Recently, as 2017 came to a close, I decided to spend a few hours on New Years Eve reading and reflecting on Scripture. For whatever reason I focused on chapters 13-18 of Revelation.
These chapters describe: the two beasts who, along with Satan, form an evil trinity that virulently opposes the holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit; the three angels who proclaim blessing and judgment; the seven bowls of God’s wrath and judgment; and the city of Babylon (which represents modern civilization) and her utter destruction. John the apostle, the author of Revelation, offers a detailed and vivid account of the world’s end in these six chapters.
In particular he warns of the final pair of antichrists who will “wage war against God’s holy people and conquer them” (13:7, NLT, and throughout); will “deceive all the people who belong to this world” (13:8); and will control the global economy, requiring anyone who participates in commerce to receive “a mark on the right hand or on the forehead” to reflect their allegiance to the antichrist. Although those who receive the mark will enjoy the temporary material benefits offered by this world, in the end they “must drink the wine of God’s anger that has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath, and will be tormented with fire and burning … that will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night” (14:9-11).
It is important to note that according to this passage of Scripture there is a time coming when no one can participate in the global economy unless they have voiced fidelity to the antichrist and worship him. Those who buy and sell in the world’s marketplace reveal their devotion to the devil because “no one can buy or sell anything without the mark” of the beast (13:17).
In contrast, those who belong to Christ will refuse the mark, excluding them from participating in the global economy. Their refusal will lead to more than just an inability to buy and sell in the marketplace. It will lead to imprisonment and death.
What a dramatic difference those competing scenarios represent. Those of the world whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will enjoy the material spoils, luxuries, and excesses of this world. The people of God, however, will bear immeasurable pain, suffering, and tribulation.
In the face of such a traumatic and agonizing scenario John warns his audience to keep in mind the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who he paraphrases, “Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword” (13:10a). Those who belong to Christ must come to terms with their destiny so they can “endure persecution patiently and remain faithful” and “obey (God’s) commands and maintain their faith in Jesus” (13:10b, 14:12).
It is critical that we remain mindful of the fact that the two scenarios described above represent the short-term outcome for the two groups John identifies: those of the world and those who belong to Christ. In the short-term the worldly survive and thrive as the global economy flourishes and produces unprecedented wealth, while the godly suffer terribly and undergo brutal deaths. In the long-term, however, the scenarios are reversed. The worldly spend eternity in the lake of fire with the devil and will be tormented day and night forever and ever [See 20:10, 14-15], while those in Christ spend eternity in heaven, which overflows with peace, love, and joy.
As I read Revelation and was reminded once again of God’s wrath and judgment poured out on all those who love the world and worship evil, a sense of sadness settled on me. How could people choose to spend eternity in continuous, unrelenting agony? Why would anyone reject the Savior for Satan?
And then it dawned on me. Such people choose to embrace the short-term pleasures and comforts of this world in the hope that there are no long-term consequences. In contrast, those in Christ embrace His promise of future glory and therefore willingly accept the short-term trials and tribulations He sends our way, which refine our faith and demonstrate our love for Him.
After reflecting on those six chapters, I could read no more about judgment and wrath. So I asked God to direct me to a different passage; one filled with hope for those who are in Christ. I was quickly led to Romans 8.
Wow! What an awesome transition. After reading about God’s judgment and wrath in Revelation I now read these words from the apostle Paul: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The fiery lake of torment and eternal suffering holds no power over the believer. For those in Christ are not subject to God’s wrath.
Why? Because they are judged righteous in Christ. Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross bore God’s wrath on our behalf, so that we stand justified before God. Therefore, for those who belong to Christ there is NO CONDEMNATION. What an incredible truth. What a comforting promise.
Those in Christ Jesus, however, are not just the recipients of that amazing assurance. We also receive the Spirit of God as evidence of our authentic faith in Christ. And with the Spirit’s presence comes power. “Because you belong to (Jesus), the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:2).
It is important we understand that when we surrender our lives to Christ we not only receive the promise of eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we also receive an expectation of holiness. This holiness is unattainable on our own strength. It is only by the power of the Spirit that we grow to resemble the Lord in our speech, conduct, and thoughts.
Paul described it in these eloquent terms.
“Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit IF you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all)… Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live” (Romans 8:5-9, 12-13 – emphasis mine).
What is Paul saying in this passage? Simply this. If we truly belong to Christ we will conduct our lives under the power of the Holy Spirit, who will empower us daily to crucify the flesh and surrender more fully our lives to Christ and for His glory. We will live more sacrificially, setting aside our own interests to further the will of the Lord. We will no longer allow our sinful nature to dictate our priorities, plans, and pursuits, nor use our time, income, and resources to advance its agenda of selfishness, pleasure, comfort, idolatry, hedonism, and materialism. Instead we will pursue that which magnifies the Lord and will obey all He asks of us, no matter the cost.
In short, those of us in Christ Jesus will live in a manner that is an extraordinary contrast to how those of the world live – since we are controlled by the Spirit and they are controlled by their sinful nature.
As you begin the New Year consider these questions.
1] Are you focused on the short-term (as those in the world are) or on the long-term (as those in Christ Jesus are)?
2] What does your calendar, your checkbook, and your thoughts reveal about your commitment to Christ? Does it reflect total surrender or half-hearted devotion?
3] In what areas of your life have you crucified your sinful nature? In what area(s) is God calling you to put to death your selfish flesh?
4a] How difficult would it be for you to no longer participate in the global economy?
b] How confident are you that the Lord will provide for your needs if you refuse to accept the mark of the beast?
c] Are you prepared for imprisonment or death if that is required to remain faithful to Christ?
5] Is eternity with Christ worth the loss of worldly treasure, safety, comfort, freedom, and pleasure?
6] What specific action(s) is the Lord calling you to take after reading and reflecting on this message?