Much has been written on living in the last days in the earlier seven books published on this subject. Why then is there a need for another book?
In my interaction with various believers and particularly with a group of Christians who have been studying the book of Revelation for several years, the question has arisen concerning how we should live as we face the end times in the last days?” As in the other books, the term “last days” is used in this book to refer to the period between the first and second comings of Christ. The term “end times” in this book refers to the very last stage of the last days, very close to Christ’s second coming.
This question has been answered to some extent in the previous seven books but the answers are ‘scattered’ in the context of various subjects raised in them, although it was addressed in more detail in a couple of the books. The need therefore arises to bring the essential points together and crystallize them in an organized manner for believers to reflect on and to apply them in their lives.
Some points in the previous book also require elaboration, especially after the Reflections on the book of Revelation was published. The personal application of these reflections depends on where we ultimately stand in the great battle between good and evil, and the battle between the holy Trinity and the false trinity. Are we standing with the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, or with the beast, the antichrist? In this regard, many believers who study John’s book of Revelation have shared that what is clear to them is that good triumphs over evil in the end and that is all that matters.
However, we need to go further to consider at what cost Jesus triumphs in Revelation. Our personal application of lessons in Revelation will hinge very much on our understanding of the cost of discipleship that is revealed in this last book of the Bible and what that means for believers who lived not only in the days of John the apostle, but also all Christians living in the last days and the end times.
The cost of discipleship entails standing firm amidst intense suffering, even death. The believers were introduced in Revelation 6:9 as “the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained”. When they cried to God “under the altars” (presumably in heaven in the presence of Almighty God) to avenge their blood, “they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were killed as they had been killed was completed” (Revelation 6:11). It is clear that these believers were martyrs, slain like their Master the Lord Jesus and they await their time for vindication and victory when the Lamb of God conquers evil as the Lion of Judah.
The martyrs were seen again in chapters 7, 11 and finally in chapter 13 of Revelation, when the beast “was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them” (Revelation 13:7).
“If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.”
There is no doubt that Revelation reveals that victory comes to the saints through suffering and death. What counts in the end is not just simply believing in Jesus in a superficial sense, but being faithful and loyal to Him in the path of discipleship, suffering and death. Again and again, the call to endure patiently and to overcome, even in the face of suffering and death, echoes throughout the book of Revelation. Notice that the truths in Revelation contradict the teachings and emphasis on wealth, health, success and power that are so prevalent today. In fact, other parts of Scripture affirm what is emphasized in the book of Revelation.
The Apostle Peter wrote:
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
(1 Peter 4:12-13)
Paul and Barnabas exhorted the disciples in the book of Acts by strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said (Acts 14:22).
The Apostle Paul also referred to suffering in Romans 5 but added the benefits that would come forth from suffering with the right attitude and posture:
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
The Lord God allows suffering in the lives of the believers to give them the opportunity to participate in the sufferings of Christ. Our union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection is a spiritual reality; our union with Him in His sufferings deepens our union with Him in His resurrection. For the cross must come before the resurrected life in Christ. Sufferings also produce perseverance, which in turn produces character and hope which are part of the transformation process to be like our master. The hope we have as believers is not just what we look forward to with uncertainty. We have this certain hope: to be transformed to be like the Lord Jesus, to receive a resurrected body, to share in the glory of the Lord God, to reign with Him eternally as the ‘bride’ of Christ and as His glorious ‘temple’ in the new heaven and the new earth. These are truly wondrous privileges which can only be fully appreciated when we enter into glory. This hope is not something vague or fuzzy. It is as certain as God is faithful.
So the judgments released by God on the world and the ungodly constitute a testing of the faith of God’s people, producing spiritual maturity as an end result (James 1:3-4) and much joy when His glory is revealed at His second coming.
In the meantime, those who take the side of the beast and the ‘false trinity’ will experience the wrath of God and severe judgment, ending up in the lake of fire, hell. Those who persevere, trusting in God and in the Lamb of God will prevail in the end and share their eternal destiny with the Lord God in the new heaven and the new earth. Although Revelation is written in an apocalyptic genre, it is God’s revelation to His people, conveyed through the apostle John, not just for those living during John’s time, but for all of His people throughout all times as they await the second coming of the Lord Jesus.
Realize that there are serious spiritual consequences and eternal destinies involved, and Revelation clearly sounded out the warning! Revelation reveals that the greatest threats facing the hearers and readers are connected with not being prepared to encounter God at the second coming of Jesus; the real crisis is facing God’s judgment or being written out of the book of life (Revelation 3:5). The crises of persecution, deprivation, suffering and death are relatively less threatening when compared to the threat of the second death (Revelation 2:11) and they are temporary when compared with eternal damnation. The danger of encountering God as an enemy relativizes the losses and sufferings incurred by standing up to the evil one and his minions. Revelation calls upon believers to be ready to encounter Christ at His coming and to be faithful to Him in the midst of current pressures and spiritual opposition seeking to cause them to compromise their faith and loyalty to God.
As we seek to answer the question of “how should we then live as we face the end times in the last days?”, we conclude that the answer lies in ensuring that we, in dependence on God, do not succumb to the increasing pressure, spiritual attacks, persecution and deception of the evil one. Only then can we have the confidence in the Lord that we as His people will endure and overcome until the Lord Jesus comes again.
We shall focus in the following chapters on certain areas that are especially important in helping us to face the end times.