Pay Back Time

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
‭Revelation‬ ‭22‬:‭12‬-‭13‬ ‭NLT

As if John needed another reminder, Jesus took over from the angel to tell him that the time was short. Jesus said that He will be returning soon. The angel had given the same message to John just a few verses earlier. But Jesus said more. He said He will be rewarding all people “according to their deeds”. 

What will these rewards be? They will not, of course, be anything that is materialistic. No elaborate engraved clocks for the mantelpiece here! Neither will Jesus be rewarding us for the good deeds that we do for their own sake. These come under the category of “works”. But we know that our salvation is based on God’s grace alone, not anything we claim to do for Him. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it”. In many ways, it will be reward enough to leave this life, with all its difficulties, and instead be with Jesus in Heaven. But Jesus has more for us when we get there. Jesus gave us a hint with the parable of the talents. Matthew 25:21 (AMP) reads, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful and trustworthy over a little, I will put you in charge of many things; share in the joy of your master’”. So there is one reward we will receive, the joy of knowing that Jesus will be pleased with what we have achieved. Perhaps the closer we are to Jesus in this life, the closer we will be to Him in the life to come. Rewards enough.

When will Jesus repay people “according to their deeds”? After Jesus comes again there will be a time when we will stand before Him, to be judged. We read in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” Note that the judgement here is for the deeds not for salvation. That comes later at the event we refer to as the Great White Throne judgement, when the Lamb’s Book of Life is consulted and everyone’s life is replayed in God’s presence.

Jesus finishes his conversation by reminding John of His eternal presence. He is the Beginning and the End. There’s something reassuring about knowing that God is more permanent than anything around us. One day this world will end in a puff of smoke, but God will still be there. As I write the war in Ukraine still rumbles on. But God is still on His throne. We may have questions – lots of them – but knowing that our God is always present, always has been, and always will be, somehow makes the questions not quite so important. But because God is the Rock on which we stand, that is in itself an answer to our deepest yearning. Knowing God is who He says He is, somehow empowers us pilgrims to get on with the life, the calling, that He has assigned to us. The prophet Habakkuk declared before God the following, “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!” (Habakkuk‬ ‭3‬:‭17‬-‭18‬). He also knew that God is the Beginning and the End. And that was all that mattered to him.

Dear Father God. You are the Alpha and Omega. Your presence is eternal. And we are so grateful that even though much comes against us, only You are relevant. Thank You for the joy that fills us. Amen.

The Fiery Lake

“Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
‭Revelation‬ ‭20:14-15‬ ‭NLT

In John’s vision, the fiery lake seemed to have become a dumping ground for sin, evil and their consequences. There was no way to escape from it. And in some way, what ended up there wasn’t consumed. There was just a constant state of fire and torment. Again we may have mental images of what this lake was or will be like – if not just type “fiery lake images” into Google. 

Revelation chapter twenty ends with the sober fact that anyone whose name was not found in the Book of Life was going to join the devil and his minions in the lake of burning sulphur, for eternal torment. There would be no appeal. No mitigating factors. The “devil made me do it” excuse invalid. No parole. No new evidence available. A final end to those who chose to reject a relationship with Jesus, dismissing His offer of eternal life. It would have been bad enough to end up in eternal torment, but sharing that fate with the devil would have added to the distress.

The evangelists of previous years used to engage in the practice of dangling their hearers over the fires of hell through their preaching. Pointing out to their listeners the horrors of what hell would be like. We don’t hear many sermons on hell today. Not political correct any more? But many today, even Christians, have rejected the view of hell being a fiery lake, as being archaic and not applicable in our more sophisticated modern times. As I have said before, a man I know in the village where I live has publicly rejected all thoughts of salvation. Instead, he wants, as he put it, “to join the party downstairs”. The fiery lake, hell, will be no party. I told him so.

Others have decided, without any evidence to back their assumptions, that hell will be a benign state of sleep, or somewhere where their disembodied spirits can roam around, unbothered by human restraints. Still others have decided that hell doesn’t exist at all, rejecting the Biblical accounts, instead sincerely believing that our God of love would never consign anyone to such a place. But do we view the fiery lake images as being symbolic or a reality to be avoided at all costs? Is this place just a fairy tale conjured up in the Apostle John’s imagination? Unfortunately no one has returned to earth to let us know. But Jesus was horrified about hell, and most of the teaching about this place came from His lips. He likened it to Gehenna, the rubbish pit in a gorge located below Jerusalem, and where garbage and the bodies of dead criminals were piled up. It was constantly smouldering and was full of worms. The smell was appalling. Jesus also told the story of the rich man and the beggar called Lazarus. We can read what Jesus said in Luke 16:19-31, but one verse supports the fiery lake scenario. Luke 16:24 reads, “The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames“.

But we pilgrims have made our choice. We are God-followers, accepting His love and grace and looking forward to the day when we will join Him in Heaven. And while we still have time, we must, like the Apostle Paul, do our best to convince others of the dangers of the fiery lake. We read in Acts 19:8, “Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God.” Our synagogues will be our workplaces, our community centres, our churches, all places where we try and persuade others to embrace God and His love and grace, before it is too late. We must never distort the Gospel by omitting the finality of the Great White Throne judgement. Yes God is a God of love. He yearns to pour out His love and grace on His creation. But because of that love He has allowed mankind to make choices, and responding to His love is a choice we can make. But we also must never forget that one day there will be a Great White Throne. Where all of mankind who have rejected God will be judged for their deeds. As one evangelist succinctly put it, “Heaven is real, hell is hot, and Jesus saves”. Hmmm…

Dear God. We don’t know what the fiery lake will really be like, and I thank You that those who are assured of their salvation through Jesus will never find out. We continue to pray for our loved ones, that they too will find the true way to an eternal life with You. Amen.

The Great White Throne

“And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds.”
Revelation‬ ‭20:11-13‬ ‭NLT

The Apostle John had no respite, no time to rest, in the vision given to him. It was relentless, one scene after another unfolding before him. He had just witnessed the devil and his proteges, the beast and the false prophet, consigned to the fiery lake, to be tormented forever. But that scene cleared from before him and was replaced by a “great white throne”. It was occupied by God Himself. A raft of emotions must have crossed his mind. Joy at seeing his God. But a great sense of foreboding as he watched the earth and sky trying to hide from God. This isn’t looking good, he must have thought. A feeling of sadness came upon him as he observed a crowd, apparently limitless, gathering before the throne. Everyone who had died was there. It didn’t matter where they had died, or where they had been buried, because there was no escape. 

I suppose the question has to be asked – what about any people still alive at this point? I don’t think there were any, because the earth was trying to escape from God’s presence. And all of God’s people would by now have been in Heaven.

John saw a vast library of books, including the Book of Life. And you can just imagine the scenario. A name was called out and the person stood there trembling with fear. All his or her deeds were read out for everyone to hear. Jesus gave a warning to His disciples, which we can read from Luke 12:2, “The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all”. The person thought that all their wicked deeds had escaped public scrutiny. Those thefts that they thought had not been seen. The indiscretion with the man or woman in the office, their spouse at home. The images found on the internet late at night. The blasphemies and rejection of Jesus and His grace. All read out. The list of deeds came to an end. It wasn’t good listening. And it was followed by a pause before the cry from the throne went out, “Guilty!” 

Folks. I don’t want to be in that number, before God’s throne of judgement. And I don’t want my loved ones, my neighbours, my workmates, to be there either. We all need to embrace God’s gracious love while we still can. No-one knows when this momentous event will take place. But happen it will. And there is only one way to avoid it. Jesus said in John 14:6, “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” In John 10:28-29 we read, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.” It is only through Jesus that we can enjoy God’s presence for ever. That must instil within us a sense of urgency. We must tell all the people that we know. And persevere in praying for them. For we know that our God will answer these prayers because He is faithful.

Dear God, how can we thank You enough for Your free gift of salvation through Jesus. We praise and worship You today. 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.

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.

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.

Seven Spotless Angels

“The seven angels who were holding the seven plagues came out of the Temple. They were clothed in spotless white linen with gold sashes across their chests. Then one of the four living beings handed each of the seven angels a gold bowl filled with the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. The Temple was filled with smoke from God’s glory and power. No one could enter the Temple until the seven angels had completed pouring out the seven plagues.”
Revelation‬ ‭15:6-8‬ ‭NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

Trumpets One and Two

“The first angel blew his trumpet, and hail and fire mixed with blood were thrown down on the earth. One-third of the earth was set on fire, one-third of the trees were burned, and all the green grass was burned. 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 8:7-9 NLT

The sound of a trumpet blast reverberates around the Heavens and the Earth. Did those remaining on Earth hear it? Did they wonder if it really happened, asking those around them if they heard it as well? In his vision, John tells us that after the first trumpet blast there was a terrible event, of hail, intermingled with fire and blood, being deposited on the earth. And as a consequence, the earth burned out of control, losing one-third of the trees and all the grass. What did those who survived think about what was happening? 

Such an event is totally beyond our experience today. We can only try, without really much success, to think it through. Did anyone make the connection between God’s judgment and their sin? Of course all those marked with God’s seal would have been helping them make that connection, but people’s hearts were probably hardened, as they preferred darkness to light. In Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus said, “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realise what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.” Isn’t it strange how resilient people can be. They can be experiencing a catastrophe but still rationalise their way through it. 

And then there was a second trumpet blast. We don’t know if the two trumpet blasts were separated by just a short time, say a day or two, or whether there was a significant gap of a generation or more between them. Had the memories of the first blast been lost over the years? And was God now allowing another judgement to take place to grab their attention? The second blast preceded another catastrophe – a mountain of fire plunged into the sea. It caused a disaster as the water turned blood red, presumably with whatever the fire was caused by, and the result was too toxic for a third of all the fish and other sea creatures to survive. And the resulting shock must have caused something like a tsunami, that destroyed any ships in its way. A third of our maritime vessels were lost. The impact of the mountain of fire must have caused human casualties as well. 

But here’s the thing. Will the people then again lapse into rationalisation, and shrug off the event as being no more than perhaps a collision with an asteroid or large meteorite, disastrous though that they may have been? Or will they finally get the message that God was at long last justly dealing with the sin and wickedness prevalent on the earth? We don’t know how people will respond or what will really happen in these terrible days, but God knows.

To us pilgrims, perhaps reeling with shock from reading what is going to happen, we can do three things. Of course we pray, even the more earnestly for people we know to get the message. And that brings the second thing we can do – we share our message – God’s message of hope and reconciliation – with the world around us. Thirdly, we look after ourselves as we make sure we stay close to our loving Heavenly Father. Only He can save us from the wrath and judgements to come.

Dear Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your presence in our lives and Your encouragement as we plod along on our pilgrimage through life. Please help us we pray to clearly deliver Your Gospel to the lost and dying around us. In Jesus name. Amen.

The End Times

“Then the seven angels with the seven trumpets prepared to blow their mighty blasts.” 
Revelation 8:6 NLT

At this point in John’s vision, the humans on earth had been through famines and earthquakes. Wars and slaughter. All the woes delivered through the breaking of the seals were behind them. There were also 144,000 of God’s people, the Jews, present on earth and marked out with a seal that clearly denoted them as belonging to God. And here we are about to embark on the seven trumpet judgements. 

This was clearly the “End Times”, an event, or series of events, during which the earth and its inhabitants would be destroyed. Note that we are not aware from John’s vision about any reference to time. We do not know if all these judgements were to take place quickly, or whether they were to be drawn out over hundreds or even thousands of years. Was a judgement to be delivered followed by a long gap before the next one or was there to be one after another in quick succession? And it also begs the question – why didn’t God apply His judgement on the wickedness of mankind all in one go?

The obvious answer is down to God’s infinite patience, grace and compassion. We saw this time and again in the Old Testament accounts of when His people, the Israelites, lapsed into sin and wickedness. Sometimes generations passed away before God brought about a judgement dealing with their wickedness and evil ways, using nations such as the Philistines or the Assyrians as His judgement tools. Perhaps in the End Times in John’s vision, God was still patiently and graciously applying His judgements a bit at a time, in the process giving everyone, even generations, an opportunity to turn from their wicked ways and embrace Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

There are some today who believe that the End Time judgements have already started. Certainly, we hear reports of wars and strife, with the last century seeing two wars of unprecedented scale. There are global famines. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. All signs that appear both in Jesus’ accounts in Matthew, and in John’s vision here in Revelation. And there was a great expectation in the early church that Jesus would return “soon”. In reality we don’t know when the End Times will start, but we do know that one day there will come a time of judgement. Jesus’s disciples asked Him about when the world will end, and He gave them some clear answers in Matthew 24. But Jesus also said that no-one knows when it will be.

Today’s pilgrims know what is coming. And we look around at the wickedness that is infecting our world like a cancer, spreading out of control, threatening to consume us all in a maelstrom of evil. Our politicians have adopted anti-God ways and attitudes. Oh, if only they would read Psalm 2, and turn towards the One who has all wisdom and whose heart is breaking with pain over what they are doing. So we pilgrims pray for all those in government. All those who have rejected God and His ways. We pray for our friends, families and communities. And patiently wait for the Creator of the Universe, our loving Heavenly Father, to work out His ways in the souls of mankind.

Father God. I pray with my fellow brothers and sisters for our governments, our families, and friends, our communities, that Your Kingdom will come and Your will be done, today and forever. Amen.