Coming Soon

“Then the angel said to me, “Everything you have heard and seen is trustworthy and true. The Lord God, who inspires his prophets, has sent his angel to tell his servants what will happen soon.” “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed are those who obey the words of prophecy written in this book. ””
Revelation‬ ‭22‬:‭6‬-‭7‬ ‭NLT

The old Apostle John is coming to the end of his Lord’s Day vision. He has a final conversation with the angel that God had sent to walk him through everything he saw and heard. And the angel reaffirmed what John already knew, that the audiovisual presentation he had received was “trustworthy and true”. John must have been saddened that the experience was coming to an end, but also excited that he would soon be joining His Master in Heaven. 

In our verses today, the word “soon” was mentioned twice. We apply a temporal understanding to this word, expecting that something will happen in the next few hours or days. But here we are, two thousand years after John wrote down what he saw and heard, wondering what “soon” really means. The use of this word implies that we must be ready, as though the something we expect to happen is due imminently. If we don’t we are in danger of becoming lethargic and complacent, deferring what we should be doing to some undefined time in the future. In modern parlance, “kicking the can down the road”. But in a sense, compared with eternity, our “soon” is our life span. We don’t know when we will pass over the Great Divide, but it might be ”soon”. One thing is for sure though. The events of John’s vision will happen just as he saw them, because the angel, God’s messenger, said they were “trustworthy and true”. Sadly, many people try and dismiss the Revelation story as being difficult to understand so, consequentially, it can’t have any relevance. Some consider it the ramblings of an old man, and wonder why it was included in the Bible at all. 

But in the same way we wonder about what “soon” means, we also wonder about that other temporal event, the End Times. When will it start? Or has it already started? Nowhere in John’s vision does it say how long it will take, running through all those plagues and disasters. Neither does it say anywhere in his visions when the End Times will start. Jesus’ disciples asked Him about the end of the world and in Matthew 24:3 we read their question, “Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?””. Jesus’s reply was, “ … Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” (Matthew 24:4-8). And in Matthew 24:36 He confirms our dilemma, “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

Jesus told us that the End Times events were to be preceded by wars, famines and earthquakes. Perhaps preparing the ground, as it were, for the devastation yet to come. Jesus’ return could be “soon”, in our lifetimes, or it could be in hundreds or thousands of years in the future. We don’t know. Only God knows. But the events outlined in John’s vision were “trustworthy and true”.  We ignore them at our peril.

The angel finishes his epilogue with the assurance that if the prophecies contained in the Book of Revelation are obeyed, then blessings will follow. We could turn this round and say that those who are disobedient to the Revelation prophecies will, at best, not be blessed, or, at worst, end up cursed. The angel was saying that God went out of His way to give John the visions he received. He took it seriously. So must we.

Father God. We confirm our allegiance to You today. Only You have the words of eternal life. Only You know the beginning and the end. We praise and worship You today. Amen.

Authority to Judge

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.
Revelation‬ ‭20:4-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Have you ever been wronged by someone? Perhaps you have been badly or racially mistreated? Accused of something you hadn’t done? Our abilities to put the record straight can be limited in our societies, but sadly, many people, and particularly Christians, are persecuted for their beliefs, and without redress. And many have died because they have refused to renounce their faith in God. We read in the verse today, that when Christ’s rule for a thousand years commences, He will be joined by those resurrected martyrs who have suffered and died “for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God”. Their reward is that they will be resurrected and reign “with Christ for a thousand years“. And we’re told that they will be joined by all those who have refused to worship the beast and be branded with his mark. 

But who will these resurrected people be judging? During the millennium period, there will be a different type of society. No democracy any more. This will be a theocracy, ruled by Jesus, the Son of God, and righteousness, not sin, will prevail. And Jesus will delegate to His faithful servants the authority to judge all those who, through their sin, upset the theocratic societal order. We discovered in the last blog that, although the devil was consigned to the bottomless pit, sin and wickedness would still prevail. No joy then for the sinners. They will be judged by the very people that they wronged.

But what about those Christians who were not beheaded for their faith? The Apostle Paul wrote about this eventuality in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, “We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever“. This was the event many have referred to as the rapture. 

John was informed that this was the first resurrection, as described by Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians. Notice that for us pilgrims, there is no fear of the first resurrection. Some ask about what sort of body we will have after the first resurrection. Paul write in 2 Corinthians 5:1, “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.” We also get a few clues from the sort of body that Jesus had after His resurrection. His new body was recognisable, but it also had some amazing qualities. 

John is told in his vision that those resurrected at the first resurrection will be blessed and holy. No more corruption. No more sin. No more sickness. No more death. But there is a second resurrection coming at the end of the millennium, when the rest of the dead, the unbelievers, will rise. This will not be a good place to be for those who have rejected the grace of God, but more of this later. So we pilgrims look forward to the day when we will enter into eternal life. The detail of this isn’t totally clear from Scripture, but through faith and our belief in God, we are assured of our future. 

Dear Father God. As we peer into the future, and dimly see Your grace and provision coming into fruition, we once again declare our love for You, grateful for Your grace. We worship You today. Amen. 

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.

Swords and Rods

“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

We must spend another day considering this wonderful Rider on the white horse. The description of Him through the angel in John’s vision, though highly symbolic, also relates to Old Testament prophecies made many centuries before Jesus’s first coming, let alone His second, as we saw from Isaiah 63 yesterday. And we know from the Revelation story, that the Rider on the white horse, Jesus, achieves a victory over His foes. 

Perhaps one question we might be asking, or have asked before, is why will Jesus “release the fierce wrath of God”. Why Jesus, the Rider on the white horse? Why not God Himself? And what is mankind, past, present and future, being judged for anyway? To answer these questions, we have to start at the beginning, all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden. When sin entered this world through them it alienated our loving Heavenly Father from a relationship with His earthly children. However, God had a plan. He wasn’t going to give up on His creation that easily. He destroyed mankind once (except for Noah and his family) and vowed He would never do it again. Instead, through His love and grace, He sent His only Son, Jesus, to redeem mankind from sin, giving them the opportunity for repentance and be restored into a relationship with God Himself. But there was still a problem – most people then, and still today, rejected this costly and profound offer, preferring to stay in their sinful and wicked state. The grip of the devil on Planet Earth was, and is, considerable. Although many people have accepted God’s offer of salvation and will rejoice with Him one day, as they enter eternal life, most haven’t. Jesus made the choice very clear, as recorded in John 5:24, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” Sadly, most of God’s creation, human beings, have sinfully rejected His love and grace, in the process setting themselves up for judgement one day. They can’t escape it through the grave either. Read John 5:28-29 (as below).

But the problem remains – what about the sin and wickedness that prevails on Planet Earth. Jesus spoke about this in a conversation, recorded in John 5, with the religious leaders of His day. He introduced to them the concept that one day there will have to be judgement. The evil present on earth has to be dealt with. Otherwise, what was the point of all the pain and grief experienced by God and His people over the ages? In John 5, Jesus explained that He will be the Judge, one day. A role delegated to Him, and Him alone, by His Father. Jesus said, “The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man. Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment. I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.” (‭‭John‬ ‭5:26-30‬ ‭NLT).

So what is the “sharp sword” coming from Jesus’ mouth. In Hebrews 4:12 we read, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” The words that come from Jesus’ mouth will be sufficient to destroy the evil nations and all the weaponry that they possess. There is something powerful about words. But in God’s economy, words are so powerful that they brought the whole universe into being. In Hebrews 11:3, we read, “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.” If God’s word achieved that, then we can understand the power of the sharp sword emanating from Jesus’ mouth in John’s vision. Note that we too have access to this sword. Right now in our daily lives. We read in Ephesians 6:17, “Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” 

We also read in Revelation 19, that Jesus will rule with a rod of iron. What is that all about? Back in the prophetic Psalm 2, we read in verse 9, “You will break [rule] them with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots“. Apparently, the word “rod” means a shepherd’s staff, as we read in Psalm 23, so the impression we get is that those who belong to Jesus will be comforted by His rod, but those who have rejected Jesus might find the application of the rod, an iron rod, somewhat uncomfortable, as it brings into line rebellious people, smashing them “like clay pots”. Whether they like it or not, all people will one day have to submit to God. He made that clear 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“. 

For us pilgrims, we have nothing to fear. We are on the winning side. The End Times are going to be frightening and brutal, but the world has been well warned.

Dear Father God, in response to these End Times verses all we can do is worship You. We thank You for Your presence in our lives. We know we would be in a difficult place without You. Thank You. Amen.

Just Judgements

“And I heard the angel who had authority over all water saying, “You are just, O Holy One, who is and who always was, because you have sent these judgments. Since they shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, you have given them blood to drink. It is their just reward.” And I heard a voice from the altar, saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just.””
Revelation‬ ‭16:5-7‬ ‭NLT

There was an angel who was in charge of all the water on Planet Earth. John didn’t see him in his vision, but he heard what he had to say. Although this angel didn’t have to give a reason for why all the water on the earth became blood, he gave an explanation anyway.

Firstly, God was at last dispensing judgement on mankind to all those who had killed His holy people. And not just Christians – there were many in Old Testament times, who were counted as His people. Jesus said, on one occasion when speaking to religious leaders, in Matthew 23:35-36, “As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar. I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation.” God’s warning of judgement for killing His people has been made very clear, and every generation, whether they believe it or not, will never have an excuse. They will never be able to stand before God and claim ignorance. Isn’t it strange the lengths mankind has gone to in the protection of lives in this world? A mega industry has grown up developing alarm systems to supply advance warning of peril in this present life, but no attention has been paid to the life to come. Most people will protest that they have never killed anyone, particularly God’s people, claiming therefore that they will not have to face judgement. However, sadly, most people have been, or will be, guilty by association with the persecutors and murderers, those engaged in wicked and murderous acts against God’s holy people, because that is the default position for those who reject God’s invitation of grace through His Son, Jesus Christ. We pilgrims must never neglect promoting the afterlife alarm system however. It already exists. We call it the Holy Bible.

Secondly, the judgement was proportionate. Because of their evil deeds in shedding the blood of God’s people, they will be made to drink that blood. In the UK, the judgement for the crime of murder is a prison sentence, the miscreant incarcerated for a few years in a prison. But for most murderers, there will come a day when they will be released back into the community. The victim’s family, instead, has to endure a lifetime of loss, an imbalance that will be adjusted one day – those who are unrepentant, the rejectors of God’s grace, will find out how when they stand before God on the Day of Judgement. The angel continued by saying that, for those still alive in these last days, being made to drink blood was “their just reward”. This will be the reward for those who have supported the beast in his attempts to eliminate God’s people. In these grim and devastating last days of Planet Earth, the ultimate “reward” for the devil and his followers (remember that this is the default position) is not looking good. Their prison sentence, handed down by the Righteous Judge, will be eternal life, without parole, in a place where they would sooner not be.

The Apostle John, in his vision, heard a voice from the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just”.  Earlier in the Book of Revelation, we read, “When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?”” (Revelation 6:9-10). In the next verse they were told, “….to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters —their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them“. So here, with the third plague, we learn two things – firstly, that there were no more martyrs expected from Planet Earth, and, secondly, they were having to wait no longer for God’s judgement to be handed down. And the martyrs were satisfied with the outcome, saying that it was “true and just”. 

We pilgrims are an enlightened body of believers. God in His grace and mercy, has shared with us what is going to happen one day. Perhaps quite soon. Are we ready?

Dear Lord. Once again we thank You for this glimpse of the End Times. Life on earth will always be difficult for Your people, but our patience and faith in a future in Your presence will one day be rewarded. We are so grateful. Amen.

The First Plague

“Then I heard a mighty voice from the Temple say to the seven angels, “Go your ways and pour out on the earth the seven bowls containing God’s wrath.” So the first angel left the Temple and poured out his bowl on the earth, and horrible, malignant sores broke out on everyone who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue.”
Revelation‬ ‭16:1-2‬ ‭NLT

The next few chapters in Revelation are difficult to read and understand; the only way to describe them is to say that they are apocalyptic. The world, its inhabitants and evil influences end up being annihilated. But before we get to the new beginnings, there is much to work through. The seven plagues mark the start of the real End Times. Up until now it seems that there has been a number of battles, skirmishes perhaps, between God and the devil, with God’s patience and grace still there to be grasped, but the devil doing his utmost to prevent any more people from joining the ranks of “God’s holy people”. Have the earth’s inhabitants been nothing more than pawns in a cosmic, supernatural battle between God and His opponent? If so, mankind has a final opportunity to be on the winning side, with the last of the seven plagues marking the end of God’s grace.

John, in his vision, “heard a mighty voice from the Temple”. The message to pour out God’s wrath was like the firing of a starting pistol. The first angel headed off, releasing God’s wrath in the form of “horrible, malignant sores”. Skin diseases were much feared in Biblical days. Leprosy was one of the most devastating of them and this might have been the affliction released by the angel. But this plague was selective in who it attacked. Only those who “had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue” suffered from it.

Modern medicine has made huge strides in recent decades, and as the first plague worked its way through the population, there may have been extraordinary attempts to counter it, as we have seen with the recent Covid pandemic. And there have been other diseases where pharmaceutical companies have developed anti-viral medication and vaccines. The plague released by the angel was a judgement from God, demonstrating His anger with the sins and wickedness of mankind. But was anyone listening? Did anyone present on earth makes the connection between their sin and God’s judgement? Sadly, I haven’t heard of anyone who repented because of the recent Covid pandemic. 

As I have said before, we are in a season of God’s grace. It is not as though He is turning a blind eye to  man’s wickedness; instead He, through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus, has opened a door of opportunity, for mankind to become righteous in God’s eyes. God knows the human difficulties – Jesus suffered them too – but through His compassion and love for His creation, He has deferred the dark days of His judgement for a season. Those alive in these terrible Times of the End, had an opportunity to turn their backs on the god of the world, but time was running out.

Dear Father God. Your grace and love for mankind is unlimited. We pray for our neighbours and family, that they will embrace Your Son Jesus and transfer their allegiance to the God of the Universe. And we keep praying, as we know You are listening. 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.

The 144,000

Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of mighty ocean waves or the rolling of loud thunder. It was like the sound of many harpists playing together. This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of God and before the four living beings and the twenty-four elders. No one could learn this song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to God and to the Lamb. They have told no lies; they are without blame.” 
Revelation 14:1-5 NLT

In parallel with the global events under the control of the beasts, John’s vision panned across to Jerusalem, the location of Mount Zion. Jesus was standing there, and there were a lot of His people with Him. 144,000 in fact. They had the name of the Lamb of God and His Father written on their foreheads. Back in Revelation 7:4 we read, “And I heard how many were marked with the seal of God—144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of Israel.” We now also now know what the mark, the “seal of God” was, though it wasn’t clear in Revelation 7. So this event involving Jesus and Mount Zion must be confirming His second coming. Now we know that Jesus ascended into Heaven from the Mount of Olives from Acts 1:12, where Luke recorded, “Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile“. And the angels present at that event, as the disciples were straining to see Jesus’ ascent through the clouds, said, ““Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” So here we are, blessed and encouraged, because Jesus has done exactly what He said He would do – return to earth a second time.

It is interesting that the 144,00 Jewish believers were present as the End Time Tribulation was unfolding (just before the seventh seal was broken in Revelation 7). And in spite of the devil’s best efforts, with all his mayhem setting up the Antichrist and an evil world governmental system and religion, the 144,000 were still there. The devil failed in his attempts to eliminate them. How encouraging is that? They showed that it is possible to stand firm to the end. Also, the Jewish believers must have been followers of Jesus, because they were standing there in Jerusalem with Him. Isaiah prophesied that Jesus will rule and reign from Mount Zion. We read, “Then the glory of the moon will wane, and the brightness of the sun will fade, for the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will rule on Mount Zion. He will rule in great glory in Jerusalem, in the sight of all the leaders of his people“. (Isaiah 24:23). 

Do we pilgrims, not counted amongst the 144,000, feel a bit insecure? The Bible version we have used today, the NLT, records that these Jews were “purchased from among the people on the earth”. Other versions describe them as being the “first-fruits”. But whatever they were, these were God’s holy people with a special mission. Their purity was faultless, they were unstinting followers of Jesus, they had never told lies, and the verses today record them as being a “special offering to God and to the Lamb“. But as for us Gentile believers, where do we stand in the End Times vision? Perhaps we will be counted in the number in Revelation 7:9, “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands.” But whatever happens, those who stand firm to the end will one day be with our loving Heavenly Father, and His Son Jesus, in Heaven. Jesus’s said to the repentant thief on the cross next to him, “… I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭23:43). God will never reject a truly repentant sinner from entering His presence.

Father God. We bow before Your throne this morning with deeply grateful hearts. Only You have the words of eternal life. Only You hold the keys to eternity. We worship You today. Amen.

More Terrors to Come

“The first terror is past, but look, two more terrors are coming!”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭9:12‬ ‭NLT

There is a pause implied after the five months had elapsed. Our verse today records that the first of the terrors, that corresponded to the sounding of the fifth trumpet, is past. Can you imaging the relief flooding over the earth’s inhabitants as the locusts started to die off. Were there piles of dead locusts with their strange appearances lying in heaps around the nations? Or if the locusts were symbols of a terrible and fearsome army, did they withdraw back to where they came from? We don’t know, but in his vision John was told that this was not a time for complacency because there were more “terrors”, or “woes” as translated in other Bible versions, coming. We also don’t know how much time was to elapse before the next trumpet blew.

This might be an opportunity to float the question, particularly in the context of the End Times as portrayed in John’s vision, “Why does God allow disasters to happen?” A difficult question to answer, but the reality is that since history started to be recorded there have been accounts of many events similar to those recorded in the Apostle John’s Revelation. There have been earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, famines, wars, diseases and so on. Why didn’t God intervene to stop them? One question often asked is where God is when times of distress and devastation happen. One memorable event still in living memory was the Holocaust that saw the murder of millions of God’s own people, the Jews. And the cry for God to intervene must have reverberated around the heavens on countless occasions during those dark and evil times. The Covid virus has inflicted much in the way of death and distress on mankind during the past two or three years, and I’m sure many prayers were offered up for God to intervene, but He apparently hasn’t, and it is still wreaking havoc on mankind as I write.

The reality that we observe is that God has occasionally intervened in the affairs of mankind and the natural events in the world around us, but most of the time He doesn’t. The Old Testament recorded occasions when His intervention brought about victories in battle (for example we read in 2 Chronicles 20:22, “At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves.”) And there was the occasion recorded in Joshua 10:13-14, “So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies. Is this event not recorded in The Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!” But on other occasions, the prayers of the Israelites went unheeded. There is an answer to God’s apparent intransigence in the face of disasters is puzzling but in the meantime we’ll leave the question hanging.

We pilgrims keep praying regardless of the circumstances, because prayer changes things. We might not see a result straight away, but God always answers prayers, should we choose to listen. He has three answers – “Yes”, “No”, and “Not Yet”. Often we say that God doesn’t answer prayers because His response is not what we wanted to hear. But over the years God, by His grace and mercy, has answered my prayers. For example, in answer to my prayers and the prayers of many of His people, He miraculously healed my daughter of a viral attack on her brain. And there have been many other times when an answer to my prayers popped up, often in a way I didn’t expect. Many people over the years have prayed for me as well, and I am so grateful for their faithfulness. 

We pilgrims will come up many obstacles on our journeys through life. We may not have encountered the terrors described in John’s vision, but we may have come up against sickness, disease, financial hardship, accidents, and other occasions when God’s intervention didn’t happen. Regardless of what is going on around us, we trust Him and put our hope in Him anyway, because he is our loving Heavenly Father. We only have to read His Book, the Bible, to tap into His amazing grace. How about these Scriptures?

Psalm 147:11, “… the Lord’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love“. 
Jeremiah 17:7, “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence“. 
Romans 15:13, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit“. 
Psalms 62:5-6, “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken“. 

Father God. We thank You for Your loving kindness, and proclaim today the prayer recorded by Your prophet, Habakuk. “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord ! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” Amen and Amen!