live their lives without too much hassle. But the lack of individual freedoms would increase as the rules governing and controlling the population start to be ratcheted up. If we allow our thoughts to extrapolate what technology might be able to achieve, think of how the devil could control and even prevent what he disapproves of, such as going to church. Or something else that doesn’t fit within the devil’s world view.

These verses today from Revelation 13 end with a reference to the number “666”. What is all that about? Over the millennia there have been numerous attempts to decode what this means but no definitive solution has been found. So I’m not going to add my tuppence worth to the debate. Suffice to say, that the number refers to something we don’t yet understand, something in the future, technology or a process. However, with the scientific advances being made, the required technology is probably not far away over the horizon of human understanding.

So we pilgrims plod on through life. Grateful for the revelation and support of the Bible and the warnings of what is to come from John’s vision. Forewarned is forearmed. We know what the devil is up to, so we pray. And keep on praying. For our countries, our political leaders, our communities and families, and finally, for ourselves, that we will stand firm through all these troubles, affirming our faith. God is our loving Heavenly Father and He will lead and guide us through the devil’s schemes. The Apostle Paul helpfully set out some practical ways in which we can live in a devil-influenced world. In Ephesians 6:11 we read, “Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil“. God’s armour indeed has the capability of preventing the devil from overwhelming us. And Paul finished his armour verses with Ephesians 6:18, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere“. So that is what we pilgrims will do.

Dear God. I thank You for John’s faithfulness in recording his vision. I pray for us all, that we will stand firm in the face of the devil’s attacks, looking to the One who defeated the devil at Calvary. Amen.

Another Beast

“Then I saw another beast come up out of the earth. He had two horns like those of a lamb, but he spoke with the voice of a dragon. He exercised all the authority of the first beast. And he required all the earth and its people to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. He did astounding miracles, even making fire flash down to earth from the sky while everyone was watching.”
Revelation 13:11-13 NLT

As if one beast wasn’t enough, another one pops up. This one is perhaps the devil himself, because “he spoke with the voice of a dragon“, but what can we glean from these verses?

Firstly, the new beast came “up out of the earth”. Now we know that after the war in Heaven, the devil was cast out down to the earth. So that would be where he would be expected to appear from. And now we have an interesting few words – “He had two horns like those of a lamb”. One thing the devil is good at is how he counterfeits the things of God. There is a good chance he appeared as a lamb, mimicking the Lamb of God. And by so doing he would deceive many people, even Christians, in the process committing one of the biggest scams this earth has ever seen. As Christians we must be very, very careful and discerning. The Apostle Peter warned us. He wrote in 1 Peter 5:8, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” Watch out we must.

In my pilgrimage, I have encountered some Christians who talk a good story but, on closer examination, what they say or do troubles me. They sound very plausible and spiritual but issues start to emerge that undermine them. There’s not so much a problem with what some Christians say, if it can be checked out against the Bible.  The Bible is the final arbiter of what we say, what we believe. One danger that can trap Christians is when someone builds a doctrine around a Bible verse taken out of context. As an example, I can remember some years ago that a church was established around Mark 16:18, “they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on people who are ill, and they will get well.” So they started to bring poisonous snakes to their meetings. However, it is the marginal sayings and actions that don’t have a direct Biblical parallel that can be a problem. I have met people who start a conversation with “I believe God has told me to …” and they then launch into how they are undertaking a set of actions in accordance with what they believe God has said to them. They might be perfectly correct in what they have heard and are now doing, but the danger is that the devil has planted an evil thought in their minds. Remember the devil’s conversation with Eve in Genesis 3:1? “The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”” Often the enemy will try and plant doubts about God in our minds and in the process sound very plausible and logical.

It is sometimes very difficult to discern if the still small voice we are hearing is God or someone else. The old Apostle John wrote some words of wisdom in his first epistle, “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world“. (1 John 4:1).

Often what we are hearing can be our sinful natures trying to reassert themselves. There are some checks and balances that need to be followed to avoid us falling into a trap set by the forces of evil, whatever their source.
Firstly, is there Scriptural support for what “I believe God has told me to …”. If what we think God is asking us to do is at variance with what it says in Scripture then it is probably not Him speaking.
Secondly, if necessary, it is worth checking out what we think God is saying with a trusted Christian friend or our pastor. Their counsel will be priceless. I like what Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.”
Thirdly, and particularly if what we believe God has said may lead to a decision that is life changing, we pray and ask God for confirmation. He is our loving Heavenly Father and He won’t want us to succumb to the devil’s ways. And if we don’t get an answer straight away, leave what we think God said on the “back-burner” until confirmation arrives.

Dear Heavenly Father, we know the devil wants to lead us into paths that aren’t right. Please help us and protect us in our pilgrimage through life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Book of Life

“And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword. This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.” 
Revelation 13:7-10 NLT

We are spending a second day considering these verses from Revelation 13. “God’s holy people” were having a hard time, with the devil and his minions waging war against them, conquering them, imprisoning them and murdering them. But the scriptures describing John’s vision continue with a reference to those who weren’t Christians. John described them as being those “who belong to this world”. But surely that applies to everyone who lives on Planet Earth, whether Christian or not. Well, actually, it doesn’t. Because the word “world”describes the societal secular values with their anti-God bias.

A person of the world in the context of these verses is someone who is not one of “God’s holy people”. And we know exactly who these people are because their “names were not written in the Book of Life”.  So what is this Book? There are references throughout the Bible to a register kept in Heaven. Every one of God’s children has his or her name recorded in it. Jesus once said to His disciples, as recorded in Luke 10:20, “But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.” Moses was recorded as having a conversation with God about the Israelites’ bad and sinful behaviour. This is how the conversation went, “But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!” But the Lord replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me.” (Exodus 31:32-33 NLT). In the Book of Revelation, the register is referred to as the “Lamb’s Book of Life”. (Revelation 21:27). So it is fair to assume that all of God’s holy people, Christians in the true sense, will have their names recorded in this register in Heaven. 

But those people whose names are absent from the “Book of Life” are not off the hook. Everything they do is recorded, also in a book. And there will come a day when these books are opened in God’s presence, but more about that when we get to Revelation 20. By default, those people who are not God’s people will be considered to be worshipping the beast. Though that does not necessarily mean that they set up an idol representing the devil and run a pseudo-religious service of worship to it, it does mean that they accept and endorse the world governmental system of which they are a part. A system a.k.a. the beast. It is a black and white scenario. Mankind is allocated into one of two kingdoms – God’s or the devil’s. There are no other options. And the gulf between these two kingdoms is getting wider and wider. Our verses today from Revelation 13 describe the ultimate position where the gulf between the two is almost impossible to bridge.

Once again, we face into the situation that we must pray without ceasing for our loved ones and those in our communities, for our leaders and our society. We pray that God’s grace will continue and that His love will touch them and draw them away from the kingdom of the devil, the kingdom of darkness, into God’s kingdom, the Kingdom of Light. We remember how we made that transition and share our testimony of grace with those whose ears are open to hear our message. 1 Peter 2:9-10 – “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” 

Dear Father God. We thank You once again for Your love and grace, for we are now Your very own possession. Help us to share our messages of hope with those around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Patient Endurance

And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword. This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.” 
Revelation 13:7-10 NLT

These last days will be an uncomfortable place for Christians to be in. In John’s vision he saw that the “beast“, the global governmental system, was “allowed to wage war” against “God’s holy people”. And, worse, Christians everywhere were to be “conquered”. What does all this look like?

First of all, God has to provide His permission to allow the devil to do any of his malevolent acts.  We see that from the story of Job. In Job 1:9-12 we read, “‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has’? ….  The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger’ …” In John 16:33 we read that Jesus said, “‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’” When Jesus had been arrested and was standing before Pilate, this incredible conversation took place, “‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realise I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’” (John 19:10-11, emphasis mine). Throughout history Christians have suffered for their faith. We pilgrims were never promised an easy ride by choosing to follow Jesus. In fact being counter-cultural in a secular society will be difficult. I think there is a hint about why this should be in James 1:2-3, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

The world system was given permission to overcome Christians everywhere. And I have no doubts in my mind that this is something happening today, with increasing severity. Even in Western societies, supposedly more focused on equality and diversity, societal animosity against religions often emerges. Laws can be passed that outlaw attacks on minority groups but that does not stop the violence, verbal or otherwise, from happening. And the availability of social media provides an apparently anonymous platform for abusers to exploit. Attacks against some religious groups invokes a violent backlash, making many wary of exposing their vitriol and hatred towards them, but Christians have always been a soft target, because they adhere to a policy of non-violence and forgiveness. But in other parts of the world, persecution against Christians is extreme, to the extent that anyone professing a faith in God has to be eliminated. 

So whether we like it or not, on 21st Century Planet Earth, there is a partial global governmental system in place that is waging war on Christians. It is not yet total, but it seems as though each year sees an increase in the reach of the authorities into the lives of Christians, with increasing persecution. One day, as John saw in his vision, it will be complete. Total anti-Christian mayhem.

But what does Revelation 13:10 mean? It says, “Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword. This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.” To me, this verse seems to be saying that there is a predetermined destiny for every human being, beyond their abilities to choose. In absolute terms this is true, because mankind will one day come to the end of their lives. We cannot choose not to die. But on our journeys to the tomb we do have choices, very limited for some, but less restrictive for others. The ultimate choice we make is whether or not we wish to follow God, but this will by itself bring about consequences we might not like. In the End Times, the resulting persecution of Christians may well lead to imprisonment and death, but we are reminded in John’s vision that patience and faithfulness will result in the right conclusion – eternal life with our wonderful Heavenly Father.

Dear Lord and Father, we thank You that You are always there for us. You see what we suffer and are always there to help us and strengthen us for the journey through difficult times. We praise and thank You today. Amen.