The 4th Sunday after Pentecost
A Portrait of Victory . . . Now and Forever
Text: Revelation 20:1-6
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.” He also said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a net.” He said a lot more than that as well. Now do you actually think that when you are a part of God’s kingdom you live inside of a mustard seed or you get trapped in an actual net? Of course not. Jesus spoke in parables—picture language to help explain things, in this case that the kingdom of heaven seems small but grows large like a mustard seed or catches people like a net catches fish.
Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” and, “I am the bread of life,” and, “I am the gate.” Is Jesus actually a gate or bread or a vine? Are you actually a branch and not a human being? Of course not. More picture language to help us understand.
You see, one of the keys to understanding the Bible is to understand what kind of text you are reading. Are you reading a narrative—a simple historical story about Moses or Jesus, for example? Are you reading a letter—information from some apostle with lots of doctrinal content? Are you reading picture language—something that is representative of something else but put in language we can understand? Parables are one example of that.
One of the quickest ways people get in trouble with Bible interpretation is to be confused with what kind of text they are reading. Imagine if someone took a historical account, like Jonah and the big fish, and said, “This account is not really true, but it means to tell us that sometimes we get swallowed by “big fish” in life and God delivers us.” No, the story of Jonah is an actual, real life event. Or imagine someone thinking picture language was real and actually believing that Jesus is a vine or a gate or a lamb or a lion, rather than the God who came in human flesh. When you read the Bible you have to understand what you are looking at.
There are few places that is more true than in the book of Revelation. And of all the chapters of Revelation, one of the most problematic for many is Revelation 20, the beginning of which is the second lesson this morning. Here’s where the problem lies:
Revelation is apocalyptic literature and prophecy. What does that mean? It’s a book filled with picture language about the present and future. Take today’s lesson for example. It describes Satan as a dragon, an ancient serpent, that is bound in chains. Is Satan really a dragon or a snake? Of course not. The Bible tells us that Satan is a fallen angel. But the picture of dragon or snake communicates power and danger to us. And could Satan really be bound by actual iron chains? Of course not. He’s an evil angel. Chains can’t hold him. Clearly this is picture language.
Well the problem is when people start reading Revelation 20 not as picture language but as actual, literal details. You can’t do that. This is not a historical narrative. This is a beautiful painting that uses picture language, like the parables, to describe something very important. So let’s take a closer look this morning at what lies before us: A beautiful painting, A Portrait of Victory . . . Now and Forever.
Here are the first verses: “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.”
As we look at this beautiful picture, several things become very clear to us. From here and other clues in Revelation it is clear that this angel is actually not an angel but Jesus Christ himself. It tells us that the dragon is actually Satan. It also becomes clear that the Abyss is hell. It’s also clear that Jesus is pictured in this painting as locking up Satan and restricting his activity. The key question is: What is the thousand years?
Remember that you can’t say when looking at picture language text, “The angel is symbolic, the dragon is symbolic, the chains are symbolic, but the 1,000 years are literally 1,000 years.” If it’s picture language, it’s picture language.
So we look for more clues. Many of you know my rule of thumb. If you don’t know what something in the Bible means, then you should keep reading. And as we read more of the Bible and Revelation we learn that the 1,000 years represents an indefinite time period—a time period that began with Satan being bound and that will end at The End on Judgment Day.
When was Satan bound? We think of God telling Adam and Eve that the serpent’s head would be crushed. Or Jesus saying during his ministry that he saw Satan fall. Or finally Jesus declaring on the cross, “It is finished,” and then later Jesus rising from the dead.
Jesus has already crushed and defeated Satan. You could say that it’s like he has put a chain on him. He is defeated right now. His movement is restricted. But like a pit bull in a yard on a chain, as long as we are in this world we are within the reach of Satan on his chain. And toward the very end of the world, it will get worse as Satan is temporarily set free before his final and total defeat.
The broad portrait that we are looking at in these first three verses is a beautiful one. It’s a portrait of Jesus’ victory over Satan, that the devil has been defeated and locked up. He does have some power now, but for a limited amount of time—not literally 1,000 years, but for a certain amount of time until Jesus returns. We call that time the End Times, the time we are in right now.
The portrait is expanded with more picture language: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands.” (That beast is antichristian forces that work in cahoots with Satan.) “They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”
John saw God’s people, both those alive and those who had been martyred sitting on thrones and ruling with Christ because they did not follow Satan and his evil forces. They even rule right away with Christ during the End Times and then into eternity. These people are said to have come to life in the first resurrection and aren’t affected by the second death.
This is another picture that becomes clear with careful reading of God’s Word. The Bible reminds us that we come into this world dead in sin. But when we come to faith in Christ we have a new life in Christ. That’s the first resurrection—becoming a believer and having life with Jesus. The second resurrection would be of your body on Judgment Day.
In the same way there are two deaths. There is physical death when your life ends and then there is eternal death in hell. The picture here tells us that those who have life in Christ might die the first death (physical death), but the second death, hell, has no power over us because we reign with Christ who conquered death.
So now we understand the full, beautiful portrait. Through his life and death Jesus bound Satan in defeat. But for a while, from the time Jesus ascended until the Last Day, Satan has limited power and range to do damage. And yet during those same End Times we are pictured ruling with Christ and already seated on thrones because we have come to life through faith in him. Death and hell have no power over us. It’s a beautiful portrait, really—A Portrait of Victory . . . Now and Forever.
But as with all good artwork, we have to ask one more important question about this picture today: What does this mean for me today?
Well first we must address Satan. It’s clear here. Satan is dangerous. He’s like a dragon, like a serpent, ready to pounce on prey, destroy, and kill. Yes he is on a chain and defeated already. But right now we are in that yard with the pit bull. As long as we are in this world, we are within reach of him on his chain. That means we are vulnerable to his attacks.
So how foolish we are when we mess with that fiery dragon, that deadly snake! How is it that we can convince ourselves that a little sin won’t be so bad? How is it that we don’t recognize when we are sliding down a slippery slope? How is it that we don’t keep ourselves from the traps that he lays? How is it that we actually enjoy indulging in certain sinful things, as all the while Satan laughs that we allow ourselves to be within his reach? Why doesn’t the threat of the Abyss and the second death known as hell terrify us so much that we wouldn’t dare go near that dragon or mess with his sins? Why is it that we almost revel in playing with fire—eternal fire? Why do we let sin be so appealing to us every day when Satan has nothing to offer but Jesus has everything to offer?
So we see this portrait of Jesus our victorious King who holds the keys to death and hell, who has all power over all things including Satan, and we humbly fall before him. We are not worthy to stand in front of so mighty a King. We are not worthy to dare to enter into the presence of such a victorious and glorious God. We should be chained up and locked right in that abyss with that dragon whose company we so often enjoy.
But this is where this painting truly becomes beautiful. Take a step back. Don’t focus on the part of the painting with the dragon. Look at the whole painting, the bigger picture. This is A Portrait of Victory.
That dragon Satan is chained and locked up because Christ has won. He has defeated the devil and rendered him powerless. Christ offers his death to those who are dead in sin. He offers the spiritually dead a new life of forgiveness in his love. He offers us thrones to sit on right now as he places crowns on our undeserving heads and invites us to join him in his glorious reign over all our enemies.
This victory is yours and it’s yours right now. Satan is locked up and chained. He’s powerful, but not more powerful than Jesus. So as we fall at our Savior’s feet because we fell into Satan’s traps again and again, Christ picks us back up, washes us clean in his love once more, puts our crown back on, and sits us back on our thrones. As we know that this chained dragon is still around and lurking and prowling, it is Jesus who will give us the power to overcome temptation. It is Jesus who will give us the power to stay away. It is Jesus who will give us the power to find joy in his kingdom rather than reveling in Satan’s sins.
But that’s not all. This victory is yours not only now. This victory is yours forever. Another reason we know that Jesus’ reign won’t be 1,000 literal years is that it says elsewhere in Revelation that he shall reign forever and ever. Your reign with Christ has only just begun. One day your physical life will end with death. But your reign won’t end there. The second death (hell) has no power over you. That means that your reign will only continue seated on a throne next to Christ who will be on his throne, and we all will reign with him forever and ever.
You know, some people (actually many, many people) become very, very confused by these words of Revelation 20. The problem is that they aren’t seeing this as apocalyptic prophecy, or picture language. They try to read this as a historical account. That Jesus will actually reign for 1,000 years. That he will raise some people in one bodily resurrection, then others in a second resurrection, and so on and so forth.
But when you understand that God painted us a picture to help us understand something profound, these words become majestically beautiful. In simple terms and in simple pictures God reminds us here of a very simple concept: Jesus wins. Jesus has already won. He crushed Satan and locked him up only for final defeat on the Last Lay, which means that Jesus wins forever.
Here’s the best part of this picture: You’re on the winning team. You’ve been raised to life through faith in Christ. One day soon you’ll also rise to eternal life in heaven. Jesus has won. You have won. Now and forever.
3rd Sunday of Advent
The Day Is Coming
Text: Malachi 4:1-6
Is there any day in America like Christmas? I can’t think of any day that we all look forward to as much as Christmas. The anticipation of that day is incredible. We really go out of our way to get ready for Christmas.
We start making Christmas lists months in advance. We put up Christmas lights and Christmas trees weeks in advance. We plan travel around Christmas. We plan menus for Christmas. We attend multiple Christmas parties and pull out old Christmas sweaters and outfits that we only wear on this special occasion. We listen to Christmas music. We watch Christmas movies.
Everyone has their own reasons for enjoying Christmas. For some it’s the Christmas services. For some it’s the family and friends. For some it’s the food and cookies. For some it’s the music. For some it’s just a little time off of work. For you, it might be all of the above.
But day by day, as Christmas draws closer the excitement continues to build. The anticipation of that candlelight Christmas Eve service or that Christmas Day family fun or that one special gift you can’t wait to give—the anticipation is extraordinary.
And then Christmas is finally here. Smiles are everywhere. Surprising or thoughtful gifts bring tears to the eyes, or sometimes even make you jump up and down for joy. It’s almost a relief, really. After so much waiting, after so much anticipation—finally the day is here! Read the rest of this entry
9th Sunday after Pentecost
Judgment Day is Coming!
1. Take the message to heart
2. Take heart in the message
3. Take the message to the hearts of others
Text: Joel 3:12-16
August 10th already! Where did this summer go? Didn’t we just have our awesome close to the school year on Ascension Day with graduation, confirmation, our new member welcome, and teacher farewell? Now next week is the school opening service already! Unbelievable!
You know what that means. It’s that time of year when every student says, “Oh man! Back to school already? Nooo!” It’s also that time of year when every parent says, “Oh man! Back to school already? Yesss!”
Of course students don’t always like school. At first younger students don’t like school because they don’t want to be in a classroom. They just want to play all day. But as they get older, they suddenly start to realize how much school they have to go to in their lives—especially if they want to have a good job or career. There’s a certain point where students wonder, “Will this ever end? Is there any end in sight? When will all this pain be over?”
Fifteen to 20 years of education might seem like a lot and like torture when you are going through it, but eventually it will be over. Eventually the end will come. Eventually it will all be worth it. So in the mean time, students need to buck up, take heart, endure, and push on toward the end one day at a time.
And so do you, by the way. “When will this ever end?” you wonder. When will the pains stop? When will all my troubles go away? When will the many who hate me and my faith finally be defeated? Is there any end in sight?
Oh, yes, there most certainly is. It’s called Judgment Day. So in the mean time, buck up, take heart, endure, and push on toward the end because Judgment Day is Coming! Read the rest of this entry
Devotion Text: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
As a parent of young children, I’ve begun to learn exactly what I put my parents through on all those cross-country trips as a kid. Sure, it was different in those days. Now instead of packing up the eight-seat conversion van like my dad did, I drive my two sons only as far as the airport and let the good people of Delta or AirTran take us the rest of the way. But, whether flying or driving, plenty goes into planning for a trip–especially with children. Luckily, I have my wonderful wife to
help me do all the work herself, otherwise I’d be lost.
When it comes to our life’s greatest journey–our journey home to be with our Heavenly Father forever–preparation is just as important. In his letter to the church in Thessolonica, Paul writes about how earnestly he wants the Thessalonians to prepare, how he prays for their preparation and how he longs to be there that he may help them prepare.
In very much the same way I would be lost trying to take a cross-country trip alone with my two sons, Paul knows that no human could get through this life alone. Our walk Heavenward is too difficult to do alone, so (miles away) he writes to help those people prepare. Thousands of years away, his words still hold true for us.
We still need the prayers of our fellow believes to strengthen us for the way. So too, we pray for others. We still need “God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us” just as Paul did. We still need the love and fellowship of one another to make our journey pleasant and bearable.
It is with this help, this strength, this love–from God and from our fellow Christians–that we enter the Advent season. We focus not only on preparing our hearts and minds for Christmas, but also for Christ’s coming again. May God be with you as you journey home.
Prayer: Father in heaven, be with me day by day as I do your work here on Earth and continually guide me on the paths you would have me take. Be with more, Lord, as I walk Heavenward hand-in-hand with the Christian brothers and sisters you have blessed me with in my church, in my home and elsewhere in my life. Strengthen me, constantly, that I would not stray and keep me in your loving care here in time and forever in eternity. Amen.
Text: Genesis 19:15-17,23-29
What was it that she loved so much?
Was it the home she had known for years? Was it good friends she had made? Was it a certain kind of lifestyle? Was it the intoxicating indulgence of blatant sin?
Lot’s wife loved something about Sodom and Gomorrah. As two angels whisked Lot and his family out of the city, they warned the family not to look back at what was happening. But as the Lord rained down burning sulfur, Lot’s wife couldn’t help but look back. Instantly she turned into a pillar of salt.
When the Lord Jesus returns on the Last Day bringing destruction to the heavens and the earth and judgment to all, will you be ready? Will you be eager to leave this sinful world and enter the safety of eternal life? Will you be eager to leave behind everything that you know and love here?
I’m guessing that last question caused you to pause. Are you really eager to leave behind the life that you know, the house you have lived in for years, the friends you have had so much fun with?
We begin to see why Lot’s wife fell into the temptation to look back.
During the new church season of Advent we prepare for Jesus’ coming–not just at Christmas, but his final coming on Judgment Day. As we prepare for the Last Day then, God calls us to lift up our heads to watch and wait for Christ’s coming.
It’s a completely different mindset than humans are used to. It means realizing that this world is temporary, not eternal. It means realizing that this world is sinful, not perfect. It means realizing that heaven has better things waiting for us–better things that we cannot possibly fathom.
So lift up your heads, lift your eyes to the skies, and don’t look back. Jesus is coming!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, come quickly. In this world of sin and darkness we pray that you will quickly come to take us home. Lift our eyes heavenward to bring our focus out of this world and to you and life eternal. We pray this in your name. Amen.