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Blessed Are the Dead

May 26th, 2015

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”

Revelation 14:13

Throughout the Word of God there are verses that contain such depth of meaning and relevance for every life and every situation of life that they leap out at us and take on a life of their own. We are not always abusing them or misinterpreting them to remove them from the context and let them stand on their own, because they are given to us to strengthen us in our faith. Here is a case in point. In the final days of the Great Tribulation the Lord sends a message of hope to those believers who are living through, and dying during, the darkest times of world history. In these days death seems to come as a relief. The promises of God to oversee and watchfully care for the believer’s life on earth are replaced with the promise of life beyond this world.

There in heaven we rest from our labors, and we can be assured that the Lord knows those who are His. In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul, by the inspiration of the Spirit, explained that in the afterlife we believers will receive the new body, that he called “incorruptible” (1 Cor 15:42).

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. for in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with out habitation which is from heaven … For we who are in this tent groan being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 2 Corinthians 5:1-4

In whatever age of earth’s history a believer dies, it is a blessed event. We exchange this ragged “tent” we call a body, for a beautiful “building” constructed by God. “Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-7).

He remembers our works of mercy, our sharing of the gospel, our encouragement to others. “Their works follow them,” should not make us frightened – these words should remind us that we must each appear before the Judgement Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9-11), “that we may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” And there is an element of this that is intended to call us to responsibility, even to the point where Paul said, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” But ultimately we are confident of the love of God. This judgement is not to determine our salvation, but to assign us rewards in heaven.

The only things of this world that follows us into eternity are our works of mercy and witness for Christ, our character etched upon our souls by the Spirit and the Word, and the results of our conduct here on earth. Our money, our land, our toys, our investments – all of these we leave here. God will take note that we handled our material possessions faithfully – tithing to Him and supporting our families – and He rewards compassion and responsibility. But we leave this world, this economy, behind utterly. A new life and a new economy awaits us.

The Exegesis of Revelation Chapter 14:1-13

14:1-5: The Lamb of God and the 144,000: My interpretation of this section was explained yesterday. In summary it is the Jewish believing remnant who were martyred during the Tribulation, now assembled with Christ and ready to come with Him in His Victorious Return.

14:6-13: The Proclamations of Three Angels: John meets many angels through the Revelation, and there is not always a necessity to try and identify which angel says what or does what. They are spirit beings sent to minister the will of God. This is the beginning of the End of the Great Tribulation and comprises the final few weeks of the Antichrist’s reign.

  • The first angel (14:6-7) bears witness to the inhabitants of the earth to believe in Christ. He preaches the “everlasting gospel” to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. “Nation” indicates ethnic identities. “Tribe” means a sub-group of a certain ethnic group, and is generally used for Israelite tribes. “Tongue” means different languages, and is used for the Gentiles. “People” completes the idea that everyone on earth shall hear the gospel. His message calls people to worship God who made the earth and who stands above it. Some suggest that the absence of the article for “gospel” or “good news” – he proclaims “good news” not “the good news” – means that the message was not the gospel of Christ. However, it is still called “good news” and also “eternal” or “everlasting” so an essential part of this message must be the good news of Jesus Christ, as well as the impending doom of the cruel system of worldwide government of the Antichrist.
  • The second angel (14:8) proclaims the fall of Babylon the Great, or the earthly center of the Antichrist’s worldly government. What city is this? Historical interpreters – which most of the Reformers were – tend to lean toward it being Rome. Dispensationalists tend to lean toward Jerusalem. But her character is described as having an intoxicating effect, “made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” The idea of temptation is often symbolized by intoxication by alcoholic drink (Eph. 4:18). But the wine here is used symbolically and her temptations involved more than just alcoholic drinks, and encompassed a worldly, godless view of life. Her ideas prove to be bankrupt.
  • The third angel (14:9-11) gives a warning and a judgment against those on earth who have worshiped the beast and his image and have received his mark on their foreheads or on his hand. I have heard of many Christians who refused to receive any mark on their hand or their forehead because of these verses – assuming that any mark was wrong. I believe whatever may be understood from these verses the sin of worshiping the beast is one that rejects God and Christ, that works with the devil to destroy God’s work and to persecute God’s people. The signifiying mark of the beast is also a mark of exclusion, meaning that one may not participate in the economy without renouncing Christianity and Christ. The mark on the head symbolizes thought and idea. The mark on the hand symbolizes actions. So the idea is someone whose mind and whose actions are given over to the rule of the Antichrist and the rejection of Christ and of biblical faith.

One of the most difficult passages to deal with is verse 10 about those who receive this mark of the beast, “he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” The most common complaint is that this seems completely contrary to the central character of God the Son, as though He would take delight in seeing unbelievers suffer for eternity. But that interpretation misunderstands the meaning of the text.

“Drink of the wine of the wrath of God” means that the message of the Antichrist was deceptive, and the one who participated in the activities that were contrary to the will of God also bought into the deception. There was, in other words, a way out of the temptation that they should have known. So the punishment of the innocent is not proclaimed here, rather the punishment of the guilty.

“Tormented with fire and brimstone” means to be distressed with an unquenchable fire. “Tormented” is a broad term in Greek meaning distressed or tortured, depending on the context. In Luke 10:14 Christ said, “It will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you,” referring to the unbelief of Capernaum and the judgment in the Old Testament against Tyre and Sidon. But Christ gave the principle of relative punishment – “more bearable” – and we trust the biblical proclamation of the justice and fairness of God. Punishment will fit the crime. “Fire and Brimstone” or “sulphur” were those elements known in the First Century that created a lasting fire.

“In the presence of the holy angles and in the presence of the Lamb” means that the judgment shall be done by the One who above all is fair and gracious. But in the end of the matter the opportunity of eternity with God is lost by unbelief.

In verse 11 we read, “the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever,” indicating the judgment is final, probably building on the description of the destruction of Sodom and Gamorrah (Gen. 19:28). It does not mean that the intensity of their suffering continues, but that the matter of their torment and their separation from God is settled, and the destruction of the godless religion of the Antichrist is total. “They have no rest day or night” refers to the eternal nature of the condemnation.

The passage does not teach that God or Christ or the angels take delight in seeing people in eternal misery, rather it teaches the finality of a rejection of the grace of God, that the matter is settled by the One who is fair and just and loving. So we cannot take this matter lightly – the decisions we make here regarding the gospel and sin and salvation are of eternal significance. But this passage is particularly descriptive of those who literally “sell their souls” to the Antichrist and to His antichrist program and his anti-Christian persecution, contrary to the witness of the Spirit and of the good side of human nature. One also is led to believe that the program of the Antichrist will also ridicule the gospel of Christ, so these people will have also heard of the gospel and will have rejected it.

  • Reaping the Earth’s Harvest, both good and bad (14:14-20). We will examine this section tomorrow.

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