While this may seem an inappropriate post for Advent, it’s not. We are at war with the Father of Lies. The reason Jesus came was to rescue us from a very real hell, from the lies of the enemy, and from our own deceptive hearts.
You see, as Revelation has shown us, there’s a dragon in our Nativity. So you may want to begin with this, which you’ve seen before:
It was 2011, and Rob Bell, who pastored a mega-church of 7,000 and was once was a part of The Gospel Coalition, had just released his book: Love Wins. It taught universalism — the belief that everyone will be in heaven, for in his way of thinking, a loving God would not have a hell. I was at The Gospel Coalition conference that year in Chicago, and I will never ever forget how the Holy Spirit descended over us during an emergency panel discussion concerning Rob Bell’s book and the whole doctrine of hell. Laura asked about finding a video of it and I just did: here it is:
Honestly, I want to confess that I have struggled with the doctrine of hell, even though I do believe it because I believe God’s Word to be infallible. And it is taught over and over again, including by Jesus. But there’s a part of me, in thinking of those I love who may not embrace Christ, that has pleaded with God: “But torment forever? O Lord – really? What if that person comes to his senses in hell? Lord, is there really no hope ever for him?”
The special session not only helped me with those questions but stirred a revival in my heart. It put me in awe again of a holy God, a just God, and yet a merciful God. I wept, as did many, feeling ashamed for questioning God, and my mouth was stopped. Martin Lloyd Jones defines a Christian as one whose mouth is stopped, quoting Job. Remember when Job was questioning God about His justice? When God answered him, Job said, “I put my hand over my mouth.”
This week we see Jesus as the Harvester. Dr. Campbell and Matthew Henry see both pictures that we are given as descriptions of judgment, where he is taking away the tares and throwing them into the furnace. This goes along with the teaching that we want to be left behind, not taken away. John Stott sees this as two different harvests: first the righteous and then the unrighteous. In any case, we all know there is a time when the wheat and the tares will be separated, and only the LORD knows for certain who are the tares. We are not to make the judgment, for wheat and tares can look very similar. But we can know in our hearts if we are His, and we’ll look on Friday at some ways we can know that. This familiar song closes with the angels giving orders about the harvest:
Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll were both pastors of Mars Hill Churches, and both of those churches were spiritually abusive to their congregations. I recommend the podcast series from Christianity Today called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. While they concentrate on Mark Driscoll, it is warning to all churches to choose leaders on the basis of mature and humble character rather than talent. It is a warning to all of us to walk in humility and to be wary of a control idol. Here is a link for those interested:
I’ve thought much, during our study, about the teaching of the rapture. I don’t believe in it any more, but many I respect do. I heard it recently from Casting Crowns, a group I like, in their Christmas song: “While You Were Sleeping”:
As we’re sound asleep by philosophies
That save the trees and kill the children
And while we’re laying in the dark
There’s a shout heard ‘cross the eastern sky
And has carried His bride away in the night
In the night
- What stands out to you from the above and why?
Monday: The 144,000 Sing a New Song
2. Read Revelation 14:1-5d
A. What scene is painted in verse 1?
B. What do you think the lamb, the 144,000, and the mark on their foreheads each symbolize?
C. How is the song they sing described in 2-3?
D. How are the redeemed described in verses 4-5 and what do you think this means?
3. In Mystery Explained, read the first two paragraphs under The Fourth Vision: The Lamb… up to “following a pattern”
A. When does Campbell say Christ is ruling from Mount Zion and how does he support this scripturally?
B. Jehovah’s Witnesses think just 144,000 will be saved. Why does Dr. Campbell think 144,000 is symbolic rather than a literal number of those who are redeemed?
4. Read the rest of the section in Mystery Explained up to the bold: THE FIFTH VISION
A. What is this “new song?”
B. Why does Dr. Campbell think this is not talking about literal chastity? What does he think it means?
C. What else do you learn about these genuine believers?
5. How does this section speak to you and why?
Tuesday: The Three Angels and The Judgment of the Wicked
6. Read Revelation 14:6-13
A. What does the first angel flying above the earth say?
B. What does the second angel say?
C. What does the third angel say?
D. What does a voice from heaven say?
7. Read the paragraph about the 1st angel under THE FIFTH VISION.
A. How does Dr. Campbell say the earth dwellers will respond?
B. What light does the allusion to Nebuchadnezzar give?
8. Read the paragraph about the 2nd angel and explain the symbolism of Babylon’s wine.
9. Read the paragraph about the 3rd angel and explain how the punishment fits the crime.
10. Paige Benton Brown often said “sin is getting what you want.” How do you see this being played out here?
11. How does verse 11 make it clear that this is not annihilation but eternal?
12. How are we to respond to this according to verse 12?
13. What comfort is there in verse 13?
Wednesday: The Harvest
14. Read Revelation 14:14-20
A. Describe John’s vision in verse 14. Who do you think this is and why?
B. What time does the angel tell him it is, according to verse 15?
C. Whom do you think he “harvesting” in verse 16?
D. Whom is he “harvesting” in verses 17-20?
15. Read the first paragraph in Mystery Explained under the sixth vision up to “the vision of the harvest” is repeated.
A. What evidence does Campbell give that the man is Christ?
B. What reason does he give for an angel needing to tell Christ the time has come?
16. Read the rest of Dr. Campbell’s commentary up to The Seventh Vision.
A. What does Dr. Campbell believe both harvest descriptions are of the wicked?
B. How does he explain the number of the lost symbolically?
17. In the John Stott commentary by Michael Wilcox, he agrees that harvest in the Old Testament is usually a symbol of judgment, in the New Testament Christ speaks of gathering in both tares and wheat, bad fish and good, and then separating them. So I do see that this could be two harvests. But in any case, we should be able to find an application. What do you see for your life?
Thursday: Hell is Getting What You Want
Often we hear that a good God would not send anyone to hell. But is that a fair picture? Imagine a man drowning and you threw him a lifeline, but he refused to take it. Then he drowned. Would it be fair to say that you caused him to die?
Another false picture often given is that people are repentant in hell. But again, that is not the picture Scripture gives us. If you think of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man was in agony, but not repentant. He blamed God for not giving him enough information. He is still treating Lazarus as a servant. We see absolutely no sign of repentance, but still, only anger, blame, and selfishness.
Are their degrees of punishment as there are degrees of reward in heaven? Perhaps. Alysa Childers refers to this article. I’m not sure, but offer it for your reflection:
18. Comments on the above? Agree or disagree?
The same John who was given this vision of hell also gives assurance to believers in his first letter. I thought it would be helpful to close with these. Throughout his letter, John has been telling us that seeing fruit in our lives such as loving one another, staying with the original teaching, and obeying God’s commandments should give us assurance that the life of Christ is flowing through us. He makes it clear we still will sin, but have an advocate, yet the progression of our life is to persevere in obedience, truth, and love. Let’s now look now at his closing chapter.
19. Read 1 John 5.
A. In verse 1, what assurance does John give to believers, and what fruit will come naturally?
B. In verses 2-5, he expands on this, repeating some of the fruit that will come, and again, the necessary belief we must have. What fruit should you be seeing in your life, and what do you need to believe?
C. In verses 6-10, John gives the Father’s testimony that Jesus in the Christ. There are three ways that God has testified that His Son is the Christ. What are they?
D. According to verses 11-12, who has the life and who does not?
E. Why, according to verse 13, is John telling us this? What verb does he use that shows we should not doubt?
F. What promise is given in 14-15?
G. As you read 16-17 in the context of chapter 5, and also in the context of the teaching about hell, what do you think is “the sin unto death?” Why is it useless to pray for this?
My personal opinion is that we should not pray that God will accept someone apart from their trust in Christ, for rejecting our lifeline is the only sin that cannot be forgiven, the sin that leads to eternal death. But we can and should pray that his heart would soften toward Christ. John has been talking about counterfeit “brothers” throughout his letter, and I think that is the case here. But it is a mysterious and oft-disputed passage!
H. Find all the assurances John gives in 18-20.
I. How does he close his letter and why, do you think?
20. What is your take-a-way and why?