I am stirred by 2 things, David Pawson visiting IHOP and speaking on God’s role for Israel in the New Testament (tonight was about Revelation) and John Piper’s message to pastors from the 2001 Shepherd’s Conference. (Outstanding! Matt Candler recommended it to me; you can hear it here)
We know that persecution awaits us (“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” Timothy 3:12, “we have been destined for this” 1 Thessalonians 3:3) just as the Spirit warned Paul what awaited him (Acts 20:23, see Acts 9:16). Paul’s encouragement to the churches he revisited was this: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Does this sound like the “prosperity gospel” we hear today? That a good business and an easy life awaits you? No, persecutions await you. And the only explanation for your life, as you fill up what is lacking in the display to the globe of Christ’s afflictions (Col. 1:24), will be the explanation that you WILL rise from the dead on that day.
The Book of Revelation (along with Hebrews, I think you could say) is a “Manual for Martyrdom”. Throughout chapter 2-3, we see promises given “to him who overcomes/are victorious…” God wants a victorious church in the End-Times.
What does a victorious church in the End-Times look like? I want to give you a brief glimpse. Take these two seemingly contradictory passages right next to each other,
1. “…they (the brethren/the saints/you and me) overcame him (Satan) because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Rev. 12:11)
2. “It was also given to him (the Antichrist) to make war with the saints and to overcome them…” (Rev. 13:7)
I believe one is from heaven’s perspective, the other is from earth’s perspective. What looks like the greatest defeat for us will be our greatest victory. Many think the End-Times is something to dread. I beg to differ. It is something to be have the fear of God over for sure, but also it is ultimately the greatest thing to rejoice in. Why? Why are we singing “Hallelujah!” while Babylon is getting judged and drinks the wine of the wrath of God in full strength (Rev. 19:1-6)? Punishment is to be rejoiced over since it is the means by which the restoration of all things is accomplished. We love God’s judgment because it is the living proof that God is committed to bringing the world back to rights. That’s what the End-Times is about. Our witness (The word of our testimony about Jesus) is about this; that the God who created all things good and perfect will bring all things back into original good and perfection. But then how is that supposed to encourage us in the face of death? How are we supposed to use this gospel/word of our testimony and overcome Satan with it?
One more passage:
Revelation 7- Why are the ones who die, one by one “coming out of the great tribulation” (7:14, implying they have gone through it) shouting, “Salvation to (comes from) our God who sits on the throne and to (from) the Lamb!” (7:10, quoting Ps. 3:8 as well as Prov. 29:26)? Imagine us being those martyrs. Guess what? Death is not the end. Like I just asked before, how is the gospel of restored perfection supposed to encourage us in the face of death? I think it’s the very message of the gospel: Original perfection is that we were never intended to die, therefore, the gospel strengthens us by putting our hope not in temporary relief from pain and sickness, not in the comfort of a good life of long age and being able to see your grandchildren, but in A MAN who holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:17-18), who is the firstborn from the dead (Rev. 1:5, implying we, as His brethren, shall be raised after Him), “who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:21). Therefore I say to you, Church in the 21st Century, in THIS WAY, in THIS GOOD NEWS, stand firm in the Lord! (Phil. 4:1) It is to live in such a way so that the only explanation for your life is that you will rise from the dead. That would be a life that is incarnate testimony. A life that says, “HE IS GOING TO RESTORE ALL THINGS AND WILL SUBJECT ALL THINGS TO HIMSELF. HE IS GOING TO RESTORE MY VERY BODY. SALVATION COMES FROM OUR GOD AND FROM THE LAMB!” I didn’t even hit on the “blood of the Lamb” or “did not love their life even when faced with death” yet… hopefully more to come. To help walk this out, go meditate on Psalm 49.