What is going to keep you going through tough times? What gives you hope in the middle of lockdown. I suspect that for many of us, we look forward to future or postponed celebrations. Perhaps when the time comes we will roll together all of the celebrations we have missed or are likely to miss into one grand party bringing together Easter, Pentecost, Harvest and New Year. What a wonderful event that will be!
Well, we have had to patiently endure lockdown during the pandemic. It has been frustrating. We’ve missed being able to gather, we’ve felt isolated, especially at times of grief. However, that is nothing compared to what many Christians endure day by day, year by year around the world. In so many places being a Christian can lead to loss of job or education, public shaming, being disowned by your family, kidnap, imprisonment, torture and death.
How do you keep going in such circumstances? I want to highlight that because so often when we talk about suffering and persecution from the Bible, we are quick to try and apply it to our situation. Now, it certainly is helpful to know that God’s word will help us through the tough times we face and we will include that in our application but our sense of connectedness to the rest of God’s family should cause us first of all cause us to consider how Scripture applies to that wider church as we seek to stand and/or kneel with it.
The answer to the question, how do you keep hope through suffering and persecution is to look forward and see that a day is coming when an even greater celebration than my combined Easter-Harvest-Christmas party. There will be ultimate harvest as God gathers his people home.
We can look forward in hope because we know that God’s people will be kept safe (v1-5)
The imagery of 144,000 representing the completeness of God’s people is repeated from chapter 7. Now we see that they are with Jesus and have his seal/mark on them in contrast to those who have received the Beast’s mark. This mark indicates that they belong to him, their loyalty is to him and their minds and hearts are captivated by his word.
They have kept themselves pure like virgins. It is not literally that they are virgins but that just as associate virginity with purity -so too they have remained pure, refusing to be enticed by temptation. If God’s people are kept safe, then it is good to remember that this is not just about safety from enemy harm but also that as Jude: 24puts it, God is able to:
“keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.”
God’s people have been purchased, or in fact redeemed (bought back). A reminder that it is through the Gospel alone that we are kept safe. These words also remind us that God keeps us safe through suffering rather than saving us out of it.
Those who have received te beast’s mark face eternal judgement -and so this is a reminder for believers that they should endure patiently through persecution
The Good news goes out (Gospel) -here it’s focus is on the fall of Babylon.
We can hope because sin has been vanquished and all evil will be judged (v6-20)
We now see 3 angels flying out with an announcement of good news. The first aspect of this good news is a call to fear or show deep reverence to God because he is about to judge. Secondly we are to rejoice because Babylon has fallen. The name Babylon is used to symbolise all human opposition to God and to his church. This is appropriate because the original Babylon, or Babel was where people attempted to oppose God and make a name for themselves. Then it became a might empire and attacked, plundered and destroyed Jerusalem taking God’s people into captivity. Babylon symbolises the polar of opposite of Jerusalem, the city of God’s peace.
This had been a proud empire but Daniel 2 shows that all human empires must one day fall to God’s kingdom. Babylon as head of the statue in Daniel 2 can be seen as representative of all empires. In Revelation, we see a close association between Babylon and Rome, as the name seemed to have been used as a nickname for the capital of the Empire.
The third angel announces judgement upon all of those who had submitted to the beast. This provides the reason as to why God’s people should patiently endure. We do so because we are often experiencing pain because of the side effects of God’s judgement – we live in this world that stands condemned. But also, we endure because these words show that this period of suffering is for a limited time only.
And so, we see that our hope is rooted in the truth that a great harvest day is coming. There is a harvest of God’s people -an offering to him as first fruits. However, there’s also a further harvest and the focus is not on the harvest being to redemption, but the earth is harvest for judgement.
Implications for the Church today
This wonderful vision of the future should motivate us to persevere in prayer for brothers and sisters suffering around the world. If they can endure in suffering for this time, then surely we can at least pray with them.
Furthermore, we are reminded that even if we are relatively free from persecution and suffering that there are other dangers lurking which we need to be kept safe from. We need to trust God to guard our hearts and minds from temptation. We need to work hard at our sanctification, depending upon the Holy Spirit.
We should also be motivated to mission and gain a sense of the nature and urgency of that mission. Our desire should be to see many saved from that harvest to judgement and gathered into the harvest of eternal life.