You will pass these signs on your way to the end. For heaven’s sake, take them seriously.
This happened to a Wisconsin woman last year:
It seems like bad luck, but luck had nothing to do with it. She had gone around a “Road Closed” sign.
Human beings also tragically ignore or avoid God-given signs—messages clearly spelled out in Scripture. It’s as though we don’t believe them. We want to make sure God is not exaggerating. What harm would it do, we ask, to sample the danger zone? It’s worth the risk.
This is the way the guy reasons who goes around the railroad crossing gates. Unfortunately, he’ll later go viral on YouTube.
God is the ultimate communicator. In the end, no sinner will be able to claim God gave insufficient warnings, and no saint will be able to complain God gave insufficient encouragement.
Both positive and negative message types are recycled throughout the book of Revelation.
First of all, God provides warning signs, so that people won’t ignorantly wander into destruction.
Rev. 14:6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
The word gospel means “good message,” and so this angelic message is an eternally good one—truth that has resonated in every time in every place, for every person. If it seems incredibly simplistic, at the level of kid’s church curriculum, that may indicate the level of theological understanding in the world at that time. The truth about monotheism, creation, and warnings against idolatry have been around since the beginning of the world. Check Genesis 1:1. And yet the message will be preached as though it were something new. Why? Because this eternal gospel is like a sign that has been ignored, even defaced. The culprits are so-called alternative spiritualities, agenda-driven science, hostile philosophies, and simple human rebellion.
You’ve seen road signs out in the country, shot with shotguns or spray painted. Sometimes kids deliberately turn street signs in order to prank people. Do you know what the county does? It puts up a fresh one.
The eternal gospel here is yet another fresh posting. It basically says, “Don’t go the way you’ve been going. Take a new route instead—worship the one true God.”
That’s the first sign post. But what if you continue onward? After all, detour signs are annoying. They require a change of route, adjustments, slight delays. Suppose you decide to keep going your own way?
Here is what you’ll see:
8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”
Though Babylon was a historical city, it is mentioned here symbolically, as a global system in which all the nations of the world subsist. This “net” holding everything together is about to break. So certain is the angel about it that the announcement is in present tense. We’ll see a lot more about this in chapters 17 and 18, where institutionalized commerce and religion falls. It’s mind blowing, because the very way we interact with the world is bound up in it. That’s the reason the angel called it Babylon the Great. It both inspires and intimidates all at the same time. As you fly into any major city at night, look out the window at the city scape sprawled out over the curve of the earth. It will make you feel insignificant.
In the gospels, the disciples went with Jesus to Jerusalem. They were amazed with the temple compound, and said to Him, “Lord, look at these buildings and these stones!” And then Jesus told them not one of those stones would be left upon another. He took them to the Mount of Olives, where He explained the circumstances surrounding how it all would be reduced to rubble. They were utterly stunned. And that’s our reaction when we finally understand that the “great” world system will end.
It’s a “Road Out” sign.
But suppose you still want to proceed, and make sure the warning hasn’t been overplayed. Crazy people have been wearing hand painted sandwich signs for years announcing “The End is Near.”
But if you continue to refuse to worship God (first message), and continue loving the world (second message), it will bring you into direct contact with the Antichrist (the next and last warning message).
9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
This is the fire and brimstone message sinners complain about so much. Stop trying to scare us into being born again! This posting is the clearest, most detailed warning found in the Book of Revelation. Yet hearers dismiss it. And some, including misled Christians (!), use Jesus as the reason why the message isn’t legitimate. After all, they say, Jesus loves, Jesus accepts, Jesus receives. This barbaric punishment couldn’t be true.
That is a deeply mistaken theology. All of the excruciating judgment in this passage occurs in the presence of the Lamb. Jesus doesn’t protect sinners from God. He doesn’t shield them from the righteousness, holiness, and glory of God. No, He reconciles sinners to those things (c.f. Rom. 5:10). Paul writes in 2 Corinthians. 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We don’t receive impunity from God’s righteousness, we become it! The alternative is far too terrible, as these verses show.
And for that reason, this final sign is the most dire:
How does all this angelic activity take place? Does it mean people look up and see angels flying over them? The verses seem to suggest only John saw the three angels. Everyone else on earth hears the proclamation of their messages. Still, you may wonder if this means voices booming from the sky. I can’t say with certainty. Could it be that the angelic mission is carried out by influencing the content of Christian preaching at that time? It has happened before in the New Testament (c.f. Acts 5:19-20). The messages might be informed and directed by angels, but ultimately come from human mouths. At any rate, Christians today preach a lot of things, but the self-affirming follow-your-heart, believe-in-your dreams kind of sermons so popular today will prove utterly impotent as an effective witness to people at that time.
Perhaps we all need to take a lesson from the future. Let’s make sure our message today contain themes of glory to the one true God, clarity about the fate of the world, and being wary of God’s Wrath in the Lake of Fire. Maybe you have no control over such things as Sunday morning sermons. But church leaders often teach what they think their people want to hear. They know if they don’t say what is desired, attendants will seek their favorite flavor at another ice cream parlor. As people in the church, we should remain sober, remembering that the church doesn’t primarily exist to provide us a comfortable nest, but as a gospel witness to our world.
Where God provides warning signs, he also provides encouragement signs. These are incredibly important, given the fact that some Christians will be on the earth at the time of the worst pressure cooker in history.
12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
The labors spoken of here are like those in chapter 12, where the woman is crying out in birth pains. Or Paul, in Colossians 1:29, as he toiled to present every person full grown in Christ. Those who labor should take comfort in the fact that their deeds follow them. “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Hebrews 6:10).
I was a campus youth leader in 1990. A young fellow named Isaac who had just graduated high school, joined us. Isaac needed a liver transplant. That’s a complicated, dangerous surgery. But rather than talk about fulfilling bucket list items like skydiving and exotic trips, Isaac really wanted to bring some of his friends to Christ. We visited a few of them together. They were the kind of guys who only had a mind for Super Nintendo and Beer, but we prayed and shared the gospel with them anyway.
Then Isaac went in the hospital. After several failed transplants, he died. I tracked down one of his friends (Ernie, I believe, was his name), and told him Isaac had passed. I also told him Isaac had hoped he would believe in Jesus. Ernie just looked at me as if I had two heads. We said an awkward goodbye, and I never saw him again. I don’t know if Ernie ever got saved. It would be a beautiful idea to think he’s a pastor somewhere, telling these stories in a Sunday morning sermon. On the other hand, maybe he completely forgot Isaac, and the gospel. One thing’s for sure–the Bible guarantees that regardless of the outcome, the deeds follow the doer.
That day in the funeral home, we put Isaac’s favorite sneakers in the coffin with him, tucked his Bible under his folded hands. But his works were already in there with him. They had followed him into the coffin. And on the day he resurrects from the dead, those works will follow him out of that coffin. When he stands before the judgement seat of Christ for his eternal rewards, those same works will be standing there with him. God said so.
When it comes to Christian works today, we’re prone to ask ourselves, Is this worth it? Our area of service is so small, it wouldn’t get one like on Facebook. Our labor is too tedious. We’d prefer something more heroic–anything but the role of beleaguered parent, disappointed pastor, unknown volunteer. Payoff consistently eludes us. The last several folks you attempted to disciple fizzled out. That work of kindness was misconstrued. The sacrifice made went unnoticed. We need to see something that offsets thankless, pointless expenditures of energy. Until then, we’re tempted to quit. It’s precisely at that point when we should heed the road markers in Revelation. Half a dozen times in this book, blessing is pronounced upon faithfulness–beginning with simply reading it (1:3).
It’s as if the reader starts down a road into the worst imaginable circumstances, and begins encountering signs, one after another.
They basically look like this: