Today marks 15 years since that tragic day that changed our world forever. For those of us old enough to remember, I’m sure we can each recall exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news.
I was 21 years old and at Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit in Charleston, SC. I had joined the Navy a little over a year earlier and was just getting started with the third leg of the Navy’s Nuclear Power training. We called it “prototype” and it consisted of learning how to run an actual nuclear power plan aboard a very old submarine that had been modified to be a training platform. While some of the training was aboard the boat, much of it was in a large windowless building where we had classrooms for teaching and large library type rooms for study. I happened to be in one of the classrooms with my fellow students waiting for the teacher to arrive and class to start.
The teacher was late, and so we were all joking around when the intercom system started to squawk. It was a bit garbled and staticky – they apparently hadn’t used it in a long time – but the bits and pieces we heard sounded something like we were being attacked. It was very confusing and we didn’t have anyone in charge there to tell us what was going on. I don’t remember how long we sat there waiting, but eventually I decided to go find out what was going on. I went downstairs to where we had what we called “the Canteen”, which was the equivalent of a cafeteria but much smaller and only sold really bad food. There was a television on the wall and people were gathered around watching. I happened to walk into the room and look at the TV just as the second tower was collapsing.
In that moment, it felt like the world had stopped.
And for many, the events of that day made it feel like the world was coming to an end.
But here we are, 15 years later. The world, though changed, is still spinning and going around the sun.
Yes, the events of September 11th, 2001 forever changed the landscape of the United States. Many lives were lost on that day, and fear gripped the country like never before except, perhaps, when Pearl Harbor was attacked in World War II.
And since then, many more lives have been lost as mankind has tried its best to destroy each other. Watching the news, many are no doubt surprised that God has allowed it to go this far.
But what we are going to learn in this series is that, really, we haven’t seen anything yet.
September 11th, while tragic, and truly painful – was a mere mosquito bite compared to what the whole world will experience in the last days, and specifically in what we call the Great Tribulation.
I believe we are getting very close to those last days. Obviously we cannot know the day nor the hour or even the year, but Scripture gives us many signs to watch out for so that we will not be caught by surprise.
And all of that and more I will be covering over the next few months in a series I am calling “The End of the World as We Know It” because when all is said and done – we will be living in a new heaven on a new earth, and it will be nothing like the world as we know it now. So, really, it’s a good thing for those of us who already live in the kingdom of heaven through our faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ.
If you are not yet a part of the kingdom, my prayer is that as we speak of these things your heart will be unlocked by God and you will make Jesus your King now, by choice, rather than later, by force.
Will you pray with me before we begin? We are going to need to do a lot of praying as we go through this series, which I believe is why God turned us into a praying church through the summer with such urgency.
Father, you are the everlasting God. There is no one and no thing greater than you. You are the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the everlasting to everlasting. We praise you! Thank you for giving us your Word. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the future and the fulfillment of your ultimate plan. Help us to have ears to hear and understand what you are telling us. Give us wisdom to know you better. Reveal your truth to us. We thank you! Amen.
As I said, this is going to be a very long series. Probably on the order of six MONTHS. There is simply no way to do it quickly if you want to actually walk away with the whole truth rather than just sound-bites and partial truths.
I urge you to make every effort to listen to every message – in order. If you miss church on a Sunday, be sure to watch the video or listen to the podcast that week before coming to the next one. I will remind you of this often as we go on, and especially for people that join us part of the way through. It is absolutely crucial to being able to fully understand what is going on here.
I cannot overstate this enough.
Let me give you an illustration that might help you see why.
We are a picture-happy society. We take pictures of everything – especially ourselves. We even invented a new word to capture the essence of our narcissistic behaviors. Anyway, we all know that when you take a picture of something – what you see in the photograph is not the whole picture. It’s only a small fraction of what you can see with your eyes or what is really there. That is why you can be selective in picture taking, and in many cases the fraction of the view that the photograph contains can be quite misleading as to what is really going on in that place and time. It’s the epitome of taking something out of context and giving it a whole new meaning. Something that is very easy to do in the Bible and especially in the book of Revelation.
That is why we will not be going through this in a topical fashion. We will not be breaking it up into neat little pieces-parts, but instead we will be going verse by verse. And by the time we are done, you will not only have the full field of view that the eyes can see – that would actually still only be a fraction of what is real. Instead, in order to understand any little part of it, you really have to take it in context of the full 360 degree horizontal and vertical. Which means that we will be using the entire bible to understand Revelation. That is why it takes so long. And that is why you really need to commit to following the whole thing if you really want to understand any of it.
Let me tell you how I prepared for this. I found four different podcasts of other churches/teachers going through this study and I listened to their whole presentation as fast as I could. Not one of them was less than 30 hour-long sessions. And it was totally necessary and totally worth it.
So, all of that to say that this is going to take a long time, but it will be time well spent. In fact, one of the first things John says in his letter is…
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
I am about to be blessed for reading it to you, and you are about to be blessed for hearing it…if you take it to heart. If it was near back then, then it is nearer now.
Now, as you can probably tell, I am using this first week as something of an introduction into this study. Normally it is not necessary to have such a thorough introduction into a topic, but this one is different.
I’ve already told you that it’s going to be long and that you need to hear every lesson. There are a few other things you will need to know before we dig in.
One, and this is very important, is the rules and methods for interpretation. In other words, how do we go about deciphering what is meant by what we read?
Now, throughout history, since Revelation was written, there have been several different schools of thought regarding how to interpret it. These different ways of looking at it can be boiled down to three methods of interpretation.
Everything is about symbolism: good vs. evil, paganism vs. Christianity, and the ultimate triumph of Christ in our lives. The book is seen as a spiritual allegory for the comfort and encouragement of the church, denying prophesies of literal, future events. Basically it turns everything into a symbol rather than something that actually happens or happened.
A) Preterist view – deals with church history that includes only the early church’s struggle against Imperial Rome; is somewhat similar to the Allegorical method of a symbolic rather than prophetic view. This view sees the events of Revelation having already happened during the time John wrote the book.
B) Total view – considers all of church history beyond the Roman Empire to today culminating in the Second Coming; a symbolic interpretation of the Church’s struggle against the world system. This view sees the seven letters in the beginning of the book as representing different periods of church history. We will talk about that when we get there.
3. Literal / Futuristic
The events beginning in 4:1 are futuristic. Frequent symbolism is recognized, but events will be fulfilled in a literal way. What that means is that when John is saying that he sees a dragon with seven heads and ten horns, we believe that is what he actually saw, and what he saw were symbols representing something else. We know this is how prophecy works because often within Scripture, symbols like these are interpreted for us in the same setting – such as several times in the book of Daniel – which we will be visiting frequently in this study. The literal/futuristic method is what we will be using for our study because I find that Scripture itself uses that method and Scripture is what we go by for everything.
Now, within this method there are a few rules.
One is the rule that not everything is symbolic. Some things simply mean exactly what it says. We will call this the
Law of Common Sense
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, then seek no other sense.
This will make more sense once we get into it, and I’ll remind you of these things.
Another rule is the
Law of Recurrence
An event in Scripture may be recorded twice with the second account included in order to provide additional detail.
A classic example is Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1 gives an overview of the 7 days of creation. Genesis 2 gives a more detailed account of the creation of man. It’s two tellings of a single event, each giving different details. This happens frequently in Scripture.
One more rule for now.
Law of Context
Scripture usually interprets symbolic language within its own context, or else we rely on other Scripture to provide the interpretation.
In other words, we first look to see if the symbols are interpreted right there, which happens frequently. If they are not, we look elsewhere in the bible to see if those symbols were used and interpreted, which also happens frequently.
Now you can probably see why there are so many different views of how the end times are actually going to play out – or if they are going to play out at all. Depending on which method you subscribe to will also determine what rules you use. Not everyone follows the law of common sense (in Revelation or otherwise…).
And so this leads me to an important EXPECTATION we need to set straight from the start.
What we are about to study involves mostly things that have not yet happened. Which means, that while we can be certain about some things, there is also a guaranteed element of uncertainty about other things that we will simply have to accept and put in the “We don’t know” bucket.
Many people do not like to do this. We don’t like having unanswered questions, and so what often happens is that we just fill in the gaps with whatever we think is best – and that is how we end up with all kinds of whacky theories out there that can be found nowhere in the bible. I am going to do my best not to do that. But I am human and totally fallible, so the best advice I can give you is to do some research on your own. Don’t just take my word for everything.
In fact, I personally approach this study with great fear and trembling because it is such a huge and important topic that involves the whole of Scripture and the big picture view of God’s plan for humanity – so for me to even insinuate that I have it all figured out is a gross violation of the truth. I honestly don’t claim to know anything about this stuff except what I have been able to study in God’s Word and the in the studies of others. Which, in all cases is still mostly guess-work as far as future events go. We simply cannot know if our interpretations are correct until the events predicted actually happen.
I like to think of it like a football game – specifically the Super Bowl.
At the end of the season and the playoffs we are left with two teams who will play for the championship. And during the two weeks leading up to the game, there is a whole lot of talk and conjecture and prediction going on about who is going to win the game and how it’s going to play out. But the fact remains that the only thing we really know is what two teams are playing, where and when they are playing, and who the players are on the teams. But other than some details about the different players, that is all we really know for sure. We can’t even predict who is going to win the game with certainty, much less every single play of the game and all the stats of the individual players.
Even if, for the sake of argument, someone from the future was able to tell us the final score – that would still leave us to conjecture as to how that score came about.
It’s similar in studying prophecy about our future. There are certain things we do know, but a lot of the fine details we won’t really know until it happens. As we go through this, I will do my best to make it clear which category we are talking about for different details. And I’ll just warn you ahead of time that a lot of things will end up in the “We don’t know” bucket.
Because I would rather just accept the fact that I am a finite human being trying to understand the infinite mind of God than presume to know more than I do, because while the book begins with a blessing for those who read and hear it – it ends with a curse for those who try to change it:
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.
Not really something I want to mess around with. So again, fear and trembling. Please keep me in prayer as we go through this.
Alright, now that we have gone through the necessary introduction and ground rules we can go ahead and dip our toes in the water. I would say dive in, but really all we have time left for today is a dip of the toes. Next week we’ll dive in head first!
Now, if you have your bibles – which I encourage you to bring – turn with me to Revelation chapter 1.
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
These three verses could be considered a prologue. John is introducing what he’s about to share. What follows will be the beginning of the visions he had. But before he shares that, he’s making it clear where it comes from.
Notice something right off the bat. Whose revelation is this? It’s not John’s revelation. It’s the revelation of Jesus Christ – meaning it is both a revelation FROM Christ – meaning he’s the one doing the revealing AND it’s a revelation ABOUT Christ. You will see as we go through this that Jesus is the main character.
The word revelation translates the Greek word: ἀποκάλυψις – which is where we get our english word apocalypse from – which means an unveiling, uncovering, or revealing. Hence Apocalypse or Revelation means the revealing of something that is hidden.
Now, while the revealing is of Christ, He received it from His Father – which means this comes directly and intentionally from the highest possible authority.
And what is being revealed is spelled out in the same sentence.
…to show Christ’s servants what must soon take place.
Hence, this is prophecy about future events – at least from John’s perspective.
Then it says that He, Jesus, made it known to His servants (that’s us) by sending his angel to John. We are going to encounter a lot of angels in this book.
John, in turn, makes the claim that he is only testifying to what he saw, and that what he saw was the very word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
In other words, this is a very important book. While it is true that all Scripture is God-breathed, this is the one that is closest to being God-dictated. As you will see over the course of this study, much of what John writes is, in fact, dictated by Christ or angels. And everything he sees are intentional visions that God is using to communicate specific truths.
Which is why John adds the blessing to those who read it, hear it, and keep it. What we have in this book is direct revelation from God about some of the deepest truths of His word and His kingdom. And the more you understand them and understand how they fit into the context of the whole thing, the more you will marvel at the amazing God that we serve.
Now that we have dipped the toe, I’m going to give you an outline of how this is going play out in the weeks and months to come.
Here is a nice drawing I found of an outline of Revelation put against a timeline of the last days.
We all know about Jesus’ resurrection and ascension that occurred about 2000 years ago, then on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down and filled the Apostles and thus began what is commonly referred to as the Church Age. So far, we, here in 2016, are still in the church age.
Revelation 1 – 3 includes the seven letters to the churches in Asia. While they are addressed to specific real churches that existed at the time of authorship, these letters also have implications for us today and churches throughout the church age. We’ll get started on that in a couple weeks.
Then comes the rapture of the church, which is not explicitly spoken of in Revelation – but like I mentioned before, we won’t be staying in Revelation. Revelation is really like the last chapter of a good novel. It doesn’t repeat what has already been stated by the previous chapters, but it assumes that you have read and understand the rest of the book. So, when we get to this part we will have to spend some time in Daniel and other ‘chapters’ before moving into the details of the 7 years of tribulation. I will also be sharing why I believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, though not everyone does. That will probably be in about three to five weeks from now.
Next comes the tribulation, which we are going to spend a good deal of time on. It takes up 12 chapters of Revelation and probably twice as much space in the Old Testament prophecies. There is ALOT of stuff to go over in there, but it won’t be boring!
Finally, at the end of the tribulation comes the actual second coming of Christ and the battle of Armageddon and the beginning of the millennial reign. We will be visiting a lot of OT prophecy when we talk about that because Revelation basically makes a side note of it.
Then we come to the end of the thousand years, Satan is released to deceive the whole world and they rise up in arms against Christ – and they all lose in a moment as fire comes from heaven and consumes them. We’ll be talking about that in about 5 months, so it will be like hearing it for the first time again by the time we get there!
Once that’s done we have the Great White Throne Judgment, Satan and his cohorts and all the non-believers are thrown into the lake of fire.
And finally the new heaven and new earth appear where we get to be with God in paradise for eternity.
It will truly be the end of the world as we know it.
And if we are lucky, Jesus will come back before we finish talking about it.
A lot of people look at Revelation, the Apocalypse, and the end of the world as a bad thing – a scary thing. Yes, there are some horrible things going to happen to our world and to people who reject our King. The destruction, chaos, and bloodshed will be on a scale never before seen on this earth. Like I said, 9/11 will be like a mosquito bite. The Holocaust will be a paper cut. Add up all the evil dictators and horrible events from all of history and they will be mere scratches compared to the total destruction God will bring on the earth and the people who have rejected Him. The damage will be so bad that a new earth is needed.
So, I can see why there could be an element of fear in the face of all of that. But what we will find as we dig deeper is that those of us who voluntarily submit to Christ’s Kingdom now have nothing to fear when He institutes it by force later.
The long and short of it is that all of this is like a game. It’s not a game – it’s very serious. But it’s like a game, to use an illustration, in that there are two teams and there is going to be a winner and a loser. And we already know who wins. And the amazing thing about it all is that we each get to choose which team we are on before the game is is over. Notice I didn’t say before the game is played. The game is has already started, and by the looks of it we are in the fourth quarter. And it’s not like we are on the sideline choosing between the two. We are all born into the losing team. If we do nothing, then that is what team we stay on. And once the game is over, there’s no switching teams.
But here’s the good news – what is called the Gospel. You can choose now to switch teams. Even though the game is already half played and you’ve been on the losing team up until this point. You can switch to the winning team and get the prize rather than stay on the losing team and suffer the consequences.
And the reason you can do that is because of what Jesus did the first time He came to earth. This is where the team analogy breaks down. No analogy is perfect.
What Jesus did on that cross was take the penalty for our sin. The Immortal Son of God became sin and God the Father punished OUR SIN – IN God the Son so that we could be forgiven and justice still be served. And because He did that AND rose from the dead – conquering death and hell – Jesus now invites you and me to join him on His winning team. We call it salvation. But salvation is more than just letting Jesus forgive you. Salvation is making him your King, your Lord, your Master.
Romans 10:9 says “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.”
We often call Jesus our Lord and Savior, but we all really only focus on the savior part. Well, you can’t have one without the other. He is either your savior AND Lord and you are on the winning team, or He is your righteous judge and you are on the losing team. You don’t get to be on the winning team unless you follow the coach and do what he says. It’s not a right. It’s a privilege. A privilege that not one of us has earned.
And perhaps the reason you are here, despite your interest in end-times prophecy, is that you are still on the losing team and God wants you on the winning team.
It’s actually that reason why we are even able to talk about this. It’s the reason Jesus hasn’t already come back and set up his kingdom by force.
The Apostle Peter talks about this in his second letter. I’m going to read several verses so you have the full context and because it relates to the journey we are about to undertake:
2 Peter 3
1 Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.
3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 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. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
So many focus only on the destruction and get afraid and angry. But all of that is really there to point us to the promise and to trust in the one who made it. That’s ultimately what FAITH is. It’s trusting God at His word – even if you cannot understand or even see how it could be possible.
God has been patient with us for over 2,000 years since Christ was physically here. He has been slow in fulfilling His promise so that more people can be a part of it.