Renewal

The canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke &...

Image via Wikipedia

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” - Revelation 21:5

In John’s vision, we have now moved to the eternal phase. Christ addresses him from His throne of complete, conspicuous and indisputable authority and sovereignty. There is no-one who can challenge His dominion anymore. The promise of God the Father to His Son, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psalm 110:1) has been fulfilled. There is no more dissent, no more rebellion, no more “we’ll-do-it-by-ourselves-thank-you”; no more Genesis 3. Christ has prevailed; He is victor, not in the degraded way people have made Him through the centuries (think Crusades etc), but truly, realistically and irrefutably.

Pause. There is a reason why these truths are revealed to us in Scripture. There’s a reason why God has been pleased to give us so many details about His future glorious plans. And it’s not so we can sit in our comfy armchairs debating pre-, post- and a- millennialism. There’s certainly a place for that and I’m not demeaning diligence in the study of the Word in any way. But Paul wrote to Timothy that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). And that should be the standard by which we judge the impact of Scripture on our lives: does it build us up in Christ, does it draw us closer to God our Father, does it equip us for serving Him with joy and competence, or does it simply inflate our academic storage capacity to the point where we think that “egghead” equals “disciple”?

With that in mind, back to the text. Christ the King, at the real end of all things declares the beginning of a new world. Not a hazy, spiritual, harps-in-the-clouds caricature; a new order. A new creation. It’s what commentators call a renewal.

Now, we can’t fully glean from the text the extent of this renewal anymore than we can pretend to comprehend how our current, soon-to-be-old world functions. But Christ’s “all [πάντα] things new” is all-encompassing. It must touch upon all of nature because all of nature is connected and all of nature is connected by and subjected to the Fall (cf. Rom. 8:20-22).

What does this mean? Aside from balancing the amount of energy and concern we ought to spend on eco-anxiety (by all means, recycle), it also stimulates our imaginations in a supremely godly and biblical manner to lead us to a meltdown of worship. How can we catch a mental glimpse of this imagery, of the world we know being completely destroyed and rebuilt to God’s unhindered and immediate glory and not fall down flat on our faces and worship Him for allowing us to be, in Christ, partakers of it?

Or, to reiterate a natural question, how can we feed our minds with this electrifying hope and continue living as if we have none (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13)? Answer: we can’t. So, let’s start feeding non-stop (cf. Rom. 12:2). That is how these descriptions in Revelation are meant to affect us, to train us in righteousness and make us competent and equipped for every good work.

Heaven and earth are made anew. Can we read those words of the Lord and not think of 2 Cor. 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”? The New World is not just a future hope; it has already begun with those who come to Christ. They are made new creatures (pre)destined for a new creation. It is God’s Kingdom: Now and not yet. Here and not here. Hope and experienced reality.

To say it old-school: Oh that we should behold that vision every single moment, and fix our eyes on the things that are above! (Col. 3:1-2).

The City of God

behold

Image by Brent Nelson via Flickr

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Rev. 21:1-4

Chapters 21-22 of Revelation move us into the final stage: Eternity. Remember that at the end of the previous chapter (20:15) sin had been ultimately and permanently punished; Satan and his demons, the Antichrist and his prophet and all those people whose names were “not found written in the book of life” have been cast into eternal hell.

The victory is complete. God’s perfect justice has been carried out and His perfect holiness has been upheld. There is no longer any doubt as to whether He exists or what He wants from us. There is no confusion about the meaning of existence or the direction of history. It is done. All that remains is the incorporation of God’s people into their final destination: the glorification of the saints in the New Jerusalem.

There are many visions in Revelation that leave details to the imagination. But not this one. John devotes a surprisingly long section on the heavenly city, spending an eloquent 629 words to describe it (in the original). That alone should tell us something about its significance.

The first thing to note is the undoing of the entire universe as we know it, to be replaced with “a new heaven and a new earth” (v.1). Much can be – and has been – speculated about this “recreation of the world” or “restoration of God’s original creation”, but it is wise to tread lightly where the Scripture treads not. Of course, it is easy to spiritualise the whole vision, but it seems to me at least that John’s descriptions are too detailed and too extensive for this to be merely a nebulous spiritual world. For example, what would be the point of reporting on the precise, three-dimensional measurements of the New Jerusalem in vv. 15-17 if it is just a “spiritual” place? So it does make sense to take John’s descriptions of the new creation at face value. Whether or not it’s made of atoms and quarks is beyond our current ability to comprehend – just as Jesus’ resurrection body (cf. Luke 24:36-43).

From what the exiled apostle tells us, this is a completely new world (as opposed to a patch on the old one) that also seems to function differently from the current one. For one, there is no sea. The reason for its absence is not explained, but we can immediately understand that the New World’s hydrological cycle will be very different (though there is a river, mentioned in 22:1).

This isn’t the first time we hear about the New Jerusalem. It has already been explicitly mentioned in Rev. 3:12, where Christ tells the faithful believers of the Philadelphian church that whoever perseveres in faithfulness, He will “…write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem…” Describing the faith of OT saints, Heb. 11:10 mentions “…the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God”, and a little later, Heb. 12:22 talks about “…the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…”, while the apostle Paul, contrasting the old covenant of law with the new covenant of grace, says “…the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother” (Gal. 4:26).

From what John tells us, we can deduce that the New Jerusalem is also beautiful. It is described as “a bride adorned for her husband” (v.2), and, if you’ve ever been to a wedding, you will have no difficulty understanding what it means. And the fact that it has been built by God Himself (“…coming down out of heaven from God…”) can only mean that the new everlasting dwelling of the saints is the pinnacle of splendour in every conceivable and inconceivable way.

Excited? Wait – there’s more.

The most magnificent thing about this new, eternal, heavenly city is summed up in this phrase “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (v.3). These words hearken back to Ezekiel 48:35, where, at the end of his book, the prophet describes the eternal city and tells us that her name will be “יְהוָ֥ה שָֽׁמָּה(Yahweh sh’mah): The Lord is there. It speaks of an immediacy of God’s presence between His redeemed that has been unprecedented since the Fall. It is a closeness, an uninhibited, uninterrupted, crystal clear, direct, constant and all-consuming intimacy with God that we can’t even begin to imagine this side of eternity.

Let me take it a bit further: For those who are in Christ, it is where every single second of your life is leading you – to your Father’s indescribable presence, forever. It is where every trial, every persecution, every incomprehensible, bewildering, confusing and seemingly random event of our existence will be revealed as part of God’s overarching plan to glorify His name. It where every wound, every bitter tear and anxiety will be wiped away, consoled, and healed (v.4). It is where every puzzle, every mystery, every thing will be cast upon the altar of the eternal God and we will rejoice, sing, praise and worship Him like never before. It is where we will be perfected and know Him as fully as we have been known by Him (1 Cor. 13:12). It is a reality; it is our unshakable hope.

How can we read these words and still look at life at the same way? How can we despair as those “who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13) because they still remain in their sins? How can we become so overwhelmingly preoccupied with this passing world to the expense of the gospel? How can we sow to the flesh (Gal. 6:8) or set our minds on “the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2), when we know that one day, sooner or later, we will open our eyes to find ourselves in the new world and behold Almighty God? How can we not be consumed with an overwhelming desire to see this part of God’s Kingdom come?

The lake of fire

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. – Rev. 20:15

It’s not easy to think about hell – let alone write about it. In today’s user-friendly Christianity, hell is often softened up and presented in ways that fall woefully short of the biblical imagery. For example, the Bible describes hell as:

  • A place of entangling cords (2 Sam. 22:6)
  • A place of devouring fire and everlasting burnings (Is. 33:14)
  • Unquenchable fire (Mat. 3:12; Mark 9:44)
  • Outer darkness (Mat. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30)
  • A place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mat. 8:12; 13:42; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28)
  • A place where both body and soul suffer (Mat. 10:28)
  • A furnace of fire (Mat. 13:42, 50)
  • A place of everlasting fire (Mat. 25:41)
  • A place prepared for the devil and his angels (Mat. 25:41; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 1:6)
  • A place of everlasting punishment (Mat. 25:46)
  • A place of undying worms (Mark 9:48)
  • A place of torment (Luke 16:23)
  • Unquenched thirst (desire) (Luke 16:24)
  • A place of everlasting destruction (2 Thess. 1:9)
  • A prison (1 Pet. 3:19)
  • A bottomless pit (Rev. 9:2)
  • A place of fire and sulphur (“brimstone”) (Rev. 14:10; 21:8)
  • A place of no rest (Rev. 14:11)
  • A lake of fire (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15)

Notice how many of the above terrifying descriptions come from the lips of Christ Himself; and if you think about it, even the visions of hell that John described in the book of Revelation were given to him by Christ (cf. Rev. 1:1). We talk about hell because He told us about it. It’s not a scare tactic to squeeze people into “believing”; it is a horrible reality that we are called to escape.

The immediate impact these descriptions have on us is that hell involves unimaginable suffering; torment that goes beyond anything we could experience in this world. But I think that the most frightening element of hell is that there is no end. You see, people can withstand any amount of pain, misery and suffering if they know that there is an end to it. Hope, the “light at the end of the tunnel”, is powerful in keeping a person strong in the face of torment. But in hell, torment is consistently described as “everlasting” (“eternal”).

Think about it for a moment. Under the pressure of constant, intolerable pain, a person might find consolation in either death or insanity. As far as he or she is concerned, death can relieve the body; insanity, the mind. But in hell there is no hope of death because that has already happened, and there is no hope of oblivious insanity because the Bible teaches that those who are punished in hell, like those who are glorified in heaven, have received a new body, a “resurrection” body (Dan. 12:2; John 5:29), implying that it is incapable of falling ill or being damaged beyond repair. Hell has no release; otherwise it wouldn’t be “eternal”. The same word (αώνιος) is used some 72 times in the New Testament and mostly describes the eternal, everlasting glory of heaven (e.g. Mat. 25:46). And we have no doubt that when we enter heaven, it will never end.

It’s also hard to know if we should take the biblical descriptions of hell literarily or as symbols. It seems that, as the centuries pass, we tend to become more and more “sophisticated” about religion. In the Middle Ages, hell was generally preached per se; literarily. Today, after centuries of mind filtering and sophisticated dislike of Bible-thumping, OTT, “fundamentalist” preaching, we are more quick to consider the biblical images of hell as symbols. And it may be that we are right to do so, but the problem often lies with our motivations. Does “symbolising” hell make it any easier to the soul? A symbol is used to point to something that transcends it; something that cannot be described by mere words. If the descriptions of fire, brimstone, unquenchable thirst, worms that eat you alive, unimaginable, constant and everlasting pain, torment and anguish that never ever end are just symbolic, then the reality of hell must be far worse, and those who are there would wish that it was just a real lake of fire.

Another popular idea used to ameliorate the notion of hell is that it is nothing more than separation from God. Of course, to those who want nothing to do with God this side of eternity, this doesn’t sound like a bad idea (cf. Ps. 2:3). Sadly (for them), that is not the teaching of Scripture:

…he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. – Rev. 14:10

Of course, someone could point out that 2 Thess. 1:9 says: They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. But that’s hardly any consolation to anyone. First, this passage speaks about being cut off from the blessing and delight of the Lord’s presence and from the providence and protection of His strength (think of Mat. 5:45b). Second, those who are put away from the Lord’s presence “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction”. Doesn’t exactly sound like a party.

By the way, here’s a culture shock: Hell is not the kingdom of Satan. It’s not the HQ where the Dark Ruler of the underworld plots to overthrow God with the help of his minions (“a fine balance that can only be tipped by a rugged yet flawed human protagonist”). That’s a fictional Hollywood notion that has really out-sold itself (think End of Days, Constantine and the like). As far as the Bible is concerned, hell is actually prepared by God as a place where Satan will be ultimately punished shoulder-to-shoulder with all those who followed him, humans and demons (Rev. 19:20; 20:10).

Finally, someone can object (as many do these days) that hell sounds cruel. Let’s think about that for a moment: cruel means unfairunjust; disproportionate; not fitting the crime. Does that argument make any sense in light of God’s character, and in particularly the fact that He is thrice holy (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8) and perfectly just (Gen. 18:25; Is. 30:18)? Is God, Who is perfectly holy and eternal, unfair to cast those who have broken His eternal and perfectly holy law into eternal and perfectly unholy punishment?

Also, if hell is as awful as the Bible describes it and if it lasts forever, what does that say about the seriousness of sin before God? What does it say about how deeply it offends Him? If hell is eternal and horrifying beyond human comprehension, it is because God is holy and just beyond human comprehension. If we think of hell as disproportionate to peoples’ sins, it is because we haven’t even begun to grasp God’s holy character. If we think it is too cruel, it is because we have no understanding of how profoundly God abhors sin.

To quote R.C Sproul: “If… we can take any comfort in the concept of hell, we can take it in the full assurance that there will be no cruelty there. It is impossible for God to be cruel. Cruelty involves inflicting a punishment that is more severe or harsh than the crime.”

Finally, if we find ourselves wondering how hell fits in with a God Who is merciful and graceful, we could read from the prophet Nahum:

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
and keeps wrath for his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
– Nah. 1:2-3

Now, I didn’t want to get all “black Bible”; just “Bible”. And it is that same Bible on which our hope and joy is (or should be) based that describes to us the soul-wrenching eternal destiny of multitudes who will die with the burden of their sins never lifted by Christ.

The path of life leads upward for the prudent, that he may turn away from Sheol beneath. – Prov. 15:24

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. – Heb. 10:31

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”– Rom. 10:13

The Great White Throne

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. – Rev. 20:11-15

What an image! The world has officially come to an end. It is almost impossible to convey the impact of these verses by merely writing – greater bloggers perhaps could, but I fall short.

This is the closing of the cosmos. These verses describe the final, ultimate, overall, inescapable, complete and total judgment of all mankind. If we can read these awe-full words and not even blink, we have serious problems.

Although we only have it as an account of 120 words (in the original), John actually saw it. He saw an enormous, authoritative, white Throne on which sat God Himself in full splendour and kingly glory. And then, in a literarily world-shattering event, the earth and the sky as we know them are uncreated, destroyed, disappeared (v.11). The world we know is officially over. Every tree, rock, animal, cloud, atmospheric layer, quantum particle, black hole and galaxy is gone. All the heartache, joy, success or failure of the human race suddenly collapses into the biggest perspective ever. Every ideology, philosophy, and worldview is suddenly and aggressively ended. It’s what Peter wrote about:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. – 2 Pet 3:10

Now, I have to say this. Shouldn’t this revelation help us rein in our envo sentiments? If this world is literarily on its way out, shouldn’t that focus our energy and resources on the spiritual reality behind it? I’m not saying stand back while forests burn. I’m not saying bin your recycling bin. But I wonder if, as Christians, we should readily throw ourselves and our resources behind the next Big Green Cause at the expense of proclaiming the gospel to a world that God Himself will eventually destroy in His wrath? Something to think about.

In v. 12, the dead have risen. But this isn’t a Hollywood zombie flick; it’s even more frightening than that. The dead – every single man, woman and child that have ever walked this side of eternity stands before God. None are exempt. None are given special treatment. And then, “books were opened” (cf. Dan 7:10). It’s an image taken from the way ancient cities kept a registry of their citizens, and it is meant to communicate that God misses nothing. The thoughts, actions, intents and plans of every single person that has ever lived has been tracked and recorded better than any Big Brother system we can conjure up. This is where God’s incommunicable attributes are suddenly of grave consequence to us: God is omniscient. He knows everything and there is nothing hidden from Him (Job 34:21; Ps. 33:13-15; Heb. 4:13). And nothing is rushed – this is eternity, and time has lost its meaning. Every action of every person ever is thoroughly scrutinised to the utmost detail – because God is just. And in His justice, He will render exactly what every person deserves.

And that should scare us witless.

The standard that God expects from us was summarily defined by Jesus Christ: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat. 5:48). Other than Christ (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22), who can ever claim to live up to that?

Notice that those who are being judged before the Great White Throne are judged on the basis of what they have done – literarily “by their works”. This is significant – and frightening. The fundamental reality of the gospel is that our good works cannot save us but we are fully justified before God only by placing our faith in Jesus Christ and His perfect righteousness rather than our sad attempts to gain merit with God through our good deeds (Rom. 3:28). In fact, the Scripture refers to those deeds as “dead” (Heb. 6:1; 9:14), meaning that they are unable to actually achieve anything.

Which begs the question: If all these people who are judged before the Great White Throne are judged by their works/deeds, would any of them stand a chance of entering heaven? The tragic answer can only be no.

But, thankfully, the books of judgment are not the only ones opened. There is also the Book of Life (v.15). It is mentioned six times in Revelation (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12; 20:15; 21:27) and once in Phil. 4:3. It is the list of all those whom God has saved; those who have put on the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27), and their sins, obvious or secret, cannot condemn them anymore (Rom. 8:1).

Finally, a strange imagery in v.13: John speaks of Death and of Hades – the Greek word that refers to the realm of the dead (not necessarily equated to hell). In the New Testament, Hades is used ten times, mostly as a place of punishment; the place where those who die in their sins are kept pending judgement at the Great White Throne (cf. Luke 16:23). “Death”, on the other hand, mostly refers to the state of all those who have died on earth.

All three – the sea, Death and Hades – are depicted as monsters, disgorging those they have consumed over the centuries (the sea probably does this before being destroyed). And once they’re done, they themselves are cast into eternal punishment (v. 14). What else can this mean other than the ultimate defeat of death? We think of Isaiah’s words: “He will swallow up death forever” (Is. 25:8a; cf. 1 Cor. 15:54).

Death entered the world as the result of sin (Rom. 5:12). As sin is finally punished and destroyed, so is death. But the Bible tells us that, on the Cross, Jesus destroyed death and delivered those that throughout all ages were held captive to the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). And as we look at this crushing image of the Great White Throne, as we see the scales finally balanced, as we see sin and rebellion against God punished, we also witness the ultimate victory of Christ, the destruction of the most unnatural thing in God’s creation; the death of death.

We’ll continue this next time, to look at verse 15 – hell really cannot be dealt with lightly.

The last war

7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever Rev. 20:7-10

At the end of the millennium kingdom, Satan is released. Notice once again the language of sovereignty: Satan doesn’t escape – he is released. Isn’t it a great comfort to know that the apparent chaos described in Revelation is completely under God’s control?

The reason Satan is released is to “deceive the nations” with the ultimate purpose of gathering them for battle against the saints ruling in Jerusalem. What is surprising is that he actually pulls it off.

Let’s think of this for a moment: A thousand years of Christ’s rule on earth. Christ Himself, with His redeemed people have been ruling over the entire planet. Civilisations, people groups, global economies, global conflicts and everything else that sells news today has submitted to His rule. Reading from other parts of the Bible, during this period there is peace on earth, prosperity and the citizens are probably able to interact directly with the Lamb of God, the One they’ve been reading about in the Bible and hearing about for so long. The world is affected directly by Christ; not the Church; not Christians. There are no theist/atheist debates. The question of origins has been settled. There is no more discussion as to how the Church can “impact the culture” or “be more relative”. Longstanding theological questions have been answered. No-one’s arguing TULIP anymore. Angry blogs have been silenced. There is no doubt whatsoever of who Christ is, and of the reality of His Word.

With Satan, the prince of the air (Eph. 2:2) removed, his influence is gone. No more snatching of the Word (Mat. 13:19). No more demonic wisdom driving human existence (James 3:15). No more spiritual warfare against “rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). It is, literarily, heaven on earth.

And yet, it’s not enough. When Satan is released, he actually manages to deceive vast multitudes of people. Notice that he doesn’t possess them or force them in any way. He deceives them; it’s what he’s always done and done best. The word John uses here (πλανῆσαι) is the same verb Paul used when writing about the serpent deceiving Eve (2 Cor. 11:3) and the same one used in this chapter’s v.10 (and v.2, in some manuscripts) as a title (aka “adjective”) for Satan.

Deception, by definition, involves a distortion of the truth. Now, we understand that in this day and age when we are called tobelieve and don’t see, it is “easier” for people to be deceived about God, His Person, His Word, His Work and His Son. But after a thousand years of physical, obvious, sovereign rule by Christ Himself, which also fulfils and validates Scripture in every conceivable way? Who could possibly be confused and deceived about how things are? Who could possibly think that life is no more than random chance and mutation? Who could possibly think that religion is a “personal” matter and that all roads lead to heaven? Who could possibly think that they can be justified before God by their own good works?

Well, no one. I honestly don’t think that Satan’s last deception is along the lines of “did God really say?” (Gen. 3:1). This seems to be more of incitement because the purpose and result of Satan’s deception is to gather these multitudes to war against the King. This isn’t heresy; it’s rebellion. It’s not a denial of Christ; it’s an outright assault on Him. These people see themselves as liberators; freedom-fighters against the tyranny of Christ. They expect future history books to hail them as those who ushered in a new era of human independence from the awful dictatorship of God.

I don’t know if there is a clearer example of man’s complete and utter depravity in the whole of Scripture. Despite God’s goodness to them, despite His good gifts to them, there will always be those that will hate Him. It’s that old cry: “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (Ps. 2:3). And I suppose it’s that old deception that always strikes a chord with the human heart: “…you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Throughout all of human history, people have tried to shake themselves free of God’s hold. In every venue of human ingenuity, God has slowly and progressively been displaced, pushed out, ostracised, ignored and rendered unnecessary to human affairs. It’s so natural to us that we even have a fancy term for it, to take the edge off: Secularisation.

But this account of John tops all the rest. It still begins with deception, probably something along the lines of: “Why shouldn’t you be masters of your own destiny?” to undermine Christ’s prerogative rule over everything and everyone. Then follow the secret meetings, the underground propaganda groups, the pamphlets and the encrypted websites. Then come the conspiracies, the intrigues and before you know it, a vast army has gathered to fight against the saints who ruling from Jerusalem.

I can only think of Psalm 2 again when I read the rest: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”(Ps. 2:4). Because what happens to the rebellion borders on the humorous: Here is this huge crowd, vast as “the sand of the sea”, ominously marching through the valleys to Jerusalem, then strategically surrounding the city to cut off escape routes, preparing their upcoming tactical siege – and fire comes down from heaven and burns them to crisp. It is almost funny – and frightening in the same time.

And this also marks the end of Satan. Once again he is captured and this time cast into hell forever. It always surprises me that popular culture thinks of hell as Satan’s kingdom. The Bible however makes is very clear that hell is a place of punishment, specifically prepared by God for Satan and those who follow him because they never followed Christ (Mat. 25:41).

Darkness has always hated the Light, but will never overcome it (John 1:5). Human rebellion against God is always there and will show itself even in the presence of God – in fact, it seems that the more hard hearts encounter God, the more viciously they resist Him (cf. John 3:19) to their own eternal destruction. Sadly, that is the natural condition of every person who has ever drawn breath and we cannot escape it unless God opens our hearts (Acts 16:14) to receive His message of salvation through Jesus Christ, the One who will one day rule over all forever.

(to be continued)