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The End is Near

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Sunday, April 24, 2005 - 11:00am
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Type in the word "Armageddon" on Goggle or your favorite search engine and you might be surprised by what you find.  There are websites for the movie Armageddon that was released in 1998 and the book Armageddon written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.  There's the countdown to Armageddon and Armageddon.com.  And on Armageddon online you can read about hundreds of asteroids that could destroy the earth and a mega tsunami thousands of feet high that could wipe out New York City and a super volcano ready to erupt in Yellowstone National Park and 30,000 nuclear warheads aimed to annihilate the United States in World War III.

Is any of it true?  I don't know.  It could be.  But it's all speculation, speculation that comes out of the passage in Revelation that we're going to look at today.  If you have a Bible turn to Revelation 16 as we continue our series called Apocalypse: The Revelation of Jesus Christ with a teaching I've called "The End is Near."

In Revelation 16, the curtain lifts on the final series of judgments that God has in store for planet earth.  And among them is the climactic battle of all human history, the battle of Armageddon.

Remember, during this time period called the Tribulation we have seen three series of seven judgments.  First, there are the seal judgments that are opened by the Lamb in Revelation 6 at the start of the Tribulation.  And like a nesting doll when the seventh seal is opened it reveals the seven trumpet judgments sounded by God's angels in Revelation 8.  And when the seventh trumpet sounds, it reveals the seven bowl judgments in Revelation 16.  Three series of seven judgments and each series gets more and more intense.

Let's strap in and let's look at these bowl judgments starting in Revelation 16:1, Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, "Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth." 2The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. 3The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died. 4The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: "You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; 6for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve." 7And I heard the altar respond: "Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments." 8The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. 9They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him. 10The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony 11and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done. 12The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. 15"Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed are those who stay awake and keep their clothes with them, so that they may not go naked and be shamefully exposed."

Wow!  We read that and we wonder how much more can this old world take?  You may have noticed that throughout the Tribulation the judgments keep intensifying.  The seal judgments affected part of the earth and the trumpet judgments affected a third of the earth and now the bowl judgments affect all of the earth.  In fact, the Greek word that's repeated again and again in this chapter is the word "mega."  It's used nine times to describe these judgments.

And that's because the world doesn't fall apart all at once.  We're not going to wake up one day to find the world gone.  It's a process.  And all along the way God has been giving people time, lots of time, and all kinds of opportunities to turn to him and worship him.  But verse 9 says, they refused to repent and glorify him.  Verse 11 says, but they refused to repent of what they had done.

That's frightening.  That's a grim commentary on the hardness of the human heart.  That scares me, because I've got a human heart too that can get hard and callous real fast if I'm not careful.  And I know God is patient with me, but even God's patience has limits.  Right up until the bitter end people will refuse to repent and receive God's grace.  And when we do that God has no choice but to be just and fair and give us what we're asking for.  So the angel says in verse 5, You are just in these judgments.  And again in verse 7, Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.  Like we said last week, the day is coming when God will settle the books.

Anyone familiar with the Old Testament would read these bowl judgments and immediately think of the ten plagues of Egypt recorded in Exodus starting with the Nile River turning to blood and then frogs and gnats and flies and the death of livestock and then boils and hail and locusts and darkness and finally the death of the firstborn son.  In the bowls we see boils and blood and darkness and frogs and hail as well.

The parallels are obvious.  Egypt under Pharaoh's control was judged for oppressing God's people and now the whole world under Satan's control is judged for oppressing God's people.  For they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets it says in verse 6.  What happened in Egypt 3,500 years ago was a warm up for what will happen at the end of the age.  And in the harvest imagery of last week the grim reaper is now swinging his sickle.

Yet right up to very end people will not only refuse to repent, but they will go to war with God.  And the assembly for that final battle begins in verse 16, Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. 17The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, "It is done!" 18Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.

The climactic battle of all human history will be staged in a place called Armageddon.  Armageddon in Hebrew literally means "Mt. Megiddo."  And Mt. Megiddo is one of five mountains that surround the Valley of Megiddo or the Jezreel Valley as it's called in the Old Testament that measures fourteen miles by twenty miles.  This is where that final battle will take place.  It's an actual place about fifty miles north of the city of Jerusalem.  It's a perfect place for a battle and has seen many battles fought there over the centuries.  But this will be the last one.  Jesus actually grew up on a ridge overlooking the Valley of Megiddo from his home in Nazareth.  Everyday he was reminded of the end of the age.

And at the end of the Tribulation God will see to it that every nation on earth gets a royal invitation to the battle of Armageddon courtesy of the three frogs, verse 14 says, that invite them.  God will dry up the Euphrates River so that the kings of the East can get there easily.  Today that would be China and Japan and India and other eastern countries.  Every earthly king still standing will be gathered there, not to fight against each other, but to fight against God one last time.  See Armageddon is not a battle between nations.  Armageddon is a battle between earth and heaven.  This is a battle between the beast and the Lamb, the king of the North and the King of Kings.

This is the battle that was spoken of by the prophet Zechariah 500 years before Jesus when he wrote in Zechariah 14:1-5, A day of the LORD is coming when your plunder will be divided among you. 2I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. 3Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. 4On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south ... 5You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.

This is a battle that will cause great carnage.  And there are cosmic signs that accompany this battle, signs like you'll find on Armageddon websites.  There will be thunder and lightning and a severe earthquake that splits the great city, Jerusalem, into thirds and cracks the Mount of Olives in half.  Other cities around the world will collapse as hailstones weighing a hundred pounds fall from the sky and clubber people.

As with the seals and the trumpets and now the bowls, the last judgment in each series is always an earthquake, but this one is for the record books.  Verse 18 says, No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake.  This goes way beyond any special effects produced in a Hollywood movie.  The world as we know it is coming to an end and God's kingdom is about to erupt on this earth and you better be sure you're on the right side.

And that brings us to Revelation 17:1-18, One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. 2With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries." 3Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. 5This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 6I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. 7Then the angel said to me: "Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. 8The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come. 9"This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for a little while. 11The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction. 12"The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. 13They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast.  14They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings-and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers." 15Then the angel said to me, "The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. 16The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.  17For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled. 18The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth."

Okay. Did you get all that?  Great.  Let's close in prayer!  What in the world is going on here?  I think Revelation 17 is the toughest chapter in the book and maybe one of the most difficult chapters in the entire Bible to understand.  I was thinking about holding out for a raise before teaching Revelation 17.  Just when you think you're getting a handle on this book, boom!

Prostitutes and beasts with seven heads and ten horns and Babylon and kings who once were and then were not and now come back again.  What is going on here?  I wish I knew, but I'm not sure I do.  Even after all the study I've done.

Except to say that Babylon, which seems to be the subject of this chapter and the next is more than just a city.  Babylon represents an attitude and a way of life that is opposed to God.  There are over 300 references to Babylon in the Bible going all the way back to Genesis 11 and the story of the tower of Babel.  At the heart of Babylon is Babel and a spirit that says, "We don't need to listen to God.  We don't need to obey God.  We don't need God.  Instead, we can be our own gods."  Babylon is more than a place, it's an attitude of pride that keeps God out of our lives and one day that attitude and all its expressions will be destroyed.  There is no room for that attitude in God's kingdom.

The Jews living in John's day didn't need to be reminded how evil Babylon was.  It was the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar who marched into Jerusalem and slaughtered God's people and desecrated God's name and destroyed God's temple in 586 B.C. and kept Israel in exile for years.  Now it's payback time and God continues to settle the books.

Someone has said, "Babylon is the poster child for entrenched worldly resistance against God."  It's the symbol of all those who dig in their heels and say, " God, it's my or the highway!"  Babylon is a picture of everything in our world that seduces us and draws us away from God.  Babylon is where we live.  It's Satan's power structure that's all around us and it's about to go down.

And in this chapter Babylon is portrayed as a well dressed woman sitting on a scarlet beast with a name tattooed on her forehead, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.

Babylon is a prostitute.  In John's day, prostitutes would have a name written on their foreheads to identify them and so does this woman.  Why is Babylon pictured as a prostitute?  Because prostitution takes something very good, something that God made to be sacred, something that God made to glorify himself, and abuses it, and cheapens it, and destroys it.  And that's what Satan wants to do with all God's creation.  He wants to ruin it.  He wants to abuse us and cheapen us and destroy us and anything else that honors God.

The woman is sitting on a scarlet beast.  The color scarlet in the book of Revelation is always associated with sin and Satan, which reminds us that the founder of this attitude is the devil himself.  Satan is the source of all the evil and the power behind this anti-God world system called Babylon.

In verse 3, the beast is described as covered with blasphemous names and as having seven heads and ten horns.  We've seen that reference before.  The enormous red dragon, described as Satan, in Revelation 12 had seven heads and ten horns as did the beast coming out of the sea in Revelation 13.  The woman was riding on the back of Satan himself.

Verse 6 says, the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished.

Notice her attitude is not simply indifference towards God.  She is not an agnostic or even an atheist.  She is militant against God.  Babylon doesn't just tolerate Christ followers, or ignore them, or write them off as crazy.  Babylon kills people just because they love Jesus.  It happens all the time, all over the world and its source is hell.

Then we get into some wild stuff here trying to identify the seven heads, which at first refer to hills and then to kings.  Verse 10 says, five have fallen, one is, and the other has yet to come.  Some think this is a reference to the Caesars who lived around the time of John or to worldwide kingdoms starting with Egypt and going up through the Roman Empire, which is when John was writing this.  It's very hard to know.

But what we do know is that kings and kingdoms will be coming and going until Babylon makes one last stand against the Lamb.  But verse 14 says, the Lamb will overcome them because he is the Lord of lords and King of kings.

Satan and his anti-God system are doomed.  Only God's kingdom will last forever and ever.  And guess how it will be destroyed?  It will destroy itself!  The beast will turn on the prostitute and destroy her.  Did you catch that?

Look at verse 15, Then the angel said to me, "The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. 16The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.

The scarlet harlot will be destroyed by the beast!  You see you can't trust the beast.  You can't trust Satan.  Nobody can.  Evil will eventually destroy itself.  It has to.  That's what evil is.  That's what evil does.  It turns on itself!

Look at verse 17, For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God's words are fulfilled.

God is in charge right up to the end and he uses evil to defeat evil by putting into evil's heart what it should do.  That's how powerful God is.  He will use Satan himself to destroy evil.

I don't understand everything in Revelation 17, so don't be discouraged that you don't either.  Maybe some day we will.  But I do understand that you don't want to be on Satan's side, not now, not then, because he's a loser, he can't be trusted and one day he'll be destroyed along with everyone else who rides his back.

This week I was humbled once again that for some reason known only to God he rescued me from all this evil and destruction.  And I hope you're humbled too by the fact that he rescued you.  And if you're here this morning and have any doubt about your eternal destiny then please talk to some one who can help you be sure that you're on the winning side.

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