I had an interesting conversation this week with a friend of mine. I went to a meeting to talk about something altogether different than the topic I was presented with when I arrived at the meeting. My friend told me how beautiful the teachings of Jesus are and how much they loved His teachings, but that Jesus was altogether different than the God of the Old Testament. I asked, “How?” My friend then proceeded to tell me about the wrath and judgment of the God of the Old Testament and how it just didn’t square with the love and mercy of Jesus. Have you ever heard that argument before? Of course you have and I have as well.
We don’t like judgment do we? We don’t like “wrath,” being held accountable for our sins, do we? Of course we don’t. We love grace and mercy, forgiveness and compassion, characteristics that are so much a part of who Jesus was and is. Yet, these are not the sum total of who Jesus was and is. I asked my friend about the time that Jesus fashioned a whip and ran the “money changers” out of the Temple. They were familiar with the story, but told me that Jesus was justified to do what He did. I asked my friend about Jesus’ words in Matthew 10.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– 36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-38 NIV)
My friend had never heard the words I was sharing and said, “Well, I don’t know about that.” These words sure don’t sound like gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild do they? There is judgment in Jesus’ words are there not? If we love anyone more than Him then we are not worthy of Him. That’s judgment, Jesus is making a judgment.
I’ve been thinking about why we shrink back from judgment and punishment this week as I’ve been studying Revelation 14:13-20 this week. Let’s read our Scripture then we try to learn something.
13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” 14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one “like a son of man” with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. 17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 till another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. (Revelation 14:13-20 NIV)
This is a startling section of God’s Word. We see, in very clear and alarming language, the judgment of God. I told you that I’ve been thinking about why we bristle at the word judgment and I’ve come up with a couple of reasons why I bristle at the word. First of all, I know that I am guilty and I don’t want to have that label attached to me—“Guilty as charged!” My pride keeps me from acknowledging my guilt. As long as I can focus on the forgiveness and grace of God I can slide out of the line-up, slip out of my “county orange” jumpsuit, and let someone else take the fall. But if I have to be held accountable then there is no escaping the judgment. My turn to stand and have my charges read will come and I will have to face the music at that point. No wonder we don’t like judgment.
I believe there is a second reason why we don’t want anything to do with judgment and that is because we see so much injustice, misjudgment, executed by those who hold the balance of justice in their hands. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. John Grisham has a new book out, his first non-fiction book. It is the story of Ron Williamson. Ron grew up in Ada, Oklahoma and was a star baseball player who was drafted by the Oakland A’s right out of high school. Injuries sidelined his career and he returned to Ada. Ron had been in and out of mental institutions and had been arrested more than once, but he had never had any trouble like the trouble he would encounter in 1987 when he was arrested for the murder of Debra Sue Carter, a 21-year-old waitress who was brutally murdered five years earlier.
After he was arrested Ron took two polygraph tests, both were inconclusive. Ron’s trail began on April 21, 1988 and he was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Throughout his nine years in prison, on death row, Ron pled his innocence, but nobody would listen. Ron’s life was ruined; his mental illness spiraled out of control as he paced back and forth in his 9 by 11 foot cell talking to himself about his innocence.
Finally, on Sept. 22, 1994, just five days before he was scheduled to be executed, Ron Williamson’s case caught the eye of a compassionate lawyer, Mark Barrett, who was willing to take a look. DNA tests on the 17 hairs that were found on Debra Sue’s body showed that there was no way that Ron Williamson could have committed the crime.
When the state released Ron they made no reparations for their mistake other than to mail him the standard $50 check given to all inmates who are destitute upon their release. Ron’s life was never the same. He couldn’t function in society and died in 2003 in a nursing home in Tulsa with his sister taking care of him.
How many of these stories have we heard? How many people have been wrongly accused? Not just in the courts of law, but by those around them? We shrink from the word, “judgment,” largely because we know we are guilty and our pride doesn’t want to allow us to admit it, but also because we have witnessed so much misjudgment in our life. We have been misjudged by our peers, by our bosses, by church members, and we’ve witnessed others suffer from wrong judgments being made about them.
I wanted to lay this foundation for us this morning because with God there is no misjudgment. God is a righteous judge, He is a perfect Judge, not having his judgment clouded by personal preference or prejudices that often cloud our own judgments. Let’s take a look at verse 13.
13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Revelation 14:13 NIV)
This is a beautiful verse. This is a promise that must have been so comforting to those in the early Church who were undergoing great persecution at the hand of Emperor Domitian. Some Bible teachers say that this verse applies to those who will be martyred just before the second coming of Jesus. This may be so, but the principle applies in every age. To die “in the Lord” is a blessing is it not? For those who will die today, would it not be better to die “in the Lord” than to die apart from a saving relationship with Jesus?
Let’s move on. Take a look at verse 14 with me and we can see the beginning of the judgment scene found in Revelation 14. John writes,
14 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one “like a son of man” with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. (Revelation 14:14 NIV)
Who does John see “sitting on the cloud?” Is it an angel or someone else? Make no mistake about it; the one seated on the cloud is Jesus. One of the main reasons we know this to be true is because of the phrase, “like a Son of Man.” The phrase is found 85 times in the New Testament: 70 times in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; 12 times in John; and once in Acts 7:56, and twice in Revelation. Every single time it is mentioned in the Gospels it comes from Jesus Himself. Let me give you just a couple of examples. In Matthew’s Gospel we read,
40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40 NIV)
We hear the same phrase coming from the lips of Jesus in John’s Gospel where Jesus says,
13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven– the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:13-15 NIV)
This phrase, “Son of Man,” is not only used to identify Jesus, but it’s also used in the Old Testament to designate those who are representatives of God, God’s messengers. The phrase is used over and over again in Ezekiel to set Ezekiel apart as God’s representative, God’s mouthpiece to the people. Jesus was more than God’s representative—He was God in the flesh come to you and me. Paul wrote to the Colossians and said,
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 NIV)
No such claim can be made by any of the Old Testament prophets or any other person for that matter. Jesus said to Phillip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9 NIV)
As we approach Christmas we celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus. He came into the world defenseless. Born to a virgin in a stable. He lived the first few years of His life on the run with His family from Herod. He came to “make peace” for you and me, just as Paul wrote to the Colossians, peace through His shed blood. His blood was shed. He was laid in a tomb, but that was not the end of the story. He got up. He rose up in victory over death, sin, and the grave so that you and I might share in His victory. He’s coming again, but when He comes He will not come in the same way He arrived the first time. He will come to judge the nations. Revelation 14 tells us that He will wear a crown of gold and carry a sharp sickle in His hand. Take a look at Revelation 14:15-16 with me.
15 Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. (Revelation 14:15-16 NIV)
Some Bible teachers are caught off guard that an angel would announce to Jesus that the time had come to reap the harvest. That shouldn’t catch you and me off guard. Jesus told the disciples,
32“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. (Mark 13:32-33 NIV)
The angel is merely a messenger passing on the decision of the Father—“Now is the time! Now is the time!”
In Revelation 14:17-20 we get a picture of the judgment. There are many different ideas about this Scripture. Are we looking at two different judgments or just one judgment? Is this a harvest, or judgment, of the righteous and the unrighteous? We must remember that when we study Scripture we have to take all of Scripture into consideration and not simply pluck a verse here and there and draw our conclusions. If we study Revelation 14 in context with the rest of God’s Word then we know that this judgment is for all the earth—righteous and unrighteous, saved and unsaved. In 2 Corinthians 5:10 we read,
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10 NIV)
The writer of Hebrews is a thorn in the side of those who believe in reincarnation, those who believe you have to come back to live other lives until you get it right, when he tells us,
27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28 NIV)
The judgment that is pictured for us in Revelation 14 reminds me of the parable Jesus told in Matthew 13. Read along with me.
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” …40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:24-30; 40-42 NIV)
Judgment is coming my friends. A final judgment is coming one day. I don’t know when that day will come, but I know from God’s Word that it is coming. I want you to understand something else, judgment has come in the past, it comes in our day as well. Far too often those of us who are followers of Jesus look at prophecy of the coming judgment and place it “out there” some where. Jesus is coming one day on the clouds to judge the nations, you and me, and all of the people of the earth, but He also comes throughout history to judge. S. Lewis Johnson says,
One of the problems with the interpretation of prophecy on the part of some is that individual’s frequently are tempted to read the great prophetic word found in the prophets of the Old Testament, found also in the Law for that matter, and in the Psalms, but in the prophetic sections. And in the New Testament with the prophetic Epistles, the Olivet Discourse, the book of Revelation is to read them only as outlines of things that are only going to happen on the earth. We should never forget that prophecy is not designed simply to satisfy our curiosity, with regard to the future, proper curiosity, godly curiosity, but prophesy is intended to reveal the great principles of God in His dealing with men. (S. Lewis Johnson, Judgment: The Unwelcome Truth.)
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. In Jeremiah 51:33 the prophet speaks about Babylon. Read along with me.
33 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “The Daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor at the time it is trampled; the time to harvest her will soon come.” (Jeremiah 51:33 NIV)
Judgment did come. The time of harvest arrived in Babylon when in the sixth century B.C. the nation fell to King Cyrus.
This idea of judgment, swinging the sickle and treading the grapes comes from Joel 3:12-13 where we read,
12 ‘Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side. 13 Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow– so great is their wickedness!’ (Joel 3:12-13 NIV)
Does that sound familiar to what we’ve read in Revelation 14? Of course it does. God comes to judge, to pour out His wrath, against those who turn from His ways. He comes in each age, this is the hope of the persecuted people of God in Joel’s day, in John’s day under Domitian, in our day for those who are suffering under oppression and persecution, and in the final day when Jesus will come for a final time! What a great hope this is for God’s people! We have not been abandoned.
I want us to notice the last verse of our study for today found in Revelation 14:20 where we read,
20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. (Revelation 14:20 NIV)
This is one of those verses that gets a lot of play by modern-day prophecy experts. “1,600 stadia” is about 180-200 miles, or the length of Palestine. There have been all kinds of thoughts about this verse and I don’t care to enter into the discussion because I think it is so easy to get side-tracked into whether this is literal or figurative language. S. Lewis Johnson says,
Is this hyperbole? In other words, is John speaking in words that are not to be taken literally because he wants to stress the severity of this judgment? Or is this to be taken in the normal sense? The commentators differ on this point, probably more believe that this is hyperbole. An expression of the severity of the judgment put in this way. This may be hyperbole. There are some instances in history in which statements are made by ancient writers that suggest that there is some support for a more literal interpretation. I will leave that up to you. I confess to you that I cannot speak with authority on that point. (S. Lewis Johnson, Judgment: The Unwelcome Truth.)
I’ve got news for you, if great Bible scholars like S. Lewis Johnson can’t speak with authority on the verse then I should even attempt to. I can say this with authority, God’s judgment is sure, it is certain.
As I mentioned to you earlier, God’s judgment comes throughout history. It has come in the past upon Babylon, the Assyrians, Hitler’s Germany, the former Soviet Union, and other nations. It has come to people throughout history who have thumbed their nose at God and walked away from His voice urging them to turn back from their ways. It has come most profoundly upon Jesus on Calvary’s cross where Jesus took the sin of the world upon His shoulders and suffered the sentence of death. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome,
25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:25 NIV)
This is not an isolated verse from God’s Word, it is the theme of the entire Bible. In 1 Peter 3:18 we read,
18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit… (1 Peter 3:18 NIV)
You and I can either accept the debt that was paid on our behalf by the precious Son of God or we can stand for ourselves before the throne of God on the great day of judgment.
There was a Judge who saw the name of his daughter on his docket. He had lost contact with her because of choices she had made so the father was saddened to see his own daughters name come up for him to judge. When his daughter entered the courtroom she was called to the bench. The Judge, her father, asked her how she wanted to plead. She pled for her dad to give her a break. The Judge would have none of it. She finally realized that she was not standing in front of her dad, but in front of the Judge so she pled guilty. The Judge banged his gavel and announced her guilt. He said, “I fine you $500.00.” The daughter hung her head and began to turn from the bench. The Judge called her by name. He got up from the bench, took off his robe, and made his way around from the bench to the side of his daughter. The Judge, now a daddy, took his daughter in his arms, wiped tears from his eyes, and said, “I will pay the fine.” He took out his checkbook and paid the price he didn’t owe.
That is what the Judge has done for you and me my friends. We are guilty. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are guilty as charged. God has done something remarkable for you and me—He gave His Son to pay our debt, a debt that we could never pay.
Won’t you cry out to the One who has taken the wrath of God for you and me upon Himself so that could experience the sweet fellowship of the Father? Invite Him in today.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
December 3, 2006