We are kicking off a brand new series tonight. We’re going to spend the next five weeks exploring the last book in the Bible. That book is called Revelation.
It’s Revelation. It’s not Revelations. Just like it’s espresso, not expresso. And this one really bothers me. It’s Daylight Saving Time. Not Daylight Savings Time. It took all the self-control I had last week not to get on Facebook and correct all my friends who posted about Daylight Savings Time. It’s Daylight Saving Time. Remember that the next time we set our clocks. Help your pastor’s blood pressure to go down.
And now that I’m done with that little rant, just remember it’s Revelation. It’s not Revelations.
The book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John somewhere between 92-93 AD. John was exiled on the island of Patmos. He had been sentenced to exile by Roman Emperor Domitian during an intense time of persecution against Christians.
According to church tradition, John was the only apostle who was not martyred by his faith. But tradition also says that attempts were made to kill him.
It is believed that John was boiled in oil in an attempt to execute him. It’s also said that John was forced to drink poison, but the Lord saved him. When these execution attempts failed, John was exiled on Patmos. If the emperor couldn’t kill him, he would just get rid of him.
And while John was on the island of Patmos, he received the vision that became the book of Revelation.
Here’s the way John himself described it in Revelation 1. “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see…” (Revelation 1:9-11a, NIV)
And God gave John a vision, a revelation, that would become the final book in the Bible. And this book has been the source of debate and disagreement from 93 AD to today. This book is definitely bizarre. It has imagery of dragons and beasts. There’s a prostitute running around. It tells of the army of the Lord battling the forces of Satan. And it tells about the second coming of Christ and the end of time.
And people get all wound up trying to interpret the imagery and the symbolism in this book. And there is definitely room for varying interpretations on some points where the imagery is just not clear. But the message of this book is not up for debate.
So many people miss the message because they get caught up in the details. They fight and argue about signs that they see in the world today that they are absolutely convinced were foretold in the book of Revelation. But in all their effort to interpret the book, they miss the point of the book.
As we kick off this series, I’m going to explain the book of Revelation to you in five words. You might be thinking, “That’s impossible. You can’t do that. You can’t explain something as complicated as Revelation in five words.”
I absolutely can, because that’s exactly what the apostle John did.
In Revelation 1:1, John wrote, “The revelation of Jesus Christ…” (Revelation 1:1, ESV)
That’s what Revelation is about. It’s about Jesus Christ. This book is all about Jesus. It’s about the church of Jesus. It’s about the second coming of Jesus. It’s about the victory of Jesus. It’s about our eternity with Jesus. This book is all about Jesus.
I don’t really care about your eschatology. I don’t really care if you’re premillennial, postmillennial, or amillennial. And if you don’t know what ANY of those words mean, you’re probably better off for it. Because all the debate over all these different theological positions can cause us to miss the whole point. The point is that it’s all about Jesus!
That’s going to be the foundation of everything that we learn together in this series. Whatever we discover is going to be run through this one filter…it’s all about Jesus.
With that in mind, let’s stop and ask Jesus to lead us through this series right now.
The reason that the book of Revelation is so popular…the reason it evokes so much passion and so much debate and disagreement…is because it tells of the second coming of Christ and the end of time.
And the question that so many people ask is, “Are we living in the end times?” Is the end near? Are we getting close? Is Jesus coming soon? Are these the last days? Are we living in the end times?
That question is a huge hot button today. Back in the ‘90s, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins published the Left Behind series. This series contained 16 novels that dealt with the end times. That series has sold over 45 million copies. It was adapted into a film series starring Kirk Cameron. And there is a remake of the Left Behind film starring Nicolas Cage that is scheduled to release in September of this year. All this is proof that people are hungry to know about the end times.
There have been a ton of wingnuts who have claimed that they can predict the date of Jesus’ return. They know when the end will come. Here’s just a sample for you.
Back in the ‘80s, a guy named Edgar Whisenant wrote a book called “88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988.” He mailed 300,000 copies of 88 Reasons free of charge to ministers across America, and 4.5 million copies were sold in bookstores. Some Christians took him very seriously. As the date approached, the Trinity Broadcast Network suspended regular programming to provide special instructions on preparing for the rapture. (One more reason to hate Christian television.)
Last time I checked, it’s now 2014. Obviously the world didn’t end in 1988, but that didn’t stop this guy. Our buddy Edgar kept at it. He made predictions that the world would end in 1989, 1993, and 1994.
Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, predicted the end of the world in 1914, 1915, and 1918. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. But for some reason, people still followed him. And as crazy as it is, he still has thousands of followers today.
After his death in 1916, his followers went on to predict the end of the world in 1925, 1932, 1941, 1975, and 1994.
Then there was Harold Camping. Harold was a preacher and radio broadcaster who predicted that the world would end on May 21, 2011. And you might remember that because it was everywhere. His radio corporation launched a huge publicity campaign promoting that date.
When the date came and went, Harold Camping claimed that a “spiritual judgment” did happen on May 21, and that the actual end of time would occur on October 21, 2011. Obviously that date came and went, too.
And then, of course, there were our friends, the Mayans. Apparently the ancient Mayan calendar ended on December 21, 2012. And because this ancient calendar stopped there, it came to be believed that this would mark the end of the world as we know it. Well, it’s now 2014, and I feel fine. Obviously the Mayans were off the mark.
There have always been and there will always be people who claim to know exactly when the end will come.
But as followers of Jesus, we don’t get swept up into this nonsense, for one very good reason. Jesus Himself said no one knows when the end will come.
In Matthew 24, Jesus said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:36, 42, NIV)
Game. Set. Match. We don’t have to worry the next time some idiot claims to know when the world will end, because Jesus Himself said, “No you don’t!”
But now, let’s go back to our original question. Are we living in the end times? That’s a different question than, “When will the world end?” No one can answer that question. But the question, “Are we living in the end times?” is a different matter. We actually can answer that question. And we can answer it with one word.
We do not know when the world will end, but we do know that we’re living in the end times. Now, I know that’s an audacious answer. Maybe you expected more of an, “I don’t know” answer. Are we living in the end times? I don’t know.
But I’m not sure if a lot of you expected this kind of definitive answer. Are we living in the end times? Yes. Unequivocally, undoubtedly yes.
Here’s how we know. In Hebrews 9, Scripture tells us, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28, NIV)
Jesus came the first time. He came to take away our sins. He did that through dying on the cross and then rising to life again three days later.
The Hebrews writer tells us that as sure as Jesus came the first time, He is coming again a second time. Not to pay the price for sin, because that’s already been accomplished. He is coming again for those who have been forgiven by His death and resurrection.
Here’s the way Luke describes it in Acts 1. “Then they gathered around [Jesus] and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?
This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:6-11, NIV)
The disciples asked Jesus if he was going to restore the kingdom of Israel. That was what they believed would happen at the end of time. The nation of Israel would be restored to its former political and military might.
But Jesus had a much different view of things. He was launching a much different Kingdom called “the church.” And they would be part of establishing that new Kingdom. A Kingdom without racial or national or ethnic boundaries. A Kingdom that would include people from every race and every nation.
And after telling them of their mission, Jesus ascended into heaven. Then two angels appeared with this promise. “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
So if we piece together what we see in Scripture, we figure out that we are indeed living in the end times. Because Jesus came the first time and paid the price for sin with His death and resurrection. And then He promised the launch of His new Kingdom, the church. And then we are promised that He will return again.
And that’s where we are on this timeline. The only thing left to happen is for Jesus to come again. Dr. Jack Cottrell put it this way. “…once Christ has come the first time and set up his kingdom (the church), the next main event in God’s plan is indeed the second coming of Christ.”
The second coming is all there is left. That means that the end times began after Jesus’ death and resurrection. That was the beginning of the end. We are absolutely living in the end times.
Now, this is where the objections will start flying fast and furious. What about this prophecy? What about that prophecy? What about the thousand years? What about the battles that must take place? It’s all in the book of Revelation, and we’re going to look at some of it in this series.
But in so much of this, God made things deliberately ambiguous. There is so much room for different interpretations. It is simply impossible to know what it all means.
Some people claim that these things are still to come. Others point to times in history that appear to have fulfilled these prophecies already. And still others believe that much of this is symbolism and allegory, not actual, specific events. It’s all incredibly ambiguous.
But you know what’s not ambiguous? You know what God made CRYSTAL CLEAR in Scripture? Jesus came. Jesus died. Jesus rose again. Jesus ascended to heaven. And Jesus is coming back again. And in the timeline of the things that we know FOR SURE, only one thing remains. The second coming of Christ. So judging from what we know for certain, we are absolutely living in the end times.
Here’s what John wrote at the very end of the book of Revelation. “He who testifies to these things [which is a reference to Jesus] says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20, NIV)
Jesus Himself said, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
How can that be true if this was written nearly 2,000 years ago. If we’re almost at 2,000 years and counting, that doesn’t really feel “soon” to us.
But remember what Peter teaches us in 2 Peter 3. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8, NIV)
God is eternal. God is not bound by time. God has always been and God will always be. And in the sight of an eternal God, a thousand years are like a day.
It’s been about 2,000 years since Jesus died and rose again. Or, in God’s eyes, it’s been about two days. Jesus promised He would come again soon, and in the scope of eternity, He only made that promise a couple of days ago. We are living in the end times.
And we see in Scripture what the end times will be like. Revelation paints a picture of battles and wars. It tells of a great time of spiritual battle and persecution against those who follow Jesus. That’s what the end times will be like.
Did you realize that many people estimate that the 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history? And it’s just picking up steam in the 21st century?
Did you realize that we have never seen persecution against believers like we’re seeing right now? Did you know that more people died for their faith in the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries COMBINED?
In Revelation 17, John had a vision of a prostitute sitting on top of a beast. John said, “I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” (Revelation 17:6, NIV)
While it’s impossible to know exact times and dates, there can be no doubt that we are seeing a great wave of persecution against believers. And we were told that it would happen in the end times.
A lot of the time we don’t think in these terms because we live lives of relative peace and stability here in the U.S. But around the world, we are seeing the promises of Scripture play out. We are seeing war and bloodshed and persecution on a scale that the world has never known.
Here’s what Jesus Himself said about the end times in Matthew 24. Starting in verse 3, “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” [Isn’t it interesting how nothing ever changes? The disciples were asking the same question that tons of people are asking today. What will be the sign of the end?]
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. [That’s key. We’re going to come back to that.] Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. [I think it’s safe to say that’s happening today, isn’t it?] There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. [Famine? What famine? Did you realize that 41,000 people die everyday because they didn’t get enough to eat? That’s 28 per minute. For perspective, that means that 1,680 people will die during the hour that you are sitting in this room today…all because they don’t have enough to eat.] All these are the beginning of birth pains.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. [People are being persecuted and killed for their faith in Jesus more now than at any point in history. In fact, nearly 500 people will be killed today because they love Jesus. In America, we say, “It’s raining. I can’t go to church today.” Or, “My church is having an evening service, but I think I’d rather stay in this evening.” While in many other countries, there are people being beheaded as they walked to church today. I’ll see you next Sunday.]
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
[Jesus said the love of most would grow cold. And it’s happening everywhere you look.
For example, did you know that sex trafficking is now the third largest illegal industry in the world, behind drugs and guns? Selling people in the sex trade is the third largest illegal industry in the world.
I recently read about a little girl who was rescued from the sex slave industry. A group from the A21 Campaign went into a brothel and rescued some girls who had been sold into sexual slavery. One of the girls they rescued was five years old. Her mother had sold her into sexual slavery for $240.
This little girl was “servicing” around 30 men per day as a five year old. She’s five years old! We’ve got five-year-olds in the rooms behind me who are coloring pictures of Jesus. Meanwhile, a girl that is exactly their age was forced to “service” 30 men a day! It’s a cold world.
Right now, teenage girls are being stolen from their homes. They’re being taken to new lands where they don’t even know the language. They are forced into brothels where they are expected to “service” up to 100 men a day. And if they don’t, they are beaten. When they inevitably get pregnant, the babies are allowed to be born but the births are never recorded. The babies are sold into pedophile rings where they are molested all their lives.
We think it’s not happening because we’re so sheltered from this. It’s happening. It’s happening all over the world, but it’s also happening much closer than we think. I read some news stories just this week that talked about a fast growing hotspot for human trafficking in our country. It’s a city you might have heard of. Cincinnati. It’s happening. It’s happening here.
We live in a cold world. Jesus said it would happen.]
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:3-14, NIV)
Jesus never gives us specific dates, but He does give us clear signs. And if we open our eyes, the signs are all around us. And many of those signs are troubling and scary.
But the gospel of Jesus is good news, which means that we always have hope. Jesus promised that one of the last signs of the end times would be that the gospel would be preached to all nations.
Today, the gospel has been translated into over 500 different languages, more than ever before. There are hundreds of thousands of missionaries spreading the gospel in every nation on the planet. Here at Connect, we are so proud of the missionary partners we have in Italy, Albania, and India.
Here in the United States, there is a new church being planted every two hours. And with the technology that is now available, the gospel is spreading faster than it’s ever spread before. I’ve told you before that I’m always amazed when I see the analytics of where our sermon videos are viewed. They are viewed all over the world, including countries where it is illegal to even own a Bible or to preach the gospel. Thanks to technology, we are getting around totalitarian regimes. We are bypassing terrorists. We are spreading the gospel, just like Jesus said would happen in the end times.
I want to go back to something that Jesus said in Matthew 24. When He was telling us about all the awful, terrifying things that will happen in the end times, He also said this. “…see to it that you are not alarmed.” (Matthew 24:6b, NIV)
We are not alarmed because while everything seems to be out of control, Jesus is still in control. He is still on His throne even when everything seems to be falling apart. That’s true for our world and that’s true for your life.
Jesus is still in control, and Jesus still loves you even when all hell is breaking loose in your life. No matter what is happening in the world or what is happening your life, Jesus is Lord, and Jesus is Love.
He loved you enough to die for you. He gave His life to pay the price for all your sin. And He rose to life again to give you a brand new life. All because He loves you.
And because of His love, He is coming back again for His people. We don’t know when, but we do know He is coming soon because He said it Himself.
Let’s go back to Revelation 22 one more time. “He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20, NIV)
Jesus promised that He is coming soon. And for those of us who know Him, it’s not something we should fear. If you love Jesus, nothing in this message tonight should scare you. The end is not something to be feared. It’s something to be anticipated. It’s something we should welcome. We should be praying the same thing that John prayed. Come Lord Jesus!
Our world is so messed up. It is so dark. It is so dangerous. It is brimming over with violence and hate and evil. But Jesus is coming back, which means evil will not have the last word. And as a follower of Jesus, I’m anticipating that. I welcome that. I’m praying for that.
And the reason I pray for that is because when Jesus comes, He is going to set everything right again.
We’re going to use this Scripture throughout this series. It’s actually my favorite Scripture in the entire Bible.
In Revelation 21, John wrote, “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the HolyCity, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. [By the way, that’s not a reference to the city of Jerusalem in modern-day Israel. The new Jerusalem is the church! We know that because of the imagery of a bride. The Bible calls the church “The Bride of Christ.”]
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5, NIV) [Meaning you can take this to the bank.]
The reason I pray for Jesus to come is because when He comes, He will set everything right again. He will make everything new. Death and mourning and crying and pain will be gone. Evil will not have the last word. And that means that if you are in Christ, your hurt, your pain, your fear, your scars, and your sin will NOT have the last word. Jesus will have the last word! That’s not something to fear. That’s something to celebrate!
But if you don’t know Jesus yet, then you have good reason to fear. When He comes again, it won’t be a celebration for you. It will be anything but that. But that can change. It can change tonight.
In Revelation 22, John wrote, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17, NIV)
The Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit. And the bride is the church. Like we said, Scripture refers to the church as the Bride of Christ.
If you don’t know Jesus yet, the Holy Spirit is saying, “Come!” He’s been saying it to you all night.
And we are saying it, too. We are the church, the Bride of Christ. And we’re saying, “Come!”
You don’t have to have it all together. It doesn’t matter how broken you are. It doesn’t matter what lies in your past or even your present. The invitation is simple. “Come. Come take the free gift of the water of life.”
God’s grace is free. You don’t have to be good enough to earn it. You can never do anything to deserve it. It is a completely free gift. And it’s available to you tonight. It’s available through the blood Jesus shed on the cross for you. It’s available through the power of His resurrection.
It’s available right now. We’d love to listen to you, to talk with you, to pray with you, whatever you need. All you have to do is listen to the simple invitation. “Come.”