Dr. Andy Woods
How Long is Forever? 7-7-19
Revelation 14:8-11 Lesson 44
Good morning everybody. If we can take our Bibles and open them to the Book of Revelation, chapter 14 and verse 8. The title of our message this morning is How Long is Forever? And as you’re turning there I want to thank Jim for filling in yesterday, I trust you enjoyed his ministry to you. Let me explain why I said “yesterday.” First of all, my brain is on Pacific time; basically, where I went is I went on the ark trip with the youth, which was awesome by the way. Did you all in the youth group enjoy that? Gabe is going to be doing a report on that I think next week just to kind of give us a brief overview of it. And then from there I want with my family to Palm Springs– I mean, someone has to suffer for the Lord in Palm Springs, right? — to participate in a prophecy conference where I was one of the speakers. And then from there we went to visit my parents in Southern California where some interesting things happened, including our survival of two tremors. And I’m not kidding–maybe you’ll find this interesting–we were watching a movie about an earthquake happening [Laughter] and we were right in the middle of the movie when the big one was hitting. And I was thinking to myself, you know, we haven’t had the big one in southern California; it’s about due. And God as my witness, as soon as the thoughts crossed my mind the ground started shaking. So, if I get confused with last week versus yesterday, that’s sort of the reason; my brain is sort of on Pacific time. So, what do you guys want to talk about today? [Laughter]
The Book of Revelation, chapter 14, verse 8. How long is forever? Of course, if you’ve been tracking with us through the sequence of the Book of Revelation, the seventh trumpet has been sounded and essentially what’s happening is there is a legal transfer. Revelation 11:15 with the seventh trumpet says, “[Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,] “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; [and He will reign forever and ever.]” In other words, Satan’s days are numbered, it’s just a matter of time, three and a half years to be exact, before the kingdom of Christ is established on the earth.
And what Satan is doing here in chapters 13-14 is he’s taking his last stand. It’s sort of like the Barbara Streisand farewell tour which seemed like it went on for ten or fifteen years. But Satan’s got about three and a half years left and he’s asserting his authority. His days are numbered. But he’s not going to sort of take it lying down; he has enjoyed running the world as he has done over this vast amount of time, these several millennia, and so in chapter 12 you have a description of Satan attacking the instrument through which the kingdom will come, the millennial kingdom.
He’s attacking the nation of Israel which will bring in the millennial kingdom, chapter 12.
Chapter 13 is a description (and we went through it in depth) of the two people that he will use during this time period, two beasts, a political leader, the antichrist, and a religious leader, the false prophet. We’ve learned all about them. And you kind of get outside of chapter 13 and you’re sort of tempted to think that God has lost all control of things because Satan, in his heyday seems almost unrestrained. He seems like he’s able to do anything he wants. And that’s why chapter 14 has such a fine and appropriate balancing act, because it reveals to us six scenes of hope, six scenes of hope which reveal the fact that in the darkest time of human history God has not lost control of anything. Hope is around the corner, hope is on the horizon.
And it’s easy in life to get so carried down by circumstances that you forget the fact that God is still on the throne… Amen! And we need reminders of that. That’s what chapter 14 is, and it’s six scenes that give you the six rays of hope. The first two we’ve looked at, the 144,000 Jewish evangelists who are doing God’s work of evangelism during this time period. What we learn in verses 1-5 is that God is going to preserve them, even if they are killed. And the scene of hope is even through this very difficult time period the world is being evangelized like it’s never been evangelized before. We’ve seen in our study of the Book of Revelation many instruments that God will use to evangelize the world during this dark time period and it’s in verses 6-7 we learn of an angel flying to and fro, giving the eternal gospel. You know, even if the church bungles the great commission, which I hope she doesn’t, the evangelization of the world is already something that God is going to see brought to fruition, if not by people at least by an angel.
And then we move into verse 8 where we pick it up this morning and we have a description of the destruction of Babylon. This and these scenes as we’re talking about them are sort of what you’d call proleptic. These are things that really haven’t happened yet in our sequence but they’re so certain the Bible can speak of them as if they’re a done deal. And one of those things that’s destined to happen is the destruction of Babylon. Babylon, as we’ll be studying, represents the height of antichrist’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom. And even Babylon, when she reaches her apex, when she reaches her zenith is just allowed by God to be in power for a short period of time. She too is destined to be toppled.
And notice what it says there in verse 8 of Revelation 14. “And another angel, a second one,” now that kind of alerts us to the fact that we’re in a new scene here, scene three of six. “And another angel, a second one who followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.”’ Now when we get to chapters 17 and 18 we’re going to have a lot more to say about Babylon because that’s when Babylon falls. Babylon is going to be toppled in the seventh bowl judgment. Once the seventh bowl is released Babylon herself will be destroyed, and that’s at the very end of chapter 16. It’s around chapter 16:19 and following, if my memory serves.
[Revelation 16:16-19, “And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.  Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.”  And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.  The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.”]
And then you’ll have another break in the action, remember how we talked about there’s about five or so breaks in the action to interrupt the chronology to give us a little bit more information of things that are happening. And so that’s why chapter 16 is followed by chapters 17 and 18. And then there is a series of hallelujah’s that rise up to the Lord in chapter 19:1-6 all related to the fall and the destruction of Babylon.
[Revelation 19:1-6, “After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God;  BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER.”  And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER.”  And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”  And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.”  Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.”]
So this is our first hint of Babylon in the Book of Revelation and we’re going to have a lot more to say about Babylon when we get to bowl number seven and particularly Revelation 17 and 18. But you’ll notice what it says here in verse 8, “And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, [she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.]’” No one of the things that we did in our study is we started off, not with the Book of Revelation but the Book of Daniel. Daniel is the basement; the Book of Revelation is the ceiling. It’s impossible to understand the Book of Revelation without a firm footing or a firm foundation in the Book of Daniel.
And this expression, “Babylon the great” has already been used in the Book of Daniel. If you jot Daniel 4:30 you’ll see that it’s an expression that Nebuchadnezzar himself used concerning Babylon, the kingdom that he was the head of. It says in Daniel 4:30, “The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great,” the exact same verbiage, “which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’” To many “I’s” and “my’s” there. “I did it all,” Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way,” not understanding that it was the God of heaven that allowed Babylon to come into existence and it was the God of heaven that had actually orchestrated Nebuchadnezzar’s headship over Babylon. And yet, when Nebuchadnezzar uses this expression “Babylon the great” what was he referring to? He wasn’t referring to Rome; Rome didn’t even exist yet. He wasn’t referring to a one world religious system; what he was referring to was an actual city that headquartered an empire that he presided over.
You say well, what is your view of Babylon the Great? What does that mean? Here’s my view on it; when you see the word “Babylon” in the Bible it means Babylon. I’m an advocate of what is called the literal Babylon hypothesis or theory in the Book of Revelation. In fact, the word Babylon is used 300 times in the Book, not just the Book of Revelation but the entire Bible. And guess what it means every single time… it means Babylon! So when you see that same expression at the end of the Bible which is sort of summing up every-thing in the Bible, the exact same expression “Babylon the great” that we see in Daniel 4:30, the exact same word that always refers to literal Babylon, I’m of the view that Babylon means Babylon!
Now the problem that I’m handicapped with is I wrote my doctoral dissertation on this subject so I know way more about this subject than you’re probably interested in. [Laughter] In fact, I was going to preach a sermon series here entitled “Babbling on about Babylon.” [Laughter]
But you notice it’s very clear here, it doesn’t say “fallen fallen is Rome,” “Fallen fallen is the Catholic Church,” “Fallen fallen is…“ I had one fellow read my dissertation and he sent me a book trying to convince me that Babylon is actually located in New York City. [Laughter] And he had all of these graphs and maps and charts in it trying to say that the Statue of Liberty is the harlot woman described there in Revelation 17. And in his email, he said I have over 5,000 footnotes to prove my point. And I thought to myself well, you’d better have 5,000 footnotes, at least, if you’re going to try to prove that because the United States of America is on the wrong continent than Babylon.
Babylon in the Bible is always the same place. It’s where the tower of Babel once stood; it’s where the children of Israel were taken into captivity. It’s an area called Shinar. The Greeks called it Mesopotamia. Do you recognize the word “potomia”? We have a Potomac River named after it in the United States. Potomia means rivers; Mesopotamia between the rivers. Mesopotamia or Shinar is basically modern-day Iraq. I believe that that city, Babylon, about 58 miles south, if I have my map in my head correct, of Bagdad, will eventually be rebuilt and it will occupy a place of dominance in the tribulation period. In fact, the antichrist himself will preside there.
And when you talk like this people say it’s ridiculous to think that way. The argument you run into is it’s too literal; you’re taking things in the Bible too literally. Let me ask you a question; do you take the word “Israel” literally? You know, there was a time when people said Israel is going to be reborn as a nation. I could locate that for you in many, many commentaries going back centuries. And it’s interesting how such commentators were ridiculed—that’s ridiculous, you don’t believe a Jewish nation is going to be reborn as a state do you? You don’t think the city of Jerusalem is going to come under Jewish control, do you? You’re taking these prophecies too literally. And isn’t it interesting that no one says that anymore concerning Israel. I think the same type of thing is going to happen related to Babylon.
It’s interesting when you go through the Book of Revelation it mentions geographical places many times. And as we’ve looked at these geographical places I’ve tried to make a point that all of these places of geography in the Book of Revelation are always literal, whether it’s Asia or the seven churches in Asia Minor or an actual Armageddon, which is an actual valley in northern Israel, or the city of Jerusalem. Geography in the Book of Revelation always seems to me to be literal. Why don’t we take Babylon the same way? Well the answer is we really don’t have enough faith to believe it. I mean, how could that city be rebuilt, it’s just a dust heap today. And we don’t see things through the eyes of faith, through the eyes of God’s prophetic Word which cannot lie.
I was very interested in an article that was sent to me this week. It’s entitled as follows, it’s in the times of Israel. “Iraq Celebrates Naming Babylon a UNESCO World Heritage Site [QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA of Times of Israel – July 6, 2019.” This is what the article says. “BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq on Friday celebrated the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s decision to name the historic city of Babylon a World Heritage Site in a vote held in Azerbaijan’s capital, years after Baghdad began campaigning for the site to be added to the list…The 4,300-year-old Babylon — now mainly an archaeological ruin and two important museums — is where dynasties have risen and fallen since the earliest days of settled human civilization. King Hammurabi” a famous king in the past, “wrote his famous code” legal codes, “of laws in Babylon, while Nebuchadnezzar sent his vast army from the city to Jerusalem to put down an uprising and bring the Jews back as slaves.” [Iraq Celebrates Naming Babylon a UNESCO World Heritage Site QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA of Times of Israel – July 6, 2019]
“The Babylonian exile of the Jews lasted from 605 BCE until the Persian King Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and in 539 BCE allowed the Jews to return home and build the Second Temple…Dozens of Iraqis waving their national flag gathered at the Ishtar Gate at the site celebrating their city’s new international status. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi described the vote as ‘another victory for the Iraq of civilizations that was and will always be a lighthouse to the world.’ President Barham Saleh tweeted that after Babylon, more ancient sites will be added to the list through which ‘Iraq will restore that status that it deserves.’”
It’s interesting that this idea of a rebuilt Babylon exists in the thinking of fallen man. It was Saddam Hussein himself, you might recall, who was trying to rebuild that city and make it a world capital. It’s also interesting that this is where most of our attention is on the nightly news. We used to fight our wars in Europe and now everything is moving eastward in a Middle Eastern direction. It’s also interesting to note that most of the world’s oil supply is in that part of the world. I mean, if the antichrist sets up his capital there all he would have to do is annex a few of the surrounding nations and he would in an instant control the economies of the world through black oil, black gold I should say, that we call oil.
More on this when we get to chapters 17 and 18 but I just raise it here because this is our first hint or mention of Babylon in the Book of Revelation. I believe that chapters 17 and 18 of the Book of Revelation are not describing two Babylon’s; the common view that you get is chapter 17 is a religious system of some sort that is destroyed by the antichrist midway through the tribulation period. And then over in chapter 18 suddenly everybody says well that’s an actual city, that’s a commercial city, that’s a political city. What I believe the Bible teaches is that the word “city” is used in both chapters. For example, and this is a verse that most people miss when they look at the woman riding the beast in Revelation 17, it says, “The woman who you saw is the great” what? “city which reigns over the kings of the earth.
Over in Revelation 18:10 it says this, “standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’” You don’t have a situation where chapter 17 is allegorical and spiritual and chapter 18 is literal. If words mean anything and we’re consistent with the word “city” in our interpretation both chapters are describing the revived city of Babylon which will be destroyed with bowl judgment number seven.
People say well, do you believe in Babylon as a city or do you believe it’s a religious system and my answer is yes. It’s a city which is the headquarters of a religious system. We throw around words like this quite frequently, take for example, Wall Street. What is Wall Street? It’s a financial system but isn’t there a literal city called Wall Street. Or we’ll throw this word around, Madison Avenue, a marketing system. But isn’t three a literal Madison Avenue? Or the Vatican, a religious system, Roman Catholicism but at the same time there’s actually a literal Vatican, a place that you can point to on planet earth. That’s what I think Babylon is in Revelation 17 and 18, it’s describing a terrible enslaving religious system but at the same time, just like the tower of Babel of old it will be located in an actual geographical place on planet earth.
And I reached that conclusion I think because of consistency in my interpretation but it’s amazing the number of Bible interpreters, people from our own camp, that are inconsistent here. Here is a citation from the commentary by John Walvoord (one of my heroes) on the Book of Revelation. He says this about the city in chapter 17. He says: “The city here according to verse 5 is a mystery, not a literal city…” So, the word “city” or polus in chapter 17 verse 18 in Walvoord’s mind is not literal but notice what he does a few pages later in chapter 18. “The ultimate decision depends upon the judgment of the expositor, but in many respects, it is simpler to postulate a rebuilt Babylon as fulfilling literally the Old Testament prophecies spoke of as well as that embodied in this chapter.” [John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1966), 257, 263.]
So let me get this straight, the word “city” at the end of chapter 17 is not literal but the identical word “city” in chapter 18 suddenly becomes literal. This is sort of a blind spot by many in our camp and I think it was the work of Charles Dyer of Dallas Seminary in his Master’s Thesis and some of his articles published in Bibliotheca Sacra that started to straighten us out on this issue. City means city! Babylon means Babylon! Both chapters may be highlighting chapter 17 and 18 different facets of the city but it’s all involving the destruction of the same city in the seventh bowl judgment. A lot more of this to follow.
But this is not the normal view out there that I’m sharing. Chapter 17 is religious, it’s not even a literal city, it’s going to be destroyed halfway through the tribulation period but chapter 18 is an actual literal city. Now having said that look directly at chapter 14 and verse 8 one more time. I want to show you something here that corrects a lot of confusion. It says, “Another angel, a second one, followed saying ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” This expression here in chapter 14:8, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great” is a reference to Revelation 18:2. Revelation 18:2, “And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.
So part of this prophecy is referring to Revelation 18:2 but it goes on and it says, “She who has made all nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality,” that is a citation from Revelation 17:2. You’ll notice what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit proleptically is describing the fall of Babylon and in the process the Holy Spirit is taking information from both chapters, and not describing two different destructions but a singular destruction that will take place with bowl judgment number seven.
You’ll find this same pattern in the Hallelujah’s when Babylon finally falls in Revelation 19:2-3. [Revelation 19:2-3, “ because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.”  And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER.”] It’ll grab information from chapter 17 and it will grab information from chapter 18 and put them all together into a singular destruction.
So having said all of that I do not believe that the two chapters are talking about two different events, two different entities. It’s the same destruction, the same entity and its brought up in chapters 17 and 18 because the seventh bowl has just been poured out and Babylon has fallen and the Holy Spirit stops and says let me give you more information about this coming city, the city of Babylon.
I’ll describe the religious side of the city in chapter 17, the Holy Spirit says, then I’ll describe the commercial and the political side of the same city in chapter 18. It would be like any other city that you know of anywhere in the world; there are religious aspects of it, there are commercial and political aspects of it. It’s no different with Babylon and her coming destruction.
But even if you don’t believe any of these things that I’ve said the main point is this; it doesn’t matter how far evil progresses. It doesn’t matter how much Satan gets his way. The height of Satan’s empire, however you define it, will collapse. This is why John, in his little epistle, 1 John,
1 John 2:15-17 tells us to not love the world because the things of the Father are not in the world, those being “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” [1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”]
It’s interesting that we become so intoxicated and captured by the allurements of the world and yet the world system in its rebellion against God at its height is destined to come to a screeching halt, crashing to the ground. And that’s why we need to live our lives, not for things of the earth which are temporal and transitory but the things which count and will last forever.
And so, this is a tremendous scene of hope in the midst of darkness, that even Babylon at its zenith, at its height, at its apex, is actually living on borrowed time and it too will be destroyed, which shifts us to our second scene of hope, the doom of the beast worshippers. We learned in Revelation 13:16-18 of a one world economic system, where people would have to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead to participate in. And we learned that those who did not participate in this system by receiving the mark could neither buy nor could they sell. In other words, they’re shut out of civilization, they’re shut out of society. [Revelation 13:16-18, “And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead,  and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.  Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.”]
And what a tremendous scene of hope this is for those people shut out of the system, when we learn in verses 9-12 that those who participate in this system by taking the mark itself are in the process of damning themselves eternally. [Revelation 13:9 “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.  If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.  I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon.  He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.”]
You know, the unbeliever it seems like they are getting away with a lot, don’t they; they seem to always be prospering, those that don’t play by the rules always seem to be getting ahead. Christians always seem to be marginalized, pushed down, pushed back on the social structure in the world system, and isn’t it interesting to suddenly look at that world that Satan himself orchestrates through the eyes of eternity and recognize that those involved in that satanic system itself are on their way to hell and yet they don’t even realize it.
We can break down verses 9-12 as follows: the plea, verse 9, the punishment that will follow those that do not adhere to the plea, verses 10-11, and then you have verse 12, the perseverance people will need when they’re shut out of this system and cannot buy or sell.
Notice first of all the plea; notice, if you will, Revelation 14 and look if you will at verse 9. It says, “Then another angel, a third one,” so the scenery now is shifting, “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.’” Verses 10 and 11, “he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Verse 12, “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus Christ.”
The plea, verse 9, the punishment if you take the mark, verses 10-11, and the perseverance that those pushed out of the system will need during this very difficult time. First of all the plea, what is the plea, verse 9? Don’t take the mark of the beast because if you take the mark of the beast during this time period you are basically saying the antichrist is God, Jesus is not God, and you are eternally condemning yourself. In fact, you’ll suffer the punishment described in verses 10 and 11. Taking the mark of the beast, in other words, as I understand it is something that’s irreversible, it can’t be withdrawn.
Now the moment I start to talk like this, I start to get a flood of emails from people and they go something like this: in my work place they’re giving me a number, a card or something to get in and out of the office and I’m scared to death that I’ve damned myself to hell. Well, let me sort of put your mind at ease. What you have in your work place, a number or a chip or whatever it is, even if it goes inside the body I don’t think is the mark of the beast. Why? Because the mark of the beast system is when the antichrist is present; everybody will know his identity and you are volitionally swearing allegiance to him and rejecting Jesus in the process when you receive that mark.
And the types of microchip technology, tattoos, all of these kinds of things that we see today are not the mark of the beast; I believe that they’re preparatory for the mark of the beast. Technology is clearly moving in that direction but it does not equal the mark of the beast system. The people that will be damning themselves will be people who will do this after the rapture of the church, after the restrainer is removed, after the antichrist is killed and rises from the dead, after he announces himself as the ruler of the entire world.
After everybody knows who he is and his system is fully in place, yes, those people taking the mark of the beast will be damning themselves. And how severe is this damnation. It’s right there in verses 10 and 11. We read these verses earlier, “the wrath of God” which he will experience, “the cup of God’s anger” will be poured out on such a person “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” How long does this wrath last? It last (there in verse 11) “forever and ever; they will have no rest day and night” to the person who “receives the mark of his name.” In other words, a person that takes the mark of the beast during this time period automatically becomes a candidate for the Great White Throne Judgment that is described in Revelation 20:15 which says this: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” This is an eternal decision that cannot be reversed once people take the mark of the beast.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, not if they come to your house but when they come to your house, will try to convince you of this doctrine called annihilationism. Annihilationism in their mind means the common grave or a common death and basically what they mean by that is your soul just sort of explodes if you’re an unbeliever and you cease to exist. They don’t believe in eternal retribution, they don’t believe in eternal hell. They believe in something called annihilationism tragically in my lifetime. I’ve seen a few mainstream evangelical Christians, the late John Stott being one, others would be Clark Pinnock, adopting this annihilationist mindset. And it generally comes from a position of emotion, not careful study of the Biblical text, where apparently someone in their family tree, a loved one or a friend, never trusted Christ and so they’re on the other side of eternity and they just don’t believe in this concept called hell and it’s much easier to believe in annihilationism, that they won’t be tormented forever and ever but they will cease to exist.
And let me tell you something, that doctrine, whether it comes from evangelicals or Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves is completely antithetical to what the Bible says. Now I’m not here to preach and teach things that I like; there’s an awful lot of things in the Bible I don’t like. I’m here to preach and teach the Bible. The Bible itself, just looking at verses 10 and 11, knows absolutely nothing about the doctrine of annihilationism. What it says is if a person dies without Christ they transfer into the eternal realm and they are tormented day and night forever and ever and that’s why I have entitled this message How Long is Forever?
Daniel 12:2 says this: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life but others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” You’ll notice that the word used to describe “everlasting” here two times in this verse, is the word ‘ōwlām. You’ll notice that the word ‘ō·w·lām is repeated, once to describe heaven and once to describe hell. And so you ask people, do you believe heaven is forever? I’ll sign up for that, I believe that! And you ask the same people do you believe hell is forever? Oh no, that’s not possible. Do you see how linguistically and exegetically indefensible that position is, because of the repetition of the word ‘ōwlām, everlasting, same word, is used to describe hell and it’s used to describe heaven.
Whatever your view on the eternality of heaven is by definition it has to control your definition of the eternality of hell. In fact, ‘ōwlām is used to describe God Himself in Psalm 90:2, which says, “Before the mountains were born or you gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting” two repetitions of ‘ōwlām, “You are God.” And you say to people well, do you believe God is forever… I’ll sign up for that! Do you believe heaven is forever… I’ll sign up for that! Well, to you believe hell is forever, and suddenly you get crickets because no one wants to say anything when in reality the exact same word for hell is used to describe heaven and is used to describe God. If God is forever and heaven is forever then hell itself is forever.
You know, it’s interesting that Jesus, when He came into the world talked far more about hell than He ever did heaven. Now why is that? I think the idea of an eternal hell is so foreign to the way we think that it had to come from the witness of Jesus Christ Himself to convince us that this reality is true. Had it not come from the lips of Christ over and over again, I for one, would be throne to second guessing the eternality of hell. And when you go over to Matthew 25:46 this is what it says: “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Now here we’re in the New Testament so we’re using Greek and the Greek word here to describe punishment is αἰώνιοs (aiōnios).
Now if someone just sort of ceases to exist, annihilationism, how can that be eternal punishment? Alan Gomes says this at Talbot Seminary, one of my professors: “A punishment [such as torment] that is not felt is not a punishment. It is an odd use of language to speak of an insensate state (i.e., unfeeling), an inanimate object receiving punishment. To say, ‘I punished my car for not starting by slowly plucking out it’s spark plug wires, one by one,’ would invoke laughter, not serious consideration.” [Dr. Alan W. Gomes, (Summer 1991). “Evangelicals and the annihilation of Hell” (Part 2). In the Christian Research Journal. Page 11.] And what he’s saying is the choice of words that Jesus uses in Matthew 25:46, “eternal punishment” could not be describing annihilationism.
Notice again Matthew 25:46, “these will go away into eternal punishment,” aiōnios, “but the righteous into” what? “eternal life,” what’s the word for eternal repeated here, it’s aiōnios, just like Daniel 12:2, ‘ōwlām is repeated twice in Hebrew to describe both. Jesus in Matthew 25:46 is using the Greek word aiōnios to describe both. Well do you believe heaven is forever? Yeah, I’ll sign up for that. Well do you believe hell is forever? Oh no, I don’t believe that. You see how exegetically linguistically indefensible that view is when the same word is used to describe both and is repeated? And just like ‘ōwlām is used to describe God, in the Greek language aiōnios is used to describe God.
In fact here, Romans 16:26 God is called the eternal aiōnios, God. Well do you believe God really exists forever? Yeah, I’ll sign up for that. Do you believe heaven exists forever? Yeah, I’ll sign up for that. Do you believe hell exists forever? No, I don’t believe that! That’s exegetically linguistically an impossible position to maintain when you consider the fact that the same Hebrew word, ‘ōwlām is used to describe all three in the Old Testament. And the same Greek word, αἰώνιοs is used to describe all three in the New Testament. Whatever you believe about the eternality of God and the eternality of heaven automatically controls how you view the eternality of hell itself.
And if all of that weren’t clear enough what do you do with Revelation 20:10 that we haven’t even gotten to yet in the study? It says, “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet” what’s the next word there that I have underlined, “are also; and they will be tormented day and night” for how long? “forever and ever.” To get the point across aiōnios is repeated two times. And here’s what’s interesting. In Revelation 19 Jesus comes back as the rider on the white horse and His first order of business before He establishes His thousand-year kingdom is to take the two beasts, the antichrist and the false prophet and throw them into the Lake of Fire. They are the first inhabitants into the Lake of Fire. And then He establishes His kingdom, Revelation 20. Satan has a final rebellion at the end, Revelation 20:7-9. [Revelation 20:7-9, “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,  and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.  And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.”]
And then after these thousand years have elapsed what does Jesus do with Satan? He throws him into the Lake of Fire where the false prophet and the beast are. [Revelation 20:10, “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”] See that? A thousand years have passed, they haven’t disintegrated, they haven’t exploded, they haven’t been annihilated, they’re still in there.
Here’s the reality of the situation: when God formed humanity, man and woman, He gave us an eternal soul. We are created for eternity itself. And consequently, all of us will be alive somewhere a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, a million years from now, a billion years from now, because God has set eternity into the hearts of people. To say that people explode or disappear or are annihilated and do not eternally suffer is to ignore our status in God as image bearers. As He is eternal, so are we. He’s always been, we haven’t, but at the point of conception we are designed to last forever and ever and ever. That’s why the beast and the false prophet are still there a thousand years later when they’re reunited with Satan at the end of the millennial kingdom.
Back to our passage, Revelation 14:11. How much clearer could this be? “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever,” that’s aiōnios repeated twice, “they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Folks, believe me, there are ten million subjects I’d rather be addressing than this but the problem with being a verse by verse teacher, like myself, like the way we teach at Sugarland Bible Church, is you have to confront every single subject. There’s no wiggle room for the preacher to teach your best life now or whatever is in vogue today. You are harnessed to the biblical text and the method itself forces you to confront and explain and deal with every single verse in the Bible, even if the things I wish we weren’t talking about today.
Something to understand about theology is this, it’s like dominos in a row; theology is like a seam-less tapestry and whatever you do in one area of theology will have an impact, good or bad, on another area of theology. Just like knocking over a single domino lined up will cause all of the dominos to fall. If you start tampering with the Word of God and you start watering down and explaining through sophistry and philosophy clear passages in the Bible. As God is my witness you’re going to throw a wet blanket over something. You know what that wet blanket is that you’re throwing over? What subject is it? It’s missions. It’s evangelism.
Sugar Land Bible Church is a mission-oriented church. We take the first part of our budget and send it to missionaries. Well why would we do that? Because we think there’s something to be saved from. We think there’s something to be scared of. You say well pastor, you’re just up there today, you’re just trying to scare people. To be completely frank with you, that’s not the worst thing in the world, is it. You know why I got saved at the age of 16? Pretty simple, I didn’t want to go to hell! I got scared into a relationship with Jesus Christ and I’m still walking with the Lord to this very day.
I don’t know if being afraid or scared of something if it’s a biblical threat is the worst thing in the world, and that’s what people are not hearing today. We talk all the time about being saved—what are we saved from? Ever ask yourself that? I mean, doesn’t the definition of “saved” mean you’re rescued from something? What am I being rescued from exactly? I’m being rescued from hell! And you start playing sophistry type games with eternal retribution the way John Stott and others have done and all of a sudden, the impetus or the stimulus for evangelism is removed. I mean, why not just build a bigger building? Why send the money to the missionaries? Well, we think there’s something more important than a building—it’s keeping souls out of hell. And you take away the doctrine of eternal retribution you almost have no incentive to share the gospel with anybody. Why even share the gospel? Because the person sitting next to you on the plane is going the wrong direction, hopefully but not physically, but spiritually. They’re going into a Christless eternity of eternal retribution.
And so part of me is difficult to talk about this subject, verses 10 and 11, but the other side of me wants to rejoice because I know the other areas of evangelism and missiology that will be left intact and the urgency of the hour will be left intact if we simply follow what God says instead of trying to rewrite the Bible.
The last time I checked man is made in God’s image. Now what is happening today is man is trying to make God in his own image. We no longer see ourselves as image bearers of the career fitting His rubric but we want to make God just like us. In fact, in our home-schooling program we’re going through with my daughter, some of the Greek gods and deities, Greek mythology and as we reading through some of that literature as part of our home-schooling curriculum the reaction of my daughter to all of these gods being jealous of each other, quarreling with each other, doing stupid things, my daughter says those guys sound a lot like us. And isn’t it wonderful to come to the Bible and see the invitation of Jesus in John 4:24 where we are to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. [John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”]
We’re not here to change God; God is here to change us! And let’s get the order straight, let’s get the creation-Creator distinction straight. And even if that means I run into something in the Bible that I don’t necessarily like or makes me uncomfortable, it does not give me a right to take out White Out and plaster over the things that are uncomfortable. That’s not biblical teaching at all. You know what that is? That’s making a golden calf; that’s exactly what the nation of Israel did with all of that metal that they had taken from Egypt. They got tired of God as he had revealed Himself and they said we’re going to make a god after our own likeness, and they came up with this monstrosity, the golden calf.
When you take a single attribute of God, like love, and you place so much emphasis on it that you deny another attribute of God, such as holiness or justice, what have you created? You’ve created a golden calf, haven’t you? And let me tell you something folks, there’s an awful lot of golden calves being created today in modern day evangelicalism. It’s called topical preaching. It’s called bouncing around from place to place to place to come up with a sermon series that makes me feel good, because there are an awful lot of things in the Bible that make me feel good, a lot of things that meet my self needs so let me go through the Bible and string together a bunch of out of context passages that appeal to people’s felt needs and that way we can get the church to grow. It’s called the church growth movement. You go to some churches today you’ll never hear anything like this, never hear anything about hell, anything about sin, anything about Satan, anything about judgment, it’s all the feel-good stuff. My wife and I were, the church we met at and there was one of [can’t understand word] reasons we decided to leave that church. The fellow got up on his Easter message; do you know what his Easter message was? How to catapult your career. And at the time I thought to myself what in the world does that have to do with the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and he preached this sermon on Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday. This is what passes today for modern day evangelicalism and in the process what have we created? A golden calf!
So we’ve seen the plea not to take the mark, the punishment if people do take the mark, but what if you don’t take the mark? You’re pushed out of the system. Life becomes difficult. So you will need a strong word from the Lord in terms of how to persevere in the midst of that difficulty. And we’ll pick it up next week with that strong exhortation towards perseverance.
You say well, gee, pastor, could you provide a good segue into the gospel today? Well, I can’t think of a better segue; here it is: If you don’t want to go to hell then trust Christ. Amen! I mean, simply believe in what He’s done for you because He did all that was necessary to keep us out of hell. All He asks us to do is to trust in what He has done so we can receive that gift. The gift is of no use to you, it’s of no avail to you until you receive it. And you receive a gift from God only one way which is by faith, which means to believe. So, in the quietness of your own mind and heart, even where you’re seated, without having to walk an aisle, join a church, raise a hand. It’s a matter of privacy between you and the Lord, where the Spirit places you under conviction and you trust in what Christ has done for you. And that’s what gets you saved… saved from what? Saved from this horrific fate that we’re reading about here in the Book of Revelation, chapter 14:10-11. If it’s something that you need more explanation on I’m available after the service to talk.
[Revelation 14:9, “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,  he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”  Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.”]
Shall we pray. Father, I don’t know if the world system or even Christendom or evangelicalism would really look with favor on some of the things we’ve talked about this morning. But I do pray that as the world frowns You’re smiling because it’s Your truth and Your ways are higher than our own. Help us, Father, to worship You as You have revealed Yourself and not to come up with philosophical excuses as to why we don’t want to believe and created a “golden calf” in the process. Help us to not be that kind of group, that kind of flock, that kind of congregation but people that are gathered week after week to worship you in spirit and truth. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said…. Amen!