The contrast between Revelation 13 and Revelation 14 is one of the most striking between any two chapters in the Bible. In Revelation 13, all the news is bad. Even though the dragon has been defeated in heaven, a new ally for him, the beast, emerges from the sea. Another evil creature, a beast who is a false prophet, comes up out of the earth.
Together, these beings do incredible harm. The dragon leads all the earth to worship him and the beast. The false prophet mimics the work of Christ, deceiving all the people of the world. Now, anyone who does not worship the beast will be killed, and anyone who does not receive the mark of the beast cannot buy or sell. In short, by the end of Revelation 13, it seems that the bad guys have already won!
Revelation 14 tells a different story. There, we learned that 144,000 have not followed the dragon or the beast. Instead, they have remained faithful to God. Also, God uses His angels to begin his plan to overthrow the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. Babylon, the city of the beast, will be destroyed. Furthermore, all who have worshipped the beast will be punished. The righteous will be rewarded, and in the end, it is the will of God, not the will of the dragon, that will triumph.
In addition to making for exciting reading, this two-chapter sequence reveals a fundamental truth about the cosmic struggle between good and evil. It always looks like evil is about to win. This has been true at many, many times throughout the history of God's people, and it is certain to continue to be true.
Indeed, we ourselves may feel this way right now. It may be that as we consider the apparent moral decline of our country, the work of the devil is as apparent to us as it is in Revelation 13. The same may hold true in our personal lives as well. In my own life, developing a terminal illness does not look like a victory for God!
However, we must hold the truth of Revelation 14 firmly in mind. It was not obvious at the end of Revelation 13, and it may not be obvious in our lives now, but God is preparing an answer. If we see trouble looming on the horizon, how much more is He aware of it! He has had all the time in the world to address our situation. He knows what He is going to do, and His power is such that He will infallibly do it. Nobody reaches the end of Revelation and concludes that God has lost, and if we are faithful to Him, no one will think that He has lost the battle in our lives either.
This is not always easy to hear. We may well feel like God should have turned the chapter to Revelation 14 a while ago! As always, though, God works on His timetable, not ours. If we trust in Him, His triumph in our lives is as certain as His triumph in Revelation.
I'm hard to horrify these days, but this morning, I read an article from Forbes that did the trick. If you have a strong stomach, you can find it at https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/companies/how-tiktok-live-became-a-strip-club-filled-with-15-year-olds/ar-AAWEiIw. To summarize, it describes how perverts online are able to use TikTok Live to pay teenage girls for sexually suggestive behavior.
Naturally, TikTok condemns these practices, and they use various forms of content moderation in an attempt to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. However, TikTok has a problem. They make money when users exchange money over TikTok, and they have every reason to make the exchange of money as easy and appealing as possible.
For instance, the creeps are able to pay girls without using anything as crass as digits on a screen. Instead, they send money using cute little emojis: hearts, flowers, cartoon animals, and the like. I have a 12-year-old daughter. I understand all too well how appealing such a mode of payment would be to girls. You get money and you get adorable at the same time! Tragically, the cuteness conceals from the girls the danger and degradation that lie before them.
To put things another way, TikTok has a perverse incentive. On the one hand, they certainly don't want to be involved in child abuse. On the other hand, though, they make the most money from a platform that makes exploitation easy.
Many of the safeguards that TikTok has enacted rely on users. For example, users younger than 16 are prohibited from hosting live streams, and users younger than 18 cannot receive money. Sounds airtight, right?
Sadly, this is not the case. Even if teen girls aren't wise enough to see the traps in their path, they certainly are clever and tech-savvy enough to evade such rudimentary restrictions. All they have to do is lie about their age when they sign up, and they can host all the streams and receive all the money that they want to.
It's certainly appealing to have all that money to spend on clothes and coffee, and I would guess that many girls, especially those from troubled backgrounds, would find the attention appealing too. According to the Forbes article, these livestreams can attract audiences of thousands. If you're an insecure fourteen-year-old, how would you like to have thousands of men telling you that you're pretty? The girls have perverse incentives too.
For parents, this is grim news, and it underscores an unpleasant truth. We cannot trust social-media giants to protect our children, not even a little bit. The people in charge of all these platforms don't want to abet evil, but they want to make money more than they want to be righteous. Like Pilate, they will not intervene effectively because the costs of intervention are too high.
This is yet another reason why children under 18 should not have Internet-capable devices in private spaces. I understand that many children in public schools are required to have Internet- capable phones in order to do their class work. However, when children aren't doing class work, those phones need to be with Mom and Dad. We are naive enough that we are mainly worried about our children watching porn, but in truth, watching porn may be the least of the spiritual dangers online.
No matter how many times I read the Bible, I always find something new in it. Nor are these discoveries subtle or inconsequential. Often, they are magnificent!
So it was with this week’s Bible reading. I’m familiar with Revelation. I’ve taught it several times and read it many more. However, never before had I paid attention to Revelation 7:16-17.
Part of this is formatting. The NASB95, which is the translation I keep in my head, sets those two verses in prose. Yesterday, however, I read out of the CSB, and it divides the text into poetic parallels. Wow! What a difference! (This, by the way, is a great reason to read from multiple translations. Different renderings and even different formatting can help us see different things)
Anyway, here’s the way the CSB reads:
“They will no longer hunger;
they will no longer thirst;
the sun will no longer strike them,
nor will any scorching heat.
For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them;
he will guide them to springs of the waters of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation has the reputation of being forceful rather than beautiful, but that’s purely gorgeous! Contextually, this applies to the multitude that has come out of the great tribulation, but it is a promise for all Christians to cherish.
Indeed, it’s a promise that I cherish. I suffer now, but I know that God never has promised any Christian that life on earth will be free from suffering. In John 16:33, He promises the opposite. Thus, my life now gives me no reason to doubt His faithfulness.
Rather, I endure, and I anticipate His fulfillment of His promises in the life to come. In that day, I will neither hunger nor thirst. God will provide for my most basic needs, and He will fulfill all the others too. Likewise, neither the sun nor scorching heat will strike me. God will shelter me from all external oppression.
The next verse explains why I will receive all these blessings. I love the image here! In this life, human shepherds shepherd sheep. In the life to come, the Lamb will shepherd us.
As with the divine shepherd of Psalm 23, He will lead us to water, but the spring to which He will bring us flows with the water of life. I long for this so much that it hurts! My illness is incurable and terminal. I often have thought about what it would be like to go to Jesus in the days of His ministry and be healed even of this. However, the day will come when He will heal me completely, body and soul.
That day will be as free from sorrow as it is from sickness. God Himself will dry my tears, as He will dry all the tears of the righteous. I struggle to comprehend this. How can it be that we no longer will be grieved even by the memory of sorrow? Perhaps the answer lies in 2 Corinthians 4:17. As we dwell in the midst of God’s glory, every earthly affliction will fade into insignificance.
This hope is the only thing that sustains me, or could sustain me, on my journey. Without the promises of God, I am a pitiable wretch. With them, suffering only sharpens my focus on my reward.
My in-laws own a Chihuahua named Boomer. He is a dog of many faults. For one, his toilet habits are erratic. The worst fight that I’ve ever seen my wife have with my mother-in-law took place because my wife had stepped in a deposit that Boomer had left in the floor of the guest bedroom.
However, Boomer does reliably erupt with yaps and snarls whenever a stranger comes on to the property. His bark is worse than his bite, but it’s not for lack of trying. My in-laws keep him penned up whenever they have visitors so that he does not fall upon them in his wrath.
Occasionally, my in-laws’ vigilance has failed, with results both distressing and comical. Most notably, Boomer once bit a political pollster. If his abilities had been equal to his outrage, I suspect he would have killed the pollster. In fairness, though, he never has tried to bite me nor anyone in my family.
I’ve never mistreated Boomer, but I’ve never been at pains to hide my opinion of the dog either. The nicest thing I’ve ever said about him is that he’s not a cat. At my urging, my wife once put a set of rat traps in my mother-in-law’s Christmas stocking to help her with her infestation. Wherever I am, stories of Boomer the psycho Chihuahua are good for a laugh.
However, my opinion of Boomer has changed of late. He seems to know that I have ALS. I suspect he can smell it on me.
When I get down on the floor to stretch, now Boomer will be there beside me. Sometimes he stretches too; sometimes he licks my hand. More generally, he wants to be in the room where I am, even if he’s just snoring in the corner.
Now that I am recovering from COVID in my in-laws’ house, his vigilance has increased. He certainly can smell the COVID stank on me (I fear that people the next county over can smell it), and he is concerned about me. Last night, my mother-in-law had to pick him up and carry him out of my bedroom because he refused to leave.
Boomer remains a dog of many faults. As I write this, one of his omnipresent white dog hairs is on the keyboard of my laptop. Given the rate at which he sheds, I figure he must be about half hair. However, he is loyal, and in my book, that counts for a lot.
At the end of my life, I must acknowledge that I too have been a dog of many faults. I haven’t bitten any pollsters (though I may yet if they hold still long enough), but I have transgressed the will of my Master in a myriad of ways. However, I also have sought Him all my life, and I desire nothing more than to be where He is. In a word, I have been loyal.
If the loyalty of a dog matters to me, how much more does our loyalty matter to God! “I delight in loyalty,” He says. Delight! When we seek Him diligently despite our imperfections, our Creator is delighted!
In this I find great comfort, as should we all. God isn’t looking for reasons to turn His faithful people away. He is looking for reasons to forgive, to embrace, and to welcome. “God knows my heart,” generally doesn’t get people as far as they think, but if loyalty is what He finds in our hearts, we have nothing to fear from Him.
If Kermit The Frog were a Bible student, he might wonder why there are so many songs about Revelation 3:20. Hymnists from every era have written about the stranger at the door, etc. As with rainbows, the answer is self-evident. The Scriptures are full of magnificent word portraits of God, but this is perhaps the most appealing of them all.
The God of the Bible is utterly beyond our understanding. His power is so vast that He created the reality we inhabit. His awareness is such that not a sparrow, not a grain of pollen, not a molecule, falls to the ground apart from Him. In His wisdom, He knows all that was, all that is, all that will be, and all that might be. He is not like us, and because He is so alien, we no more can sit in judgment on Him than a worm can sit in judgment on us.
This God sounds like a perfect candidate for the divine Watchmaker of the deists. Surely such a One would preside unmoved over His dominions, as unconcerned about us as we are about the insects in our front lawn, following His incomprehensible purposes to their incomprehensible conclusion!
The God of the Bible is not like that. The God of the Bible stands at the door and knocks.
Indeed, though we can’t understand it, we have a name for His purpose. It is love. The sparrow does not fall to the ground apart from His awareness, but it also does not fall apart from His love. How much more, then, does He love us, fashioned in His image and likeness, the crowning glory of His creation! Truly, we are more valuable than many sparrows.
The story of the universe is the story of the patient working-out of the love of God. Satan, sin, and death oppress and destroy us, but He is greater than they are. His love shines most clearly in His Son. John 1:18 says that Jesus has explained Him; literally, exegeted Him as we would exegete a passage of Scripture.
The explanation is astounding. He sent His eternal Son to earth, not to reign over an earthly kingdom, but to serve, suffer, and die at the hands of His handiwork. It was the greatest evil possible, but in the unfathomable wisdom of God, it became the greatest good. In Christ, rebellious, doomed sinners can find life.
Such is the love of God for us. Such is His deep yearning. Well does Jesus say of Himself that He stands and knocks at the door of every human heart. With all the power at His command, He does not coerce or force. He seeks admittance. It is the King who implores the unworthy servant.
He is so very near to us, and He refuses none who invite Him in. If we do, the Bridegroom will bring the wedding feast to us, and we will continue to dine at His table forever. God has explained all this to us, and we still can’t grasp it. All we can do is rejoice that it is true.