The Seventh Plague

“Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air. And a mighty shout came from the throne in the Temple, saying, “It is finished!” Then the thunder crashed and rolled, and lightning flashed. And a great earthquake struck—the worst since people were placed on the earth. The great city of Babylon split into three sections, and the cities of many nations fell into heaps of rubble. So God remembered all of Babylon’s sins, and he made her drink the cup that was filled with the wine of his fierce wrath. And every island disappeared, and all the mountains were levelled. There was a terrible hailstorm, and hailstones weighing as much as seventy-five pounds fell from the sky onto the people below. They cursed God because of the terrible plague of the hailstorm.”
Revelation‬ ‭16:17-21‬ ‭NLT‬‬

No details of the Armageddon war are included in Revelation 16. The narrative in John’s vision jumps to the seventh plague. But there are three words that have been heard before in another place, during another momentous event. “It is finished!” In our verses today, these words emanate from the very throne of God. In the form of a loud and triumphant shout. God has finally brought to an end worldly judgements.

We will remember the last time these words were uttered. Jesus died on the cross at Calvary after declaring probably what are the most profound words ever spoken. In John 19:30 we read, “When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit”. In the Matthew account of the moment of Jesus’ death we read, “At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart”. (Matthew 27:51). ‭But in the Revelation account the impact of “It is finished!” effectively preceded a reforming of the earth, in that there was a great earthquake of a severity never before seen. All the islands disappeared. Mountains were mountains no more. And hailstones weighing what the King James Version of the Bible calls a talent, a unit of weight equivalent to thirty two kilograms or thereabouts, fell from the sky. That is an extremely heavy lump of ice and it would do serious amounts of damage to property, crops, animals and, of course, people. No wonder God received some complaints in the form of curses levelled against Him! If only they had repented.

Babylon crops up again in these verses. It refers to the personification of all the wickedness and sins of the world’s population, past, present and future. John’s vision referred to Babylon as a place that included not just the “great city” but also “the cities of many nations“. And they were reduced to heaps of rubble. But there is more to come about Babylon in John’s vision, recorded in Revelation 17 and 18, which we have yet to consider.

To us pilgrims we can only breathe a collective sigh of relief after reading these verses. The difficulties facing human beings in those days doesn’t bear thinking about. What a narrow escape we have had from disaster. Imagine what would have happened if we had failed to accept God’s invitation of grace when we did? Of course, we might have passed on before all these plagues had finally been dispensed on earth and its population, but we would not have escaped the judgement to come. 

When I have shared these scenes from Revelation with people I meet, a common response is, “How do you know that there is a life after we die, after all, no-one has ever returned to tell us what will happen, if anything”? Many people believe that once death overtakes us, there will be just blackness. Nothing else. Some people suggest that the death experience is like falling asleep but never waking up. Eternal sleep. But we pilgrims, through our faith, believe differently. Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see“. We hope for a future, eternal life, in God’s presence. And our faith assures us that that will be the case. Through our belief and faith in the rightness of God’s Word, we believe what He has promised. Hebrews 11:13 reads, “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth“. As we plod along the paths of life, pilgrims together, we see in the distance our promised land. And one day we will get there and receive the fruit of that promise.

Dear Lord. Thank You for Your assurance that You are making a place in Heaven where we can join You. You said it. We believe it. We worship You today. 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. 

‭‭

Water to Blood

“Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse. And everything in the sea died. Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs, and they became blood.”
Revelation‬ ‭16:3-4‬ ‭NLT

This is a disgusting thought. The blood inside a decomposing corpse decomposes and rots too. And that is how John saw the oceans of the world. Vast extents of rotting bodily fluids. The smell must have been atrocious. John also discerned that everything in the sea died as well. No more fish and plant life. The ways of commerce and fishing for food would have been destroyed at a stroke. The beast’s economy would have been destroyed. The world’s food supply eliminated. Oxygen required to sustain life much reduced, and reducing.

Earlier in our journey through Revelation, we found, “Then the second angel blew his trumpet, and a great mountain of fire was thrown into the sea. One-third of the water in the sea became blood, one-third of all things living in the sea died, and one-third of all the ships on the sea were destroyed.” (‭‭Revelation‬ ‭8:8-9‬ ‭NLT). It is almost as though this plague was finishing the job started by the angel with the trumpet. Desperate times for the remaining people on Planet Earth.

Similarly, with the rivers and springs also turning to blood, the process started in Revelation 8:10-11 is completed. We read, “Then the third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from the sky, burning like a torch. It fell on one-third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star was Bitterness. It made one-third of the water bitter, and many people died from drinking the bitter water.” The bitterness of one third of the fresh water supplies was replaced by nothing but blood. For “water” read “blood”. Can you imagine it? Raining blood. Red snow and ice. What did people drink, being surrounded only by rotting, stinking, clotting, decomposing, blood? 

Do we take the references to blood literally, or do they instead have another meaning? Does the water everywhere really become like “the blood of a corpse” or blood itself, or is there some other meaning? We don’t know. Suffice to say, that the peoples on earth were at the end. That is, of course, unless they repented of their wickedness and sin, and turned to God.

In Exodus 7 we read about how Moses turned the Nile and all the water supplies in Egypt into blood, but even this miraculous sign failed to change Pharaoh’s resolve. The Egyptians were able to find fresh water by digging holes alongside the banks of the Nile. But in these End Times, that option would have been unavailable. Digging holes would have just exposed more blood.

In our society today, in 21st Century UK, or wherever we are, there is much to mourn. Not just the passing of our Queen, but also the rising cost of living. The sky-high energy prices. And we mourn the deterioration of the social values that we have enjoyed for so long. We mourn the breakdown of family life, the waiting lists for our medical facilities, the lack of dentists – the list seems to be endless. But all these things are trivial compared to what it would have been like living in the times of the beast. Faced with a catastrophic economic melt down, lack of food and acute difficulties finding water to drink, the remaining populations in these last days would have been gripped by fear, driven by panic, with scenes too desperate and graphic to imagine. 

In our times, many of us have a tendency to do a lot of moaning. When life seems hard, when depression seems to be just round the corner. When we lack the means to pay bills, or the car breaks down or whatever challenge we are facing into, we need to remind ourselves of what life will be like in the Last Days. In Philippians 4:12-13, we read about the Apostle Paul’s attitudes to life. “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength“. In this season of grace, God is holding the world order together. Yes, there are wars and economic problems. Yes, diseases and medical challenges abound. But in the Last Days, His grace will have run its course and He will loosen His grip on the world, allowing the forces of darkness to be unleashed on whoever is still alive on earth. The beast has emerged, preceding a time of an outpouring of God’s final judgements. Like Paul, in this life we must learn “the secret of living in every situation”, grateful for God’s love and grace, and all that He has done for us. And in our work-a-day lives, we continually express our thanks to our wonderful Heavenly Dad, regardless of our circumstances. 

Dear Father God. How wonderful You are. We are so grateful for Your mercy and grace. Please help us to keep a balanced and thankful attitude for all You have done, and will still do, in our lives. 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 Temple of the Holy Spirit

“Then I looked and saw that the Temple in heaven, God’s Tabernacle, was thrown wide open. The seven angels who were holding the seven plagues came out of the Temple. They were clothed in spotless white linen with gold sashes across their chests.”
Revelation‬ ‭15:5-6 NLT

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

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

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

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

The Temple in Heaven

“Then I looked and saw that the Temple in heaven, God’s Tabernacle, was thrown wide open. The seven angels who were holding the seven plagues came out of the Temple. They were clothed in spotless white linen with gold sashes across their chests.”
Revelation‬ ‭15:5-6 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

The Song of Moses and the Lamb

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

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

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

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

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

The Winepress

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sickle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enduring Persecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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