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The book of Revelation has one primary and profoundly simple theme or big idea: God wins! That is why I have entitled this series of messages on Revelation: The Triumph of the Lamb. This remarkable and challenging book explains to us how God rescues and redeems his people, defeats Satan, routs evil, transforms creation, and eventually and eternally dwells among us forever.

What is it that makes this portrayal of the risen and glorified Christ more than just a fascinating pictorial display? I doubt if there is a more majestic description of our reigning King than what we find here in Revelation 1:12-16. Countless attempts have been made by artists to render an accurate representation of the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m sure that now we find ourselves in the age of computers and highly technical tools of graphic design that many will make an effort to supply us with a vivid portrait of Jesus as he is described in this text.

“What Christ thinks of the Church.” That was the title to a short book on Revelation 2-3 by British pastor John Stott. I like that. We need to think about what Christ thinks of us, the Church. We should care profoundly about what Christ thinks of the Church. But I would like to rephrase Stott’s title, if I may, and entitle the seven letters of Revelation 2-3, “What Christ SAYS to the Church.” My reason for this is found in the opening verse to each of the seven letters. Seven times over we are told that what we are reading are “the words” of the risen Christ to his people.

A straight sail from the island of Patmos of approximately 50 miles brings one to the port of Ephesus at the mouth of the river Cayster. Traveling up coast some 35 miles almost due north of Ephesus is the city of Smyrna (population @ 100,000). It is the only one of the seven cities still in existence today (modern Izmir in western Turkey). Smyrna was a proud and beautiful city and regarded itself as the “pride of Asia.” The people of Smyrna were quite sensitive to the rivalry with Ephesus for recognition as the most splendid city of Asia Minor.

Ann and I lived in Kansas City, Missouri, known as “The City of Fountains.” Before that, we lived in Chicago, “The Windy City”. Paris, France, is called “The City of Lights” and New York is often described as “The City that Never Sleeps”. We have friends who live in Las Vegas, infamously (but justifiably) referred to as “Sin City”, and the list could go on.

Why in the world would I take a Sunday morning and talk about what I have called in the title to this message, “The Jezebel Spirit”? There are two reasons. First, there are people alive and well in the professing evangelical church today who are guilty of the same perverted behavior as was this woman named Jezebel back in the church in Thyatira in the first century. Second, I love the spiritual gift of prophecy. I hold it in extremely high regard. It plays an important role in our corporate and private spiritual experience here at Bridgeway. And I am jealous to protect it from abuse and perversion. Paul commanded us in 1 Corinthians 14:1 to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that we might prophesy. Why? Because, as he said two verses later in 1 Corinthians 14:3, prophecy builds up, encourages, and consoles other Christians. So, when someone appears on the scene in church history, like Jezebel did in the first century, we need to take time to identify her sin and equip ourselves to oppose its presence in our midst.

Let’s begin our time in God’s Word today with a test. Don’t worry, no one will grade you other than yourself and God. And there is only one question on this exam. Here it is: Where are you today, in terms of Christian growth and zeal and love for Jesus, in comparison with where you were when you first became a Christian?

One of the more important lessons I’ve learned through the years, especially when it comes to church life, is that seeing isn’t always believing. I don’t want to sound cynical or pessimistic, but you shouldn’t always trust your eyes. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not as impressed as I used to be when I hear of a church with a surging membership, multi-million dollar budget, expansive facilities, and a reputation for programs, ministries, and a growing influence in the community.

In what do you take deepest delight? What is it that brings the greatest and most intense joy and happiness to your heart? If I were to say to you, “Rejoice, because ________,” how would you fill in the blank?” I’m sure that many of us would point to our families, perhaps our children. Others might say that their greatest source of joy is their good health and good friends and a robust bank account. Of course, if Christians give much thought to the question they would eventually say something like, “My greatest source of joy is in knowing Jesus and being assured that I will spend an eternity in intimate fellowship with him.” Others might point to the truth of our adoption as God’s children, or our being justified or declared righteous in God’s sight through faith in Jesus, and the list of answers could go on almost without end.

One could make a strong case that the letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia are the most important of the seven, for in neither of them do we find a single word of complaint. They both receive unqualified praise and approval. These, then, are truly churches of which Christ heartily approves.

The Bible has a remarkable capacity to challenge and overcome our misperceptions about who we are. When we are inclined to think of ourselves as orphans, the biblical text declares that we are the adopted children of God. If we are wracked with guilt, the inspired word reminds us that we are forgiven. The feeling of being stained and soiled by sin is overcome with the realization that we are cleansed by the blood of Christ and clothed in his righteousness.

I’ve lived in nine cities. I was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, from which we moved when I was ten to settle in Midland, Texas. I attended high school in Duncan, Oklahoma, and went to college in Norman. My wife and I lived in Dallas, Texas, for twelve years, and then moved back to Oklahoma, this time to Ardmore, in 1985. Since then we’ve lived in Kansas City, Chicago, once again in Kansas City and now OKC.

What is happening in heaven right now? And by “right now” I mean right now! Literally. John was given a vision that answers this question and the portrait it provides is undoubtedly as true today as it was nearly 2,000 years ago. This passage, together with Revelation 5, is a vision of the majesty of a sovereign God in complete control of his creation. From an earthly perspective, it might seem that the enemies of the kingdom of God are winning. Christians are being persecuted, imprisoned, and martyred. Tragedy and trial and turmoil are rampant and the Great Dragon (Satan), the Beast, and the False Prophet appear to have the upper hand. All hope of light at the end of the tunnel grows dim because the tunnel has no end. The tunnel is all there is. History simply has no purpose. Dreams of finally emerging out the other side are shattered . . . there is no other side!

To be perfectly honest, there are times when I feel the same way John did as he stood before the throne of God. Not that I’ve ever been in the presence of the throne of God, but reading Revelation 5:3-4 resonates with my own fears and anxieties about where human history is going and whether or not we are ever going to emerge from this colossal mess we’ve created for ourselves.

Perhaps the single greatest controversy surrounding Revelation and the most important issue when it comes to interpreting the book, is the question of its structure. Many, perhaps most, evangelicals read Revelation as if it is describing a short period of time that is still in the future. Those who embrace what may be called the futurist view of the book most often will argue that what we have in Revelation 6-19 is a description of events that will take place in the future in a period of seven years they call The Great Tribulation.

Often when we speak of those who suffer from persecution and martyrdom we hear only words and the impact on our hearts is minimal. So I want to begin this morning by putting a face with a name. His name is Sharoon Masih and he was sixteen-years old. I say “was” because three weeks ago, on August 27, during only his fourth day at school, he was savagely beaten to death inside his school by his classmates.

There are several good reasons why the Apostle Paul described the Second Coming of Jesus Christ as our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). It is a “blessed hope” because it will mean the end of all sin and suffering in our lives. No more battles with temptation. No more feelings of guilt when we fail. No more diagnoses of cancer or heart disease or arthritis. No more sadness upon hearing of the death of a loved one. No more funerals. No more anger or resentment or unforgiveness or lust or greed. No more jealous rivalries. No more division between Christians. No more friction between husbands and wives or parents and their children.

As you know, here at Bridgeway we love to sing the song, King of My Heart. The way in which it declares that God is good is both biblical and reassuring. But there is a line in the chorus that often times sticks in the throat of some believers. It goes something like this: “You’re never gonna’ let, never gonna’ let me down.” Some of you struggle to sing this because deep down inside you don’t really believe it. You think there have been times in your life when God really did let you down, and you are afraid there may well be more instances in the future when he’ll do it again.

Why do people struggle with the book of Revelation? By that I don’t mean why do people have differing interpretations of what will happen when Christ returns, or why do people disagree on the identity of the Beast and False Prophet. The struggle I have in mind is the difficulty people have with the unrelenting display of divine wrath and judgment on the world of unbelievers and idolaters. In other words, the single greatest problem people have with this book isn’t its symbolism or its view of history or the meaning of the number 666. The single greatest challenge that people face when reading Revelation is the extent and intensity of the judgments that unbelievers and idolaters endure.

Today, December 10, 2018, is the second Sunday in the season we call Advent. It is the season of the year in which we turn our collective attention to the truths of Christmas, which is to say, the truth of the Incarnation of the Son of God, his conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and the ultimate purpose for which the Father sent his Son into this world.

It’s not easy today to remain hopeful and encouraged and confident about the future of our society and the world as a whole. Things are a mess. For every one step forward it seems like we take two steps backwards. For every victory that is won for truth and morality and the Christian faith, it seems as if there is a multitude of defeats. In his excellent commentary on Revelation Dennis Johnson puts it this way:

What are the prospects for the church of Jesus Christ all across the earth, as we await the second coming of our Lord? What I mean by that is, what should we expect in terms of our relationship to the broader culture and the world of unbelievers as a whole? What should we do as we look to the end of human history and the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom?

[Having described the seven trumpet judgments, but before explaining the seven bowls, John inserts three parenthetical chapters (Revelation 12-14). The purpose of chapter 12 is to provide us with a deeper perspective on the spiritual conflict between the world and the church. At the heart of its message is that, although Satan is the principal source of the persecution of God’s people, he has been decisively defeated by Christ, a victory in which we now share even in the midst of suffering and martyrdom.]

I’m guaranteed of one thing when it comes to this sermon. Most, if not all of you, will pay very close attention. The reason is that there is hardly a more fascinating and controversial topic in eschatology than that of the Antichrist. Is the Antichrist the same as the Beast of Revelation? Is there more than one Antichrist? Is he a figure of past history or the future? Is the Antichrist a person or a power or a movement, or some combination of all? These and other questions will arise as we try to make sense of this concept.

In his final two letters written not long before he was beheaded in Rome under orders from the Emperor Nero, the Apostle Paul was clearly energized and concerned about the emergence of false teaching that he obviously believed would pose a great threat to the health and well-being of the church.

Let me say this up front and get it out of the way. I really don’t want to preach on this text. It isn’t because I don’t understand it. I do. In fact, it is precisely because I understand what it is saying that makes me reluctant to preach on it. Neither is my reluctance to preach on it because I don’t believe it is true. I do believe it is true. I do believe that there is a place called hell and that people are going there.

Last week we immersed ourselves in what is undeniably one of the most emotionally challenging passages in all the Bible. The portrayal in Revelation 14:9-11 of eternal punishment in hell is terrifying and sobering. Today we come to a passage that is only slightly less foreboding.

Theories about the end of the world have become big business in recent years. Certain environmentalists tell us that unrestrained global warming will bring about the end of the world as we know it. Certain politicians tell us that the world will likely end in a nuclear conflagration, perhaps instigated by North Korea or Russia. Certain astronomers tell us that one day a massive meteorite will break through our atmosphere and crash headlong into the earth, setting in motion a series of climate changes and floods and earthquakes that will mark the world’s end. Then, of course, we’ve got hundreds of movies coming out of Hollywood that are making a fortune by promoting the idea that in some for or other aliens from a distant galaxy will invade us and either colonize or cannibalize our world, bringing an end to life on this planet.

Today I want to help you make sense of the world in which we live. In particular, I have in mind the multiple ways in which our society and every society on earth conspires to oppose and oppress the kingdom of Jesus Christ. I imagine there are any number of ways in which people try to make sense of what is happening around the globe, but I want to do my best to account for it in terms derived from the book of Revelation.