Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Date: 18 November & 25 November 2012
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Revelation 18 – His Wrath in World History
John observed what would happen in the future. He had an experience of being caught up in the Spirit of God – (all of his senses were under the influence of the Holy Spirit) – (this is recorded in the Bible book of Revelation) – which enabled him to be in heaven and there see and hear the future – how history was going to be shaped from God’s perspective.
John lived a long time ago – (a few decades after Jesus had died on a cross, then rose to power as he ascended back to heaven) – so much of his future (and what he saw) is already in the past for us but his experience gives us fascinating insights into how God operates in the world even today – on a national level – dealing with nations, not just individuals. Are you interested in world news – the Arab Spring, the Euro debt crisis, global warming – and do you want to know more than you can read in the newspapers? Do you want to know and understand the most active player in world history – God? Then, learn from John’s experience.
What he saw in heaven first caused him to weep and shed tears in desperation:
Revelation 5:2-7: And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.
Somehow God’s future – the good that he wanted to achieve in the world – was contained in a scroll which could not be opened because no one was worthy to open its seven seals. Yet, one was worthy – Jesus – who appeared as a Lamb that had been slain. Jesus had come to earth – (humbled himself) – and he had lived without sin – (he deserved nothing evil but he had suffered punishment on a cross for our sins) – so that – on account of his blood (which was) shed for us – we would receive forgiveness from God. What love he had – for us! Jesus was worthy – love triumphed – which dried up John’s tears of desperation. All creation erupted in praise:
Revelation 5:9 [the twenty-four elders]: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
Revelation 5:13 [every creature]: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!
Yet – as John’s vision continued – the opening of the scroll and the breaking of its seals was not the happy occasion which he – and we – might have expected. John saw Jesus as the Lamb that was slain – his blood purchased people for God from all nations – Jesus was worthy to triumph with love but – instead of now pouring out more love on earth – we witness his wrath – large scale suffering:
Revelation 6: I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
The process of activating the scroll – removing its seals one by one – caused devastation on earth – peace was taken away so that people killed each other – sword, famine, plagues and the wild beasts wreaked havoc among the population. What is going on? Is this the salvation of the Lamb that was slain? Would anyone still rejoice over the opening of the scroll? Just imagine the newspaper headlines: “Killings – starvations – epidemics!” Would we not question the love of God when untold suffering came to our nation? How often have you heard people say in times of tragedy: “How can God allow so much pain?” Maybe John should have saved his tears for the opening of the seals, not cry beforehand when the scroll was still shut and safe.
I think that – this morning – we have some learning to do – understand history better and recover the praise of God precisely when devastation comes.
Before I go much deeper, have a look at four preliminary observations:
1. Most of the evil is done by people themselves. They kill each other and they cause the famines and diseases that come with war. The judgement of God seems to work by removing his blessings and handing people over to their persistent wickedness (see Romans 1:28-29: “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity ... ”) Judgement is to get what sinful humans want: a life without God.
2. People had an awareness of God and his displeasure (wrath) – Revelation 6:15-17: “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’” In this respect, I found an interesting headline in the New York Post after hurricane Sandy and an ensuing snowstorm (8 November 2012): God Hates Us! ... But We Have An Angel [Miranda Kerr scantily dressed].
Show pictures on data-projector.
3. The breaking of the seals – human suffering – somehow serves to establish God’s justice. I read what happened at the breaking of the fifth seal – Revelation 6:9-11: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.”
4. The breaking of the seals only opened the scroll. There was more to come – seven trumpet blasts of further judgement and wrath – and God’s own people – we Christians – contributed (and still contribute) to the devastation that was to come on earth – Revelation 8:1-5: “When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”
Do we want our prayers to be used in bringing wrath to the world? Maybe – if enough of us died in persecution, we would welcome a change in government. Notice how even heaven is silent for half an hour – what a pregnant pause – awe and the fear of God – before suffering breaks loose even more.
How are we to understand this segment of the Bible? Jesus triumphed as the Lamb that was slain – he suffered on our behalf – he saved people by his blood – but then he also released his wrath on earth.
Considering the opening of the seals – I cannot give an answer that would explain (for certain) modern world history. For instance, what happened when Saddam Hussein – a cruel dictator – was deposed and suffering only increased – rather than decreased – for the entire population of Iraq but especially for the one million Christians? What precisely was and is God doing in that region? Should not the removal of a dictator be a good thing? However, the picture is probably more complex than I know – with the Americans involved and the Western world, relationships with Israel (God’s chosen nation), etc.
[Sunday, November 11th, 2012; Iraqi Catholic bishops met in Erbil last week to urge political leaders to stop the exodus of Christians from the country and to provide greater security, Asia News reports. Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, more than half of the country’s Christian population has fled the country because of increased persecution, including more than 60 church bombings and hundreds of kidnappings and murders. Yet, nearly ten years later, Iraqi Christians have still not been granted the protection they need.]
The good news though is that the opening of the seals in the book of Revelation has nothing to do with our future but John’s future who wrote down the vision a few decades after Jesus had died and risen to life. From the book of Revelation, we know that the foretold judgement and suffering – the opening of the seals and the scroll – pertained to Jerusalem and its destruction which happened in 70 AD – a few years after John had written down the vision.
Hermeneutical key – Revelation 11:8: “Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified.”
Now – and this is helpful for us today – the Bible comments extensively on the judgement of Jerusalem in 70 AD and much information comes from Jesus himself. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD is probably the one tragedy in world history which allows us to understand God (as much as is possible) because we have so much inside knowledge in the Bible. We can learn about God’s character – principles of his justice – which also apply in our time – today.
On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus said:
Luke 13:34-35: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’
Jesus identified with God the Father and explained his love for his people – the love of a mother hen for her chicks. Again and again – with much patience and perseverance and personal cost – through prophets and messengers – God tried to gather his people but they were not willing to the point of stoning those that came in God’s name.
As he approached Jerusalem, Jesus was welcomed by the crowd of disciples but rejected in the end:
Luke 19:37-39: When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
Jesus had earned a right to be heard. God’s people always demanded a miracle – a sign – as proof of identity from God and Jesus had performed many. Yet, the acceptance of Jesus did not go past the disciples and the very miracles of Jesus were a constant source of conflict:
Luke 13:14: Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
Luke 11:14-16: Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
John 11:47-50: Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
You may sympathize with Jesus’ opponents because miracles are confronting when you do not like the messenger (a peasant from Galilee) and the message that comes with them (repent and come into alignment with God). Yet – in them and through them – Jesus demonstrated love – the love of his Father in heaven. He was like a hen trying to gather its chicken but they were not willing.
Therefore – before the walls of Jerusalem – Jesus broke down in tears and announced the city’s destruction:
Luke 19:41-44: As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes [wilful blindness as judgement]. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
The ongoing rejection of God finally – (always climaxing in the rejection of his Son Jesus) – bore the fruit of judgement and wrath – utter destruction – but it was not pleasing to God. It broke his heart. Jesus wept and wept. Tears were running down the cheeks of our Saviour but the time for justice had come (and God is just). When the whole world shakes – when suicide bombers crash planes into high rises, when famines starve nations, when the weather is out of control – God is not happy – he is never happy – but cries tears – like Jesus before Jerusalem.
Also – when the ultimate judgement comes – the day which decides whether we go to heaven or hell – Jesus does not delight in condemning anyone. He died for every person on earth – he aches to save everyone – but there is no mercy outside of him – his blood on the cross. Reject him and face justice – God’s holy justice – that puts you into hell – eternal torment.
Jesus did his utmost that the words of judgement over Jerusalem would not come true. There was still time:
According to the Bible, prophetic words of judgement are not final but serve as warnings – Jeremiah 18:7-10: If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. [See also the prophet Jonah.]
Jesus foreshadowed the severity of the judgement – and what God planned to do – by the prophetic act of cleansing the temple – Luke 19:45-46: When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
He kept teaching about the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem (Luke 21:1-38) and declared on his way to the cross – Luke 23:27-31: A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
In his last hours – dying in agony – Jesus prayed for his murderous people – Luke 23:34: Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Yet, whatever Jesus did, was to no avail. We can be stubborn in our sin and rejection of God. The wickedness of generations compounded to move God – to display his justice in wrath:
Luke 11:49-51: ... God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. (See also Luke 20:9-19.)
However, the death of Jesus was still not the end. There was still time and grace to avoid destruction. After Jesus’ ascension to heaven and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on his disciples – the whole city of Jerusalem was gripped in revival – powerful preaching, mass conversions, healings, signs and wonders, an outpouring of God’s goodness:
Acts 2:22-41: “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him ...
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear ...
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Acts 3:26: When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.
Acts 4:16-17: “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
Acts 5:12-16: The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
Yet – again – God’s patience was not rewarded. The glory of revival – the power of signs and wonders – was met by the leaders’ stubborn refusal to repent and more universal rejection – to the point of violence and shedding blood:
Acts 5:27-33: The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.
Acts 6:8-8:1: Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, ... But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke ...
So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin ... All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?” To this he replied: “ ... You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep ...
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Like Jesus, the first disciple died with a prayer of blessing on his lips: “Father, forgive them.” “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” God kept loving his people; therefore delayed judgement – the destruction of Jerusalem and the devastation of war – but – finally – as witnessed by John in his vision – there was an oath in the name of God: “There will be no more delay” (Revelation 10:6).
Judgement began but – even then – there was time to escape the worst of it because the suffering that came through the breaking of the seven seals, would be followed by more severe suffering through the seven trumpets which would be followed by the most severe suffering through the seven bowls of wrath (which would complete and satisfy the wrath of God). God hoped for a change in the minds and hearts of people but – despite the intensifying of judgement – the change did not come.
Revelation 9:20-21: The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.
Revelation 16:9-11: They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.
God waited and waited and the waiting did cost him. The opposition to his reign pressured the churches. It mattered that all Christians had to flee Jerusalem because it emptied the city of the preaching of Jesus. God endured much at the hands of his people’s wickedness:
When Saul, who had persecuted the church, became the Christian Paul, he himself faced death in Rome because of more persecution by the Jews – Acts 24:1-9: “Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: ‘ ... We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him ... ’ The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.” Acts 25:24-25: “Festus said: ‘King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome.’”
In the book of Revelation, the dominant Jews had reached a stage where the Bible identified them as “synagogue of Satan” – Revelation 2:9: “ ... I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Revelation 3:9: “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”
There was the active persecution of Christians by Jews – with the help of the Romans – but there was also the pressure from the spiritual corruption which had made the dominant Jews a “synagogue of Satan”. Their zeal for traditions and human law enforcements threatened to corrupt the message of salvation by faith through grace – apart from our own efforts:
Acts 21:20-22: When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come”
Acts 15:1-5: Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
Galatians 1:6-9: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
Galatians 2:11-16: When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”
Galatians 3:1-5: You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
From Jerusalem – even from within the Christian church under the leadership of James – there was pressure to deny the gospel – justification by faith (not works) – and put one’s trust again in a long checklist of dos and don’ts. There was power coming from Jerusalem that was Jewish in origin – (ultimately human in origin) – and led to the persecution and also spiritual corruption of the church. The Romans and also Christians came under the spell of Jerusalem – the “great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18).
God endured these condition for about forty years – from the time that Jesus died (about 30 AD) to the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD). How patient is our God – how loving? And after forty years, he was still crying tears over the destruction of Jerusalem and its people. There was never joy in the justice of his wrath except the joy that now the power of the opposition had been broken and the reign of Jesus would be established unhindered:
Revelation 11:15: The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
Revelation 11:17-18: We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry, and your wrath has come ...
With the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, the Jewish religion had its power broken – the sacrifices at the temple – the centre of worship. Now – finally – after waiting for forty years – coming back to John’s vision – the Lamb that was slain would open the seals of the scroll and begin to rule. Amazing that God would wait that long! There is the pain of human suffering – on a large scale – but there is also the joy that Jesus would take over the government, provide relief to his persecuted church and establish justice (on earth now) which, does not only include wrath, but also the blessing of God on his faithful people – those that overcome. From that perspective – it is good that God is shaking the earth.
In closing (of the first part of this message), what have we learned? What are we taking away from here today? I summarize a few points:
1. God is always good. His wrath is deserved: a) Jesus suffered himself so that we would be spared judgement in eternity. b) Many a time he had tried to gather his people like a hen gathering its chicken but they were not willing, killed the prophets, Jesus and his disciples. c) Jesus wept over his people. d) Jesus kept warning his people. e) Dying on a cross, he prayed for his people – as did the disciples. f) Jesus delayed the coming of his wrath. g) He administered his justice in stages so that people could still repent in the early stages of wrath. h) For many years, Jesus endured opposition to his reign.
2. Be careful about taking offense at God. May his wrath not harden you but lead you to repentance. [Luke 13:6-9; 20:15-16; Isaiah 5:1-7: “ ... Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? ... ”]
3. Jesus invites you to rejoice in his reign. Rejoice in his glory and reign when he triumphs over those that persecute his church. Rejoice in the expanding of his kingdom. Rejoice in his justice that rewards faithfulness.
4. Fear God and worship him.
I may still not understand world history – all of the complexities – but the bygone history of Jerusalem – what happened to the city in 70 AD – on the basis of the Bible – demonstrates the goodness of God – his long-suffering patience and compassion. When God’s justice comes with wrath, it is deserved. May we all submit to him and trust him – rejoice in his glory and reign. Jesus died for us – was judged for us – so that we would not taste the same. Amen.
In heaven, John witnessed the future – how Jerusalem – the capital of God’s people (the Jews) – would be destroyed – (seals were opened and a scroll became operational) – and the future happened. Jerusalem was reduced to rubble in 70 AD – among untold suffering. (The Roman army invaded Israel.) Last week, the confronting news was that God was responsible. It was God that punished his people on a national scale – with killings, starvations and epidemics. God is an active player in world history and he does execute judgement on nations – which is not an easy message to share today – but – as was the case in the destruction of Jerusalem – the best documented national tragedy in the Bible – he is just with a loving heart.
God is always good. His wrath is deserved: a) Jesus suffered himself so that we would be spared judgement in eternity. b) Many a time he had tried to gather his people like a hen gathering its chicken but they were not willing, killed the prophets, Jesus and his disciples. c) Jesus wept over his people. d) Jesus kept warning his people. e) Dying on a cross, he prayed for his people – as did the disciples. f) Jesus delayed the coming of his wrath. g) He administered his justice in stages so that people could still repent in the early stages of wrath. h) For many years, Jesus endured opposition to his reign.
This morning – what may even be more confronting is our role in God’s justice. How are we involved when God destroys a city like Jerusalem? Do you want a role in a nation’s famine (civil war or ethnic cleansing)? Last week – John’s vision in heaven gave us two frightening hints that God makes us co-labour with him in shaping world history – bringing about his justice through (long-delayed) punishment:
Our own suffering at the hands of God’s enemies – especially the suffering of martyrdom – contributes to the cries for justice. God keeps close to him the ones that die in persecution – Revelation 6:9-11: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.”
In John’s vision, Christians contributed (and still contribute) to the devastation that was to come on earth. Their prayers (cf. Lord’s Prayer: “ ... Your kingdom come. Your will be done ... ”) were responsible (at least partly) for the seven trumpet blasts of further judgement and wrath – Revelation 8:1-5: “When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”
What is our role in history? This is a big question but an important one because history is all about the conflict between God and Satan and people have to choose sides. There are no neutrals. (This point may require a separate teaching message. At its core, world history is about the battle between God’s kingdom and Satan.)
Revelation 13:3-8: ... The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.
As Christians – we follow God and engage the world in his name and authority:
Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Our mission is tied up with Jesus and he can be confusing. There seem to be contradictions. On the one hand – he died on a cross (as a willing victim and sacrifice) – shed blood on behalf of everyone (including God’s enemies) – he was the Lamb that was slain on our behalf – but – on the other hand – he took to the money changers in the temple with a whip – overthrowing tables – and pronounced judgement on Jerusalem and the nation. The book of Revelation talks about the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16) which unleashed terror on earth. On the one hand – he declared some people blessed – but – on the other hand – he spoke woe over others:
Luke 11:42-52: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”
One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
Which Jesus are we to follow? What is our life going to look like? We unpack these questions slowly.
Jesus was very clear that we are to bless our enemies – not curse them. We are not to take revenge – certainly not become violent:
Matthew 5:43-48: You [plural] have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Romans 12:14-21: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
These verses do not forbid us to pursue justice through legal means (e.g.: call the police in a robbery or take a fraudulent customer to court) but they compel us never to take revenge. This is the radical message from Jesus: “Never retaliate with violence in times of persecution. Endure. Overcome evil with good. Love even your enemies,” which he himself demonstrated. Dying on a cross, he looked at the mob and prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). [See also Acts 7:60: “Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep ... ]
This is one side of following Jesus – the one which is more familiar to us – but then there is also another side where we do “leave room for God’s wrath” and – with our active participation – see him avenge and repay people for their sins – not only in eternity but also in the here and now of human history (e.g.: the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD).
Before anyone misunderstands, let me clarify that when it comes to the most important judgement – the judgement at the end of time – the one that determines our eternal future in either heaven or hell – we are not active but passive. There is no judge but Jesus alone.
1 Corinthians 4:3-5: I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
At the most foundational level – our role in the judgement of other people is not active but passive. There is a way of understanding God’s judgement as a self-inflicted consequence of people’s rejection of his Son Jesus and those that come in his name (this includes us). From this angle – coming under judgement is very much a human choice because judgement occurs when people pervert the good will of God, who wants to bless and not condemn. Jesus spelled out this dynamic concisely:
John 3:16-18: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
As we proclaim the basic message of salvation, people either believe or do not believe. They either believe and have eternal life or they do not believe and stand condemned already. We just bring the message – function as catalysts which force a decision – but do not judge ourselves. We remain passive when it comes to judgement. [However people respond to us and our message either saves them or seals their judgement]:
Luke 10:16: Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.
2 Corinthians 2:14-16: But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?
2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2: For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.
Again – we bring the message. We are the catalysts that extract a response from people. In this way, we are active in bringing about a response to the good news of Jesus Christ but we are not active in judging the response. We love and keep praying for people’s eternal salvation.
Yet – to go one step further – our role as catalysts – as messengers of Christ who force a decision – is significant and not only determines people’s eternal future but also human history – what is to come in the next few years. Our whole lives – not just what we say – are tied up in this role. It seems that when people reject the message and us who carry the message – when rejection comes with violence to the point of death – our blood serves as the most important trigger for God to intervene and establish his justice. The blood of martyrs sets the course of history. Once more, we remain passive in this particular role. We may preach with passion and endure suffering with purpose but we submit to the more passive – more inactive – role of being victims. We do not arm ourselves and shoot back. Yet, as we die – as our blood is spilled – God brings judgement to bear on those that persecute us:
Luke 11:49-51: ... God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. (See also Luke 20:9-19.)
Luke 19:41-44: As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Revelation 6:9-11: When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
Revelation 16:4-7: The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: “You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were; for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” And I heard the altar respond: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”
Revelation 18:18-24: When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ ... Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again ... In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people, of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.”
Revelation 19:1-2: After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
I repeat what we have established so far. As people respond to us and our message, they either receive salvation or bring judgement on themselves. They choose and, if there is judgement, it is self-inflicted – thwarting – perverting – the good will of God. Our role is simply being a catalyst for either salvation or judgement. We are passive when it comes to judgement on the most foundational level. We rather die than stop loving people and we keep praying for them.
However – on the other hand – outside of the last judgement – outside of the most foundational level of judgement – we are involved in judging people. We are not completely passive when God executes judgement on the earth. This may surprise us – this may make us uncomfortable – (who would want the responsibility) – but the Bible is clear.
There are numerous incidences where Jesus’ disciples execute judgement – discipline – on the spot. On a grassroots level, people are receiving correction:
The most radical instance is recorded in Acts 5:1-11: Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Peter challenged the lie of Ananias and Sapphira – gave them a chance to repent – but then pronounced death on them in Jesus’ name. According to the Bible, the wielding of this kind of authority in the church was not unusual. The apostle Paul wrote to one of his congregations – 1 Corinthians 4:18-21: “Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?”
See 1 Corinthians 5:1-5: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” [Consider also Numbers 12:1-15; 16.]
On the spot judgements did not only happen within the church but also in the work of mission:
Acts 8:18-24: When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
Acts 13:7-12: ... The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
Most of these judgements were not permanent but served as warnings. However, the story of Ananias and Sapphira put the fear of God into the people around them – (what about you?) – and this is not all. Jesus’ disciples also have power to judge cities and nations:
[You may remember what we said in the beginning: In John’s vision, Christians contributed (and still contribute) to the devastation that was to come on earth. Their prayers (cf. Lord’s Prayer: “ ... Your kingdom come. Your will be done ... ”) were responsible (at least partly) for the seven trumpet blasts of further judgement and wrath – Revelation 8:1-5: “When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”]
The basis for the disciples’ power is to follow the lead of God and exercise the keys of his kingdom according to what they observe in heaven – Jeremiah 23:18-22: But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word? ... But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds. / Matthew 16:19: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. [I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever will have been bound in heaven, you bind on earth; and whatever will have been loosed in heaven, you loose on earth.] / John 5:19-20: Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.”
God used Moses to execute judgement on Egypt for its refusal to let God’s people worship him – Exodus 7:19-21: The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs—and they will turn to blood.’ Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone.” Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt. [See also Exodus 8:5,16; 9:8,22ff; 10:13-15.]
Exodus 14:15-18: Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” Exodus 14:26-28: Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
1 Kings 17:1: Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
Hebrews 11:7: By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
Hebrews 11:33-34: ... [the prophets,] who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
Jeremiah 1:7-10: But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Revelation 2:26-27: To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron sceptre and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. [See also Psalm 2:9 / Revelation 12:5 / Revelation 19:15-16: Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.]
Revelation 11:6: They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.
Do these passages make you nervous? How much power do our words have? I sum up the message so far and then become more practical:
1. On the one hand, Jesus did not retaliate but died on a cross for us. Yet, on the other hand, the time comes when his wrath unleashes terror on earth. 2. Jesus commanded us to bless our enemies, not curse them. He prayed for them even on the cross. 3. Jesus commanded us not to take revenge but leave room for his justice. 4. At the last judgement, there is no judge but Jesus alone. 5. We are catalysts that extract a response from people. As we preach the good news, they either believe and have eternal life or they do not believe and stand condemned already. We do not pronounce any judgements here. 6. When people reject those who carry the message of salvation and even kill them, then their blood, that keeps crying out to him, causes God to intervene and establish his justice even on earth now. 7. We do have a role in executing God’s judgement as it concerns human history. As God directs, we speak discipline to people and nations.
The last point is rather scary and it has not been our practice. Who did ever – in your experience – speak a word and a person became blind? Who has ever been in a church that declared a drought in Jesus’ name? Are we falling short in this area? How could you possibly safeguard against making mistakes – judging others when God wants to bless them?
[Benny Hinn: Operating in the Anointing, talk number 12, transcript (not word-perfect:] There are individuals that have great ministries that believe that their ministry is to judge other people. You have to reject them … There is the other that is frightening. I was in South Africa ministering in Johannesburg. I had been harassed by religious fanatics for two years that kept protesting at my house every Saturday … protested at our church every Sunday. They would curse our people as they were driving into the church … foul language was used … They were religious fanatics … The fruit that was coming out of them was satanic … the filthiest signs … Now they came to my home every Saturday … “Benny Hinn is a snake-oil salesmen” …
So you do what you are supposed to do as a Christian. You pray and pray and pray. You bless those that curse you … My wife even wanted to bring out refreshments to them – love them … We had police every Sunday – standing between the worshippers and protesters. They would follow us from crusade to crusade – shouting and hollering.
I was in South Africa … They had crossed the line. They were blaspheming the Holy Spirit. They screamed: “This is of the devil.” Jesus warned us about that … When the opposition accused Jesus of being of the devil, he talked about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit … To say that the work of the Holy Ghost is of the devil is dangerous. And only then do we have the right to pray differently. The protesters kept going for two years … two years … I was in South Africa and I prayed: “Lord, what do I do.” God said: “Curse them.”
This shook me. I did not want to hear it. I did not want to do it. God never told me to do anything like this before. I had never been told by the Lord to do such a thing because when I read the Bible it says “bless those that curse you”. Is it the devil advising me? Is it God? I searched the Scriptures … Elijah cursing the children … Lord, how can I even feel good about this … When I get to the meeting, a pastor (Fred Roberts) tells me that God wanted me to do something: “Curse them.”
The man of God tells me to do what I knew that I had to do but I did not want to do it. On the platform – under a heavy anointing – the Holy Spirit said: “Either you do it or they will mock you and harm my work. I’ll stop them but only if you want.” We Christians do not want to pray such prayers. The anointing was so strong. I could hardly stand up and I said: “Lord, desolation and destruction into their team.” A week later that group fizzled out. The wife left the husband. The team turned against him and they disappeared.
Now – all I can tell you – maybe it was by chance. Maybe it wasn’t my prayer … and then I had another experience that was frightening … Two men rose up against our ministry to destroy it … Three years … One said to another: “If it means my death, I will destroy that man.” I was preaching in Denver under a heavy anointing, God asked: “What do you want me to do about it?” I spoke the same words. That man within days dropped dead. It shook me to my bone. They said: “He’s dead.” A young man just dropped dead. You be careful how you use the mouth of yours. Those men crossed the line. They blasphemed the Holy Spirit. There is power in your tongue. If God ever tells you to speak a word, you speak it – in fear and trembling. It is an awesome responsibility … The work of God is sacred … It only happened twice in thirty years of ministry …
This is challenging and I want to make something absolutely clear. 1) You never act alone in pronouncing judgement on anyone. Benny Hinn received confirmation from another pastor and – in the Bible – discipline and judgement are always subject to the leaders of the church who themselves are accountable to the church (e.g.: Peter, Paul). There are to be no “lone gunmen”. According to Revelation 2:26-27, the rod of discipline is given not only to one individual but the whole church – to all that overcome – which means that we discern together what God is saying before we speak any damaging words. [As the Holy Spirit has now been given to all of God’s people, we listen together to the voice of God. See 1 Corinthians 14:29: “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” 1 John 4:1: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”]
Furthermore, the rod of discipline or iron sceptre of Revelation 2:26-27 is not given to Christians independent from Christ because Jesus retains the iron sceptre in his own possession (see Psalm 2:9; Revelation 12:5; 19:15-16. Then, I have the suspicion that Christians only receive the iron sceptre in eternity because all of the other promises to those that overcome in Revelation 2-3 refer to rewards in eternity: Revelation 2:7: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:11: “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” Revelation 2:17: “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” Revelation 2:26-27: “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron sceptre and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.” Revelation 3:5: “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” Revelation 3:12: “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.” Revelation 3:21: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
Those that overcome and die then reign with Christ and from heaven rule with an iron sceptre: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4-6).
2) You never judge people in secret. Prophetic warnings are meant to lead people to repentance and how can they repent, when they never hear what God wants from them? You cannot judge people who are neither attacking you nor have any other awareness of your existence.
3) You are the wrong person to pronounce judgement, if your heart is not breaking with compassion for those that are to be judged. Jesus died for his enemies – for us – and he prayed for them on the cross. When God wanted to judge his own people, both Moses and Paul had it on their hearts to change places with the people rather than see them come to any harm – Exodus 32:32: “But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” Romans 9:2-4: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel ... ” If you do not have this kind of love, you are not ready to administer justice. You have the wrong spirit.
[See also Ezekiel who himself suffered in his own body the punishment which he announced to his people. God made him bear their sins. There is an involvement of compassion and intercession without which you are not ready to speak God’s discipline – Ezekiel 4:1-8: “Now, son of man, take a block of clay, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the people of Israel.
Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the people of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the people of Israel.
After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the people of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.”]
In closing, I make one more point: Even when God speaks to you about judgement, do not be afraid to follow your compassion. Jesus never stopped praying for us. He died blessing us. This is the time when God loves to be contradicted. In fact, he is looking for people who will plead with him to change his mind. [See Ezekiel 22:30: “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.”] This is what Moses did. This is what Abraham did.
Do not take today’s message the wrong way. If Abraham dared to pray for the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18), we dare to do the same – pray for our cities and the wickedness of the Western world. This is pleasing to God. If our discernment is wrong, it is better to err on the side of compassion and love because God is love.
Do you feel the weight of responsibility now? We love God but also fear him. Jesus died for us but there is also his wrath. Saving people is a serious business. Let there be a new urgency among us to spare people from judgement – both here and in eternity. Amen.
http://www.gotquestions.org/do-not-judge.html: Christians are often accused of “judging” whenever they speak out against a sinful activity. However, that is not the meaning of the Scripture verses that state, “Do not judge.” There is a righteous kind of judgment we are supposed to exercise—with careful discernment (John 7:24). When Jesus told us not to judge (Matthew 7:1), He was telling us not to judge hypocritically. Matthew 7:2-5 declares, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” What Jesus was condemning here was hypocritical, self-righteous judgments of others.
In Matthew 7:2-5, Jesus warns against judging someone else for his sin when you yourself are sinning even worse. That is the kind of judging Jesus commanded us not to do. If a believer sees another believer sinning, it is his Christian duty to lovingly and respectfully confront the person with his sin (Matthew 18:15-17). This is not judging, but rather pointing out the truth in hope—and with the ultimate goal—of bringing repentance in the other person (James 5:20) and restoration to the fellowship. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We are to proclaim what God's Word says about sin. 2 Timothy 4:2 instructs us, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.” We are to “judge” sin, but always with the goal of presenting the solution for sin and its consequences—the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6).