Victory (Revelation 19-20)

“Come away from her my people, do not take part in her sins?” (Revelation 18:4).

This verse is a call to God’s people to be separate from “Babylon” the code name representing this World’s opposition to God and his people.

When we looked at  Revelation 17-18, the preacher’s focus was really on these words here. He showed us something of the horror if sin and called us holy living. He particularly focused on the issue of sexual sin picking up the imagery of Babylon as “the great prostitute.”  He challenged us to see unfaithfulness not just in terms of prostitution and adultery but in things like pornography and lustful thoughts.

The message was powerful, maybe some of us were deeply convicted by it. But we may also be left asking “But how can I do that?” I want to live a faithful godly life, I want to resist temptation but I don’t think I am able.

At the same time, some of us, even as we recognise our sin and failings respond in a different way to Babylon. This City is described as the place where God’s people are persecuted. We are sinners but we are also victims. When we came to Communion that Sunday, we recognised that there were those who had been abused, victims of violent sexual assault, blackmailed, controlled.  We saw that there were those who did not want to be greedy and would love to give up their wealth and possessions to follow Christ but those things had already been taken from them when they were forced to flee persecution.

So, with that in mind, how can we live faithful, godly lives? Well I think we find the answer here when we remember that Revelation is meant to give us heaven’s perspective from the end on the whole of History so that we can live for Christ now.

Remember that John’s first readers would have been living with similar challenges. For them, it meant living under the crushing power of the Roman Empire. When they read about a beast that demands their worship and controls trade, they would have immediately identified it with Rome.

Similarly, the imagery of Babylon would have resonated. Babylon was like a code name, it stood for every City and Empire throughout history that was opposed to God and his people. Right back in Genesis 11 Babel or proto-Babylon is the place where the people after the flood try to resist God’s plan for them to spread out and fill the earth by building a tower and making a name for themselves. Babylon had later become a proud empire and under Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Judah, sacked Jerusalem and taken the people captive.

Now, John identifies Rome, a City on seven hills[1] with this same anti-God agenda.  For many of Revelation’s early readers, following Christ would have meant refusing to conform to Roman idolatry and even to Emperor worship. Faithfulness was costly leading to prison and death by crucifixion or in the arena.  But it was possible to live faithfully then, just as it is now and there are great reasons why here in chapters 19-20.

We can live faithfully because:

  1. God and his people will be vindicated (19:1-10)

A variety of singers are identified who praise God for the victory won

–          A vast crowd/multitude in heaven rejoicing because the Great Prostitute (Babylon) is defeated. The defeat is full, final and permanent.

o   Punishment for sin and Murder and persecution avenged (19:2)

o   Smoke that rises for ever (v3)

–          The 24 elders sing -representing all God’s people Jews and Gentiles (

–          A voice from the throne – probably one of the creatures surrounding the throne(19:5)

–          The great crowd sing again – focus on what God has done for his people. The Church is now portrayed as the Bride ready for the wedding feast (19:6-8)

John is almost about to worship the angel -caught up in this great event -but praise and worship is not to be distracted from the Living God (19:9-10)

So, there are two important things to note here. First of all, there’s that sense of how all that we go through now is preparation for the day when Christ returns, just like a  bride getting ready and being made beautiful. Secondly, we seek to live godly lives because this is part of our worship as we seek to bring honour and glory to God.

  1. Jesus is returning as victorious conqueror (19:11-21)

We now see a rider on a white horse, faithful and true who judges justly rides out to battle. His names and titles identify him as Jesus.

–          Word of God (19:13)

–          King of Kings and Lord of Lords (19:16)

God’s enemies -specifically the Beast and the False prophet are defeated (19:19-21)

Judgement – they are thrown into the Lake of fire (19:20)

Just like a football team defending a 1-0 lead at Wembley, exhausted, facing wave of attack but knowing that the final whistle is coming soon or just like the defenders of Minis Tirith is Lord of the Rings overwhelmed by Sauron’s forces then seeing Aragorn son of Arathorn at the head of a large cavalry riding to their rescue, we keep persevering knowing that present trials and troubles are temporary.

  1. Satan’s power is limited (20:1-6)

Satan is bound and unable to deceive for 1000 years (20:1-3)

Those who have already died for their faith return to life and reign with Christ during the 1000 years (20:4-6)

There are a number of theories about how this is meant to work out chronologically. Does it describe a literal thousand years? Is it before or after Jesus’ return etc.  My view is that these verses describe the time now between Christ’s first and second coming.

The important thing is this. To be sure, we have been through our fair share of spiritual battles but let’s not give too much credit and authority to Satan. He is not omnipotent, he is not omnipresent. We give him too much credit when we live in fear of him. We give him too much credit when we use his power to tempt as an excuse: “I couldn’t help it, Satan got to me.”

Satan’s power to deceive is taken away by the truth of God’s Word as it points to the Gospel robbing him of his ability to cause us to despair under guilt and shame and refuting the lies that he tells about God and us.

  1. A judgement day is coming (20:7-15)

Satan is temporarily freed and attempts to gather an army for battle. He is defeated and thrown into the lake of fire. This is a place of eternal and constant torment (20:7-10)

All the dead are raised and judged by God (20:11-15).

–          This marks the end of death itself – thrown into the lake of fire (20:14)

–          This judgement is concerned with

o   What they had done -lives recorded in the books (20:12)

o   Is your name present in the book of life (20:15)

–          Those who are not in the book of life are also thrown into the Lake of Fire

Now, if I can just highlight two things here. First of all, Hell is real. People have tried to play it down as just metaphorical or just temporary punishment but the Bible is clear that just as those who love the Lord are raised to eternal life with Him, so those who reject him face eternal judgement.

Secondly, judgement is on the basis of our lives.  We will give an account for what we have done but there is no salvation by works. Rather, the vital thing is the question “Is your name in the book of life?” Now if it is then there will be fruit, or evidence that we belong to him.

Conclusion

So, let me come back to our starting point. Some of us are going to face extreme temptation this week. It may be the specific sin that Jonathan mentioned or it may be different. Wen temptation comes it will say

–          You don’t really have any choice -this is who you are

–          It’s not that bad really is it

–          Just once more won’t do any harm

–          The pleasure, enjoyment, sense of power, benefit, result is worth it

This is where we need to be reminded that sin is ugly and stinks of death but also that Satan is limited and defeated. We can say no to sin. We are reminded that God is at work in us and so we can say not to instant gratification in return for greater, deeper eternal joy.

Some of us are going to feel like giving up. We will feel like we cannot go on with the pain and the shame. We will be crying out for revenge. We may be tempted to walk away. You may even be tempted to end it all.

The promise of Revelation 19-20 is that God is going to work through your present struggles and trials for your good, that these trials are temporary and will one day end. The promise is that God will punish evil and that he will bring you to a place of healing and safety.

 

 

 

[1] Revekation 17:7.

[2] There is a Day (Lou Fellingham)

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