Is in Charge of Our Destiny?
When you look around in our world, do you
ever ask, "Who is in charge of the world order?" The Cold War crumbled
the East Berlin wall, however, it seems to have unleashed a kind of world
order that may be more threatening and scary than ever. The threat of fanatical
groups buying up the leftover weapons of the Cold War era on the black
market isn't exactly what we envisioned when we won the Cold War. The threats
are no longer contained behind walls; the enemy is now charging our home
Wars for ethnic cleansing and religious hatred
are spreading over our globe at an unprecedented rate. Most think that
the battles between Israel and Palestine are threatening world peace, but
the enemy is much closer than those wars lead us to believe.
The enemy is now entering through the front
doors of our homes. More Pinellas County kids are going to school with
guns and knives than ever before. Kids are killing kids, and teachers in
our school systems. The massacres in our schools are but a reflection of
the enormity of the problems in our homes. Marriages are falling apart,
and personal relationships are disintegrating at an unprecedented rate.
Rage is a common insanity on our highways today as well as in our homes.
We have come to hate the law and those who
enforce it. The law has also developed an unhealthy cynicism toward its
citizens. Have you noticed the security guards in our banks and our grocery
stores lately? The growing number of security alarms in our homes is another
indication of how close and personal each of us is affected by the onslaught
from the enemy.
The gods of economy and prosperity are creating
monsters out of greed and envy. These monsters are breeding self-gratification
and intolerance, while promising peace and safety.
Our culture's continual push for greater moral
license keeps chipping away at our homes. This is not only breeding licentiousness
in society at large but it is also predisposing Christians to a lack of
discipline. Statistics are revealing that the moral values by which Christians
live today are no different than the moral values the world embraces, which
is an indication that all of us may be worshipping the same gods.
Church trouble in our age complicates our
world even more, as it threatens to extinguish the light of the gospel
message. It is disheartening to think that churches are more focused on
defining and changing tradition than changing hearts.
A Sense of Hopelessness Pervades Our World
The really frightening part is that the buzzword
being used to describe our world today is "HOPELESSNESS!" Even those who
are supposed to be in the know are saying that our young people are losing
their hopes to have better lives in the future. I heard a behavioral scientist
in an interview a few weeks ago refer to our society as a "decomposing
society." No, he wasn't a Christian behavioral scientist lashing out at
a decomposing secular world. He was from the secular establishment. He
was part of the decomposition giving shallow answers to the probing questions
of our hearts.
Expectations are at an all time low. More
importantly, as you look at the world order of things, what are your expectations
for our world for the next decade? If a society as a whole doesn't
believe things will get any better, you can rest assured things will only
The battles raging within our minds and hearts
make the situation extremely personal. The enemy is lurking in our hearts
and threatens to destroy each of us in a more personal way than any threat
from without ever could. Do you remember the movie, The Day After, which
was a movie about the survival of the world the day after a nuclear holocaust?
The uneasiness at home and abroad is more unsettling than the wildest nightmares
the Cold War ever instilled into our minds. That would still be a great
title for a movie today, if it were based upon the ideal of survival the
day after the world lost all hope.
There is a need as never before for Christians
to reclaim their faith in God. Challenges to our religious rights have
never been greater. There has never been a greater need for Christians
to demonstrate faith in action. As churches and preachers seek to build
monuments to themselves today, we must remember that monuments will not
prepare our hearts to face the battles ahead that are designed to test
the very fabric of our soul. A grip on God is the only thing that will
overcome victoriously through the fiery trials ahead.
The book of Revelation was designed to help
first century Christians maintain their faith in God as Rome sought to
persecute Christians. The book is also designed to help Christians in every
age to maintain a viable faith in God through difficult times, even through
death if necessary. The only way to maintain faith is to have inspiring
hopes for our confidence.
God Is in Charge of The Destiny of the
Faithful (Revelation 4-8)
Last week we studied about Christ's pursuing
us as a lover pursues his bride. It is certainly moving to see the presence
of Christ personified as he walks among the seven churches of Asia. (Revelation
1-3) He knows their present struggles as well as their future difficulties
awaiting them. He knows their weaknesses as well as their strengths, yet
he has not deserted them. He is in hot pursuit of them. It is reassuring
to know that no matter how badly we fail Christ continues his pursuit of
However, the heavenly view of Christ's presence
is even more awe-inspiring. John is caught up into heaven to catch a glimpse
of our struggles from heaven's vantage. As we are caught up with him in
his Revelation we begin to realize the source of our confidence. Our confident
hope resides in the position Christ occupies in heaven at God's right hand.
Before we get so caught up in the details
of the scene John paints in words in Revelation 4-8, we must see the central
message the images seek to convey. In order to do this you must focus on
the major focal points of the portrait being painted. There are distinctive
focal points in the portrait John paints with words upon the canvas of
our minds. We must restrain ourselves from being so caught into the details
of the portrait that we overlook the major focal points.
Let us view the major emphasis of the portrait
John describes in Revelation chapters 4-8. God the creator is on his throne
holding in his hand a scroll with seven seals on it that holds the destiny
of the world. (5:1-4) Then John shifts our focus to Christ as the only
one worthy to open the scrolls to reveal the destiny of the world. (5:5)
Now John shifts our attention to the twenty-four elders before God's throne
with golden bowls full of incense, which we are told, represent the prayers
of the saints. (5:8) After this John directs our attention to the 100,000,000
angels who are worshipping the One worthy to open the seven seals. (5:11)
Then John paints this wide-angle view, which reveals that every creature
in heaven and on earth worshipping the Lamb. (5:13-14) Then you see Christ
open the seven seals revealing the destiny of those on planet earth. (6:1ff)
As you observe these images, I want to ask
you a couple of questions. Who is in charge of the destiny of our world?
Who is in charge of the Christian's destiny? It is obvious that the One
on the throne has delegated the destiny of the world to the Lamb, which
was slain from the foundation of the world for our sins. The twenty-four
elders bring our prayerful petitions to Christ as they engage in worship
As we read the message we must not get so
caught up in the splendor of it all that we tend to overlook heaven's deep
interest in our needs, which is represented by the golden bowls full of
incense in the hands of the worshipping elders of heaven. The bowls of
incense representing the prayers of the saints may seem like a small detail
in the overall scene, but they are actually the major detail. God is portrayed
upon his throne for the purpose of answering those prayers. Our prayers
are brought before the creator and sustainer of our world.
As John directs our attention to the scroll
with seven seals, which contains the destiny of the inhabitants of the
earth, we began to realize the unfolding of the plan of God as he rules
the world to protect and save those who serve him.
Initially, as Christ opens the seals in succession
we see four riders on horses riding out onto the stage. The first rider
has a crown on his head and rides out on a white horse to conquer. (6:1-2)
As the second rider rides out on a red horse he is given a large sword
to make war and take peace from the earth. (6:3-4) Then the third rider
rides out on a black horse with a pair of scales in his hands. He weighs
out a quart of wheat for a days wages, which indicates the scarcity of
food and the presence of famine. (6:5-6)Then we see the pale horse whose
rider's name was Death. He was given power to kill by sword, famine, plague,
and by the wild beasts of the earth. (6:7-8)
There is little doubt but what these scenes
represent the temporal judgment of God upon mankind for their sins. A world
filled with those who desire to conquer and make war and bent on bringing
destruction and death is very unsettling to say the least. There may be
many who escape the horror of the battle, but they will experience the
devastation of the war through famine and death.
How would you feel in a collapsing world order
that is brought about by the judgment of God? How would you feel with Christians
dying all around you for the proclamation of their faith? It is no accident
that in the midst of opening the seven seals that we have a scene of those
who have been killed for their faith.
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
number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they
had been was completed. (NIV)
The war between God and Satan is like every
other war; there are always causalities. Causalities on both sides are
inevitable, but Christians must realize that the destiny of those killed
fighting God's battle is much different than those fighting Satan's battles.
We find the martyred Christians gathered around God's throne as their cries
for those on earth are being heard. They aren’t seeking revenge; they are
seeking relief for the Christians who remain on earth. God hears their
prayers. He simply asks them to be patience while he works out his battle
plan on earth.
Think about this beautiful scene as everyone
in heaven intercedes for those alive on planet earth. God, Christ, twenty-four
elders and 100,000,000 angels, along with all the dead saints who have
preceded us are interceding for each of us. What a glorious hopeful scene
to inspire a courageous faith in difficult times. It reminds me of a scene
from the book of Daniel as an angel spoke to Daniel.
He said, "Daniel, you who are
highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you,
and stand up, for I have now been sent to you." And when he said this to
me, I stood up trembling. Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel.
Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to
humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come
in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me
twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me,
because I was detained there with the king of Persia. (NIV)
As the dead saints wait patiently in heaven
Christ opens sixth seal. It is in the sixth seal that John describes scenes
representing the collapse of the world order.
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 late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong
wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling 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 every slave and every free man
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 stand?" (NIV)
In apocalyptic language, when we read of earthquakes,
suns turning black, moons turning to blood, stars falling from the sky,
trees dropping fruit, and skies receding as mountains and islands are removed
from their assigned places, we understand that these things represent the
fall of the nations.
The scene conveys the message that God's enemies,
who are also our enemies, will not escape his personal judgment, they will
seek to escape, but they will fail. "Then the kings of the earth, the
princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every
free man 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 stand?'"
This is not a picture of the final judgment.
It is a portrait of what is going on down on planet earth. It is a picture
of God's judgment against Rome as she persecutes the servants of God.
The Security of the Saints
The security of God's people is the real theme
of Revelation. Where are Christians as the judgment of God comes upon the
earth? How will they survive the colapsing world order as God's judgment
comes upon earth?
To give assurance to Christians John describes
a scene portraying the protection of God's servants on earth. (7:1-17)
We have seen that heaven hears our prayers and that heaven is the final
destination for those who die in the Lord. However, John now reveals the
protection of the saints living on earth.
John reveals the collapse of the world order,
but he hastens to reveal God's provision to protect each saint on earth
before God's judgment begins. The scene portrays the protection of the
saints during the calamities that befall earth as a result of God's judgment.
After this I saw four angels
standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds
of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea
or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having
the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels
who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: "Do not harm the
land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the
servants of our God." (NIV)
The angels placing the seal of the living
God upon the foreheads of the saints is the most touching scene in John's
vision. The angels are withholding the judgment of God until the seal of
the living God is placed upon the foreheads of the servants of their God.
Later John reveals the purpose of the seal of God.
They were told not to harm
the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who
did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (NIV)
Many read John's Revelation only seeing those
with the mark of the beast "666", but the focal point of the book concerns
those who are protected by the seal of the living God.
During difficult times we may think we are
alone. Discouraged Elijah concluded that he was the only faithful one left
in Israel. God assured him that there were 7,000 who have not bowed their
knee to Baal.
John's vision assures us that we are not alone.
He portrays 144,000 from Israel sealed with the seal of the living God.
(7:4-8) Then he sees a multitude that no one could count from every nation,
tribe, people and language standing before the throne in front of the Lamb.
(7:9-10) One of the elders in heaven leaves no illusion as to what the
scene portrays as he explains it to John.
Then one of the elders asked
me, "These in white robes-- who are they, and where did they come from?"
I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come
out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them
white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, "they are before the throne
of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the
throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never
again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching
heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every
tear from their eyes." (NIV)
God Has A Plan for Everyone
As I was growing up in the church as a child
I always heard about how few would be in heaven. I was reminded numerous
times that of all those who left Egypt with Moses only Joshua and Caleb
entered the Promised Land. I have been reminded that even Moses didn't
make it. I have been reminded that only eight were saved in Noah's Ark.
Jesus said. "Few there be that find it . . ." (Matthew 7:21-22) I speak
from my own personal experience, but I have discovered that you can't live
a life of faith with practically no hope of going to heaven.
Those persuasive tactics seemed honorable
to preachers who were seeking to persuade an audience to walk down the
aisle during an invitation. However, some of us were scared into walking
down the aisle, but we were robbed of any real hope of ever getting to
heaven. If a person's chances are slimmer than having a winning lottery
ticket, why not just play the lottery? Of course, the other extreme is
that no one will be lost. Sadly, extreme views rob us of any real hope
of heaven. There is a view that only 144,000 will be saved. However, when
you consider the billions who have lived, your chances of winning the lottery
would still be greater.
How far can you count? There aren't just 144,000
who are going to be saved. It is a multitude that no one can count. (7:9)
The angels could be numbered, John says that the number of angels was 10,000
times 10,000, but not so with the saved. The message is that God is going
to save all kinds of people from all over the earth from all walks of life.
The beauty of this scene is that our salvation
is in the hands of God. Notice the hallelujah chorus of the redeemed as
they stand before God's throne.
And they cried out in a loud
voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the
Lamb." All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders
and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the
throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and
thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever.
Difficulties discourage us by focusing us
on our troubles. We may think that life is impossible because of our circumstances.
John is told that our salvation belongs to God and God alone. Our salvation
is in the hands of God who sits upon his throne ruling the universe. Our
salvation is dependent upon his honor, wisdom, power and strength. This
scene reminds me of Jesus' words.
My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall
never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has
given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my
Father's hand. (NIV)
Of course, eternal salvation is contingent
upon listening to Jesus' voice and following his teaching. Those who listen
to Jesus become a part of his spiritual kingdom upon earth. John calls
those to whom he is writing a kingdom of priest. John speaks of Christ
as the ruler of the kings of the earth and those who follow him a kingdom
To him who loves us and has
freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and
priests to serve his God and Father-- to him be glory and power for ever
and ever! Amen. (NIV)
Only heaven's inspiring hope can enable you
to patiently endure until God works his plan for your life.
2 Corinthians 1:20-22
For no matter how many promises
God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is
spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you
stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us,
and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to
As the seventh seal is opened John sees angels
offering up the prayers of the saints on the golden altar before the throne.
The prayers ascended up before God.
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 to them were given seven trumpets.
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 the saints, on
the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together
with the prayers of the saints, 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. (NIV)
As the seven trumphets are about to announce
God's judgment upon earth, John is reassured of God's concern for the saints
as the prayers of the saints ascend up to God's throne. The reaccuring
scenes of Revelation convey God's concern for his faithful servants. Saints
prayers have the special attention of heaven. Saints protective concerns
are considered before God brings judgment upon the earth.
The church of our Lord is a place of protection;
it is a place of refuge. God desires to place his seal upon your life.
His seal is your guarantee that you will be escorted through this world
in safety. This doesn't mean a life free of troubles, but a life that is
safe in the hands of God.
Do you have the seal of God upon your life?
If you don't have it, you will eventually suffer God’s judgment for your
sins. Christ invites everyone to receive the seal of God upon their lives.
And you also were included
in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.
Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy
Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption
of those who are God's possession-- to the praise of his glory. For this
reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your
love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering
you in my prayers. (NIV)
You receive that seal at baptism.
He said to them, "Go into all
the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and
is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
"Therefore let all Israel be
assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord
and Christ." 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." (NIV)
2 Timothy 2:19
Nevertheless, God's solid foundation
stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are
his," and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away
from wickedness." (NIV)
As you seek to serve God, you must sing a
new song to Christ.
"You are worthy to take the
scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood
you purchased men [us] for God from every tribe and language and people
and nation. You have made them [us] to be a kingdom and priests to serve
our God, and they [we] will reign on the earth." (NIV)