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“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8
Because the Word is double-edged [Hebrews 4:12], scriptures often list those who will not inherit the kingdom of God in contrast to those who will [i.e. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-25]. Just as light would not be understood without the contrast of darkness, the life that God desires for us is not always clear to the human mind without looking at that which is in opposition to God’s will.
Since God is holy–meaning no impurity or sin is in Him–and since He is the sovereign of heaven–the authority before whom we will stand judgment–it is imperative that we understand what God expects of us, both to do and not to do.
So why does cowardliness make the list? Remember that this letter of Revelation is being circulated among the churches in the Roman province of Asia Minor. Jesus, through John’s writing, tells the churches that they were going to face persecution, hardship, imprisonment and even death for His name’s sake [Revelation 2:3 & 8, 9-11 & 13; 3:8-9]. In each instance, if they held boldly to their faith, if they did not cower from the physical, social and cultural threats of the world [Matthew 10:28], they would be called victorious and receive the inheritance of eternal life. We are not of those who shrink back from the world in fear, renouncing our faith to save our skin [Hebrews 10:39]. Rather we are to stand firm in our faith [1 Corinthians 6:13; Ephesians 6:11-14], boldly proclaiming salvation through Jesus Christ. The cowardly turn their back on God when times get tough. They do not acknowledge Jesus before others; in turn, they will not be acknowledged before God [Matthew 10:32-33].
Obviously, those who do not believe in God will not be saved. For it is, by grace we are saved through faith [Romans 1:5 & 5:2; Ephesians 2:8]. And even if we continue to struggle against sin we can experience God’s grace and, by faith, salvation in our lives. But if we do not have faith, then we will never see heaven.
Vile means morally corrupt. Since morals–standards of belief and behavior–are established by God who is holy, corrupted morals are anything that deviate from His norm. It makes sense then that those who buy into Satan’s lie that we can be our own God and make our own morals [Genesis 3:5; Isaiah 14:14], will never inherit the kingdom of God.
This corrupted moral system includes murdering, any sexual behavior that deviates from God’s plan of one man and one woman within the confines of marriage for life, trying to summon magical powers rather than rightly seeking the power of God, creating images of false gods and praying to/worshiping them, and telling lies. Many of these were addressed in the well-known 10-commandments [Exodus 20:1-17]. All of these are natural desires of sinful people, but can be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, and are completely forgiven us through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Who is God in your life? You or God? Not sure? Well, whose standard of right and wrong are you living by? Yours, the world’s or God’s?
“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:21
Less than 100 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostle John received the vision that we now know as the book of Revelation. It circulated among the churches of key cities in Asia Minor–a Greek province of the Roman Empire–which is modern-day Turkey.
About 150 years later in a port town of this same country, a little boy was born to wealthy, Christian parents. A little boy named Nicholas.
They raised him to know God and love Jesus. Nicholas was still young when his parents died, but believing God and obeying Jesus’ words in Mark 10:21 [and Matthew 19:21], Nicholas used his whole inheritance to help the needy, the sick and the suffering.
He sought to know God more, journeying to Israel so he could walk where Jesus walked and understand Jesus’ passion firsthand. He was a generous man who loved others with the selfless love of God. He was a praying man who saw God’s miracles in response to his prayers.
He went to prison for preaching the gospel and, when he got out, he met with the other church leaders of his day to ensure that Jesus and the Word of God weren’t being distorted or watered down in the churches in any way. Nicholas devoted his whole life to loving God and pointing others to do the same. He spent his whole life proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
How sad he would be to know that in his death people turned their hearts to trust in him rather than in his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That people turned the stories of his faith into magical fictions that fill children’s hearts with disbelief in the one true God so that businesses can make a lot of money.
But this St. Nicholas Day, hear the message of the one we now know as Santa Claus, whispered across the ages–Look to the manger and know that Jesus alone is what makes Christmas real.
Are you following Jesus? Have you given everything to spread the gospel? Do you love everyone you meet with the love of the Lord?
“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. When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth–Gog and Magog–to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Revelation 20:5b-10
If there is a first resurrection, then there must also be a second resurrection. Later in this same chapter [Revelation 20:11-15] a second resurrection is described, though not so named. It occurs when the dead are raised at the white throne judgment. These dead will be judged for their deeds, and, their names not being found in the Book of Life, will be cast into the lake of burning sulfur with Satan for all eternity–the second death.
Chronologically, the millennial reign, first resurrection, Satan’s doom and second resurrection and death are difficult to pinpoint within the rest of the end time narrative. On one hand, the saints as judges comes after the antichrist [Revelation 13 & 16:2 & 10-11] because it includes those who resisted his reign [Revelation 20:4]. On the other hand, when Satan is released, he gathers the nations for battle [Revelation 21:8] just as is done for the battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:14-16]. So is this a second battle after the millennial reign, or is scripture showing zoomed-in-and-out pieces of the end times timeline as it did with the Creation account?
More importantly are the key players–Gog and Magog. First mentioned in Ezekiel 38 & 39, Magog was a descendant of Japheth son of Noah and was prophesied to be joined by Cush and Put, descendants of Ham son of Noah. These two Gentile lineages here represent the wayward world, standing for one final rebellion against God.
In true Satan counterfeit fashion, the armies that battle God will number as many as the sand on the seashore–a number equivalent to the promised descendants of Abraham [Genesis 22:17; Hebrews 11:12]. They will march on God’s people–originally the line of Shem son of Noah, though now including all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ [John 3:16].
As the adversary encircles the holy city–counterfeit to the Israelites marching around Jericho to take hold of the Promised Land–fire falls and consumes them. A fire to which the generations offered their children in direct opposition to God [Leviticus 18:21 & 2 Kings 23:10, et al; Jeremiah 19:15]. A fire in which Christ stood with Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah [Daniel 3:25]. A fire that washes everyone who stands against God to their eternal demise with the father of deception, Satan.
Regardless of when the 1,000 years occurs and whether or not all believers will be resurrected to live through it, our citizenship is the most important thing. Is your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Have you accepted Jesus’ redemption of your heavenly citizenship?
“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. ” Revelation 20:1-3
Could this be another Christophanic angel [Revelation 10:1]? This one holds the keys to the Abyss–that death, hell and grave underworld where the fallen angels, aka demons, are holed up–the same keys that Jesus took when he conquered death in His resurrection [Revelation 1:18]. This one seizes Satan and binds him up for a thousand years, locking him up in that same Abyss. So it seems likely that either it is an angelic appearance of Jesus, or that since Jesus already conquered, the angel is able to act in His authority and strength to accomplish this.
And we too–when we have accepted Jesus as Lord and are indwelled by His Holy Spirit–we have His power in our lives. Jesus told the disciples at His ascension into heaven that because He had received authority over all of heaven and earth, therefore they [we] were to boldly go and make disciples across the planet, baptizing in the names of the triune Godhead and teaching obedience to His commands [Matthew 28:18-20]. His disciples could obey this command, holding onto Jesus’ promise that He Himself would be with them through the person of His Holy Spirit.
This commissioning comes on the heels of a ministry in which Jesus informed the disciples that, by faith, they would do greater things than He Himself had done on this earth [John 14:13]. During His earthly ministry, He cast out demons. Notably, He sent a whole legion of demons into a herd of pigs that rushed off a Cliffside and drown themselves [Matthew 8:28-34]. Greater still, He will see Satan bound and banished for all eternity.
God has given us who live by faith an incomparably great power–a power, the apostle Paul tells us, equivalent to the mighty strength of God worked through Jesus Christ to accomplish His will [Ephesians 1:18-21].
When we walk into a room, there is an authority shift that accompanies us. At the name of Jesus, darkness is routed, demons must flee, and spiritual discernment is made evident to all.
But so often, we let our sinful-nature–the ways of our old self–cling to us. We walk around with the name of Jesus on our lips, or in our prayer pocket just in case, but cower from or are enticed by the darkness, denying the true power of God in our lives [2 Timothy 3:5]. In so doing, we ourselves are deceived by Satan, even while we live for Christ.
Satan is already defeated though, and his lies will go with him down to the Abyss along with everyone who denied the truth of God in this life.
Do you boldly live as God’s light of salvation in this lost and dying world? Do you, by faith, walk in the power of the Most High? Are you growing in spiritual discernment?
“And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, ‘Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.’ Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.” Revelation 19:17-21
An angel calls all of the scavenging birds to a great feast that contrasts to the marriage supper of the Lamb. It is the bitterness of sin juxtaposed to the sweetness of salvation–many will choose to perish. Kings who have become drunk on their own authority. Generals, their captains and their soldiers who fought for the things of earth in the name of the kings of the earth. And all people–regardless of social status–whose name is not written in the Lamb’s book of life [Revelation 13:8].
Unlike the mythological phoenix, new physical bodies will not regenerate from the ashes and dust to which we return [Genesis 3:19]. Only spiritual bodies will live in the new heaven and the new earth [1 Corinthians 15:42 & 52]. So flesh will be no more.
As we make choices in life, it is wise for us to remember that we are all appointed to die once and after that to face judgment [Hebrews 9:27]. The things of earth bring us much trouble and ultimately will pass away [Matthew 6:19; 1 Corinthians 3:12-13; 1 John 2:17]. Our physical bodies too will pass away [John 12:24; 1 Peter 1:24].
How much more dreadful for those who resist God to the end. Who stand against Him in the battle of Armageddon, siding with the enemy–Satan’s unholy trinity of self, antichrist and unholy prophet. Like the enemies of any bloody rebellion, there will be no peace in their passing, no body to return to mourning loved ones. Like the soldiers who fell in the No-Man’s-Land between the trenches of WWI, there will be no way to intercede and rescue those who wage war against God without also bringing death on oneself.
Armageddon will be a point of no return, a line that, once crossed, can never be undone.
But for many, they have already chosen a path of no surrender and, therefore, no return. Many have already decided that they would rather live this life denying and defying God, than to worry about the things to come [Revelation 1:19].
Refusal to acknowledge God is a choice. Surrender is a choice.
Which path have you chosen [Matthew 7:13-14]?
“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.’ The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: ‘Amen, Hallelujah!’ Then a voice came from the throne, saying: ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!” Revelation 19:1-5
As in a refrain from a song, the praise we heard when we first entered the heavenly throne room repeats itself here. This time, the multitude [Revelation 5:12-13, 7:9-17 & 11:15] shouts the psalmist’s invitation for all to join in the praise–hallelujah!–most often translated, Praise the Lord.
And why is the multitude praising God?
For salvation, which is found by grace alone through faith alone in the person of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross [Ephesians 2:8; John 3:16].
For who He is, God. In Him alone is true glory–magnificence, true beauty, high renown and honor. In Him alone is true power–omniscience, omnipotence, all-seeing, wisdom and sovereignty–which he exercises in grace, mercy and love for us. He alone is truth. He alone is the just judge who will weigh the hearts of people [1 Samuel 16:7; Daniel 5:25-27; Hebrews 4:12]. He alone is able to stand against the false religion and systems of this world and bring them to naught, upholding the faith of those He has redeemed, those who have laid down their earthly lives for Him [Revelation 6:9-10].
We come full circle back to the throne room introduction [Revelation 4] where we were first introduced to the twenty-four elders–representative of Old and New Testament believers–and the four living creatures–the living and active throne of God Himself. At the praise of the multitudes, these who continually worship the Lord fall onto their faces more deeply humbled and thankful for all that God is and all that He has done.
And just as they exclaimed, Amen, when Jesus was found worthy to open the seven-sealed scroll, so here the exclaim, Amen, once again, confirming the right-hearted praise from God’s people. Amen. So be it. The English is bankrupt here, because so be it only renders a sense of future completion, where in actuality, the subject of this praise has already been accomplished from the very beginning. Amen should be better translated as three parts in our language to convey the fullest understanding–So has it been, So it is and So it will continually be–reflecting the true nature of God.
Then God’s throne itself echoes the call to praise to the multitude of God’s servants who are now in the new heaven and the new earth for all eternity.
When this day comes, will you be counted among the faithful servants around God’s throne?
“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. The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again. The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. Your merchants were the world’s great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray. In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.” Revelation 18:21-24
Perhaps this is the same mighty angel who asked to know who was worthy to open the seven-sealed scroll [Revelation 5:2]. Picking up the donkey millstone [Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42] to represent the sinking of Babylon is significant. It is better to meet this end by our own choosing, than to lead the faith of others–and children in particular–astray.
Jeremiah prophesied this millstone sinking [Jeremiah 51:63]. And Revelation assures us that once Babylon, and all that she represents, have been destroyed, the sinful systems of the world will never rise again. No music, career, daily chore or light will come from those who made their homes in false religion and sinfulness, though once earthly fame abounded therein.
By Babylon’s deceptive promise to influence fortune and fate–for that is what the rebellion of sorcery and witchcraft is–many, many, many lose their way on the straight and narrow [Matthew 7:13-14]. Our flesh is weak and easily tempted to behave according to our sinful nature [Galatians 5:19-21]. But by His spirit in us, God calls us to overcome the fleshly temptation and sin in our lives, just as He overcame this world [Genesis 4:7; 1 Corinthians 10:13; John 16:33].
All those who live by the world’s ways, bear the bloodguilt of the prophets, saints and martyrs. That is, if we live like the world, sinning against God, then we are guilty of the world’s bloodshed because we are a part of those who oppose God’s people.
But those who–by faith–live by God’s word, will be forgiven the guilt and penalty of their sin, and will be counted among the just and the righteous by God [Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Hebrews 10:38]. They will be like a city on a hill whose light shines for all to see the truth of their way in the darkness [Matthew 5:14].
Are you bearing your own sin and guilt and that of a complicit world? Or have you been saved through faith by grace?