COVID-19, Sign of the End? Part 6: What Did Jesus Focus On?

After Jesus taught about the “signs” and events leading to His Second Advent, He pivoted to talk about how we should live, knowing about these signs.

Jesus could have said, “Now focus on ‘sign watching.’ Dig deeper into this and think more and more about signs. As my coming gets closer, spend even more time on this. Listen to all the YouTube teaching and sermons you can about this, and read as many books on the topic too.”

Actually, Jesus didn’t say that. He pointed His true followers in a different direction. Only Jesus’ way gives hope and peace and a solid foundation for our lives as we wait for Jesus’ Advent.

Focus on Mission, not Signs

Jesus definitely wanted His followers to know about the signs and events, or He would not have taught about them. In Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, and Revelation, He told them the way the world would be before His coming (like the days of Noah) and about great celestial and terrestrial signs that would precede it.

He said natural disasters would increase in intensity and occurrence, like labor contractions before a birth. In many places, He described how society would become worse and worse before He came back. In Revelation, He clearly described the broad paint strokes of Earth’s Final events. We should understand these things.

But why did Jesus teach this? He wanted us to know that God foresaw it all. It did not catch Him by surprise. He is an all-seeing, all-knowing God; so we can trust His care. He also wanted us to understand we are on the right road toward the kingdom, and to have an awareness of the signposts along the way–that we are nearing home.

But, that is not where Jesus ended His teaching about this. He spent the next 55 verses in Matthew 24 (vs. 36-51), more than a chapter, speaking about what to do while we wait for His return. That is, He devoted more time to talking about how to wait, than to teaching about signs.

Jesus’ emphasis was on staying spiritually alert and faithfully serving others like He did, filled with His love and Spirit. That is how to be ready.

First, he spoke about spiritual alertness

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Matthew 24:42-44 NIV

What did Jesus mean when He said, “Keep Watch!”?

We might assume He was referring to all the signs He had just mentioned, and that He meant, “Keep watching the signs of the times. Focus on that so you don’t miss my coming.” We should be aware of the signs, but I don’t think that is what Jesus wanted us to watch.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus told His disciples, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41 NIV). I think Jesus’ warning to Watch in Matthew 24 is more related to that. He is saying, “Stay spiritually focused in your relationship with me. Keep ready and prepared for My coming.”

It is so easy to get distracted in this world. Many things compete for our time and attention. The nature of our relationship with God is that He must be at the center of our lives. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30, 31).

We were created for a God-centered, neighbor-loving life. God is our Creator and Savior. He gives us life and helps us with everything. It is out of this center that all good grows. When Jesus’ followers or His churches lose this focus, they drift. So in Matthew 24, Jesus is alerting His Church they will need to stay awake and focused on loving Him and loving others as they wait for His Return.

Jesus’ call to God-centered living was not an invitation to live in perpetual spiritual solitude, but rather to take up the work Jesus’ did while He was on earth. To stay connected with Him, share the good news about His love and grace, and care for the needs of others in His name.

“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and. . .he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”

Acts 10:38 NIV
Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

The One Way to Stay Ready: Four Stories

Jesus illustrated this with four parables: a faithful servant, ten bridesmaids, loaned money, and a sheep and goat judgment. These stories describe four aspects of how Jesus wanted His Church to live in the centuries ahead, while they waited for His return. They show clearly how to be ready for His Second Coming.

1) A Faithful or Unfaithful Servant

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” 

Matthew 24:45-47 NIV

The best way to stay spiritually alert and ready, Jesus says, is to faithfully do the work He has given us–to share the Bread of Life (Jesus and His teachings) with others. Whatever hope, forgiveness, truth, or love He has given, He asks us to pass them along.

We will not all work in the same way. God has given each person talents and abilities, ways to bless the world and show God’s goodness and love. Whatever vocation or role we have, our mission is to bless others and show God to them.

Continuing His story, Jesus gives a warning:

“But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of.” 

Matthew 24:49-51 NIV

Here Jesus showed that His Second Coming would not take place for a long time. Many in Jesus’ day expected it to be soon; but Jesus said, “Prepare yourselves; it will be longer.”

When we lose sight of our goal and mission, it is easy to become self-centered and begin pursuing our own purposes or pleasure as the highest good. In Jesus’ story, some servants gave up their dream and started living completely for themselves. When we lose God, we run the danger we will not be ready with He comes. It is in unselfishly living for others that we stay ready for Jesus to come.

2) Ten Bridesmaids: Matthew 25:1-13

In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, a wedding takes place. The groom was delayed in arriving, and all ten women fell asleep. As they slept, their oil lamps burned out.

Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids. What made the difference?

At “midnight,” the announcement was heard that the groom was arriving. The ladies all woke up and looked for oil to replenish their lamps. Only five had brought extra oil, the rest went shopping. While they were gone, the groom arrived and the wedding started. When the “five foolish” women finally arrived, the wedding was in progress and the door was locked. When they asked for entrance, it was refused.

Bible parables usually have one main point, but several symbols. The women represent the Church. They all have lamps (God’s word) and oil (the Holy Spirit) to begin with. Their long wait depicts the the apparent delay in Christ’s coming. Their sleepiness shows spiritual drowsiness and lethargy in the Church, especially close to Jesus’ Second Advent. The announcement of the groom’s coming symbolizes the Endtime message that Jesus is coming soon.

Crucial Point: Five of the women, though sleeping, had brought extra oil, five had not. This shows that some in the church will only have an intellectual knowledge of God and the Bible, not a life-changing experience. They know Bible teachings, but they have not surrendered their hearts to Christ (In the parable, He says He doesn’t know them). The ones with extra oil have a real relationship. They have accepted Jesus as a personal Savior, received the Holy Spirit as a personal guest and been changed by that experience. When Jesus comes, they are ready to meet Him.

3) Parable of Talents (Loaned Money) – Matthew 25:14-30

In this parable, Jesus shows that “watching” and being ready to meet Him when He comes involves putting the talents, abilities, and giftings we have received to work for Him in this life.

In this story, three servants are called in by their master. Today we would say an employer called a meeting with his managers. They are each given different amounts of capital to invest while he is away. Two double their money through wise decisions. One is fearful and buries his.

When the employer returns, he asks for a report. The first two managers are rewarded with eternal life, the last loses out.

Parable of the Talents: Reporting on Investments Made

This parable shows that our abilities and wealth are gifts from God which He has given us to put to work for Him in His world. The first two managers were grateful for the opportunity and put their money to work for the good of the company. The third man had a distorted view of his employer and was irresponsible.

God is good. He cares for us and blesses us in many ways. But living in the land of the enemy, where Satan claims to rule, we often misunderstand God’s character and see Him as harsh and unfair. Satan plasters his reputation on God.

Crucial Teaching: Being ready for Jesus’ coming means having an accurate knowledge of His loving and good character and using the gifts and blessings He has given us to make the world a better place. When we do, our abilities and opportunities grow because He blesses them as we put them to work for Him. Our relationship with Him grows too, as we partner with Him and get to see His love at work through our service.

This parable can also apply to whatever work or avocation we do. We might be a “domestic engineer,” as my wife calls it, caring for family and home. We might work outside at a profession or job. Whatever we do in the name of Christ, who has blessed us with ability, can be done for His kingdom.

4) Parable of the Sheep and Goats – Matthew 24:31-46

Don’t skip this story because of its barnyard setting. This is Jesus’ parable of the Final Judgment and shows who will make it and who won’t.

Sheep and Goats Together

Shepherds in Jesus’ day often kept sheep and goats together, separating them for market or other purposes. Jesus took this common pastoral happening to graphically portray who will be ready to spend eternity with Him and who will not.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”

Matthew 25:31-33 NIV

My wife and I got takeout at a country restaurant the other day. The owners have some small livestock pens with sheep and chickens. I was reminded of years ago when my parents kept goats. Sheep and goats are quite different, and Jesus invested these creatures with human qualities.

To the people on the right, His sheep, Jesus will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:34-36 NIV).

To the people on his left, the goats, he says they did not care for Him. In both cases, the people ask, “When did we do (or not do) these things for you; and Jesus’ answer was that what they did or failed to do was really for Him, in the person of others. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did (or did not do) for one of the least of these people of mine, you did (or did not do) it for me (vs. 37-45).”

Critical Issue: In this simple, but dramatic parable, Jesus showed that God’s decision in the Final Judgment will be based one one point–what people have done or neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and the suffering. If our hearts have been touched by God’s love and mercy, we will give it in turn to others, especially the needy.

Being Ready: The Whole Picture

After describing what the intervening centuries would be like while His followers waited for His Second Coming; after describing the kind of events that would take place in the intervening years and some signs along the way, Jesus taught how they could be ready for that event whenever it came. Here is a composite summary:

In the Parable of the Faithful Servant Jesus says we have been called to faithfully share the Bread of Life, the good news of salvation with others. If we do that and resist the temptation to live selfishly, we will be ready. We don’t have to be a preacher or teacher to do this. If we just tell what Jesus has done for us personally and what we have learned, as we have opportunity, He will consider us a faithful servant.

In the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, Jesus shows that having a real relationship with God through Jesus will make the difference. When we accept Jesus as a personal Savior for our sin, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts, and prepares us for Jesus’ coming, even if we grow a little sleepy.

In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus clearly teaches that our view of God determines how we use the gifts and talents He’s given us. If we understand His love and grace, we will put our abilities to work for Him and for the good of others. This will help us be ready for His Coming.

The Parable of the Sheep and Goats makes clear that those who have received God’s mercy and blessings and, in gratitude, shared them with the poor and suffering, visiting the sick, caring for the poor and those in prison, we will be accepted in the Final Judgment.

If we follow Jesus in the ways pictured here, we will be ready for His Coming whenever it happens. I think that was Jesus’ main point. (1)

The Devil’s Tricks

When I was in college, an outside religion teacher known for focusing on Last Day Events, had compiled a very detailed chart showing all the things leading up to Jesus’ coming, which, he was convinced, was very soon.

A group of my friends were deeply involved studying this chart and trying to “get ready” for Jesus’ coming. Some even left college and moved to New York, convinced they had to help that City get ready. There was a lot of fear and self-preoccupation.

That was about fifty years ago. The group who went to New York finally came back and finished college. The man who made the charts later confessed he was wrong in his focus–legalistic, perfectionistic, and fear-based–as if his good behavior could save him. He came to understand the good news and spent the rest of his life sharing that salvation and Christian growth are gifts received by faith and a personal relationship with Jesus.

In Matthew 24, Jesus warned about setting times for His coming and about false prophets and Messiahs who would entrap people to create a following for themselves (Matthew 24:24, 36).

Eschatological Caffeine. Some people relate to the topic of signs and Last Day events like a person hooked on caffeine. Every time some serious world event happens like the COVID-19 Pandemic, they feel a shot of spiritual caffeine. They start reading their Bibles and praying and getting ready, out of fear, for Jesus’ coming.

Some preachers and teachers play into this addiction (the news media aren’t the only ones who do it). They get out their charts and preach doom and gloom, motivating people through fear. With all this “crying wolf” people often turn off all conversation about such things and become desensitized to any good teaching on the subject.

Jesus taught that is is knowing God’s gracious, loving character and beginning a daily walk with Him is what creates a sustainable relationship that will prepare us for His Coming.

Aware of signs and focused on mission. Jesus wanted us to be aware of the signs and the times as He described them in Matthew 24, but not focused on that as if knowing it will save us. He wants us to understand Bible prophecy but be committed to God and His mission in this world, as depicted in the four parables Jesus told.

An Issue of the Heart

If we have allowed God’s mercy and love to speak to our hearts and change us, the way we live, the way we use our resources, and how we care for others will prepare us to spend eternity with Him. That is ultimately the key. That’s why Jesus says:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Revelation 3:20 NIV

Will you open the door of your heart and receive Him as your Savior, letting Him do the work in you He wants to do. That is the key the unlocks the door into a beautiful life.

Everything changes when Jesus comes in. The choice to open the door is ours.

(1) I deeply appreciate the insights of Pastor Randy Roberts and the book he has written on this topic, “Waiting and Longing: Being Ready for the Return of Jesus, Whenever It Happens.” He gave a series of teachings, called “Ever Ready,” in 2016 on this as well.

COVID-19, Sign of the End? Part 5: Revelation’s Last Days

Many people have been asking if the Carona Virus Pandemic is a sign of Earth’s Last Days. They are asking not just because it is a serious illness, but because of the global impact of COVID-19, closing everything down, disrupting economies, troubling international relations. Something this impactful must be a sign, they feel.

I started writing on this topic by showing what Jesus said about pandemics in his teaching about the Last Days (In Matthew 24, He calls them pestilences, another word for pandemics or plagues). You can go to what I said about that in Part 1 and Part 2.

Then I moved to the book of Revelation. Why? The Bible’s last book speaks apocalyptically about Earth’s final events. Not just that, of course; it covers the stream of time from Jesus First Advent to the Second Coming of Christ.

Jesus Himself shows up in a vision to John, one of Jesus’ early disciples. It is now sixty years since Jesus died, rose, and ascended to heaven. The Christian Church is under serious persecution, and Jesus returns to reassure His followers of His care and concern and to lay out the future in broad strokes. It was comforting and enlightening to Christians then, and has been down through the centuries.

Revelation’s First and Last Sections

In the first half of Revelation Jesus lays out what the Church will experience in the years between John’s ministry and His return. In cycles of seven (seven letters to churches, seven seals, and seven trumpets), Jesus loops through history three times to show different angles of the same story – what His Church will face ahead. I covered that here.

The last half of Revelation is a dramatic exposé of Earth’s final events; not in the detail we might wish for, but in enough broad strokes to know the outline and major events that will come, what they mean, and how to relate to them when they arrive. It was given so we can take our stand on the right side of spiritual issues that come and have God’s strength to keep us faithful.

Purpose of this Blog

My purpose in this blog, Part 5, is to give a short overview of what Jesus told John would happen in the final period of Earth’s End-time. I will not go into great depth. The details have filled many books. My purpose here is to give you an orientation to chapters 12-22 and to spotlight a few things that show where we are in the stream of time. Jesus’ coming is certainly nearer than ever before.

A Master of Divinity student I am mentoring told me the other day that some people ask, “Why study the book of Revelation? After all, we should spend our time helping people get to know God and doing good like Jesus did, not conjecturing about the future. Besides, focusing on the Last Days just creates a lot of fear, not hope and peace.”

Those are fair questions. Remember, Jesus Himself gave us the messages and information in this book. He considered The Revelation very important for at least these three reasons:

1) To Strengthen Our Faith. Jesus knew the years ahead would be a very difficult time for believers to live in. Faith would have a hard time surviving. So He gave us information and evidence that would strengthen our faith when we saw events coming to pass. Jesus told His disciples, “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am” (John 13:19). Our relationship with Jesus should not depend on “signs,” but on knowing His character and trusting His grace and promises, but signposts are a “help” he has given as part of our trust relationship with Him.

2) Courtesy Signs. “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33). When friends or loved ones used to come for a visit (before The Quarantine), as a courtesy, they would call or text a few minutes away to let us know they would arrive soon. That way we could do our last tidying up, finish food prep, and be ready to meet them. Jesus loves us and has given “courtesy signs” to let us know what will happen and when He’ll be arriving soon so we can be alert. As He said about this in Luke, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28 NIV). How thoughtful of Jesus!

3) Intense Times Require Preparation. I met a young man in Russia many years ago, shortly after the Iron Curtain fell. He told me that several years earlier, he expected to be arrested for his faith, so he spent time getting prepared spiritually so his faith would not fail in prison. He spent time reading His Bible, committing texts to memory, praying, surrendering His life to God daily. Fortunately, he was never arrested. Jesus gives us “signs” to remind us along the way we need to stay ready. Before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus warned His disciples, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Jesus has laid out final events in Revelation to encourage us to “Watch and pray. . . .”

“Watch and Pray”

Introduction to Earth’s Climax – Revelation 11:19

Revelation 11:19 introduces the Last Days. It describes the Inner Sanctum of God’s temple in heaven being opened. John sees the “ark of his covenant,” containing the Ten Commandments and covered by the “mercy seat.” Lightning flashes, thunder rolls, the earth quakes, and more. Something awesome is about to happen.

The Hebrew sanctuary or worship center illustrated God’s way of saving us and also a timeline for God’s salvation plan. Jesus’ death, His ascension to be our Mediator, the Judgment, and the Second Coming were all pictured.

Ark of God’s Covenant in the Most Holy Place

This scene in chapter 11:19 initiates the Last Days, the Day of Atonement, the heavenly Yom Kippur. While this takes place in Heaven, Satan will ravage the earth like a wounded animal, knowing his days are numbered.

“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”

Revelation 12:12 NIV

Revelation 12 – 13:1-10: Cosmic Conflict

In Revelation 12 and 13:1-10, Jesus describes the Final Scenes in the long spiritual conflict between God and Satan. He does this by picturing the history of the Christian Church from the perspective of this cosmic conflict.

Revelation 12, like other parts of Revelation, contains several scenes. It begins with the birth of Christ. He is is born through the “woman,” God’s covenant people in the Old and New Testaments (Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Salvation is from the Jews.” John 4:22). Her tiara of twelve stars represents the twelve tribes of Israel. Her standing on the moon while clothed with the sun is a picture of the old covenant (moon) with its symbols giving way to the realities of the New Covenant (sun) and “Jesus, the True Light who gives light to everyone.” John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18).

But then, an enormous red dragon swoops in, landing in front of the woman to devour her child as soon as it is born. This dragon is Satan (verse 9), but he is works diabolically through a human government to try to kill Jesus before He accomplishes His mission to save us (Satan acted through King Herod. See Matthew 2:13-18).

The Woman and the Dragon (Rev. 12)

Christ is eventually snatched up to God’s throne (after His life, death, and resurrection; verse 5), so Satan now turns his wrath on Jesus’ followers, the Church. She flees into the wilderness, trying to escape persecution by Satan through Rome and its successors. Revelation often skips over details as it describes a larger narrative.

Why all this suffering? After these scenes, Jesus pulls the curtain back to show why the Church will suffer so much down through history (of course other persecuted minorities have suffered too). Revelation 12:7-12 shows is because Satan is carrying on a long war with God. His hatred for Jesus and the Father lead him to harass and kill their followers. He diabolically delights in suffering and death and brings suffering on the whole world.

This rebellion began in heaven where Satan gradually changed from the Angel Leader, Lucifer (Light Bearer) to Satan (the accuser) through pride and coveting God’s throne. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 tell the story, veiled in prophecies about human kings. Through brilliant propaganda and cunning lies, Satan persuaded one third of the angels to join his side (Revelation 12:4).

Revelation 12:7-17 describes this revolution in heaven, Satan’s and His angel followers’ eventual expulsion, and their long war on Jesus’ Church through the centuries. Most importantly, Jesus tells how His followers can be victorious in this war:

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”

Revelation 12:11 NIV

The woman (Jesus’ true followers) will be the “Church in the Wilderness” always persecuted, through the Dark Ages (verses 14-16).

The transitional verse which opens the curtain on the final conflict described in Revelation 13 and 14 is very significant.

“Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”

Revelation 12:17 NIV

In the Time of the End, the period of the heavenly Yom Kippur, Jesus is finishing His work of intercession and Judgment in heaven. Satan knows that his time is short. So he turns his fury on the Woman’s (the Church) final descendants. Chapters 13 and 14 will describe how he does this through earthly powers.

The Last Act: Cast of Characters

Previously, I said that Jesus gave the Revelation so His people, the Church, would understand the scope of what they would face from John’s day to the Second Advent. But now, Jesus focuses in on the last period of time in this cosmic spiritual struggle.

In Revelation 13, he identifies two kingdoms or nations that will especially persecute God’s people. They are pictured as “beasts.” This was an ancient way of identifying kingdoms. We do this today as well. School sports teams have their mascots, often an animal.

The First Beast of Revelation 13

At the close of Revelation 12, the dragon (Satan) stands on the shore of the sea in John’s vision. The sea represents the nations and people of earth. As he stands there, a beast emerges from the sea.

It becomes clear as we read Revelation 13:1-10, that Jesus is describing the ruling power that has been persecuting the woman in chapter 12. The dragon is going to work through this beast to persecute some of Jesus’ followers.

This first persecuting beast is actually a composite of the kingdoms in Daniel 7, Revelation’s companion book in the Old Testament: a lion (Babylon), bear (Medo-Persia), leopard (ancient Greece, and dragon (Rome). Animals in apocalyptic literature represent kingdoms; see Daniel 7:17.

This combination animal gathers the kings and nations of Europe and Western Asia into his reign. As the kingdoms of ancient Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome all persecuted God’s people, this beast does the same in the Christian era, from the time of Christ through the middle ages, to the End of Time.

The First Beast of Revelation 13

Notice that he has a throne and great authority. So, he reigns as a monarch. He is wounded, but survives, and the whole world follows him (vs. 3, 8). He persecutes some of God’s followers for the same period of time (forty-two months) as mentioned in Revelation 12:6.

Second Beast of Revelation 13

As John watches amazed, he sees another animal emerge, this time from the earth. This beast looks lamb-like. A lamb is a symbol of Jesus in both Old and New Testament, so this is a nation with Christian roots. However outwardly Christian it is, it sometimes speaks with the voice of a dragon and becomes more and more dragon-like. This nation comes after the first beast in history because he leads the world to reverence and worship the first beast kingdom.

By working miracles, the second kingdom gains world-wide allegiance and leads all nations to set up an image of the first beast. He gives this image life so it can speak with authority and cause all who refuse to worship the first beast to be killed. So there is a collaboration between the first beast, which continues to exist, and the second beast. As John watches these two beasts in their dragon-like work, his attention is suddenly riveted by something happening in the sky.

Three Angels of Revelation 14

As chapter 14 begins, John sees Jesus’ faithful followers at the end. They are the “sealed” people of Revelation 7. They have a pure faith, follow Jesus faithfully, and have God’s character in their minds. While he is watching them, three angels fly through the air loudly announcing a three part message to the whole world.

Their message comes directly from God as a response to the activity of the two beasts as they fight for world-wide attention and allegiance. The angels’ proclamation is a universal warning not to worship the beast or receive the “mark,” or sign of his authority, on their forehead or hand.

Three Angels and Their World Wide Message

What Does All This Mean?

There isn’t time to go into every detail, but here are some important things to notice:

It’s Who You Worship. The beasts are doing everything they can to gain world-wide worship and authority. Satan, who has wanted worship from the beginning of his apostasy (Isaiah 14:13, 14; Ezekiel 28:17) , works through them to get the worship he wants. Paul predicted this would happen in 2 Thessalonians 2. The Three Angels remind everyone that only God is worthy of worship because He is the Creator, Savior, and Judge of all.

It’s Who You Obey. The Last Day cosmic struggle will be about who to obey. The beasts and their image will try to force obedience and worship on pain of death. At the same time, Jesus invites all to obey and follow Him because He is the true God. Two key statements are made which show this.

“Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”

“This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.”

Revelation 12:17; 14:12 NIV

Jesus’ Last Day followers will obey all of God’s Ten Commandments (James 2:10-11) and hold on to their testimony about Jesus, that He is their Savior and Lord. They don’t just believe, they obey. They are grateful for saving grace, and through Jesus’ help they keep God’s commands. That’s why Satan hates them and is trying to get rid of them. They are the opposite of what he has become. They are faithful and, through grace, are becoming more and more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Final Call. This is earth’s spiritual Endtime crisis, Jesus’ final invitation to accept and follow Him. How do we know? Immediately after the Three Angels give their message, Jesus comes. His Coming is described as the earth’s harvest. The Seven Last Plagues take place, the judgment on the beasts and their followers (also called “Babylon”) occurs, and Jesus comes.

Who is Babylon? Babylon plays a prominent role in Revelation 14-18. Who is this Babylon? Ancient Babylon was originally made up of God’s followers, the family of Noah who were faithful to God and survived the Flood.

After the Great Flood, some of Noah’s family lost their faith, gave into doubt, turned against God, and established a religious philosophy of salvation through personal effort, instead of trusting God completely (Genesis 11). This group of Noah’s descendants became the ancestors of ancient Babylon, which in turn became a major antagonist to God’s people, Israel, in the Old Testament.

In Revelation Jesus draws on Old Testament names and places to symbolize what will take place in the Last Days. People that historically followed God, but turned away, will become the persecutors of those who humbly trust and obey Jesus’ teachings.

Miracles and Authority. In Revelation, Jesus warns us not to base our faith on the teachings of people or miracles, but on Jesus and His word. While genuine miracles will take place, Revelation warns strongly against false miracles. This is in line with Jesus’ earlier teaching:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Matthew 7:21-23 NIV

Conclusion: What’s It All About?

Revelation begins with Jesus. Chapter 1 is dedicated “to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood,” and who “is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him. . .” (Revelation 1:5-7).

Jesus appears to John in symbols, showing that He has kept His promise to be with His Church “until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Revelation shows that our crucified, resurrected, and living Savior has led the Church through the centuries since His First Advent, and will lead us through the Last Days before He returns at the Second Coming.

We can trust this and love Him even more for His faithfulness.

So, is COVID-19 a sign of the End? Not by itself, though something like this could certainly help trigger the things described by Revelation. When we examine what Jesus taught about the Last Days, we see a coming together of many influences and events. It is world-wide in scope. Like a painting is made up of hundreds brush strokes, the Last Days will involve many things.

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In times of crisis, people sometimes turn to God out of fear. Nationalism and majoritarian religion can create a climate of xenophobia and racism, which leads to persecution of minorities. In a crisis, leaders sometimes over reach in power. Constitutional liberties are overlooked in the interest of personal and national security.

Revelation predicts a time when this will happen on a world-wide scale.

Signs Visible Now – Questions to Ask

Looking over Revelation 13-19, what do we see now that might show Jesus’ Coming is very close?

Nations with World-wide Authority and Power. Ask yourself, what nations have the influence and power described in Revelation 13? What kingdoms and powers are collaborating to force obedience to non-scriptural laws. This may still be in the future, but it is important to be alert.

Miracle Movements. What movements focus heavily on the miraculous, and how broad is their influence? Do they accurately teach the Bible? When miracles are used to justify false teaching, as often happened in Old and New Testaments, those leaders and miracles are not from God.

Power and Force. What tendencies do you see to grab power and ignore the principle of freedom of religion and conscience? What movements exist to undermine human rights in major countries. In our nation, we must protect the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

Economic Problems. Revelation 18:17 and James 5:1-6 predict a time when wealth will disappear through economic trouble or collapse. What trends in our world indicate this could happen?

Battle over God’s Law and Jesus’ Gospel. Revelation 12:17 and 14:12 say clearly that the final spiritual issue will be whether people hold to their faith in Jesus and keep God’s Ten Commandments. We are saved by grace to live a life of holiness and obedience as Romans shows. In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus said He did not come to abolish the Ten Commandments. In other words, grace does not void out God’s Law. What efforts and movements do you see growing who distort these truths?

So, what should we do?

This is such an important question. When Jesus gave His teachings about Church history and the Last Days in the Gospels, He concluded by showing how we should live while we wait for His Second Coming.

Interestingly, He did not teach that we should focus all our attention on signs and events, but on living His life and serving others in His name. While we should be aware of all Jesus taught about signs and events, it is the mission He gave us that we should concentrate mostly on. I will conclude this series on COVID-19 and the Last Days by looking at what Jesus taught about this in Matthew 24:36-51 and 25.

Is COVID-19 a Sign? Part 4 – Revelation’s Last Days

Many are asking if the Carona Virus Pandemic is a sign of Planet Earth’s Last Days. Jesus did mention pestilences (pandemics) in his teaching about events that lead to His Second Coming, which is why people are asking this, plus the universal disruption it has caused.

In this series of blogs I am describing how we can view this Pandemic in the big picture of what Jesus taught about signs and the Second Advent. Think of it as a short, free class on that topic. You can read parts 1-3 here: Is the COVID-19 Pandemic a Sign? Is COVID-19 a Sign? Part 2 and Is the Pandemic a Sign? Part 3

The first two in the series look at Jesus’ teaching about Last Day events in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Part 3 gives keys for understanding the book of Revelation.

In today’s blog, we will look specifically at what Jesus taught about Earth’s Final Events before His Return in the first half of Revelation. This will be an overview. In the next blog, I will unpack the second half of The Apocalypse, as it is sometimes called. That section deals entirely with what Jesus said about events at the End.

Jesus and Revelation

Sixty years after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, He returned in vision to John to show His Church what lay ahead in the centuries to come, and in the Final Events before His Second Coming.

Jesus Appears to John in the Revelation

With the passage of time, some Christians had begun to wonder if Jesus’ promise to return was still good. Some were losing their faith. Now Jesus comes to reassure them and teach important things about the future, and what was taking place in the spiritual world, behind the scenes.

Revelation covers the time between Jesus’ Ascension and His Second Coming which, in turn, leads to the restoration of Earth as God’s dwelling place and the eternal home of His people.

Revelation’s Structure and Purpose

Revelation is made up of a series of visions, or vision scenes. The visions move forward in time, but also dip back in history to pick up past events. The visions also move in focus from the earth to heaven where God’s throne is. In this way, God shows that events here on earth are related to what is taking place in heaven. There are spiritual powers and forces at work behind the scenes in this world. Not everything is due to the laws of nature or human choices and actions.

The general purpose of Revelation is to show God’s love and faithfulness, and how He stays connected and involved with what is happening on earth, because of His love for us. A cosmic spiritual battle is raging between God and Satan, a fallen angel. The devil works through those who follow him, including nations and leaders of all kinds, to persecute Jesus’ followers while they, in turn, remain faithful by following God’s word and will. It is an old story, but Revelation describes it in riveting detail.

Revelation may be outlined this way:

Revelation 1-12. The first section is historical. It spans time from the period of the Early Church until the beginning of the Last Days. In Daniel’s book, this is referred to as “The Time of the End,” a period of time before Jesus returns when Earth struggles on its last legs. “But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” (The “knowledge” referred to is understanding Bible prophecy, God’s purpose and character, and the End Times. See Dan. 12:4, 9 NIV)

Revelation 13-19 introduces the major characters and describes final signs and events leading up to and including the Second Coming of Jesus. Dramatic symbols and worldwide action show that everyone on the planet will be called to make a decision to follow God or the “Beast” powers.

Revelation 20-22 describe what will happen after Jesus comes, a great final showdown between Satan and his followers and the Ruler of the Universe. This will be a triumph of love, not an exercise of arbitrary power on God’s part. A movie should be made of this. After that, the earth is recreated in pristine beauty and perfection, and the New Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place in heaven, is transported to Earth, where God sets up His eternal capital. The New Earth is briefly described, with a final invitation to accept Jesus and plan for eternity.

Final Events in Revelation’s 7’s

In vision, John sees several series of seven events play out: 7 letters are read to 7 churches; 7 seals are opened and 7 action figures emerge; 7 angels are given 7 trumpets to blow, and when they do, cataclysmic events occur. Later, there are also 7 angelic messages for the world and 7 last plagues before Christ comes.

The first three series of seven, 7 letters to the churches, 7 opening seals, and 7 sounding trumpets, all end with the Second Coming of Christ. So we could expect to see some events and signs of Christ’s coming also listed. In fact, we do, especially in the fifth and sixth items of each series. The seventh is the actual coming of Christ.

The Seven Churches (Revelation 2, 3)

Jesus tells John to write letters to seven different churches. These were literal congregations in Asia Minor. However, it is widely accepted that these churches represents seven periods of time stretching from the Apostolic Age to the Second Coming.

In the letter to the Sixth Church, Jesus seems to be describing a period just prior to the Last Days. He makes this time-related promise that helps us locate where it is in the stream of time:

“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”

Revelation 3:10-11 NIV

Jesus promises believers in this sixth period that because they have been so faithful, He will let them pass to their rest without going through earth’s Final Crisis. Believers in the seventh period will go through them. They must take Jesus’ diagnosis and remedy seriously to be ready for His Coming.

The Letter to the Church of Laodicea (the Seventh Church) describes the condition of God’s professed followers near the end of earth’s history. They will be lukewarm says Jesus; spiritually wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. He offers a prescription and a divine remedy that will heal them and prepare them for Jesus’ coming (verses 18-22).

Jesus’ portrayal of Christianity in this final phase is very similar to what Paul and Peter described about the Church in the last days. Read 2 Timothy 3:1-9, 4:1-5, and 2 Peter 3:1-9, and you will see striking similarities. These passages describe a Christianity that, while wealthy in finances and programs, has largely lost its power and fallen into spiritual decay.

The Seven Seals (Revelation 5 – 8:5)

The letters to the seven churches are followed by two wonderful visions where John’s eyes are directed to worship taking place in heaven. In chapter 4, God is worshiped as Creator of all. In chapter 5, Jesus is worshiped as the Savior who died for human sin.

Through these visions, Jesus is gives us the solution for sin and spiritual lethargy. It is to have a renewed realization that God is our Creator, and Jesus is our Savior. We are ushered into heaven with John where we see thousands of angels and heavenly beings overwhelmed with Who God is and the sacrifice He made so sinners could be forgiven and spend eternity with Him.

In Revelation 5, John sees a 7-sealed scroll in God’s hand.

The Scroll Sealed with Seven Seals

Sealed scrolls like this were often used as title deeds, as evidence of ownership. A powerful angel asks, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” John laments that no one could be found in heaven or on earth who was worthy enough to open the scroll and claim ownership. He says, “he wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” Then one of the elders said:

“’Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. . .He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. . .And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.'”

Revelation 5:5-9 NIV

Jesus is this sacrificial lamb because He has taken away the sins of the world by dying in our place (See Isaiah 53 and John 1:29). Because He did this, He can reclaim the world as His own eventually.

Jesus, Our Sacrifice

Jesus’ act of successively opening the seals pictures how He restores God’s kingdom in this world the teaching of the good news of salvation and inviting people to accept Him. It depicts the experience of the Church as it carries the Gospel to the world through seven ages. Sometimes it goes well; often there is great suffering, and even spiritual failure in the mission.

When the fifth seal is opened, Christian martyrs symbolically ask how long it will be until Christ returns. Jesus gives each of them a white robe and tells them to wait a little longer until more martyrs die. The fifth seal is a time of great martyrdom which corresponds to the Middle Ages.

The sixth seal dramatically portrays the celestial End Time events Jesus predicted as signs of His near coming in Matthew 24:29-31.

“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 figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled 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 everyone else, both slave and free, 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 withstand it?’”

Revelation 6:12-17 NIV

Jesus lists five signs in the heavens that will precede His coming: a great earthquake, blackened sun, the moon turning blood red, and a huge shower of stars, followed by the heavens rolling back to reveal the coming of Jesus, as mountains and islands move out of their places. The first four have already happened, though they may take place again just before Christ’s coming. To read about them, click here.

It is clear in Matthew 24 and Revelation 6, that Jesus predicts these as significant signs of His soon return.

Who Can Stand?

The leaders and people pictured as witnessing Jesus’ Advent, cry out, “The great day of God’s wrath has come; who will be able to stand?” That is the question we might be asking as well. Who will be able to stand before Christ when He comes? Who will be ready for His coming? How can I be ready?

Jesus answers that question in Revelation 7. Four angels are pictured holding back the winds of war and calamity about to devastate the earth. Another angel appears holding the “seal of the living God” which will identify who belongs to Him. This angel travels through the world sealing people for heaven, before the four winds of final trouble are let loose. This is a direct allusion to Ezekiel 9 where God’s people are marked safe before destruction.

Holding Back the Four Winds of Trouble

What is this seal? I believe it the experience of settling into trusting God and knowing the the truth about Him intellectually and spiritually so we will never turn away. The Bible says we are “sealed” initially when we accept Jesus (Ephesians 4:30), and Paul says:

“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.’”

2 Timothy 2:19 NIV

I believe now is the time we need to be getting solidly settled into our relationship with God, through the grace and help of Jesus. Only Jesus can help us do that. We cannot do it in our own effort.

When Jesus opens the Seventh Seal, in Revelation 8, three things happen. There is a brief period of silence in heaven. An angel with a golden censer comes to offer incense at the altar with the prayers of God’s people. Then this angel hurls the censer to the earth in judgment.

When Jesus ascended to heaven after his death and resurrection, the Bible says he went there to intercede for us. The book of Hebrews explains this in detail. This intercession, in part, is to claim all He won on the cross, draw people to salvation, defend us against the accusations of Satan (Zechariah 3), forgive our sins (1 John 1:9-2:2), and empower us to live as His people (Ephesians).

Our part is to pray and work with Him, as the “saints” are pictured doing in Revelation 8:3-4. When Jesus finishes His intercession, the door of salvation closes, and judgment takes place in stages. Judgment begins with the Seven Trumpets described in Revelation 8-11 and the Seven Last Plagues of Revelation 15-16.

As you read this, do you get the sense we are living near the end of earth’s history? I believe we are. God is calling us in the book of Revelation to see where we are in the stream of time and realize how important it is to commit our lives to Christ and follow Him. That’s why He has given us these signs.

The Seven Trumpets

In Bible times, trumpets were used in worship, warfare, to announce God’s appearances (theophanies), in the enthronement of a king, and before God’s judgments on the earth.

The Seven Trumpets of Revelation announce calamities which signal God’s approaching enthronement as King of Kings and Judge of Earth.

When the Fifth Trumpet sounded, the catastrophes 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.” (Rev. 9:4)

When an angel blew the Sixth Trumpet, a voice from the altar in heaven commanded, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great River Euphrates.” These are the angels who had been holding back the Four Winds in Revelation 7.

The Seventh Trumpet is blown in Revelation 11, after an interlude of almost two chapters. In chapter 10, an angel announces, “Time has run out. Whenever the days arrive and the seventh messenger sounds his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished just as He announced to His servants, the prophets” (The VOICE). God’s longest time prophecy in Daniel 8, 9 was expiring. The Time of the End was beginning and the mystery of God (giving the good news of salvation to the world) was going to be completed soon.

When the Seventh Trumpet sounds, loud voices in heaven, say:

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever. . .You have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

Revelation 11:15-18 NIV

The Seventh Trumpet clearly announces the Final Judgment and the Second Coming of Christ. However, the visions are not finished yet. I said in an earlier blog that Revelation is divided into various scenes by Hebrew Sanctuary imagery.

This was the ancient worship center or temple where God’s plan of salvation in history was acted out. The sacrifice of Christ, the Judgment, and the final destruction of Satan was depicted in a yearly sequence. The final service took place on Yom Kippur, or The Day of Judgment, when the high priest went into the Most Holy Room There, before the Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat, and the Law of God, he performed a service of final atonement and judgment for Israel.

Summary

In the first half of Revelation, Jesus gives three series of seven. Each of these series cover history and reach to the Second Coming of Christ. The sixth period in each series, Jesus gives signs that precede His coming. In the seventh, He describes some aspect of His return.

So, as we finish Revelation 11 and move into the second section of the book, Jesus indicates in sanctuary imagery that He will now go back and explain in more detail about Earth’s final events and the Judgment. That is the purpose of Revelation 12-19.

“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.”

Revelation 11:19

In my next blog I will introduce you to the dramatic characters and major events in Earth’s final period. These are major signposts Jesus gives us about His soon return.

Last night I watched a video about a family in South Africa who owns a lion and tiger reserve. They have rescued and raised many in their own home. It was really special to see the family having fun with a lion or tiger. It reminded me that God has a wonderful future planned for us in heaven. Because Jesus died for us, someday He is going to remove all suffering, conflict, and sin and make Earth new again. Revelation is pointing toward that wonderful time.

Is the Pandemic a “Sign?” Part 3 – Keys to Understand Revelation

Jesus mentioned pandemics (pestilences) when he described what would happen between His first and second Advents (Matthew 24).

However, as I wrote in Part 2, we need more information to answer the question, “Is the Carona Virus Pandemic a sign of the end of the world and Jesus’ Second Coming?”

Jesus gave us those answers in the book of Revelation. About sixty years after He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, Jesus returned to visit with his aged disciple, John, who was now a prisoner for his faith on the Greek Island of Patmos.

In amazing color and detail Jesus filled in more elements about what would happen in the centuries going forward until He finally returned. He had told His disciples six decades previously, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” (John 16:12). Now He comes to reveal it.

Put yourself in John’s shoes. Most of the first followers of Jesus have died, many by a martyr’s death. Jesus had promised, when He left, He would come back, but time has dragged on, with much persecution and trouble.

Jesus had left some clues about when He might return, but the hints were sparse. His emphasis had been more about what to do while they waited and His promise to be with them always through His Spirit. He never gave a date and time, only signs.

Now, Jesus comes to reassure the Christian community and to fill in more information. What He gives makes up the last book of the Bible, Revelation.

The Revelation

The first time I tried to read Revelation was after my seventeen year-old sister died in a car accident. I was grieving, looking for comfort and hope. I had heard Revelation talked about Jesus’ return, so I opened my slightly used Bible to the last book and started reading hungrily.

As I wrestled with the symbols, here and there were words of encouragement I needed. My faith grew stronger that I would see my sister again. Also, I came to know God and His Son Jesus in a more personal way.

Now, many years later, I understand some keys that unlock this mysterious book and pour out its treasure. My purpose in writing today is to share ten of those keys. You will understand Revelation better as you use them.

Please don’t be intimidated by this. Each key will be helpful in its own way and time. At the last church I pastored, I was given many keys. Each one opened a space I would need access to–the office, library, classrooms, AV room, etc. Though I always carried all the keys, I used them only when necessary. Read these over, and use them as needed. They will open wonderful treasures to you.

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Keys That Unlock Revelation’s Meaning

1. It’s Name Means “Revealed”

The book of Revelation was not meant to be a closed book, too mysterious and complicated to understand. The title means “open, or revealed.” God wants you to understand it. He even pronounces a blessing when you read and take it to heart: “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. . .” (Revelation 1:3). As you read and study, remember it is God’s will to open it to you.

2. A Revelation of Jesus

The first five words tell us it is a revelation (revealing) of and by Jesus: “The revelation of Jesus Christ. . .” (Revelation 1:1). Jesus came to show us what God is really like, His amazing character and love. He showed it by how He lived and what He taught about His Father. If we only read the book like a guide to signs and events, we will miss its central message. Revelation is about Jesus and how He interacts with people and powers through history.

The Bible teaches that when we open our hearts to God, He unlocks our mind to understand His message. Jesus is truly the main “key” in Revelation. When we believe the good news of salvation He taught and put our trust in Him as Savior, He unlocks the door of our understanding and shines His light in.

Jesus appears to John on Patmos

3. Hidden Keys

Recently we visited my wife’s son in another state. As we left the house one day, I forgot to turn the door knob lock to the unlocked position, locking us out. Everyone else had left for the day. A bit embarrassed, I hoped our son was carrying or had hidden an extra key somewhere. But when he got home that night, we learned he did not, and there was no way in. Keys open spaces important to us. Without a key, we are locked out. Finally, I called a locksmith who produced his tools and got us in quickly.

God gave Revelation at a time when Christianity was under vicious attack. So, like secret battle code, He placed much of its meaning in symbols, effectively locking unsympathetic enemies out.

Revelation’s images are created from over 400 names, places, and allusions drawn from the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. Names such as Jezebel, Babylon, and Balaam. Nouns like dragon, sanctuary, lamp stand, and lamb. Concepts such as seal, plagues, and white clothes. When you understand a symbol’s meaning in the “First Scripture,” the Bible Jesus used, it helps unlock its meaning in Revelation.

4. A Cosmic War

Revelation pictures an epic Star Wars-like battle between Heavenly powers and the powers of evil led by a fallen angel and his army of rebel angels (Revelation 12:9-11). The fighting ranges between heaven and earth and on the planet over many centuries. Humans, leaders, and governments choose sides and join the fray. The side we choose determines our involvement and destiny.

“The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. . .When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.”

Revelation 12:9, 13-14 NIV
The cosmic war began in heaven

5. Understand the Literary Style

Understanding what style a book or movie uses helps us get its message. Revelation is a particular kind of literary style which God used in Bible times–apocalyptic writing. It was made up of visions, symbols, and predictions about the future, with a focus on the cosmic battle and ultimate the end of the world.

As in a book or movie, sometimes the action moves back in time, then forward, then back again, as it builds its message. In Revelation, visions move back and forth between heaven (where God leads and guides) and earth (where the battle rages). Often there is repetition of the same message using different symbols.

For example, one symbol in revelation is “sanctuary” imagery. The Old Testament sanctuary, or worship center, was a symbol of God’s plan to bring salvation to humanity. Its yearly cycle happened in phases utilizing different spaces in the sanctuary, from the sacrifice of a lamb to bring salvation to, ultimately, Divine judgment and restoration of this earth to a renewed state.

God uses the sanctuary symbols and services to introduce each new section of Revelation. (Rev. 1:10-18; 4:1-2; 11:19)

The first (wilderness) sanctuary

6. The Holy Spirit’s Help

Before Jesus’ death, He promised His followers He would send the Holy Spirit to help them remember everything He had taught, and, lead them into deeper understanding. We need the Spirit of God and as we try to understand God’s heart and message in the Bible. We can ask God for this Gift as we read and study His word.

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”

John 16:12-14 NIV

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:9-13 NIV

7. Revelation Moves Through History

As you read Revelation, you will generally be moving through history from the time of Christ to the Second Coming (and beyond). As I said earlier, the scene sometimes moves backward or forward in time, as in a movie or book. There are several series of seven in Revelation. Often, these seven-fold series begin with early Christianity and move through time to the End. As you read, you will notice this.

8. Lost in Unfamiliar Territory?

Imagine that are lost on a walk or drive. What would be the first thing you’d do? Of course, you might check Google maps, but play along. Let’s say you don’t have your phone. What would you do? I would look something familiar: a landmark, a street name, something in the skyline. As soon as you identified something, it might help you pinpoint your location and how to find your way home.

Think of this as a helpful tip when you read Revelation. You find yourself in a maze of strange metaphors, unfamiliar symbols, and mysterious narrative, look for something familiar. Remember you are moving through history, sometimes in cycles. Look for references to significant events, or familiar names and places. These will help you pinpoint your location and find your way.

9. Apocalyptic Cross References

I said earlier that there are more than 400 references in Revelation to the Old Testament: names, places, allusions. Many of these are found in other Apocalyptic books, primarily the Old Testament book of Daniel.

Daniel has many characteristics in common with Revelation. It moves from its time (600 B.C.), through the centuries to the Second Coming of Christ. It is composed of several visions and makes use of many symbols. Many of these symbols are used by God in Revelation. The material covered by Daniel is also taught in Revelation.

So, if you understand Daniel, it will help you sort out Revelation. The book of Daniel is a big key for understanding Revelation.

10. The Main Purpose

The last key is one of the most important, closely related to keys 2 and 6. God gave us Revelation to know Him personally and to experience a relationship with Him. He gave it so we could experience His gift of salvation, receive Jesus as our Savior, be ready for His Coming and prepared to enjoy eternity with Him.

We must not study Revelation primarily to understand End Time Events, or how to survive them, but to come close to a loving, good God Who is full of mercy and willing to accept and help us. If you read Revelation in that way, you will be truly blessed.

These ten points are some of the crucial keys that unlock the wonderful treasure found in Revelation. Now, I would suggest you just begin to read it prayerfully, using these keys as they come to your mind. God’s Spirit will open your understanding as you do.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow, God willing, I will highlight some of the events, movements, and signs in Revelation which shows Jesus’ Coming is Near.

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Is the COVID-19 Pandemic a Sign? – Part 1

Many people are asking if the COVID-19 Pandemic is a sign of the End. Seeing how it has affected the whole world, bringing rapid infection and death, shutting down economies, affecting much of the planet, prompting government intervention, raising concerns about civil liberties–all these and more, has stirred up the recurring question, “It this a sign?”

Christians believe Jesus predicted signs that would alert us to His Second Coming. But I am guessing people of other faiths, or no particular faith, are wondering too. No religion or philosophy has a corner on this question.

Since I am writing as a Christian, I am going to answer from that perspective.

Jesus did describe many signs and events in His teaching about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. His explanation is found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, repeated in different ways by three New Testament writers. One of these signs was “pestilences,” or pandemics.

“There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”

Luke 21:11

The COVID-19 certainly qualifies as a great pandemic when we think of how many have died and the disruption caused to our world and global economy. Was Jesus referring to this, specifically?

The Background

Jesus’ teaching about signs was given in response to a question asked by His twelve close disciples. Their question and Jesus’ answer gives us an crucial clue to understanding “signs.” So, let’s join their dialogue:

“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'” (Matthew 24:1-2 NIV)

Jesus had just finished His strongest warning ever to the religious leadership in Jerusalem. It is sometimes called “The Seven Woes.” He excoriated them for their hypocrisy and double standards. But He ended with an impassioned, loving appeal”

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. . .”

Matthew 23:37-38
Model of the Jerusalem Temple in Jesus’ Day. It was a massive structure.

What an appeal! It was only days now until Jesus would be arrested, tried, and crucified. Israel’s opportunity to accept her Messiah was rapidly coming to a crisis.

The disciples heard Jesus words about the Temple being left desolate, and it created an uneasy fear. Was Jesus’ pronouncing judgment against their beloved Temple? Would it really be destroyed. That’s when they asked their question.

“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives (they had hiked up from the temple to the Mount), 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?'”

Matthew 23:3

Jesus had just said something shocking–that all the buildings on the Temple Mount were going to be destroyed. Not one stone left on top of another. The Romans had spent years building this beautiful religious complex for the Jews. It was their pride and joy, and to them, evidence of God’s blessing. The stones of the temple mount were massive, some as large as a school bus. It was unimaginable it would be destroyed.

However, Jesus was predicting this would definitely happen, and the prophet Daniel had also prophesied it hundreds of years earlier (Daniel 9:26). Jesus cited this prediction by Daniel in Matthew 24:15.

Two Questions in One

Jesus’ followers had asked, “When will this happen, AND what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

People in Jesus’ day expected the “End of the age” to take place in their time. They did not understand that the Messiah would come, die, rise from the dead, and return to heaven, followed by His Second Coming many centuries later.

Because Jesus understood this two-part coming of Messiah: 1st Advent and 2nd Advent, He answered His disciples’ question in two parts: things that would happen before the destruction of Jerusalem and events and signs that would happen before his Second Coming. You will see this as you read the three chapters mentioned above.

Jesus told them that before the destruction of Jerusalem (by Titus in 70 A.D.), many things would take place: false Christ’s would appear, wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences in various places. (Dr. Luke is the only one to mention pestilences, in Luke 21:11. His trained ear picked up Jesus’ mention of disease pandemics.) All these things happened just like Jesus predicted.

However, Jesus’ point to them was that when they saw these things, they were not to interpret them as signs of His near Second Advent. Here are His words: “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. . .All these things are the beginning of birth pains.” Matthew 24:6, 8.

“The end is still far away,” Jesus was telling them. “These troubles will be like the beginning of a long birthing process, taking place over many centuries, until I finally come back. The earth will be writhing in labor pains, so to speak, until I come.”

Many years later, Paul wrote, “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22)

To summarize so far, Jesus divided His teaching about “signs” into two parts: events before the destruction of Jerusalem: and, signs that would show His Second Coming was getting closer.

Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., precisely as Daniel and Jesus predicted. It was a terrible time for the Jewish people. Thousands upon thousands lost their lives. But Jesus had prepared His followers to understand that not even this terrible event, as earth-shaking as it was for Christ’s followers, was the End. There was more history to come, and more signposts.

NO

Taken by itself the COVID-19 pandemic is not necessarily a sign of Jesus’ immediate (or close) return. Jesus told His followers that these things would happen, but the end was not yet (Matthew 24:6). There have been many pandemics down through history. For a fascinating list, read here.

YES

By using the metaphor of the birthing process Jesus was teaching there would be an intensification of sign events that this world needs the deliverance only God can give: false Messiahs, wars, natural disasters etc. When we think of the wars in the 20th and 21st Centuries, the invention of nuclear bombs, the increasing power of storms, the weird messianic movements, we have certainly seen that.

In that sense, a world-wide pandemic of this magnitude could be a sign of Jesus’ soon coming, but there are many more things to consider.

MAYBE

Jesus’ teaching about the End of Time and His Second Advent is much bigger than one event, as serious as it might be. His teaching about this is like an artist’s painting. It takes many colors, many details to make a portrait complete.

When He predicted events leading to His Coming, Jesus pointed to sign events in the natural world, the geopolitical area, the economy, the religious world, and more. It is a coming together of many forces and occurrences.

Something like the COVID-19 Pandemic could trigger other things leading to final signs and events, but we won’t know for sure until it happens. It might only be another pandemic like many we have had, or it could morph into something more.

Jesus did present clear teaching about some specific things that would happen before He returns. But even more importantly, He explained what our focus should be and how we can be ready for that and live as we wait for His return. I will write about these in future blogs.

In the meantime, I invite you to read the three chapters mentioned above, Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, and reflect on what we have seen there. Next time, I will discuss what all these things mean for us, living closer to Jesus’ return.