Robert Jeffress - God's Terrible, Swift Sword
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". The first time Jesus came to earth, he brought salvation to all who would believe. But the next time Jesus comes to earth, he will bring judgment to those who refuse to believe. Today we're going to look at one of the most vivid and disturbing passages in the entire Book of Revelation, in which the apostle John describes the judgment of God. My message is titled "God's Terrible Swift Sword" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
By November of 1861, it had become clear that the civil war was not going to come to a quick resolve. As that truth began to sink in with the American people, Julia Ward Howe and her husband, Samuel, who was a part of the sanitary commission in Washington, DC, went to inspect some union camps just outside the nation's capital. On the way back from that inspection tour, Julia Howe began to sing a little song, a ditty she had heard the soldiers singing at the camp. The song was entitled, "John Brown's Body". It was really kind of a gruesome song about what happened to an abolitionist who had tried to cause an insurrection among the slaves.
As she sang that rather depressing song, a minister who was with them named James Clark suggested that Julia Howe change the words of that song and write something that would be more uplifting to the American people. And so when she got to DC, she went to her room at the Willard Hotel and spent the night writing out a poem with five stanzas. When she completed it, she sold to the Atlantic monthly magazine for $5. They took that poem and slapped a title on it, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic".
Julia Howe borrowed heavily from Revelation 14, the passage we're going to look at today about the coming judgment on the earth by Almighty God. You remember the words. "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on. He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat. He is sifting out the hearts of men before the judgment seat. Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer him, be jubilant my feet. Our God is Marching on".
Originally, the song was thought to be about God's judgment on the south for the sin of slavery, and it was certainly that. Slavery was a horrific sin, but this song is about more than that, and certainly, Revelation 14 is about more than that. It's about that time in history when God will pour out his wrath upon the earth for all sins, for all rebellions against him. The song is very, very Christocentric. It's about Jesus Christ, both his first and his second coming. The first time Jesus came, Julia Howe describes it in that stanza, "In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea with a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me. As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, while God is Marching on".
Most people forget that the Bible talks about two comings of Jesus, for two very different purposes. I summarized that by reprinting a chart on your outline. The first time Jesus came in Bethlehem, he came in meekness as a servant. The next time he comes, he will come in power as the judge. The first time he came, he came in humility and gentleness. The next time he comes, he will come in majesty and splendor. The first time he came, he came to sow the seed of the Gospel, to offer salvation. The next time he comes will be to reap the harvest of those who reject the Gospel. We read those words of Jesus himself this morning in John 3 when he said, "For the Son of God did not come into the world to judge the world, but that the world through him might be saved".
Oh, people say Jesus isn't here to judge anybody. No, he didn't come the first time to judge. He came to save. But the next time he's coming, he's coming as the judge of the entire earth, and it is that second coming of Jesus, when he comes as the judge to reward the righteous, to punish the unrighteous, that is the focus of Revelation 14. Turn there in your Bibles, if you would, as we look at God's terrible swift sword. Now, for those of you who haven't been a part of our study in Revelation, we're in that period of time in Revelation, the final seven years of earth's history before the return of Jesus Christ. We call those years the years of Great Tribulation. There'll be a one-world dictator, the antichrist, and it will be a time that he will not only persecute those who are alive on the earth who know Christ, who have been saved, during those seven years, but it's a time of God's wrath upon unbelievers that will culminate in the Battle of Armageddon and the return of Jesus Christ.
Last time, we looked at chapters 12 and 13 about the spiritual force of wickedness that will be responsible for much of what happens during that tribulation time. We looked at the Satanic Trinity, if you will, the antichrist, the world leader, his assistant, the false prophet, who will ascend, or help him in his ascent to the power, and then the third member, the dragon, Satan himself, who is the force behind the antichrist. Now, when we get to chapter 14, the focus is on the future victory of God's people. John is going to relate three visions that he saw that all pointed to the final victory that Christ will have for his people when he returns to earth. Each of these visions starts with the words, and I saw, and I beheld, and I saw.
Notice, first of all, the vision of victory for God's people in verses one to five. First of all, John describes a song for God's people that he heard. Verse 1 says, "Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was sitting on mount Zion". Who was the Lamb? Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. And John says, "I saw in a vision, Jesus standing on mount Zion". This is at the end times. Where is mount Zion? It's not in heaven. It's on earth. It's Jerusalem. It was the ancient name for Jerusalem, mount Zion, and John says, "I saw the time when Christ is back, and he establishes his kingdom in Jerusalem". People say, "What's the big deal about Jerusalem? Why does everybody get excited about Jerusalem"? Well, not only Jerusalem the capital of Israel, but it's also going to be the capital city of God's millennial kingdom. He says, "I saw Jesus standing on mount Zion, and with him 144.000, having his name and the name of his father written on their foreheads".
Remember, these were the 144.000 Jews that Jesus saves at the beginning of the tribulation, Revelation 7, and he turns them into evangelists. They have a seal of God on them so that they cannot be killed. They can be persecuted, but not killed. And they are faithful. God promises to protect them for those seven years. Now John fast-forwards seven years at the end of the tribulation. John says, "I saw Jesus and those 144.000". Notice there weren't 143.999. There were 144.000. Not one of them had been lost. And because of that, "They sang a new song before the throne". I wish we had time to talk about what that new song is. It was a song that had never been sung by people who had been saved and sealed and protected from the persecution, the death of the antichrist. But I want you also to notice what John says. He saw, he says, "I saw the purity of God's people".
Notice this description of the 144.000, as well as the tribulation martyrs who die during that time. He says, "These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste". Now, I know what you're thinking. You read that, "Defiled with women". Well, there the Bible goes again, downgrading women. Women are evil, men are good. John must've been a part of the women haters club. You know, he hates women, just like Paul, and just like... look, the Bible never denigrates women. In fact, the Bible did something very transcultural. In a day when women were thought to be inferior to men, the Bible says no, women are equal to men in God's eyes. It was Christianity that raised women up in society.
Always, always. When he talks about being defiled with women, he's simply talking about committing sexual immorality with someone who's not your wife. There's nothing defiling about having a physical relationship with your wife. Hebrews 13 says that the marriage bed is undefiled. No, sexual immorality is going to be rampant during the Great Tribulation time, just as it is right now. But these 144.000 and these followers of Christ refused to defile themself. These are the ones, he says, who followed the Lamb wherever he goes. You know how to know if you're a true disciple of Jesus? Do you follow Jesus wherever he goes? Are you willing to obey him regardless of the cost?
In the Great Tribulation, people will pay a severe price for following the Lamb. Many of them will give their lives in order to do that. By the way, even in today's society, people pay a price, an increasing price for following Jesus Christ. If you don't believe that, just consider Jaelene Hinkle. Many of you may know that Jaelene is considered one of the very best female soccer players in the world. After the 2015 supreme court decision to legalize same-sex marriage, Jaelene posted on her Instagram account, quote, "I believe with every fiber in my body that what was written 2000 years ago in the Bible is undoubtedly true. This world may change, but Christ and his word never will".
Two years later, as a member of the national team, she chose to withdraw from the team, rather than wear a US team jersey sporting rainbow numbers in celebration of gay pride. She explained her decision. Quote, "I just felt so convicted in my spirit that it wasn't my job to wear this jersey. I gave myself three days to just seek and pray and determine what God was asking me to do in this situation. If I never get another national team call up again, then that's just part of God's plan, and that's okay. Maybe this is why I was meant to play soccer, to show other believers to be obedient".
As a member of the North Carolina Courage Team, every team Jaelene Hinkle goes on the field, there are people in the stands who boo her. In the lead up to the 2019 Women's World Cup, us team coach Jill Ellis invited Jaelene to try out for the national team. After three days of workouts, Jill Ellis, who is gay and married to her lesbian partner, cut Jaelene lane for, quote, "Footballing reasons". Many soccer followers were skeptical about why Ellis cut Jaelene. Even Jelene's pro LGBT critics admitted that she is the best women's fullback in the country. We know why she got cut. She was paying a price for following the Lamb wherever she goes. Don't be surprised when you're called on to pay a price. It costs you something to follow Jesus Christ.
Jesus said in John 16:33, "In this world, you will have tribulation, but be of good courage, for I have overcome the world". The apostle Peter said in First Peter 4, "Brethren, don't be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you". Don't be surprised when you stand up for your belief and you're persecuted. This world cannot stand to listen to anyone who is at odds with the culture, but I'd rather be at odds with the culture than at odds with God, wouldn't you? The Bible says you're going to pay a price for it. And certainly, the greatest price will be giving your life, as many will do during the tribulation time.
There's a second vision that John saw, a warning to God's enemies and a blessing for God's people. Again, it begins with the phrase, and I saw. I want you to notice the four announcements that John hears. First of all, he sees and hears an announcement of the Gospel. Look at verses 6 and 7. "And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal Gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people". I don't understand it, but John says he saw an angel flying through midheaven, throughout the earth, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that everyone could hear it.
I want you to notice here the two descriptions of this Gospel message, the message that Jesus Christ came and gave his life on the cross, died for our sins, that we could have eternal life. He said, first of all, the Gospel is eternal. It's not just for one time period in history. It's for all time. And then secondly, he said, this message is for every nation and every tribe and every tongue and every people. Have you ever heard people say, "Well, we shouldn't try to impose our culture on other people by sharing the Gospel with them". Have you ever listened to these ignoramuses on television talk about religion? They know nut just enough to be dangerous. And they'll say things like, "Well, you know, Christians shouldn't try to impose a western religion on other parts of the world. You know, that's not respecting people's nationality and tribe".
They get the idea that somehow Christianity is an American-made religion. They don't even know history when they say something like that. The Gospel wasn't manufactured in America. The Gospel message of Jesus began in the Middle East. Christianity is a Middle Eastern religion that spread beyond the Middle East. Jerusalem was the headquarters for awhile, and then it moved throughout Europe, and then Rome became the capital of the Christian faith. And then after the reformation, the capital moved to Germany, and in many ways, Germany was the capital of the Christian faith. And then it spread to great Britain, and then it spread to America, and for many years, America could be thought of the Christian center of the world, but that's not even true any longer, really.
In many ways, you could say that Africa has become the new center for the church and the Christian faith. China, hundreds of millions of Christians there. One person who does know history made a very astute observation when he said, unlike any other religion in the world, whether it be Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, all of those religions are intricately tied to their nation or their race's customs. You can't separate the religion from the race or the religion from the country, but only Christianity is trans-cultural. You can't tie it to any one nation, any one set of customs. It is an eternal Gospel that is for every nation, every race, every tribe. Aren't you glad that's the kind of faith you follow? Something that's open to everyone. That's what the angel announced in the last times.
Secondly, there was an announcement of destruction. Look at verse 8. "And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she has made all of the nations drink of the wine of passion of her immorality". John, again, this isn't the end of the tribulation when John wrote these words, but he's looking to the end. He's looking into that final climactic scene when Babylon is destroyed. Now, what is Babylon? There's a city-state called Babylon. It's present-day Iraq. Remember the city of Babylon? Remember Saddam Hussein, when he was alive, said his goal was to rebuild Babylon to the glory of the days of Nebuchadnezzar, but in the Bible, especially in the Book of Revelation, Babylon isn't so much a location as it is a representative of the world system that is opposed to God.
For example, when we talk about Wall Street, Wall Street does this, Wall Street thinks that, we're not just talking about that little piece of real estate down in Southern Manhattan. We're talking about the economic system of our nation and our world, Wall Street. Or when we talk about Hollywood, all the evil in Hollywood, we're not talking about geographically, that relatively small town north of Los Angeles on the 101. We're talking about a media empire, the world's media. When we talk about Washington, DC, we're not just talking about the city. We're talking about government, the whole system. It's the same way of Babylon. John says, as difficult as things are looking right now, there is a day coming when Babylon, the world system opposed to God, will be destroyed.
And then notice thirdly, an announcement of doom. Verses nine through 11. "Then another angel, a third one followed them, saying with a loud voice, if anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand". Let me stop there and remind you what we saw last time in Revelation 13. There will be a world dictator that we call the antichrist. And at a point during these seven years, he will demand that everyone worship him, and the way you will demonstrate your loyalty to the antichrist will be by taking a mark on your forehead or in your hands, perhaps some kind of chip that is encoded. And if you do not have that mark of the beast, you risk being killed or watching your family be murdered. Many will be killed because of their unwillingness to take that mark.
But even if you don't suffer immediate death, Revelation 13 says you will be unable to buy or sell without having the mark of the beast. In many ways that could be more painful, to go through the terrible death of starvation or to watch your children or grandchildren die because they couldn't eat, all because you were trying to be loyal to Jesus Christ and not take the mark of the beast. Those who refuse to take the mark of the beast will suffer the wrath, the punishment of the beast. But that wrath is temporary. Those who do take the mark of the beast and choose to worship antichrist instead of the Christ will suffer the wrath of God forever and ever.
Look at verse 10. "If anyone receives the mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of his anger: and that person will be tormented with fire and brimstone". Have you ever heard people say, "Well I just don't like those fire and brimstone preachers". Well, there it is in the Bible. "He will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb". Let me ask you, would you rather suffer the short-term wrath of the antichrist or the eternal wrath of God the Father?