The End? Reasons to rejoice

The contrasting conclusions in this 19th chapter of Revelation bring much hope to suffering believers.  A recording of this 23rd study in our series through Revelation will be available on the Shofar Durbanville Youtube channel.

As Christians we want to believe that God will (and should) protect us from hardships.  Even though our news feeds are filled with the reality of hardships today and our Bibles are stories of suffering saints, we are often stunned at the sting of suffering.  The early believers were warned by Peter to “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice…” (1 Peter 4:13; compare Romans 5:3-5).  What contrast!  Yet this verse is such a good summary of the message Revelation conveyed to its first readers/hearers.

What is there to rejoice in when you suffer?  Paul wrote that believers should “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).   Along with patience and prayer, rejoicing in hope carry believers through times of trouble (compare Hebrews 12:1-3)

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God’s promise to Abraham – a picture of hope.

Images of hope.  Hope is the confidence that things will end well, an image that depicts a desired outcome. It is more than a target – these images move us deeply as they invite us to envision the promise as fulfilled reality.  These images of hope give a reason to go on – the assurance that my endurance will be rewarded.  To Abraham it was the stars above and sand in his toes that symbolized his offspring.  To Joseph it was the dreams of his reign that kept him faithful to God through enslavement and imprisonment.  

Revelation 19 paints these three pictures of hope meant to spur on the suffering saints: Babylon’s destruction; the marriage of the Lamb; and victory over the Beast and his False Prophet.  Seeing these images will stir the same joyful hope in us today.

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Babylon’s destruction (9:1-8). Chapter 18 depicts the fall of Babylon, representing the destruction of each and every worldly system that sets itself up against God and His rightful reign. The saints are called to “rejoice” over her destruction (18:20); chapter 19 opens with this rejoicing.

John’s hears four “hallelujah” cries, with four reasons to rejoice over the end of this evil empire.  The first shout celebrates God’s justice that had been served against Babylon’s cruelty and injustice (19:1-3). The saints were redeemed from oppression and their enemy had been destroyed.

The second shout John hears celebrate Babylon’s destruction as final and eternal – perversion had been destroyed once for all (19:3-4).  Creation had been fully rid of lust, greed and pride, to never seduce the world again.

The third set of shouts celebrate the end of evil’s reign on earth; God’s reign had come, having triumphed over his enemies (19:6).  Righteousness, peace and joy will govern the earth forever (Romans 14:7)!

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Happily ever after (19:7-8). The shouts of joy culminate in the festive sounds of the wedding feast of the Lamb: Christ has returned to marry his Bride, to be united with his people forever!  The heavens rejoice because the “Bride had made herself ready… clothed herself with fine linen, bright and pure — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (19:8).  The “fiery trials” of Babylon had “finished its work” in the church, presenting it “perfect, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4; compare Malachi 3:3-4). 

What John hears are these shouts of joy over Babylon’s destruction and the Bridegroom’s return.  When John turns to look, he sees Christ (compare 1:12-16), described like the valiant and victorious royal bridegroom in Psalm 45.

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The Bridegroom (19:11-16).  John proceeds to describe the Bridegroom.  He sees Christ as the conquering King, a victorious one riding on a white horse, leading his army into conquest. This Bridegroom is called the Word of God – the embodiment of the scroll of God’s redemptive plan for creation – the Faithful and True witness of God’s kingdom. His clothes are stained by his own blood, making him alone worthy to champion God’s quest to redeem and reconcile all things to God.  With the words of his mouth he judges the wicked nations (refer 14:13-23).  He is indeed the Sovereign ruler, the “the King of kings and Lord of lords.” (19:16)

The victory over the Beast (19:17-21).  Next John describes the conquest of this valiant Bridegroom against his enemies. Although the Beast with all the kingdoms on earth and their armies gather to make war against Christ and his armies, there is no contest.  The Beast and False Prophet were captured and thrown into an eternal fire, while the earthlings died from the sword of Christ mouth.  The shift in the scene creates great contrast as the readers hear of the bridal feast, but the only meal described is the one that the birds are invited to: to feast on the corpses of those who serve the Beast and bear his mark. (This is an allusion to Ezekiel 39:17-20, God’s victory foretold against the nation of Gog. Revelation 20 continues to draw on Ezekiel 38-39).

With this, the battle on earth is completed: the Beast (oppressive regimes), the False Prophet (deceptive ideologies) and Babylon (seductiveness of worldliness) is conquered by Christ.  Now only their master, the Dragon (Satan himself) must be slain by Christ our Champion.  This is what Chapter 20 describes.

Bringing it home.

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This text is firstly a mirror of our world, of sin’s corruption in mankind that results in the atrocities that fill our news-feeds daily.   We are terrorized by the incessant greed and seductive perversion in our culture (Babylon).  We are oppressed by the corruption of power in every sinful government/ governing system, leading to injustice and abuse of the weak (the Beast).  We are bombarded with the deceptive ideologies that exalts mankind and disregards God as creator and rightful ruler of the world (The False Prophet).  Because of sin in society, mankind suffers greatly – especially the righteous who resist the seduction in culture and refuse to submit to ungodly ideologies and its enforcers.  We crave peace and joy in a fallen world that can never deliver it.

The aim of this picturesque chapter is to cause the reader to rejoice in hope – to look through the window of this text and feel joy welling up as we look towards a world free from sin, seduction and subjection.  Can you picture society without sensual seductions and its vile perversions?  Can you imagine life free from competitiveness, violence and oppression?  Can you imagine a world without deception and division?  A world of shalomn – peace in heart and mind, and in society.  This hope is the expectation of Christ’s rule in justice, peace and joy that the believer can look forward to.

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This text is also a door for us, an invitation to receive joyful encouragement from God by holding these promises before us.  It urges us to envision the promised victory of Christ over all earthly forces that tempt us, intimidate us, and deceive us.  Imagine a world filled with peace, joy and justice.  A world free from suffering, separation, and seduction.  Drink it in, and let “the joy of the Lord be your strength” to endure! (Nehemiah 8:10)

 

Restoring joy

Ask a believer to describe what God is like and you are bound to hear characteristics like “good”, “righteous”, “loving” and “kind”.  Rarely will hear God being described as “joyful” or “happy”, which in itself explains why believers individually and the church as a whole are known for being “good” and even “kind” but rarely “joyful”.

But this is the reason why Old Testament Prophets declared Jesus came into the world: to restore righteousness and joy to the world!  Christ came to remove our sins which separates us from God, the source of Joy and Goodness, and restore our original blissful existence.  As it was in the Garden and Eden, so it will be in the New Creation: a place of rejoicing and gladness, with no more tears, no more suffering, no more death; a dispensation of joy and peace in the presence of God (Revelation 19:7; 21:1-5).  But that joy is not only a promise of our future state – joy is our inheritance even today.

Jesus said we should become like little children to inherit his kingdom.  What characterizes a child? Innocence, trust, and joy.  How can our joy be restored again like that of a little child?

1: GOD IS THE FOUNTAIN OF JOY

Firstly, we must remind ourselves that our God is called “the happy God” [1 Timothy 1:9-11, J.B. Phillips translation] in whose “presence there is fullness of joy [and] pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11; compare Matthew 25: 21).  His Kingdom is characterized by “righteousness, peace and joy” (Romans 14:7).  He sent his son Jesus to redeem creation from the perpetual “groaning” (Romans 8:32).  Therefore his coming reign was anticipated with rejoicing and gladness (Psalm 97:1), announced as “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:8-11) and he was anointed with the Spirit to “proclaim good news… bind up the broken-hearted… set the oppressed free… proclaim Jubilee… comfort the mourning… pour out the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1-3).

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Jesus first miracle was all about joy where the wine at a wedding ran out and the host feared that the festivity will end prematurely.  Jesus instructed six ceremonial pots (in excess of 750 liters in total) to be filled, which he turned into the best quality of wine. This sign was recorded by John (2:1-11) as a prophetic statement: the best joy this world can offer will run out, but the joy Christ brings is the best (superior quality) and will not run out (superior quantity).

And indeed it is so!  Jesus’s miracles resulted in joy-filled exclamations of praise to God.  His parables about repentance and conversion tells that both the man who happened to find the treasure in the field and the merchant who sought and found the pearl of greatest price in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that…[field/ pearl].” (Matthew 13:44-46)  His motive for teaching his disciples was so “that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11) and likewise prayed “that they may have My joy made full in themselves” (John 17:13).

The early church was genuinely known for their joyfulness, in spite of physical, economic and social oppressing resulting from intense persecution.  Luke records that “the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52)  How was it possible?  The reason is clear: fellowship with our joyful God lets us share in his joy.  That’s what Nehemiah meant to say to the mourning people gathered at the rebuilt temple: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) – our strength to endure comes from drawing near to God and sharing in his joy.  As we abide in the Lord the fruit of joy is produced by his Spirit in us (John 15:4; Galatians 5:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:6).  It is “in His presence” that we share in his “fullness of joy”, and “at his right hand” that we enjoy his “eternal pleasures”. (Psalm 16:11)

2: JOY FLOWS FREELY FROM A LOVED HEART

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Joy is the natural response to feeling loved.

Secondly, joy is the natural response to loving affection and security. Just look at couples in affectionate embrace, or at children when they are playing with their loving parents. Joy flows freely from a heart that experiences loving attention and affection, that feels secure in loving acceptance and that is valued by loving appraisal.  That’s why a fresh revelation of the love of God makes a heart overflow in joy – even in spite of difficult times.  Look again at the prophet’s revelation of God’s love in Zephaniah 3:17  “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.  He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”  This “rejoicing over you” pictures our God dancing freely and wildly about us because of his abundant love for us.  The natural response to this generous and uninhibited love is joyfulness.

3: JOY FLOWS FREELY FROM A HEALTHY HEART

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Thirdly, joy flows freely from a healthy heart – one that is care-free, generous and innocent. In the book of Proverbs there are so many cautions to the preservation against temporal temptations, of which Proverbs 4:23 is perhaps best known: “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.

Some of the biggest enemies of joy in the human heart include cares and anxiety, bitterness and resentment, guilt and shame.  These things defile an innocent, pure heart and impedes its ability to feel deeply and rejoice freely.

  • A CARE-FREE HEART HAS NO WORRIES. Worries and anxieties is one of the surest ways to drain the joy and peace we experience in this life.  That’s why Jesus repeatedly cautioned the crowds to “not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34) and “worries… choke” the life produced in us by God (Mark 4:19).  Jesus’ answer is simple: don’t worry – know that God your Father loves you and cares for you; trust in his provision and protection (Matthew 6:32)!  So do as Peter instruct: “cast all your cares on the Lord, for he cares for you!” (1 Peter 5:7) and soon you will be able to testify with David “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalm 94:19).
  • A GENEROUS HEART HOLDS NO GRUDGES. You only have one heart.  You cannot be a wellspring of joy and yet harbor unforgiveness in your heart; you cannot produce sweet joy from a heart with a “root of bitterness” in it (refer Hebrews 12:15). Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and resentment which defiles your whole life and poison’s every relationship. Forgive and see how joy from God and peace fills your whole heart and lifts the heaviness of your shoulders.
  • AN INNOCENT HEART HAS NO REGRETS. David hid his sin and avoided the Lord because of the guilt of bloodshed and shame of adultery which condemned his consciousness and impeded his confidence before God.  But when Nathan the prophet confronted him with a Word from the Lord, and the sickness of his baby drove him to seek the grace of God, David approached God to petition forgiveness and save his child.  He prayed “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:10-12)  Don’t let the burden of failure and sin keep you from sharing in God and his joy.  That is why Christ died!

The other day as I prayed about regaining joy these words rolled off my cheek in a prayer.  It is so silly to become so serious, strong and independent.  May you never stop playing and laughing, and may God’s joy always overflow in your heart, flood your home and fill your world!

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DADDY, WILL YOU PLAY WITH ME AGAIN?

I hid and you sought,

I jumped and you caught

We wrestled and fought for hours on end!

Daddy, will you play with me again?

 

We had cars and planes,

Built robots and cranes

We played with our trains until the Lego came.

Dad, will you play with me again?

 

You gave my first cycle

And taught me to swim

You couched me rugby and cheered my first win.

Father, can we play like that again?

 

I left home and became a man

The cares piled up as work began

As our playing stopped my joy ran out.

Lord, will you teach me how to play again?

Ross, April 2016