A Gruesome Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blast of Heat

“Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, causing it to scorch everyone with its fire. Everyone was burned by this blast of heat, and they cursed the name of God, who had control over all these plagues. They did not repent of their sins and turn to God and give him glory.”
Revelation‬ ‭16:8-9‬ ‭NLT

The fourth angel appears in John’s vision. And his bowl contains a substance that causes the sun to generate more heat than it would normally, with devastating consequences affecting the remaining  people present on Planet Earth. We occasionally experience solar flares from the sun, but this will be far greater. It will be as though someone has poured a flammable substance on a fire that is already burning, causing an immediate increase in flames and heat. Mankind experienced scorching and burning, and responded in an interesting way – “they cursed the name of God”. In the outpouring of this plague of burning, people acknowledge God as the initiator of all the plagues and suffering they were experiencing. And they cursed Him. But then the thought occurred to me this morning – people are very good at acknowledging and cursing God in today’s society as well. They blaspheme Him. Insurance companies refer to natural disasters as “Acts of God”. But a repentant response to a natural disaster is not the norm. A more usual response is anger and defiance, or just a plain lack of concern. And things haven’t changed in these times of John’s vision.

We have here an enigma. God’s judgements are being meted out on the world. People everywhere know God is the Initiator. And yet they fail to make the connection between God’s judgement for wickedness and sin, and their culpability. They fail to realise, or choose to ignore the fact, that if they repented, they would assure themselves a place in Heaven, secure in God’s presence.

Here in the UK, the purchase of cigarettes involves a cardboard container printed with images of what will happen to a smoker’s body, if they continue with their habit. Graphic pictures of dirty teeth and receding gums. Illustrations showing what a smoker’s lungs look like. Yet, such warnings seem to have little effect on most smokers, who continue to puff away. Is there a mindset here that is convinced that the events described by the pictures will not happen to them? Or is there a “can’t be bothered” attitude prevailing? Perhaps in these End Times, people know who God is, they know why the judgements are being dispensed, they know what they can do to assure their post-first death future, and yet they refuse, instead responding with anger and defiance. They prefer to live their lives of sin.

But before we pilgrims adopt the moral high ground, we should pause. Are we not just the same? Don’t we still behave in similar ways? Just one more glass won’t hurt. Nobody will know if I’m speeding. It won’t really matter if I visit that website. It’s called sin. Pure and simple. When we compromise our behaviour, there can then be a “slippery slope effect” where what we do and think starts off in small ways but then leads to stuff that’s way bigger. Before we get caught in this trap, we must soften our hearts and ask ourselves the time-honoured question – “What Would Jesus Do”? And fall to our knees once again, before our merciful and loving Heavenly Father.

Father God. We thank You for Your forgiveness and love. Such grace is freely available to those who turn to You. Amen.

The Second Flying Angel

“Then another angel followed him through the sky, shouting, “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen—because she made all the nations of the world drink the wine of her passionate immorality.””
Revelation‬ ‭14:8‬ ‭NLT

The Apostle John’s vision is certainly full of action. The first of the three flying angels is still in his memory, as he mulls over the implications of the global declaration of the Gospel. Perhaps the first angel is still visible, just on the horizon. But he now sees another one coming towards him, shouting a very different message. A message about the fall of Babylon.

Babylon was the capital city of successive empires that flourished many years before the birth of Christ. And today its ruins are located quite close to Baghdad, in Iraq. It was probably the largest city in the ancient world and had enormous significance in the lives of the Jews because so many of them were attacked and killed, and many of their people exiled, by Babylonian oppression. There are several passages in the Old Testament that detail the evil intent of the Babylonians. In Jeremiah’s day, the Babylonians were besieging Jerusalem, and we read about a request made to the prophet in Jeremiah 21:2, “Please speak to the Lord for us and ask him to help us. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is attacking Judah. Perhaps the Lord will be gracious and do a mighty miracle as he has done in the past. Perhaps he will force Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw his armies.” Daniel, a young Jewish man, was exiled to Babylon, and what happened to him and his colleagues there can be read in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament. His story starts in Daniel 1:1, “During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.” And continues with Daniel’s exile, recorded in Daniel 1:3, “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives.” And there are many further accounts in the Bible about Babylon and its role in Jewish history. Babylon became a symbol of evil and oppression, immorality and idol worship, cruelty and a place where you just didn’t want to be.

So in John’s vision what was the implication of the angel’s message, “Babylon is fallen” and what was “her passionate immorality”? To the Jews, the oppression and cruelty of the Babylonians made them a feared and evil enemy. The word “Babylon” came to mean wicked, debauched, evil, hated. In fact, every negative descriptive phrase all bundled up in just one word. Psalm 137:8 encapsulates what the Jews dreamt of concerning Babylon. “O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us“. I’m sure this is the sanitised version of what the psalmist really thought!

Babylon became associated with sinful sexual acts, prostitution, idol worship and other immoral content too graphic to be shared here. And in Revelation, John wrote that “all the nations of the world” came to be the immoral legacy of the Babylonians. Here in the End Times, Babylon and its influence is finally dealt with and destroyed. No prizes for guessing who was really behind Babylon, its culture, its society, its influences, and its peoples.

We pilgrims can only look on with sadness and concern, that so many generations of people in the earth’s nations were taken in by the Babylonian immoral and evil spiritual influences. Not for us that sinful life, but we must be careful because the lusts of our sinful nature could quickly cause us to be sucked into a Babylonian lifestyle. Our twisted logic could be something like, “Just once won’t hurt”. Or “I’m only researching for my essay”. And before we know it we are fully paid up members of the Babylonians. Our enemy, the devil, knows where we are weakest and he will pick away at our resolve unless we stand firm against him.

We have all the tools we need to stand firm against the devil’s ploys. Ephesians 6:13 says, “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm“. And the remaining verses in Ephesians 6 break down the weapons we have at our disposal. We have the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. We have Gospel shoes and a shield of faith. A helmet of salvation and an offensive weapon, the sword of the Word of God.

We pilgrims are called to a life of purity. It isn’t easy. In fact it is very hard. The Apostle Paul knew that, and he appealed to the Ephesians to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. (Ephesians 4:22-24). But if we stumble and fall, there is a remedy. 1 John 1:9 reads, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness“. 

The second angel announces the demise of the Jews’ arch-enemy Babylon and its associated immorality. Most of the world would have been stricken with regret, their lifestyles overturned. The party over. But is that a cheer I can hear from that synagogue over there?

Dear Father. Thank You that through the gloom of the End Times comes a ray of light, as the wickedness in the world is finally dealt with. Please help us to stay strong in the face of temptation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sweet and Sour

“Then the voice from heaven spoke to me again: “Go and take the open scroll from the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll. “Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!” So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.””
Revelation‬ ‭10:8-11‬ ‭NLT

A voice from Heaven jolted John in to action. He was told to go and get the small scroll from the angel and eat it. And he was warned that although the scroll would taste sweet, it would give him heart burn. What was all that about?

John was told that the scroll’s taste would be as sweet as honey. We heard much about this product of the honey bee in Israel’s history – their promised land reputedly would be found to be flowing with milk and honey. Moses was told by God in the Burning Bush episode, “So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live”. (Exodus 3:8). To the Israelites, the presence of honey would be a sign that the land was full of natural resources. A wonderful place to be.

But more than that, honey has a spiritual significance. We read in Psalm 119:103, “How sweet Your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey“. So perhaps John accepted and ate the scroll, enjoying the sweetness of God’s Word. But then in some way he found that the words written on it were not the sweet platitudes full of love and grace that he expected to find, but instead the consequences of the third terror or woe that was still to come. And the sweetness turned bitter to the very pit of his stomach. There is a huge gulf between the sweetness of God’s Word and the bitterness of our wicked and sinful world. The one provides nourishment to our souls. But the other leaves a sour taste in our mouths. There is nothing sweet about the sinful world in which we live. 

The last verse of Revelation 10 had an instruction for John. He was to prophesy again, “about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” But what was he to say? Perhaps it was to make known what was written on the small scroll that he had just eaten. Perhaps he had to communicate God’s mysterious plan, that we read about earlier. Perhaps he was to prophecy what would happen when the final trumpet sounded. John would not have been lacking material about his forthcoming prophetic announcement.

We pilgrims prophecy. Not just by words but by our lives. The ways in which we set an example to the world around us. We are prophetically counter-cultural in all we do. As an example, a group of us Christian men had breakfast together in a local restaurant recently. We had not long finished when the fire alarm sounded and we had to leave, to assemble in the car park. The manager said we were free to go and there was nothing to pay. But we insisted on paying for our meal anyway. That was a counter-cultural prophetic statement, declaring to the rest of those in the car park that God and His ways are true and righteous. The world’s ways are not God’s ways. We are called to live holy lives. 1 Peter 1:14-15 reads, “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“. 

Dear Father God. You are holy and righteous in all Your ways. Thank You that through Jesus we too can be righteous and holy, as You are. Please help us to declare You and Your ways in our families and communities. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Compassion

The Lord is merciful and compassionate, 
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. 
The Lord is good to everyone. 
He showers compassion on all His creation.
‭Psalms‬ ‭145:8-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Why is God ultimately so merciful and compassionate? We look around us at our world and wonder why He doesn’t remove all evil and, in particular, evil people. After all they get in His way. They frustrate His will and purposes. But as we muse about how wonderful it would be if God removed the wicked, we get a light bulb moment – He would remove us as well. As Paul said in Romans 3:23, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” So it’s just as well God is merciful and compassionate. He gives us time. Time to repent of our sins. Time to align our lives to His. Thankfully He is “slow to get angry” with us. 

But that is not to say that God’s mercy will always be there. There will come a time when He can be merciful and compassionate no longer. There is a time of judgement coming. You see, our loving Heavenly Father is also a righteous Heavenly Father. He can tolerate nothing that is evil, and when we pass the Great Divide into a new life, anything that is evil will not be allowed in His presence. And so God has created a place apart from Him where evil will be allowed and confined. We can be assured that all the injustices, all the evil, all the wickedness, all the crime, all the bad things we experience in this life – none of it is going unnoticed by God. It is all being noted down in Heavenly life-logs. And one day God will open the data vaults and will publicly replay the videos before casting judgement. Thankfully there is a remedy for us – read on!

Today, in this life, we enjoy being showered with compassion. All of us, good or bad, live in a time of incredible blessing, a time of God’s patience and goodness, a time of God’s grace. As we take our faltering steps along the roads of life, His compassion helps us. His goodness is with us. His love is unfailing. His grace without limit. But God is not a passive parent. His mercy and compassion is active. He sent His Son, Jesus, to show us the way to a right relationship with Him. When Jesus takes on all our sins, we take on Jesus’ righteousness. If that isn’t the ultimate demonstration of compassion, of love, then I don’t know what is. And covered in Jesus’ righteousness, we today receive a “not-guilty’ verdict from the Righteous Judge. The Lord is surely good to everyone. Even me.