Tag Archives: Israel

BOWLING FOR JUDGMENT (Rev. 15 – 16)

What is your reaction when you hurt someone and sin against the Lord? Is it a mere shrug of the shoulders and a “Sorry, nobody’s perfect!?” Or is it a deep sense of regret and a desire to never do it again? The attitude of many is illustrated by this note printed in The New Yorker magazine. It was left inside a stolen Trans Am in Los Angeles, which was later recovered by police and returned to the owner. In the thief’s own handwriting, it read:

Your CB is in the trunk. The radio is gone because I couldn’t stop my friend from takin it (insurance will cover that). Sorry it had to be your car, but I was lookin for one and the car lot left the key in and it was unattented. Your back tire loses a little air at times. Your brake light sometimes stays on when you drive (CHECK YOUR BRAKES!). This sucker eats a lot of gas! Don’t know why you bought this kind. Hope this didn’t put you out takin your car. I’d have liked a dealer’s car. But this was all that was advable. Sorry. NEEDS GAS!

Nice, huh? He steals a car, then launches into a critique of what’s wrong with it with a couple half-hearted “Sorrys” thrown in. It’d be funny if it wasn’t typical. In many minds, all that is necessary to atone for our sins (from robbery to murder) is an “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. We all make mistakes. What gives you the right to judge me?” As a result, many offenders are shocked when sentence is carried out. “Where’s the mercy!” they scream, implying that society is just as wrong for enforcing justice. My question is, “Where’s the true repentance? And what happened to a “broken and contrite heart?” The kind God won’t despise.

Repentance isn’t something that comes easily to the human heart. Commenting on the subject, John Calvin wrote, “Let everyone search himself and he will find that he labors under this evil—that he would rather rend his garment than his heart.” How true! Most of are willing to say “Sorry” in a pinch, but to change our attitudes is more than we usually care to do.

A graphic example is Revelation chapter 15 and 16. For seven years, judgment has fallen on mankind, warnings from God issued by men and angels alike. But as the last seven plagues fall on the world, does man repent? No, he blames God for his suffering! That should be a warning when the Holy Spirit confronts sin in our lives. We need to remember that Christ is ready and willing to forgive everyone who turns to Him in repentance and faith. But we also need to remember that the sin most certain to blind us is our own.

  1. THE BOWLS JUDGMENTS INTRODUCED

Most of this study will deal with the bowl judgments in chapter 16. But before we get to the judgments themselves, let’s take a moment to notice how they’re introduced in chapter 15. Chapter 15 is the shortest chapter in the Revelation, but it highlights three important facts.

1. God’s Wrath Will End

Verse 1 reads: “I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues, which are the last because with them God’s wrath is finished.” The original Greek reads, “Seven plagues—the last ones!’ This means that this will be the last time that God will punish the world with plagues. The word “finished” reinforces the point because it is the same word that Jesus shouted from the Cross: “It is finished!” There He was announcing His final victory over sin. Here it refers to His judgment of the world. The world doesn’t deserve it, but God in His mercy will spare the world further judgment once the plagues are finished.

2. Heaven Will Sing at God’s Judgment

Did you know that we will sing in Heaven? That’s good news for those of us who have always wanted to join the choir, but couldn’t carry a tune. My mother-in-law was like that. Everyone in the family but she was blessed with the gift of song. But she claimed that in Heaven she would out-sing us all! And I have no doubt she will. And yet, even more important than that we’ll sing is what we’ll sing. John explains two things about our song.

First, he explains who will sing. Verse 2 describes a great multitude standing by a sea of glass mixed with fire. This means they are believers, for in the ancient world no one could cross the “sea” of marble before the king’s throne without the king’s permission. The same is true of our King. Only those who have had their sins washed clean in the blood of Christ have the right to enter God’s presence. Furthermore, the fact that they’ve been “victorious over the beast” means that they are Tribulation saints who have been martyred for their faith. But in the end, they will be the final victors. How? The secret is the word “standing,” In Jewish theology, that’s a metaphor for resurrection. In other words, no matter how we suffer in this life, we who love Christ will live forever. This was Job’s faith amid his suffering. He declared:

 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand at the latter day on the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job 19:25-26 KJV)

Second, he explains what they will sing. Verse 3 says they will sing the song of Moses. What does that mean? John is likening them to the ancient Israelites who were saved out of Egypt. So, what did they do once they got to the other side of the Red Sea? Exodus 15:2 says they sang a great song of praise for their deliverance. And in the same way, once these saints get to Heaven, the first they’ll do as they stand before the crystal sea is sing a great song of praise to God for saving them from the Antichrist and the Great Tribulation.

3. God’s Judgment Is Right

John says in verse 5, “After this I looked and in Heaven the temple, that is, the tabernacle of the testimony was opened. Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues.” In other words, the plagues come from the holiest place in the universe—God’s temple in Heaven. That’s significant for two reasons. First, what is the only thing that can come out of God’s temple? That which is holy! So, no more questioning the fairness of God! Second, it’s significant because of what it follows—3 ½ years in which the beast has desecrated God’s temple on earth, setting up His throne in that holy place and declaring himself to be God. But no more! God’s temple in Heaven now erupts in perfect justice repaying Antichrist for his blasphemy on earth.

Now on to chapter 16 and what these final bowls of judgment will hold.

  1. THE BOWL JUDGMENTS POURED OUT

BOWL #1: PAINFUL SORES

John begins, “Then I heard a loud voice (God’s voice) from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.’ The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.” The word “sores” is the word used in the Greek Old Testament to describe the boils that afflicted the Egyptians in Exodus 9. Various causes are suggested for them—radioactive fallout from a nuclear exchange, a runaway strain of “super-bacteria” released in germ warfare, or a new disease not yet known to man and for which there is no cure. But whatever the cause, three things are clear about it:

Verse 2 says it is intended to punish “the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.” Just as God protected the children of Israel who lived in Goshen from the plagues that fell on Egypt, so He’ll miraculously shield His people from the bowls of His wrath.

It will involve incredible pain. Anyone who has had a boil can tell you how badly it hurts. But imagine being covered with them from head to toe. A friend in high school named Doug suffered from boils on his face. Not only was it embarrassing, it was also painful. They burned. They itched. They wept. But in this case, there will be no relief from the pain. When we come to the fifth bowl judgment in verse 11, we find mankind still writhing in pain from these sores.

It will destroy human relations. Pain is a great revealer in that only a righteous person can handle it graciously. But the will be no “Jobs” afflicted in this day. It will be God’s enemies who suffer, and they will not suffer in silence. Verse 11 says they will curse God because of their pain. And if they’re bitter enough to curse God, imagine how they will treat one another.

Warren Wiersbe comments: “It is an awesome thought to consider almost the entire population of the world suffering from a painful malady that nothing can cure. Constant pain affects a person’s disposition so that he finds it difficult to get along with other people. Human relations during that period will certainly be at their worst.”

BOWL #2: THE OCEANS DIE

Verse 3 continues, “The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died.” At the second trumpet in Revelation 8, a third of the sea and its creatures die. But now the suffering multiplies. All the seas now turn to blood and all its creatures die.

David Hocking comments, “Notice the sea actually ‘ becomes’ blood (literal language), ‘as’ that of a dead man (figurative language). This means that the sea truly becomes blood first, and the creatures die as a result. There is no naturalistic explanation for this supernatural event.”

We’ve seen the results of many oil spills in recent years. One of the best known took place in Prince William Sound, killing hundreds of thousands of birds, sea otters, and other sea creatures. Until then it was considered the last pure spot on earth—a destination of “preppers” in case of worldwide disaster. But then the Valdez ran aground reminding us that when God pours out His judgment on the sea, there will be no safe place left to hide.

BOWL #3: FRESH WATER POLLUTED

Verse 4 adds, “The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood.” When the third trumpet was sounded, one-third of the rivers were polluted. But now all fresh water is turned to blood, leaving mankind nothing to drink. Think about that for a moment—how dependent we are on clean water? We learned this lesson years ago when staying at a friend’s cabin where the water was supplied by a small well. But the well ran dry, leaving us without any means of bathing, cooking, or washing our dishes. We had brought along enough soda pop to keep us from being thirsty. But soda pop does not last forever. Nor can you wash in it. Such will be the situation when the third plague is poured out—all that will be left for drinking, washing, cooking, and bathing will be blood.

Even more interesting is why this plague is poured out. Verse 6 says, “For they have shed the blood of your saint and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” One writer says, “In God’s government, the punishment fits the crime. Pharaoh tried to drown Jewish boy babies, so it was his army drowned in the Red Sea. Haman built gallows on which to hang Mordecai, but it was he himself who was hanged there. King Saul disobeyed God’s order to slay all the Amalekites, so he was slain by an Amalekite.” In the same way, Heaven gives the followers of Antichrist what they deserve. Since they have shed the blood of God’s people, it is only right that they should be forced to drink blood.

BOWL #4: SCORCHING HEAT

The fourth plague gives the beast’s followers a foretaste of hell. Verse 8 says, “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire.” In an earlier judgment, the sun was dimmed a third leading to darkness on earth. But now the sunlight and its heat is intensified scorching everyone with a blazing heat that no sun block can ease. Anyone who has been on the desert knows how merciless the sun can be. Add to this the lack of water, and the agony will be unbearable—a literal hell on earth. This should lead us to ask what the purpose of this plague is. John gives two reasons.

To punish beast worshipers. Verse 8 literally says, “The sun was given power to scorch the people with fire.” The definite article refers to a specific people we’ve already met. What people would that be? Those who have the mark of the beast. We are not told how, but any believers remaining alive at this time will be supernaturally be protected from judgment.

To prove that man’s problem is spiritual, not environmental. Notice, as painful as this plague is, not one soul repents. Instead, “they cursed the name of God who had control over these plagues.” Isn’t that interesting? It proves there are no atheists left on earth. Everyone knows there is a God in Heaven. But instead of humbly asking for His forgiveness, they blame Him for their punishment. “After all You could stop this if  you wanted to.”

This reminds me of Abraham’s statement to the rich man in Hades. Being in torment, he begged Abraham in Paradise to send Lazarus the beggar to warn his brothers of judgment. But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” “No, Father Abraham, the rich man begged, if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But Abraham said, “No, if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” How true! If the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not enough to win a person’s repentance, nothing will—not even a foretaste of hell.

BOWL #5: COMPLETE DARKNESS

The fifth judgment is also a foretaste of hell. Jude describes those in hell as “wandering stars for whom the blackness of darkness is reserved forever.” Verse 10 says the pouring out of the fifth bowl plunges the beast’s kingdom into total darkness. Just as in ancient Egypt, there was total darkness, but the Israelites in the land of Goshen had light; so, this too is a judgment that falls on unbelievers only. What is the outcome of this warning? Two things:

First, a further hardening of hearts. Rather than repenting of their sins and crying out for mercy, verse 11 says, “Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of Heaven because of their pains and sores.” This is proof that judgment doesn’t always lead repentance. According to a study by the Justice Department, 63% of inmates released from state prisons are rearrested for a serious crime within three years. Of those under the age of 25 who have had eleven or more arrests, 94% are reincarcerated. Thus, it will be in this final time of wrath, with this exception—not one hardened sinner will be reformed!

Second, a final prelude to judgment. As we’ll see shortly, this blackout allows the kings of the east to march into Israel leading to the battle of Armageddon.

BOWL #6: THE BATTLE OF ARMAGEDDON

To the human eye, the world’s armies may seem to be gathering of their own accord. But verse 12 gives us a glimpse behind the scenes. First, it credits the work of demons. It says, “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they got out to the kings of the whole world to gather them for the battle of the great day of Almighty God.” Furthermore, the last line of verse 14 adds something even more important—the sovereignty of God. In his pride, Satan forgets that God is so great that He can use even the greatest evil to further His will. That was true at the Cross. The devil’s greatest victory turned out to be his greatest defeat. So, it will be when he gathers the nations in the valley of Megiddo! His attempt to rule this world through Antichrist will be “the great day of Almighty God.”

Where will it happen? Verse 16 says, “Then they gathered the kings together to that place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” The name comes from two smaller words—Har meaning “hill” and Megiddo meaning “slaughter.” This is the hill country in southern Galilee that overlooks what Napoleon called “the most natural battlefield of the whole earth”—14 miles wide and 21 miles long. This is where Gideon defeated the Midianites. Here the Roman legions marched on the way to their ancient conquests. Here British General Allenby defeated the Turks in 1917. And here the world will wage its final war again God and man.

What makes this possible is the drying up of the Euphrates River in verse 12. This allows the armies of Asia to march into the Holy Land. Some mistakenly identify these soldiers with the 200 million horsemen in Revelation 9. But, in my opinion, this is a different army. That was an army of demons that kills one-third of mankind with plagues. But this is the final human conflict towards which mankind is headed even now. On September 2, 1945, while supervising of our peace treaty with Japan which ended World War II, General Douglas MacArthur warned, “We have had our last chance. If we will not devise something greater and more equitable than war, Armageddon will be at our door.” He was right!

Is there any hope? Yes, it is found in Jesus’ promise right in the middle of this judgment. He pleads with us in verse 15, “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamelessly exposed.”

BOWL #7: A MASSIVE EARTHQUAKE AND GIANT HAILSTONES

Finally, verse 17 describes the seventh bowl of judgment—an earthquake so massive that it will alter the topography of the entire earth. John says every major city of the world (New York, Tokyo, London) will be destroyed, every island (Hawaii, the Greek islands, the Philippines, all the Caribbean islands) will be submerged, and every mountain (Mount Everest, Denali, Mount Fuji) will crumble. Then, if that’s not enough, giant hailstones weighing 100 pounds each will fall from Heaven crushing men under their weight.

What will be the impact on men’s hearts? None whatsoever! Like Pharaoh in the Old Testament, the heart of every unbeliever will be so hardened that not one soul will turn to Christ. William Newell used to say, “If men are not won by grace, they will never be won.” We see that here. Instead of turning to Christ in repentance, John says they will curse “God because of the plague.” By the way, that is perfect justice at work. For in keeping with the Law of Moses, what was the penalty for blasphemy? Death by stoning! (Leviticus 24:16)

This raises a troubling question for many people. How can a loving God be responsible for such judgment? Doesn’t this confirm the bitterness of many unbelievers that God may be great but He isn’t good? My answer is: No! What it affirms is two things: 1) God’s loving desire that no one perish. 2) Man’s ingratitude towards God’s mercy and his unwillingness to repent.

R. C. Sproul shared an example in his book, Holiness of God. On the first day of classes at the Christian College where he taught, he told students that there would be three short papers due during the term. The first was due the end of September, the second the end of October, and the third the end of November. No extensions would be given except in cases of illness or a death in the family. Otherwise, late papers would receive an “F.” The students nodded their understanding. On the last day of September, 225 students turned in their papers, but 25 stood quaking in terror begging for an extension. In mercy, Dr. Sproul relented and gave them more time. The students expressed their thanks and promised that they had learned their lesson.

Then came the last day of October. 200 had papers; 50 did not. They were nervous, but not panicky. “Professor,” it was Homecoming. Besides it’s mid-term and all our other papers are due too. Please give us one more chance. It won’t happen again.” Once more he relented, but made it clear that this was it. “If you are late for the next paper, it will be an ‘F.’ No excuses. No whining. Is that clear?” “O, yes, Professor. You are terrific. We love you Professor Sproul.” So, what happened the last day of November? 150 students came with papers in hand. The other 100 strolled into class utterly unconcerned. “Where are your term papers?” One student said it all, “O don’t worry Prof! We’re working on them. We’ll have them in a couple days. No sweat!”

Dr. Sproul writes, “I picked up my lethal black grade book and began taking down names. ‘Johnson! Do you have your paper?’ ‘No, sir,’ came the reply. ‘F,’ I said as I wrote the grade in my book. ‘Muldaney! Do you have your paper?’ Again, ‘No, sir’ was the reply. I marked another ‘F’ in my grade book. The students reacted with unmitigated fury. They howled in protest, screaming, ‘That’s not fair!’ I looked at one of the howling students. ‘Lavery! You think it’s not fair?’ ‘No,’ he growled. ‘I see. It’s justice you want? I seem to recall that your last paper was also late. If you insist on justice, you will get it. I will not only give you an ‘F’ on this paper, but I’ll also change your last grade to the ‘F’ you so richly deserved.’ The student was stunned. He had no more arguments to make. He apologized for being hasty and was suddenly happy to settle for one ‘F’ instead of two. The students had quickly taken my mercy for granted. They assumed it. When justice suddenly fell, it came as a shock and they were outraged. This, after only two doses of mercy in the space of two months.”

So, it is with God’s mercy, except that He has been immeasurably more patient with us. But He won’t be forever. One day His judgment will fall, and when it does, no one will be able to find fault with Him. For if He gave us what we deserve, no one would be forgiven. Therefore, what should we do? Welcome God’s grace this very moment and receive Christ’s forgiveness while you can. For the offer will soon expire and only judgment will remain. Repentance does not come easily to the human heart. In fact, apart from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, no one ever repents. So, respond now to His offer of salvation and make peace with God while your heart is still soft. Of if you have repented and believed, then remember why He’s left you here on earth—to share His love with as many others as you can.

(To listen to or download the audio version of this study, click Audio. To download the written version of this study, please click Written.)

LUCIFER HAD A GREAT FALL! (Rev. 12:1-17)

Revelation: Because the Time Is Near

To listen to or download the audio message of this study click the study title.  Study #16: “Lucifer Had a Great Fall!” (Rev. 12:1-17)

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Imagine the panic that would ensure if thousands of extra-terrestrials suddenly invaded your community, secretly taking over the minds and bodies of leaders in government, business, law enforcement, and education. Sound like the farfetched plot of a low budget science fiction movie like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” or “The War of the Worlds?” It’s not. It’s what is actually going on in every community on the face of the earth. In this case, the extra-terrestrials are not invaders from outer space. Nor are they visible to the human eye. For they are spiritual beings called angels—millions of fallen angels who sided with Lucifer in his rebellion against God and are now fighting day and night to lull Christians to sleep, so we don’t share the truth about Jesus, and confuse the minds of unbelievers in preparation for the coming Antichrist.

Paul warns us in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

That becomes vividly clear in this week’s study. In Revelation chapter 12, John gives us a glimpse behind the scenes at the power energizing the Beast and his kingdom. We learn that it is none other than “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan.” He is the one who has deceived man and woman from the beginning and will someday soon day demand the worship of everyone on earth. So be watchful as we study! These facts aren’t just interesting Bible trivia; they’re vital spiritual insights into what’s happening in your community this very moment. And as we unearth what’s underfoot, we need to take action—resisting temptation, praying without ceasing for those who do not yet believe, and sharing the truth with anyone who will listen. This is a war for men’s souls, and we need to be ready. The first thing to notice in this chapter are—

TWO GREAT SIGNS IN HEAVEN

Chapter 12 begins John’s second vision in the book of Revelation. In chapter 1, he was told to write “the things which you have seen, the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things.” But that writing assignment was completed in chapter 11. The Tribulation came to an end and “the kingdoms of the world” became “the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. So now John is told to “prophesy again about many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” In other words, he’s to go back and color in the details of the Tribulation by describing its key characters and events. Chapter 12 introduces the first prophecy. Two signs appear in heaven identifying both the villain of the Tribulation and his intended victims.

1. The Sign of the Woman

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Verse 1 begins, “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.”

The Bible often uses women as symbols of religion. For example, Ephesians 5:26 calls the church the Bride of Christ. On the other hand, Revelation 17 calls the false religion of the Tribulation “Babylon the Great, Mother of Harlots.” But here in chapter 12, John sees “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve staffs.” What religion does this represent? Two details make her identity clear.

First, her clothing. Perhaps you remember the dream of Joseph in Genesis 37 in which he saw the sun, moon, and the stars bowing down to him. There was no question in his or his brothers’ minds what this symbolized. It was a picture of his family, the household of Israel, bowing down to him in the future—once God exalted him to the position of second ruler of the land of Egypt. Here we find the same symbolism, making the identity of this woman clear. It is another picture of Israel, this time describing her future suffering during the Tribulation.

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You can see that even more clearly in the description of her child. Verse 5 continues, “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to His throne.” This is an obvious reference to Jesus Christ who following His death and resurrection, was caught up to the throne of heaven and who will someday rule this world with “a rod of iron.” Consequently, who must this woman be? Not Mary, because Mary never suffered the persecution described in this chapter. Nor could it happen to her, since she is now safe and secure in God’s presence. Instead, it’s a reference to the nation of Israel through whom the Messiah was given to the world.

Why would focus on Israel at this time? To emphasize the central that she will again play in the divine drama on earth. For the past 1946 years, Israel has been set aside while Christ has built His Bride, the church. But God has not forgotten His chosen people. Romans 11:25-26 says that “hardening in part has happened to Israel,” but that one day soon “all Israel will be saved.” And yet, before that time of blessings can come, another period of suffering is predicted for Israel. That’s symbolized in the second sign John sees in heaven—

2. The Sign of the Dragon

 

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Verse 3 explains, “Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his head.”

Who is this dragon? Verse 9 identifies him as “that ancient serpent called the devil, who leads the whole world astray.” Red symbolizes his thirst for blood. We know that because the same word is used in chapter 6 to describe the “fiery red” horse that brings warfare to earth. Jesus Himself called him “a murderer from the beginning.” (Jn. 8:44) And we find that here as well, that Satan will inspire a future bloodbath of unprecedented proportions, especially for the people of Israel. The “seven heads and ten horns” tell us how he’ll do it. If you compare this to Revelation 13:1, you’ll find that this is a symbol of Antichrist, indicating that it’s through him that Satan will bring destruction on earth. The “seven crowns,” on the other hand, picture the seven world empires that he has controlled in the past, reminding us that if he has been able to do it before, he is more than capable of doing it again.

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Verse 4 adds, “His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.” This describes the breadth of his power. For who do the stars represent? They are the devil’s partners in crime. For example, we saw in our study of Revelation 1:20 that stars are symbols for angels. John was told, “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” In this case, however, they do not represent good angels, but evil angels who followed Lucifer in his rebellion against God. The Bible also refers to them as demons and unclean spirits. How many are involved? John says one-third of the angels God created. The good news, however, is that there are twice the number of good angels on our side than those on Lucifer’s side.

John continues, “The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.” This refers to Satan’s desire to prevent Jesus from being born. Who can forget Herod’s attempt to kill the newborn King by ordering that all the baby boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger be slaughtered? But Satan’s plan was thwarted by God when He warned Joseph in a dream to take the Child and His mother into Egypt until Herod was dead. In fact, it was only on the cross that Lucifer’s plan was finally successful—for just three days! There he succeeded in having Jesus crucified, but three days later He rose from the dead, dealing a fatal blow to the devil. Hebrews 2:14 explains, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death, He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.”

Panorama of Jerusalem old city. Israel

Panorama of Jerusalem old city. Israel

Having failed to kill the Savior, the devil searches for a way to vent his anger. So what does he do? Verse 6 says the target of his hatred is the woman. Unable to prevent the birth of her Child, he tries to exterminate the people of Israel. This began in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, killing and enslaving millions of Jews. It continued during the Crusades of the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries, when hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered. Hitler killed 6 million more in World War II. Stalin persecuted millions more in the Soviet Union. Now Antichrist will lead the world in another Holocaust greater than that of Hitler. But all these efforts will fail. Why? Because God has promised to preserve the people of Israel forever!

Napoleon was asked by one of his generals, “What do you believe to be the greatest miracle of all time?” The conqueror answered without hesitation, “The Jews!” He was right! More than any other phenomenon in history, the survival of the Jews is proof that the God of the Bible exists. Who would have guessed that after wandering throughout the world without a homeland for 1878 years, Israel would again become an independent nation? But to the world’s amazement, they did so in May of 1948, going on to become the most powerful nation in the Middle East, winning war after war against Muslim nations much larger than they. And at the end of the Tribulation, with all the nations of the world gathered together to destroy them, who would believe that a kingdom would again be born in Israel? But that’s exactly what will happen through the supernatural goodness and intervention of Jesus their Messiah and King.

THE GREAT ANGELIC WAR IN HEAVEN

In verse 7 to 12, John now turns from Satan’s past history of crime to his future activities in heaven and on earth. Make no mistake! There is ferocious spiritual warfare taking place in the heavenlies right now, events about which you and I can only speculate. But at the midpoint of the Tribulation, a great angelic war of unprecedented proportions will break out in heaven, determining not only the final dominion of the angels, but also the persecution and suffering that is about to be experienced on earth.

1. The Description of Satan’s Defeat

Verse 7 reads: “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth and his angels with him.”

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According to John, the war that is about to break out in heaven will pit the angelic armies of Michael against the demonic forces of Lucifer. That’s appropriate since Michael’s name, which means “Who is like God?” is the perfect answer to Lucifer’s boast, “I will be like the Most High!” This is not the first time the two have met in conflict. Daniel 10 says they once battled over the delivery of a prophetic message sent to Daniel. Jude 1:9 adds that they also argued over the body of Moses. But this will be their last and greatest battle. For verse 8 says at this point the dragon and his angels will be defeated and confined to the earth with no more access to heaven.

This may be confusing to some. After all, wasn’t Satan cast out of heaven ages ago? He was and he wasn’t. According to the Bible, there are several phases in Satan’s judgment, some of which have passed and some of which are yet to come. At his first attempt to make himself equal with God, Lucifer was cast down in the sense that he lost his original position in heaven. This is described in Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, and here in verse 4. At that time, one-third of the angels sided with him in his rebellion. Jude 1:6 adds, “The angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these He has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great day.” That doesn’t mean that Lucifer has lost all his access to heaven. It simply means that his original power and glory were stripped away from him.

I liken it to former president Richard Nixon who left office in disgrace. At his resignation, he no longer enjoyed the power or privileges of the presidency. But did visit the White House from time to time. And so it is with Lucifer! He no longer has any official position, but he still has access to God’s presence. We find that in the first two chapters of the book of Job. And here in verse 10, we’re told that he still has the ability to accuse us before God day and night.

Other judgments in Lucifer’s career include his defeat at the cross. Colossians 2:15 says Christ “disarmed the powers and authorities” and made a “public spectacle of them, triumphing over them.” His next major loss will take place at the end of the Tribulation and the beginning of the Kingdom when he is confined in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3) and no longer able to tempt mankind. And finally, he will be forever damned when he and his demons are cast into the lake of fire which burns forever and ever. (Rev. 20:10) But, again, the primary concern of our passage is his final war with Michael, at the midpoint of the Tribulation, when he is cast out of heaven and confined to the earth.

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What incites such a war in heaven? Some say his hatred of Christ will spur him to make one final assault on God’s throne. But Dr. Warren Wiersbe offers another explanation which may have more merit. After the church is taken up to heaven in the Rapture and the Tribulation is set in motion, the first order of business in heaven will be the Judgment Seat of Christ and rewarding of the saints. (2 Cor. 5:10-11). There the works of Christians will be examined and rewards will be given out. But guess who still has access to heaven? Satan, who will accuse the saints pointing out all our faults and flaws. But Jesus Christ, our heavenly advocate (1 Jn. 2:2), will also be there and stand up for us before His Father’s throne, arguing our case and reminding all of creation that He secured our salvation by His death on the cross. Imagine how furious Satan will be when the church comes through this judgment “without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing!” Warren Wiersbe concludes, “When the accuser of the brethren sees that his tactics have failed, he will become furious and threaten the very peace of heaven.”

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2. The Results of Satan’s Defeat

Verse 10 announces, “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcome him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore, rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them.”

  • Rejoicing in Heaven

Why is heaven so happy at Michael’s victory? Because Satan, the accuser of the brethren, is no longer allowed to find fault with us. That’s always been one of his most cutting tools. The name devil means “accuser.” And day and night he stands before God’s throne leveling charges against us—if not about our words and actions, then attributing wrong motives to us. The best example is found in the book of Job, where after snooping about the earth, Satan appears before God’s throne. So God asks him to consider his servant Job. Immediately, Satan criticizes him, accusing him of serving God for gain. And he does the same to us today. He accuses us inciting gossip in the church, which ought to make us very careful about repeating rumors that we hear. For in so doing, whose will are we carrying out? Not God’s, but Satan’s! He also accuses our consciences with sins already confessed and forgiven. How do we overcome these painful lies? John pinpoints three keys to victory in verse 11.

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First, “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.” In other words, the first thing to do when the devil comes knocking at your door is to remind him that Jesus already shed His blood for those sins, and they don’t have to be paid for again. Our salvation is not based on any good deeds that we have done, but by the finished work of Christ’s grace on the cross.

Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me,

And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Second, “they overcame him by the word of their testimony.” A second fact to remember when Satan comes calling is that his strategy to intimidate us and make us feel unworthy of sharing our faith in Christ. Hal Lindsey issues the following warning:

“The devil will use every clever device he has to keep us from sharing with others what God has done in our lives. A guy who may have been the life of the party and never at loss for words before he trusted Christ can be intimidated by Satan to clam up like a shell when it comes to witnessing for Christ. Grown men will tremble in front of youngsters when asked to give a word for Jesus. Remember Peter in the Gospel of Mark and the young girl who asked him if he’d been a friend of Jesus; Peter not only denied it but swore at her also! The reason this is such a threat to Satan is that God has chosen to give His children the privilege of bringing men into His Kingdom by their testimony—both by what they say and how they live. For this reason, nothing gives Satan more pleasure than to foul up a believer’s testimony in word and life.

So don’t let him intimidate you! The next time the devil comes peddling guilt or fear, remember who it’s coming from, why he’s doing it, and that he is a liar and the father of lies. And remember one more thing. Satan is more afraid of your testimony than you are to give it. For, as Romans 1:16 says, “it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”

Third, they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. You see, as long as we cling to this life and the things it offers, Satan will render us ineffective by threatening to take them away from us. But when we commit ourselves and everything we own to Christ, it sets us free. So, as Corrie Ten Boom, the Nazi concentration camp survivor, advised, “Learn to hold all things loosely in your hands, so that it doesn’t hurt too much if they’re snatched away.

Heaven rejoices at Satan’s expulsion, but John foresees a very different outcome for those living below on earth—the greatest time of suffering the world has ever experienced.

  • Persecution on Earth

Verse 12 warns, “But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” The word fury is different from the one used to describe God’s anger. This word means a “violent outburst of anger,” like a rebellious child whose will is thwarted. The devil vents his rage by throwing a 3 ½ year temper tantrum on earth. But unlike a child, Satan’s temper can do great harm. For he is a powerful, vicious being capable of terrible destruction. This destruction begins with his persecution of Israel. Verse 13 explains, “When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.”

 

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That raises two questions. Why does Satan hate the Jews? Reason #1 is because she gave birth to Messiah. Satan has always hated the Jews for providing the world with a Savior and means of salvation. Therefore, once his access to heaven is cut off, his first impulse will be to persecute the woman who gave birth to Messiah, sparking a new wave of anti-Semitism, that is beginning even now. Radical Islam’s goal is to destroy both the nation and people of Israel. Even in America, which has long been a safe harbor for the Chosen People, the FBI now reports that 18% of hate crimes are committed against the Jews. Reason #2 is Satan’s desire to prevent the Kingdom from coming to earth. The Bible teaches that in order for the Kingdom to be set up, a Jewish remnant must remain alive to welcome their King and repopulate the earth for God. (Zech. 14:1-4) So convinced that he can keep the Kingdom from coming, Satan will again try to exterminate the Jews. Will he be successful? No! That’s the second point in these final verses—God’s faithful protection of His Chosen People. That’s seen in three ways:

First, the length of Satan’s tantrum. Verse 12 says his wrath is great, “because he knows his time is short.” Or to put it another way, God has him on a short leash. Specifically, verse 14 says he will be allowed to persecute the woman “a time, times, and half a time.” This refers to the 3 ½ years or 1260 days mentioned in verse 6. The point is, Satan is limited in what he can do, and he knows it. He is subject to God’s plans and can only do what God permits.

The prince of darkness grim—we tremble not for him. His rage we can endure. For lo, his doom is sure! One little word shall fell him.

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Second, the place of God’s protection. Verse 14 promises Israel, “two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert.” The wings of an eagle are a symbol of God’s protection. For example, when God led the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, the Bible says He bore them “on eagles’ wings” (Ex. 19:4) and cared for them in the wilderness as an eagle cares for her young (Deut. 32:11-12.) Hal Lindsey speculates that this may refer to an American airlift which will transport the people of Israel to the ancient fortress city of Petra. But the text gives no such explanation. All we can say for sure is that God will somehow save His people from destruction. Warren Wiersbe cautions, “We do not know where this sheltered place will be, nor do we need to know. But the lesson for all of us is clear: God cares for those whom He wants to use to accomplish His purposes on earth.”

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Third, the destruction of Satan’s armies. In verse 15, John describes a flood of water which the serpent spews at the woman in an effort to destroy her. To what does this refer? Jeremiah 46 and 47 use the word “flood” to describe tow massive military invasions of Israel. So I assume that’s what’s envisioned here. But God will not allow it to succeed. Instead, John says God will cause the earth to open up and swallow “the river that the dragon spewed out of his mouth, “referring I all likelihood to the massive earthquake which will occur in Revelation 16:18 near the end of the Great Tribulation. But will this cause Satan to give up in frustration? No. Lesson #1 in spiritual warfare is that the old serpent the devil never gives up.

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Enraged at his inability to kill the woman herself, verse 17 says he immediately turns to attack her offspring. To whom does this refer? John explains that they are “those who obey the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” In other words, when Satan fails to destroy Israel, he will vent his wrath by persecuting anyone who claims the name of Christ. But will he win? No! Why? Because like us, the devil is only a creature, not the Creator.

C. S. Lewis explained, “The commonest question I’m asked is if I ‘believe in the devil.’ Now, if by devil you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No. There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite. No being could attain a ‘perfect badness’ equal to the perfect goodness of God; for when you’ve taken away every good thing (intelligence, will, memory, energy, and existence itself), there’d be none of him left.” The question is if I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies of God and as a corollary to us. These we may call devils. They do not differ in nature from good angels but their nature is depraved. Devil is the opposite of angel only as bad man is the opposite of good man. Satan, the dictator of the devils, is the opposite not of God, but of Michael.”

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During the Tribulation, Lucifer will lead them in a war against God and His saints both in heaven and on earth. But because he’s a creature and not the Creator, he will fail miserably and be punished forever. In keeping with His promise to Eve (Gen. 3:15), Jesus Christ, the woman’s seed, will “crush” the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15) and we will be free forever! Hallelujah!

(To download the written message of this study for sharing with others, please click this link –Lucifer Had a Great Fall!” (Rev. 12:1-17) Hallelujah!)

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THE ORIGINAL “NICK AT NIGHT”

1Have you ever stopped to consider the things that God cannot do? Let me suggest a few. The first thing He can’t do is lie. Number 23:19 explains: “God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?” God cannot lie, for that would be a violation of His own holy character.

That’s why many of the questions posed by skeptics are often just plain silly, like this. Have you ever come across this one? They ask, “If your God is all-powerful and able to do anything, then let’s see Him create a rock that is too big for Him to lift!” But then that’s  just double talk, for what they’re trying to do is to pit God’s creative power against His power to do miracles, asking Him to violate His own Almighty character, something He said He will not and cannot ever do. God cannot lie, nor will He ever contradict His own holy character.

One more question while I’m at it! Are there are sins God can’t forgive? Only one! Am I right? And that’s rejecting Jesus as Lord, for other than that one unpardonable sin, He died for every sin and blasphemy we have committed or ever will commit, which means if you worship Jesus as Lord, your every sin has been forgiven—past, present, and future! But “unless you believe that I AM,” Jesus warned, “you will die in your sins.” For He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your and my Only Savior and Hope of Salvation! But except for these few things, Jesus said, “Nothing shall be impossible for God!”

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Now let’s talk about ourselves. Is there anything we can’t do if we put our minds to it? “Absolutely not!” the New Agers, the humanists, and the followers of the cults will tell you. “You can do anything if you just learn to believe in yourself!” Fools! The list of what we can’t do is absolutely endless. But the one that tops the list is the one before us tonight—the impossibility of being born again!

Let me remind you, as we get started, where we left off last week. We were in Jerusalem following the Passover where Jesus performed a countless number of miracles for over a year, proving that He’s God with hundreds of people coming up to Him and saying, “I believe in you, Jesus, I believe you’re the Messiah!” We saw that in John 2:23 – “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many were believing (The word is pisteuo meaning to believe in someone.) in His name when they saw the signs He was doing.   But verse 24 adds, “Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them.” (That’s the same word pisteuo.) In other words, they were believing in Jesus, but He wasn’t believing in them! Why not? John says, “He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” And what He knows us isn’t good! For as the Bible says about us in many places, “In me, that is, in my flesh dwells no good thing.” The only good thing about you, if your faith is genuine, is that Jesus now lives in your heart and has changed your fundamental nature.

That brings us to chapter 3 where we meet a man from Jerusalem who has seen the miracles of Jesus and concluded, “This is a man sent by God!” By the way, do you think that’s a coincidence, that John immediately introduces us to someone who pictures what he’s just told us at the end of chapter 2? Of course not! John is a fisherman, and if anyone knows how to tell a story, it’s a fisherman. Except in this case, it’s true and inspired by the Holy Spirit who, Jesus said, is the Spirit of truth, which means whatever you find in this Book, you can trust. Unfortunately for this man, he isn’t a true believer because, he doesn’t yet have the right kind of belief. That’s something John warns us again and again in this book, that there is a belief which is not a belief because it’s a belief that’s superficial, self-serving, and stubbornly refuses to give Jesus the glory He deserves as God the Son.

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Open your Bible with me, then, to John chapter 3 where we’re going to meet “The Original Nick at Night,” and therein discover both what it means and why it’s imperative to be “born from above.” My outline for our study has 3 parts: the Sinner’s Crisis, the Savior’s Counsel, and the Spirit’s Conversion.

(To listen to or download the audio version of this message, click on Audio Message. And if it would be helpful to a friend to hear it, please pass it on!)

1. The Sinner’s Crisis

John 3:1 says, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’” By the way, did you know that no one ever doubted Jesus’ power to do miracles? His enemies certainly didn’t. Instead, what did they say the reason was that He could do miracles, so they wouldn’t have to bow to His Lordship? They said His power to do miracles came from the devil, thereby blaspheming the Holy Spirit and committing the one sin that can’t be forgiven – the sin of rejecting the Lordship of Jesus. In fact, it’s only twenty centuries later that skeptics and liberals are so wise in their own eyes that they set aside the testimony of eyewitnesses, comforting themselves with the thought that “those ancient people weren’t smart enough to know what I know today!”

But who was Nicodemus? He had a Greek name as many of the Jews did at that time. Nico means conquer and Demus means people. So put it together, and what do you get? Nicodemus, “victor over the people.” Now don’t read too much into that. It was just a name. Nor should you read a lot into the fact that he came to Jesus by night. I don’t think, as some preachers suggest, that “night” is a metaphor for the darkness of his soul. He just hadn’t made up his mind about Jesus yet and was being careful because he knew the Pharisees were opposed to Him. Instead, what we need to understand about him are these three facts:

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1) He himself was a Pharisee. The word means “separated one.” These were the ultra-conservative, Bible believers of Israel who interpreted the Bible literally. They believed in angels, devils, miracles, the six days of creation, heaven, hell – all of which made Nicodemus anxious because he knew he wasn’t ready to stand before God in judgment. They were also conservative in lifestyle. You know the ultra-orthodox, Hasidic branch of Judaism? These were its founders, and they were absolutely rabid about keeping the Law, not only priding themselves in the fact that they kept all 613 commandments of the Old Testament (Remember the rich young ruler? “All these things I have kept from my youth!”), but they had also come up with over a thousand laws or mitzvot of their own, just to make sure they never came close to crossing over the line.

For example, one thing a Pharisees would never do, or let his wife do, was look in a mirror on the Sabbath. Why not? Because she might find a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it, which was considered working on the Sabbath! On the other hand, a Pharisee could eat an egg laid on the Sabbath, but only if he killed the hen that laid it for working on the Sabbath. That’s how ridiculous it got. And all for nothing! Because as holy as they thought they were and seemed to be on the surface (We’re good at fooling ourselves and others, aren’t we?), Jesus called them whitewashed tombs who looked beautiful on the outside, but on the inside were full of dead men’s bones and every kind of uncleanness.

By the way, based on everything that’s said about the Pharisees in the Gospels, you might think they were a large group. Not so! There were only 6,000 of them in all Israel at the time. But then it doesn’t take a large group to change the world for good or for ill, does it, just a highly dedicated group? That’s what they were! The Pharisees believed if they could get the entire nation to keep the Law for one day, the Kingdom would come. “But now, with this carpenter from Galilee defying our laws and challenging our authority, the Kingdom will never come!” No wonder they were of all Jesus’ enemies the most rabid. They hated Him so much that only one Pharisee in the Bible, other than Nicodemus, ever came to Him. You know who that was? The Apostle Paul who would have never bowed to the Lordship of Jesus if He hadn’t been struck him blind on the Damascus road! Later he said this of his life as a Pharisee. Philippians 3:6, “I was a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless! But whatever things were gain to me…I now count as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”

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2) He was a ruler of the Jews, meaning he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council made up of its 70 most powerful leaders, plus the high priest, and comprising what was in essence the Congress and Supreme Court of Israel—which means Nicodemus was a very powerful man. Church tradition says he was also one of the three wealthiest men in Jerusalem at the time.

3) He was, according to verse 10, not just a teacher, but “the teacher of Israel.” Jesus uses the definite article indicating that of all the rabbis in Israel at the time, Nicodemus was the best and brightest of them. As such, he would have been like a walking Bible dictionary, able to quote the entire Old Testament by memory. That means when talking to him, all Jesus had to do was mention a topic and every verse on that subject would have immediately come to his mind.

But above all things, he was a lost and desperate soul. After all, what do you do when you’ve spent your whole life scaling the ladder of self-righteousness and reached the pinnacle of your religion only to discover that it’s all been in vain? The only thing left to do is to turn to Jesus! So that’s what he did. He comes to Jesus lost, fearful, and wondering how to be saved. That’s the sinner’s crisis. Now look with me at the Savior’s counsel for sinners like you and me.

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2. The Savior’s Counsel

Nicodemus says to Jesus, “Rabbi” meaning “teacher.” That was something Nicodemus was called every day of his life, for of all the teachers in Israel, he was the most respected. But now his soul is in trouble and he’s desperate for help! So he turns to a Teacher who surpasses him in every way saying, “Rabbi, we know that You’re a teacher from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” How does Jesus answer? “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Sounds like a non sequitur, doesn’t it? In other words, how did what you said have anything to do with what I said? Ever had a conversation like that with somebody? But that isn’t how Nicodemus takes it. He realizes that what Jesus has just done is read his mind. He knows his guilt and his fears, and He knows yours too!

Nicodemus has heard Jesus preach several times by now. So he’s aware how superficial his righteousness is. That’s something every hypocrite knows in his heart. He knows he’s a hypocrite. And the Pharisees were hypocrites—every one of them! How can I say that? Because that’s what Jesus said 5 times in Matthew 23 alone: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Then He adds, “You travel over land and sea to make one convert, and when you finally win him, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves!” Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a hypocrite, and a son of hell! And he was well aware of it!

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So what does Jesus do? He ignores the compliment and goes straight to the heart of his problem. “Truly, truly, I say to you.” That means He’s about to correct a false teaching Nicodemus was guilty of. What false teaching was that? The false teaching of apostate Judaism that you can earn God’s favor by your good works and self-righteousness! Jesus corrects that saying to him not once, but 5 times in 8 verses, “You must be born again!” Jimmy Carter made that a household term when he ran for president and claimed to be a born again Christian. Since then it has been misapplied to everything from born-again athletic careers to second-hand books and used cars. So here’s a suggestion when talking to someone about your faith. Use the second, not the first meaning, of the word. What do I mean? The word anothen can actually be translated two different ways—“born again” or “born from above.” And the second meaning is what Jesus is really saying – without receiving new life from above, you’ll never see the Kingdom of God.

The analogy of birth is also the best way to explain salvation to someone like Nicodemus who is self-righteous. Because just as an unborn baby is helpless to contribute anything to his own birth, in the same way you and I are helpless to contribute anything to our salvation. Religion is useless, no matter what group you belong to or how sincere you are, because everything you do is corrupted by your sinful nature. Isaiah 64:6 says, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is like a filthy rag.” Consequently, what you need if we want to enter God’s Kingdom is the new life which only Jesus can give you. Remember what John said in John 1:12? “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” So don’t waste your time looking for any books telling you how to be born again. Sometimes you’ll hear that. Here are four steps to being born again. But that contradicts the very thing Jesus is teaching us here. His point is that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to save yourself, except to throw yourself on His mercy and ask Him to give you new life, and He will.

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Nicodemus gets that better than most Bible-believing Christians. He knows he’s helpless to save himself. But still, like most of us, he’s thinking, “If I understood all of this just a little bit better, it’d be so much easier to believe.” You can see that in verse 9 where he wonders, “How can these things be?” But that’s not how it works. Understanding doesn’t come before believing. On the contrary, there are many things about Jesus you’ll never understand until you believe in Him. So Jesus corrects him again, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” You see in his case, his lack of understanding was due to his lack of belief, not a lack of information! After all, this was the teacher of Israel who had the entire Old Testament hidden in his heart! Read on and you’ll see that yourself. Jesus continues, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. (Remember receiving is another word for believing!) If I have told you earthly things, and you do not believe, (Unbelief was his problem!) how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” His problem is he’s an unbeliever – his mind blinded by the devil, his will enslaved to sin, and his affections corrupted by the world. So he’s going to need help if he’s to believe.

That’s the point of verse 4. “How can a man be born when he’s old? He can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Nicodemus isn’t dumb. Nor is he challenging Jesus at this point. Then what’s he doing? He’s asking for a clue, which Jesus graciously proceeds to give him. We’ve seen the sinner’s crisis and the Savior’s counsel. Now notice the Spirit’s conversion.

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3.  The Spirit’s Conversion

The first clue Jesus gives him is in verse 5: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Spirit, of course, refers to the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean to “born of water”? Some say it refers to baptism. But how can that be true? Baptism does not save us. Baptism is a testimony that we’ve already been born from above. Others say it refers to the waters of birth. But that can’t be right either. First century Jews weren’t yet aware of the role amniotic fluid plays in the birth of a child. Nor did Nicodemus have to be told that you have to be born the first time before he could be born the second time.

So what was Jesus referring to? Remember Nicodemus was an Old Testament scholar whose mind would have immediately tracked with Jesus, taking him to passages like Ezekiel 36 where God promised His people, “I will…sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness…and I will give you a new heart and…put my Spirit within you and make you walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules.” Jesus was talking about the New Covenant that was about to come true in His blood, a promise that Nicodemus had known since he was a boy. But like all the religious leaders of Israel, he was an apostate Jew who, because he hadn’t experienced the miracle of new life himself, had given up on God’s promise. And once you do that, what do you next? You reject what the Bible says about sin and that we aren’t all “good kids” with good hearts. The fact is there’s not one good person among us. Because if you admit that, that we all deserve eternal punishment in hell, how do you cope with the fear? Answer: You ask God for the gift of faith to believe His promises of new life and forgiveness!

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The second clue is in verse 8. Jesus continues, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Ever done that? Stood outside surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation and heard His wind roaring through the trees? I did that the other night. I was outside watering the flowers when I suddenly heard and felt a cool summer’s breeze blowing past me. And I thought, “What a perfect way to describe the power and refreshment of the Holy Spirit!” I didn’t know where it came from or where it was going. Nor could I control it! Ever tried to get the wind to blow when you want to fly a kite? But I felt the results of it! And you can see the results when the Holy Spirit touches someone’s life, for what happens? Just as the dead man heard Jesus shout, “Lazarus, come forth!” I heard a voice – not audibly, but just as real – saying, “Gary, believe!” And for the first time I believed in Jesus, and my spirit, which had been dead for so long, came to life, and I’ve been following Him ever since.

But what about Nicodemus? Was he ever born from above? John doesn’t say. He fades from the scene in verse 21, and we don’t hear from him again until chapter 7 where his colleagues on the Council decide that Jesus has to go. So he takes issue with them on a point of Law. John 7:50—“Nicodemus, who had gone to Him before and was one of them, said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what He does?’” So he hasn’t taken a public stand for Him yet, but I’m feeling better about him. Aren’t you?

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And the last we hear of him is John 19:38 following the crucifixion. He and a rich friend by the name of Joseph of Arimathea summon up the courage to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus, so they can prepare it for burial and lay it in a new tomb that belongs to Joseph. And now I’m starting to love this guy because of his love and loyalty to Jesus! But that’s all the Bible says about him.

Thankfully, church tradition fills in the rest of the details. It reports, for example, that Nicodemus was the only person who stood up for Jesus at His trial, that he was baptized after the Resurrection by Peter and John, and that his preaching of Christ was so powerful that the Sanhedrin he served removed him from his position as teacher, confiscated his property, and banished him from Israel subjecting his wife and children to abject poverty. His daughter was so poor it’s said she had to dig through the dung piles to find a few pieces of grain to eat. A rabbi saw her doing so and took pity on her. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am the daughter of Nicodemus.” “Whatever happened to him?” he asked. “He became a follower of Jesus and was banished from Israel.” So the rabbi refused to help her. And as for Nicodemus himself, he became one of the first martyrs of the church, beaten to death by a mob for preaching in the name of Jesus.

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That’s the story of Nick at night. He had everything and then gave up everything to gain what the world can never take away. So even though John doesn’t give us the details, we have our answer: His sins were washed away and he was given new life from above. For so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

(To download a written copy of this message, click on Written Message. And if you think it would be helpful to someone you know, please pass it on!)

TOP 5 REASONS TO VISIT ISRAEL WITH US IN 2015!

Every Christian should visit the land of Israel at least once, if possible. Israel is a country of unbelievable natural beauty, unbeatable history, unrivaled world-class culture, an unquestionable commitment to democracy, and unflinching, freedom-loving patriots. Reasons for visiting this land of miracles are countless, but here are our Top 5 Reasons why you should join us on our trip to Israel in April 2015. By the way, if you didn’t catch our first five reasons, don’t miss them! Scroll down the page and you’ll find them waiting for you.

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5. Unbeatable History and Biblical Archaeology!

Israel is a relatively new nation (only 66 years old!) but its cultural past stretches back to before Biblical times offering a vast array of ancient sites that are easy to explore. One of the most famous is Masada, a 365-foot rock fortress at the edge of the Judean desert (Don’t worry! There’s a cable car.) where 960 freedom fighters and their families held off the entire 10th legion of Rome for months, finally choosing suicide over slavery.

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We’ll also see the stunning Roman ruins of Caesarea, Crusader ramparts in the coastal city of Akko, Mary’s well in Nazareth, and did you notice? We also plan to take a side trip to the ancient rock city of Petra. Think Indiana Jones! Add to this fabulous museums like the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed, and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, and the trip will truly be a trip back in time without the need of a time machine!

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4. First Class Arrangements by a Christian Travel Agency!

Imagine Tours and Travel, the agency arranging our airline flights, lodging, dining, and motor coach travel, is a first-class Christian company with 30 years of experience in Israel. As such they have the contacts and expertise to ensure us the best prices at first-class hotels and restaurants, safe travel throughout the country, and an experienced guide with both a Christian and Jewish worldview. Travel within the country will be in an air-conditioned motor coach that will be ours the entire time, providing easy access to the sites, safe storage of valuables, and yours truly, the host, with control over the coach at all times.

 

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That means we will have plenty of time for baptisms in the Jordan River, renewal of wedding vows on our Sea of Galilee cruise, and celebration of Communion at the Garden Tomb. Porter service will be available to those who want help with their bags to and from the room.  The trip will be “turn-key” with everything included in the price, except lunches and souvenirs.

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3. Delicious Meals and Healthy Food with No Weight Gain! Really! (Please pay no attention to the Jewish man in the picture below!)

If you think Israel is only about the legendary falafel and hummus, think again! Israel has morphed into a gastronomic wonder. It isn’t called “the Land of Milk and Honey” for nothing! Thanks to its Mediterranean climate and agricultural ingenuity, Israel grows an amazing array of organic produce that will make its way to the fresh market cuisine served on our trip.

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Because it’s a crossroads to the world, it also has a vast variety of restaurants offering everything from classic Jewish food and Turkish delights to old-world German and Russian specialties. Trendy new Israeli restaurants are the recent rave requiring reservations weeks in advance. Don’t worry about it! Our reservations will be secured for us months in advance!

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2. Greater Insight and Ability to Pray for the Middle East!

The Holy Land has been the epicenter of a conflict as old as the patriarchs. FOX News and CNN can’t possibly convey the whole picture. But a visit to Israel will give you much greater insight into the conflict and an ability to pray much more intelligently for the Middle East. You will meet both Jews and Arabs on our trip. You’ll get to know their names and faces—as well as their stories—all of which will inspire you to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122:6)

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1. Life-Long Memories and Everlasting Friendships!

Your trip to the Holy Land will change you forever! You will experience the presence of God Himself, see unforgettable sights that will remain as pictures in your mind as long as you live, and make friendships both with those in our group and those you meet in Israel. And the bonds you will make with team members will be like no other! Not only will you get to know your teammates better in 14 days than you could in 5 years at home (No, it’s a good thing!), you will share memories of eternal significance. In fact, the bonds you make with those in our group will be of eternal quality, for Christian friendships last forever! We look forward to making or renewing those friendships with you. So give it every consideration possible. We’d love to have you join us.

Israel-Trip-2013...group-pictureIf you’re interested, write us a comment below, send us an email, or give us a call. To read our personal letter of invitation to you, click this  link – Personal Invitation. Or for details about the trip and our itinerary, simply click this link – 2015 Israel Trip Brochure. In fact, feel free to give Imagine Tours a call yourself if you have questions about finances or other issues. They will be glad to assist you. Here is a link to their website – Imagine Tours and Travel.

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Finally, why not take a few more minutes to whet your appetite by taking a Visual Tour of Israel with Imagine Travel. It’ll take your breath away!

Next year in Jerusalem!

Shalom Israel,

Gary and Cheryl