Prof. David Engelsma’s Eschatology Notes (V)

Suppose I were to ask you who or what is the most awesome and fearsome figure in the entire book of Revelation, what would be your instantaneous reply to that question? How many of us might not answer that question with the answer – the great red dragon of Rev. 12, which represents Satan himself persecuting the church and being one with her, after he has been cast out of heaven? Or how many will answer that it is the beast out of the sea accompanied by the beast out of the earth in Rev. 13, representing the antichrist which has power over all nations, blasphemes God for forty-two months, and fights against and overcomes the church? The antichrist will also be able to perform wonders, and kill those who refuse to worship him.

How often is it not the case that when we think about the end and what will happen at the very end, we tremble in fear at the prospect of the antichrist as though he was the most awesome and fearsome figure. We tend to shudder at the prospect of the antichrist as though he were most terrible. That is a mistake. That thinking or answer on our part is a serious mistake.

The most awesome and awful figure in Revelation is Jesus Christ. He is the terrible one in the right sense of the word “terrible” – awe-inspiring. When we think of Revelation, we must think mainly of Him. We must not think of Him with terror, but with awe. In comparison with Jesus Christ, antichrist and Satan are but players and nothing to be terrified by. Jesus Christ is the Lion; antichrist and the devil are pussy cats in comparison to him. So does Jesus Christ dominate the end that if we have him as our Saviour and Lord by a true faith, we have absolutely nothing to fear about the end, and all the things that will transpire in history as we come to the end of history.

On the contrary, having Him as our Lord and Saviour, we look forward to the end. All of the struggles through which the church must go, and all the suffering through which we may have to experience are things to look forward to because they are a privilege and an honour on behalf of the awesome Jesus Christ.

The end that we are studying is all about Jesus Christ, His coming, His power, His kingdom, kingship, and glory. Everything that is part of the last things is determined by Jesus Christ and accomplishes the purpose of Jesus Christ. I propose to you that this is not always how the truth of eschatology is preached and taught. This is not always how we Reformed believers think of the end. The first and main thing, the all-controlling thing that must be in our mind and soul is Jesus Christ.

Tonight, the very first truth about Jesus and the end that I want to bring out is that the end is about Him – Jesus Christ. The end is all about Him. Such is the truth of this that the question to ask about every aspect of eschatology, or the truth of the end, is: what does this reveal about Jesus Christ? How is this related to Jesus Christ? How does this serve Jesus Christ? Only when every aspect of the end is understood in its relationship to Jesus Christ do we understand the truth about eschatology.

I want to prove this now: Rev. 1:1 teaches that the whole book of Revelation is about Jesus Christ. The revelation does not only mean what Jesus Christ reveals about the end, but the revelation means that which is made known about Jesus Christ. It is about Jesus Christ; it is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Verse 2 tells the same thing. The book is a testimony about Jesus Christ. He is the content of the book.

The content of the book is spelled out in summary form in Rev. 1:5-7. When He comes and the nations wail because of Him, He is the awesome and fearsome figure. Notice especially that Jesus is the Prince of the kings of the earth. These kings are otherwise fearful persons, as is true of kings. They have power and a certain glory. The kings of the earth are the mighty rulers of the nations of the world who will ally with antichrist to persecute the church of Jesus Christ. Of those kings, Jesus is the Prince (vs. 5-7). “Prince” in the Greek original is ruler, or commander. He governs them all, controls them all, and determines their actions with his sovereign power. He is the Prince of Pilate, of Caesar, of Barack Obama, of Vladimir Putin.

Still indicating that the book of Revelation is about Jesus Christ, I call your attention to the message of the seven churches in Rev. 2-3. The message is Christ’s namesake. The name of Christ is the message of the church. In Rev. 2:13, the church at Pergamos is praised because they held fast the faith. The book is about Jesus’ name and the faith of Jesus. In Rev. 3:8, with regard to the church of Philadelphia which was not criticized, she kept the name of Jesus and did not deny His name. That is the importance of the church in these last days. Our testimony is the testimony that Jesus is the Christ of God.

Again and again, the book of Revelation affirms that all aspects about the truth concerning the end reveal Jesus Christ. In Rev. 5:9ff, a certain book is opened. That book represents the counsel or plan of God which represents everything that will happen in the last time, especially those things immediately preceding Jesus’ return. The content of that book has to do with the Lamb that was slain (v9). God rewarded the Lamb on behalf of God’s people by raising Him and exalting Him to the kingship that belongs to Him now.

In connection with the book that represents the counsel of God about the end, there are seven seals that open the book, so that what God decreed will happen takes place in time and history. Those seven seals represent all the events that will happen. They begin and end with Jesus Christ (Rev. 6:1-2). The very first seal is the running of the white horse, which is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Notice how history concludes according to the opening of the last seal. There we read (v12ff) of the destruction of the present creation, the departing of the heavens, the wicked are terrified and cry for the hills and mountains to fall on them to escape from the wrath of the Lamb.

History in the new testament begins and   ends   with   Jesus   Christ.   The book of Revelation tells us that the appearance of the antichrist is strictly governed by Jesus Christ (Rev. 11:7). Antichrist is always striving to come, but he cannot come and does not come until the two witnesses have finished their testimonies. When the gospel has been preached in all the world so that all of God’s elect are regenerated and brought to faith and saved, the whole church is gathered, then and only then does antichrist appear. His appearance is governed not by what the devil is intent on doing, but by Jesus Christ. He must be glorified in the saving of the church throughout all nations. Then the antichrist comes to put a stop to the gospel for a little while. The coming of the antichrist depends on the mission of Jesus Christ in the gathering of His church through the two witnesses (Rev. 20:1-3).

The old serpent is bound for a thousand years, the time of the new testament when the gospel goes out to save God’s people from all nations. Only when that period is up, finished, because all the church has been gathered and brought to salvation, is the dragon loosed from his chains so that he can deceive the nations for a season. Everything in the book is controlled by Jesus Christ and centres on Jesus Christ.

Rev. 12 pictures the whole of the end time history. That is the time from Jesus’ ascension until He comes again. Rev. 12 pictures the whole of end time history as focused on the man-child who rules all nations, and on the war against that man-child by the dragon. The dragon who represents Satan is ready to devour the child of the woman as soon as the child is born. The woman is the church. The dragon was standing there trying to destroy the child. Think of Herod’s march on Bethlehem. Then the man-child was caught up to heaven by God Himself, and the dragon turns his wrath on the woman, the church in the world. The important thing is that all of the warfare is concentrated on Jesus Christ.

We are the objects of the attacks of the devil only because we belong to Jesus Christ, represent Him, and confess Him. Satan has no interest in us personally. But inasmuch as we have the mark of Jesus Christ on our foreheads through baptism, and we confess Him and belong to His church, that makes us important to Satan – in the sense that we are worthy of his assaults so that he will destroy us if he could. The beast out of the sea in Rev. 13 continues that theme.

Rev. 14, following the account of the persecution of the church, reminds us that amidst the persecution, Jesus Christ does gather and preserve his church. As we are in the midst of the persecution, Rev. 14:1 assures us that the warfare of the dragon against the church is futile. The dragon is defeated. He does not destroy one single member of the elect body of the church of Jesus Christ. The defeat of Satan and his kingdom is taught in Rev. 14:8. The point is that all the attacks on the church and believers are in reality attacks on the Lamb himself, Jesus Christ. He is the main figure in the book of Revelation.

Rev. 17:14. All the attacks of the church are at their heart attacks on the Lamb. It is going to be important for us to remember when this persecution actually breaks out. That persecution is going on already today. It does not always have the same aspect; it does always involve putting someone in jail or burning him on the stake. Persecution also takes the form of reviling, slandering, ostracizing. Persecution goes on all the time. When you personally feel an object of this persecution, what is really happening is that the servants of Satan are making war with the Lamb. Satan and his hosts cannot get at Jesus Christ anymore. The Lamb is also present in the church in the world by His Word and Spirit. Satan is capable of identifying his presence. When he attacks the church and the true believer, he is really after the Lamb. We are not important, but we are members of His body. So he can touch the Lamb by touching us. He makes war with the Lamb.

The ultimate purpose of the last things is the marriage of the Lamb to His bride, the church (Rev. 19:7ff). That is the very goal of eschatology – the great marriage feast of the Lamb and His bride, the church. The conclusion of the book of Revelation is the realisation of the goal of God – the glorification of Jesus Christ in the new world as the head of the human race (Rev. 21-22). There the whole conclusion is: Jesus is glorified; He sits down on the throne with God to share in the power and glory of God. The man Jesus Christ does that and exercises all the dominion, manifests all the glory of God in the new creation. That is what God is after in the history of the last things. When that happens, you and I will be sharing in that dominion and glory. So intimately are elect believers united to Jesus Christ that we not only share His salvation, but also in His awesome glory. Again and again, we are assured that we will reign with Him. That is our future. We will reign with Jesus Christ over all things.

Content: Prof. David Engelsma | Issue 45
(Class Notes taken by: Aaron Lim)

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