The Book of Life and the Lake of Fire

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Revelation 20:7-15 | May 26 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
May 26
The Book of Life and the Lake of Fire | Revelation 20:7-15
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Gracious heavenly Father, we give thanks for Your many blessings and we ask know that You would bless us yet again, that You would speak clearly and You would give us open ears and open hearts, and in particular speak in great power and conviction to any here that are far from You.  Would You speak, O Lord, and may Your sheep know Your voice.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.   

Our text this morning is from Revelation chapter 20, reading verse 7 through verse 15.  If you’re new to Christ Covenant, or visiting this morning, you should know that our usual practice is to go through books of the Bible, so I’ve been going through Revelation for a year.  Lord willing, we’ll finish it in the next month.  Revelation is a strange and wonderful and powerful book and there’s lots of very high highs and low lows, which is to say great scenes of triumph and blessing and glory, and we’re coming to the pinnacle of that in the next two chapters, but also scenes that show us the reality and the fierceness of God’s judgment.

One of the benefits of preaching through the Bible verse by verse is that the Bible sets the agenda and that the whole counsel of God gets spoken, the parts that we’re eager to hear and the parts that are hard to hear, but we need to hear all of them.  This is one of those sections.

Revelation chapter 20, beginning at verse 7.

“And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea.  And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Just pause there for a moment because this sermon is not going to be about that paragraph.  That’s an important paragraph, but I’ve made the case several times already that these verses describe the final battle between Christ and the devil, described as the devil and his enemies gathering around the holy city, but of course the holy city is not a physical city but is represented of God’s people, just like Babylon was not a real city.  Well, it is a real city, but it’s every city wherever worldliness prevails.

So we’ve seen this judgment scene already in chapter 16, in chapter 19.  This strange reference to Gog and Magog comes from the prophet Ezekiel.  It’s another way of saying the nations.  At the end of the age, and I argued the last two weeks that the thousand years are representative of this church age in which we live, where there is great evil but also the nations are bound so that the Gospel can go forth throughout the earth, at the end of this church age Satan is released, he’s already active, but he’s allowed to wreak havoc and great tribulation on the earth, under God’s sovereignty, to mount one final attack on the Church.  The Church will suffer but Christ will ride out victorious as King of kings and Lord of Lords, saving His people, judging His enemies, throwing the devil as He did the two beasts into the lake of burning fire.

Now we come to the next paragraph where we will spend our time.  These scenes of judgment before the throne. 

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it.  From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Then another book was opened, which is the book of life.  And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.  And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.  Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  This is the second death, the lake of fire.  And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

There’s no way around it.  The Bible says an awful lot about judgment and judgment is awful.  If you want a Christianity without divine retribution, you will have to erase vast swaths of the Bible.  There’s a famous description of liberal theology in the 20th century that went like this – liberalism taught a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross. 

There’s always a temptation in every age to want a Christianity like that – a God without judgment, a God without wrath, a people without sin, a Christ without a bloody cross.

Yet, on nearly every single page of Scripture, God shows Himself to be one who is intolerant of idolatry, warning of His coming wrath.  God is love.  His wrath in one way is not coordinate with His love because His wrath is an expression of His love for the truth and His justice, which then that love and that justice when it comes in contact with that which is unrighteousness is expressed in God’s wrath.  He is a consuming fire.

So there is no way around the teaching that there is a hell.

It is worth pointing out that heaven in Revelation gets two full chapters of detailed, metaphorical description and wonderful news we are getting there for the month of June.  The Bible probably talks about hell more often than it does about heaven, but it doesn’t linger on hell, it doesn’t do like Dante’s Inferno and take you through a tour of hell, but heaven gets a glorious two-chapter metaphorical description.  We don’t have any vivid journalistic account of hell, but the brief glimpses we get of hell are striking and frightening.

Jesus Himself says in Matthew 10, “Do not fear him who can destroy the body; rather, fear him who can destroy both body and soul and hell.”  That’s from Jesus, not from one of the Puritans, not from some medieval mystic, not from an early Church father, not from a modern fundamentalist.  From Jesus.

The descriptions of hell in the Bible are frightening.  Hell is described as a place of outer darkness, a cold, evil, joyless place.  It’s described as a place whether there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  A place of intense suffering.  A place, Jesus says, where the worm never dies, the fire is never quenched.  In other words, it’s a place where pain gnaws at the human soul and human body day after day.  Forever.

And hell here, most famously, is depicted as a lake of fire.  All throughout the Bible there’s fire and brimstone, wasn’t invented by Jonathan Edwards, to depict God’s judgment from Sodom and Gomorrah throughout both Testaments and finally here at the end.  Likely not a literal like of fire because first of all there are spiritual beings, the devil, a spiritual being, thrown into the lake of fire, but it’s meant to evoke a sense of terror.  It’s a place of eternal conscious torment.

Heaven, and do come back tonight to hear about heaven, heaven will have more laughter and more joy and more mirth and more gladness and more smiles and more purity and more pleasantness than you could scarcely imagine.  No eye has seen, no ear has heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him.  Whatever you are thinking about heaven, you are thinking of it too little.  It’s much better. 

And whatever you are thinking of hell, it’s too little.  It is much worse.  There we will have more weeping, more despair.  We will have more of ourselves than we know what to do with.  Hell is real and it is meant to drive us to God.  Heaven is real and it is meant to drive us to God.

Jonathan Edwards, who’s best known for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Gods, you may not know that he also preached the famous sermon called Heaven is a World of Love.  He saw in Scripture both realities approximating their fullness.  Heave is a world of love, which means hell is a world, now you may fill in the blank hate, and there’s some of that, but even more than that, a place of resentment, anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, and judgment.

So here’s the scene in this second paragraph, verses 11 through 15.  There’s a great white throne.  We don’t know if it’s God the Father who sits on the throne or Christ or maybe we aren’t meant to know, but God Almighty sits on the throne.  Notice there in verse 11 earth and sky fled away.  It’s to depict for us that the fallen created order, earth and sky, so tremble in the presence of God that they flee.  When God is seated on the great white throne, His sinful creation scatters to make way for what we will see in chapters 21 and 22, a new heaven and a new earth.  This fallen world, groaning, yearning to be released from its bondage to decay, runs away and trembles.  The first creation is cracking up, making way for something new.

God sits on His throne and all the living will pass before Him and all the dead, great and small, good and bad, believing and unbelieving, will be raised to life and will come before Him.  Think of it.  Every human being who has ever lived will pass before the throne.  It means you are not a statistic.  You have a name.  You are known by God Almighty.  That is both something that should cause us some fear and that you can be known and loved and forgiven by this God should give us great comfort.  You are not just a part of the sea of humanity.  Which again, there’s comfort, you’re known, but it also means you can’t just hide out among the crowd on this day.  You have been created by God.  You are accountable to God. 

This scene is like the final commencement day.  We are in the season of commencements and commencement speeches and addresses.  I bet every one of us will go to one or more, a baccalaureate, a commencement, high school graduation, seminary, something, and the names are read.  Now if you got to a very big school, they maybe have to have your college first, or maybe some schools just this whole section gets to stand, but you want to hear your name.  You want a moment to walk across the platform, even a few seconds, and many of you have the families who follow the rules and hold their applause to the end and some of you have the other families.  We paid a lot of money to clap with now, you think to yourself.

Every graduate comes.  The name is spoken.  Jesus says in John 5, some will go to life and some will go to condemnation, but everyone will stand before the judgment seat of God.  I don’t know how this will work with billions of names.  Maybe that day will be a thousand years and that thousand years a day.  However it will work, it will surely be possible for God.  And everyone will have to stand.  You cannot hide on that day.  I will not stand before God as just one of the DeYoungs.  I will not stand before God as just a minister, “Would all the ministers in the PCA come forward?  Would all the members of Christ Covenant?  Would everyone in Mecklenburg County now stand?”  It will be me, before the throne of God, and my eternal destiny, and your eternal destiny for ages and eons of joy, or of suffering, will be determined by two sets of books.

Did you notice that here?  Two sets of books.  One book, here it’s called the Book of Life, verse 12, “Then another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.”  Elsewhere it’s called the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Revelation 21:27 says only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be able to enter the holy city.  This is the book recording all the names of those who belong to Jesus Christ.

Revelation 17:8 says that these names were written in the book from the foundation of the world.  These are God’s elect.  Those who are chosen, regenerated, given the gift of faith and repentance.  Written in this book before any of our days came to pass.  

Now let that not be something that keeps you away from Christ, thinking, well, if God already wrote our names in the book, then I guess I can’t come.  No, Jesus, remember in John chapter 6, says you cannot come unless the Father draws and all that the Father draws He will never turn away.  No one ever comes to Christ and says, “I want grace, I want forgiveness,” and Jesus says, “Sorry, I didn’t choose you.”  No, He says, “I chose you and that’s why you have heard My voice and you come.”  I don’t want anyone here today, if you hear the voice of Jesus speaking in your ear, think, “Well, maybe I’m not one of the chosen.”  Those who are chosen by God will hear His voice.

It may be that you hear His voice speaking to you this morning.  If you truly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, your name will be in this book and you cannot earn your way into this book.  It is not some kind of who’s who of religious people.  

You get those e-mails?  You’ve been nominated for the “Who’s Who of Industrial Plumbers.”  You’ve been nominated of the Who’s Who…  I admit, it appealed to my vanity.  I was a graduating high school student and got one of these, “Who’s Who of American High School Students.”  I made my mom and dad get one of these books and you realize, hmm, how special is the “Who’s Who” if I have to pay you a bunch of money to put my name and get a book like a telephone book with the “Who’s Who” of suckers?  No offense if you have that book proudly displayed.

But this isn’t like that book.  You give a cash donation, you do enough…  No, it’s the Lamb’s Book.  He writes your name in the book, Jesus Christ, based on His work.  That and that alone is what enables your name to be in that book.  Romans 3:28, Paul says we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the Law.  Your name is not written in this book by your observance of the Law, but solely through faith in the finished work of Christ.  The Lamb’s Book of Life.  That’s one book.

But you notice there’s another set of books.  At first this seems confusing.  Verse 12 – I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne and books were opened, then another book, the Book of Life, and then back to the first set, the dead were judged by what was written in the books according to what they had done.  So there are two kinds of books.  One is the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Is your name, you march before the great white throne, someone opens up this book and reads out your name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Then there’s a second set of books.  And in these books are written down our deeds.  You may say, well, which is it?  I thought you just said we were justified not by works of the Law but now it says that you will be judged by what is written in the books according to what they have done.  Well, this is the consistent teaching throughout the New Testament that there is a judgment not by works, that the works save us, but there is a judgment according to works.

Mathew 16:27 – For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels and then He will reward each person according to what he has done.

Romans 2:6 – God will give to each person according to what He has done.

2 Corinthians 5:10 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Some people think, well, these are all variable rewards on top of salvation.  I don’t think that’s what they’re referring to, but rather to this same idea here in Revelation 20 of a judgment according to works.

So what does this mean?  It does not mean that we are earning our salvation, that would contradict the rest of the New Testament, it would contradict the whole concept of the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Why have a Lamb’s Book of Life if you’re really just judged, hey, we got these books and do you have enough good deeds to get into heaven?

Judgment here, according to works, is not the same as justification by works.  Rather, the books are there to provide evidence that your name written in the book is not a mistake.  The books are there to provide evidence that your name written in the book is not a mistake.

So you imagine the scene.  You stand before the throne of God and the book of life, the Lamb’s Book of Life, is opened and your name is read before the angels and before the whole world:  You belong to Christ.  Maybe in that moment there are scoffers.  Yeah, do you know who this person was?  Do you know what sort of nasty things they did?  And maybe they’re true accusations, maybe they’re false accusations.  Someone says, “She didn’t put her trust in Christ.  She wasn’t one of them.”  Then God, being a God of justice, will open the books which will give some evidence before the whole world that indeed you did turn to Christ, you did trust in Christ, you did cherish Christ, you did obey Christ.  Those things are not the grounds by which you are right with God, but they provide corroborating evidence.  Not that you perfectly obeyed, none of us do, or that you obeyed all the time, none of us do, but that you truly had a heart full of faith and repentance.

Think of the classic example of the thief on the cross.  The book opened for the thief on the cross with a little itty bitty book, but there was something.  There was something to demonstrate that he had been a changed man.  He acknowledged that he was there hanging on the cross for what he deserved.  He acknowledged that Jesus was being reviled for what He didn’t deserve.  He cast himself upon Christ in his time of great need.  There was something there for that man to demonstrate when the books were read that indeed grace had flown through this man.

So the books are opened to demonstrate that you are genuinely a child of God.  You’ve been born again.

Let me say it again.  Not perfectly, of course, but penitently.

Here’s what one commentary says, the Africa Bible Commentary, says it is sobering to realize that nothing is forgotten or hidden from God.  Each person was judged according to what he had done.  God’s judgment always proceeds on the basis of works, as evidence of belief or unbelief in His Son Jesus Christ.  Works are an index of the spiritual condition of a person’s heart.

Now listen carefully:  The judgment is not a balancing of good works over bad works.  Rather, works are seen as unmistakable evidence of the loyalty of the heart.  They express belief or unbelief, faithfulness or unfaithfulness.  The judgment will reveal whether or not people’s loyalties have been with God and the Lamb or with God’s enemies.  Those who have their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life will also have records of righteous deeds and the opposite will also be true.  The books confirm that the judgment of the book is correct.

Now we have already seen the beast and the false prophet thrown into the lake of fire, chapter 19 verse 20, and then chapter 20 verse 10 the devil is thrown into the lake of fire, and now we need to notice two other groups of people are thrown in, or rather, two other kinds of things.

Now don’t think of all this as a strict chronology like on Monday the first beast and then Tuesday the second beast and then the devil and then we’re just waiting around.  But it’s just describing things as John saw these visions, likely as the judgment comes, all of this happening in a moment.  It’s a way of saying all the bad guys are put in their place.  They will suffer; look at verse 14, the second death.

There’s a first death.  All of us, unless Jesus comes back in our lifetime, we will all experience the first death.  We will all experience a physical death.  But not all will experience the second death, which is the spiritual eternal death.

Chapter 14 in Revelation focused on the judgment of those alive at the end of history and that harvest.  This focuses on the judgment of those already dead.

Two entities, we might say, are thrown into the lake of fire.

Look at verse 14.  Death and Hades. 

Death is a result of the Fall – On the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.  Death is the wage for sin; the wages of sin is death.

1 Corinthians 15 – Death is the final enemy.

So it makes sense here that even after the devil, so to speak, is thrown into hell, the very last enemy to be overcome is death itself.

Then you have Hades, which is a very similar concept here.  Hades is used 10 times in the New Testament.  It can refer to a place of torment, opposite Abraham’s side in Luke 16 – we’ll look at that passage tonight.  Here it is more generally a reference to the beyond, or the netherworld, or life after death in the grave, awaiting God’s final judgment. 

Death and Hades, you’ve probably forgotten by now, but Revelation 1:18, Revelation 1 we see this grand depiction of Christ, the Son of Man, and the very first two enemies in opposition to Christ that we meet.  Before we meet Babylon, before we meet the devil and his two beasts, before we meet persecutors, the very first two enemies in Revelation 1:18, Jesus says I have the keys of death and Hades.  The first enemies we are introduced to in Revelation are these and the very last to be overcome as Jesus has the key to unlock the prison door of death so that those who have died will be raised and some be given everlasting life and some everlasting judgment.  So death and Hades now are thrown into the lake of fire.  Do not forget your deepest, darkest enemy is death.

That’s important to remember because it means that the singular most important message of the Gospel is life, eternal life.  Christianity is among other things, but centrally, to help you die well because death is that darkest, last enemy.

Then we have a second group, verse 21 – and if anyone’s name was not found written in the Book of Life he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Now this is already implied with the emptying of the graves, but now it is made explicit.  The devil, the two beasts, all of the powers of the earth that amass themselves against the Church and now the wicked, all those whose names are not in the Lamb’s Book of Life, are thrown into the lake of fire that burns forever.

There are only ultimately two destinations and everyone ends up in one or the other.

This is a hard teaching.  It’s not hard to see in the Scriptures – it’s right here, all over the place.  It is existentially difficult, painful, because the thought of eternal conscious torment is beyond even human calculation.  We shudder to think of those we know who may be there. 

The existential weight of this doctrine of hell has led people throughout history to make other arguments.  Some have tried to make a case for universalism, that is the belief that finally everyone at some point, maybe they get postmortem salvation, maybe somehow some way or another, everybody ends up in heaven.  That’s universalism.  Heaven is universal.  Everyone gets there.

Or maybe short of that, if you’re not even a theist of any kind, you may think that death is death and that’s it and we’re all snuffed out.  But in particular, those who have some respect for the Bible and for Christianity and don’t want to do away with all that, they have often tried to convince themselves might there be a place for universalism in the Christian faith. 

I didn’t bring the two volumes up here, but in 2018 a massive new book by Michael McClymond, was published, 1362 pages, two volumes.  It’s called The Devil’s Redemption:  A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism.  I didn’t get it for the Book Nook because I thought it would be too heavy and I’m not sure anyone wants 1362 pages on the history of universalism, but grateful for this scholar who has done the hard work for us.

I won’t summarize 1300 pages.  I can’t admit I’ve read all 1300 of them.  But he does a fantastic job over the course of the book of responding to some of the arguments that people will use in favor of universalism.  Let me just summarize a few of them.

One, he says, universalism does not deal honestly with the whole Bible.  Surely that’s true.  This word “Hades” and “death,” two different words, “Hades,” Haidou, it looks like Hades if you transliterate it, that’s a different word than translated “hell.”  That’s the word Gehenna.  The word “Gehenna” is used 12 times in the New Testament, 11 of them from the lips of Jesus, so you’re not going to find any relief to say, “What if I go to Jesus?  He didn’t believe in hell.”  He talked about hell more than anybody else in the New Testament.

This book says generally speaking universalist __ have always had a hard time with the Old Testament and the book of Revelation, which both speak of fierce judgment and punishments inflicted by God.  You cannot get to universalism and deal fairly with the whole Bible.

There’s a second argument.  He says universalism has almost been entirely rejected in the history of the Church.  Or to put it another way, a belief in an eternal heaven and eternal hell is the overwhelming opinion of the Church.  Quote:  The Christian Church through the centuries, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal, has consistently taught a final twofold state of heaven and hell.  Universalism has nearly always been regarded as a serious error, if not a heresy, both false in itself and productive of other theological mistakes.

Now it’s always possible we believe the Bible is the final authority, perhaps Christians for 2000 years have made a mistake, and yet always to give us pause because we are much keener to see the errors of earlier generations than to have the glasses to see the errors of our generation.  So as we feel the weight of this and think how could this possible be a doctrine that the Church must accept and believe, realize that for 2000 years virtually every Christian, and every official creed and confession of the branch of the Church, have acknowledged the reality of heaven and hell.  It may not make the doctrine feel and rest easy on us, but it ought to give us great pause before we throw overboard what Christians have seen for 2000 years.

Here’s a third argument McClymond makes that universalism always, always leads to other doctrinal deviations.  That is always true.  You can see it historically, intellectually.  So you can’t just say, “I have this great faith.  I’ve got all the things about God and the trinity and Jesus and the cross and everything, and I’m just going to change, can I just swap out the doctrine of hell?  I don’t want that doctrine.  Why don’t I just say in the end everybody gets to heaven?”

History proves that that change either is the result of many other changes or will lead to many other doctrinal changes.  Again, McClymond says a Christian affirmation of final universal inclusion will affect everything else that one might say about God, humanity, Christ, sin, grace, salvation, and the Church.  He asks the question, “How much, theologically speaking, is at stake in the debate on universalism?”  The answer, “Everything.”  You will not have the same faith left if you get rid of the doctrine of hell.  It is a ballast in our boat to keep us sailing in clear doctrinal waters.

Here’s another argument.  I have just two more.  He makes the point that universalism makes this world and the decisions you make in this life ultimately irrelevant.  He quotes, not the man I usually quote, Wittgenstein, as saying, about Origen, a church Father who did dabble in universalism, he said, “Of course Origen’s universalism was rejected.  It would make nonsense of everything else.  If what we do now is to make no difference in the end, then all the seriousness of life is done away with.”

Let’s think about it.  Yes, you may say, well, maybe if I’m a good person that will help make my life better and maybe you have some altruistic sense that I don’t want other people to suffer, but really at the end, if everyone gets to heaven, regardless of whatever you do, whatever you believe, whether you repent, everyone, or you say we just, life is snuffed out and that’s the end, if everyone gets the same thing in the end, so this life is just eat, drink, and be merry, and if you hurt people, well, they may be hurt but their atoms will decompose just like yours, or they’ll be in heaven just like you.  What rationale is there for taking life seriously if there is no consequence to this life in the next life?

From Wittgenstein to John Lennon, one of the worst songs ever written – “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky.  Imagine all the people living for today.” 

But you know what?  John Lennon was absolutely right in his conclusion.  If there’s no hell below us, all above us there’s no heaven, no sky.  You know what you have?  You have people only living for today.  This moment, this life.  That’s it.

What parent wants a child to think, “You know what?  I want you to do whatever makes you happy today.  That’s the way to do it.  Don’t think about later.  Just today.  Live for today.  You hurt people today, that’s fine.  How do you feel today?”

You know what hell looks like?  Living for yourself today and forever.

Here’s a final argument McClymond makes, that ultimately universalism undermines grace.  He says grace is a gift of God’s undeserved favor, freely conferred by God and received by human beings.  He says grace, to be grace, has to have three critical elements.

One, God must be free to give it or not to give it.  It’s not grace if God just has to do it, or that if there’s something intrinsic to us that makes God give us grace.  That’s not grace.  There must be a freedom in the giver or it’s not a gift.

Then he says there must be some relational dynamic, that God and human beings are in relationship.

Then the third characteristic is reception.  You’re not just bombing gifts upon people and it this them in the head.  You receive a gift.  You welcome a gift. 

If God is not free to give the grace as He sees fit, and there is no relational dynamic between God and the receiver, and if in the end there is no actual reception of it by faith, then how is grace?  It’s not undeserved, unmerited favor.  McClymond says time and again in the history of universalism the effort to extend grace to all has ended up compromising the notion of grace.  What seemed to be all grace turned out on inspection to be no grace.  It’s no grace at all.

You and I have to deal honestly with ourselves and deal honestly with God.  We see in the New Testament time and again people facing judgment, warned of judgment, because their lives have demonstrated the insincerity of their faith and unbelief. 

Matthew 6.  Jesus says if you forgive men what they sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

You say, oh, so I earn salvation by forgiving other people.  No, but what the books in Revelation will show is if you were so hard-hearted and demanding and unforgiving then you must not have known forgiveness in your own life, because however much someone has sinned against you, and I’m, some of you are sinned against in grievous, unjust, oppressive ways, and yet it remains true – no one has sinned against you more than you have sinned against God.  So none of us will forgive more than we have been forgiven.

Jesus says later in the Sermon on the Mount, “not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but only who does the will of My Father.  Many will say on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name?  Drive out demons, perform miracles?’  And I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from Me, evil doers.'”

Which means you could be the best preacher, the most famous Christian in your town, you could have the most followers on social media and be a very big deal, and if you do not do the will of your Father in heaven, Jesus says I don’t know who you are.

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good,” Jesus says.  “A bad tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.  You brood of vipers, how can you say, you are evil say anything good?  Out of the overflow of the heart, the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up for him, the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up for him.  But I tell you,” this is Jesus, “that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken, for by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.”

It will be of no use on the judgment day to explain, “Well, I know all of my words were biting and foul and sensual and polluted, but You know my heart.”  Jesus will say, “I do know your heart, and out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.  That was your heart.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, the sheep on the right to eternal life, the goats on His left to eternal punishment.  The scary thing is the goats don’t know they’re goats until Jesus tells them they’re goats.

Every letter here in Revelation contains the promise to him who overcomes, the promise of eternal life.

Do you see what Revelation is about?  Don’t miss the central point.  These Christians here in Revelation are living in a negative world, a world facing persecution, suffering, tribulation, torment, and what was to be their central concern?  It was not ultimately the transformation of the Roman Empire, that was not the conquest, but that they would be overcomers and they would not give in to the temptations of the world and they would prove by their faith and obedience that indeed they belonged to Christ.

Remember, this is written to Christians that they might finish the race, demonstrate real saving faith, stand fast against the temptations to lovelessness, listlessness, worldliness, compromise, and capitulation.

Some of you may be thinking, “Pastor, are you trying to make us think that we’re not saved?”  That’s for the Spirit to do in your life.  God does mean, and this is not a joke, this is dead serious, God does mean to scare the hell out of us that we might run to heaven.  So if you find yourself thinking, “O Lord, may it not be me.  May the books have something to show for my life.  O Lord, may I be an overcomer.  O Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  I never want to leave You or forsake You.”  If that’s what you’re feeling right now, be encouraged because the Lord uses the warnings of Scripture to cause His saints to persevere and to keep walking.

No, the ones who ought to be in a state of dread fear are the ones who have been bored silly.  It’s all nonsense, fire, judgment, heaven, hell.  What might God be saying to you?  What might He be saying to you that you so desperately want to suppress?  You want to push out?  You want this sermon to be over, you hate this sermon, and maybe the person who invited you is saying, “Uh, of all the Sundays.” 

But you know what?  Maybe of all the Sundays, this one.  Hebrews 4 – the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.  It penetrates even to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.

Your friends may not know.  Your spouse may not know.  Your parents, your children, your pastors may not know.  God knows.  And everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

So what ought you to do?  Here’s what Jesus tells you to do.  We read in Mark’s Gospel at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God, and here’s what He said, here’s in one sentence what Jesus knew the world needed to hear and each of us need to hear, in one sentence, here it is, from Jesus:  The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel.

Let’s pray.  Our Father in heaven, lead us to that end, to turn from sin, to hate our sins, to repent, to say, O Lord, if You should mark iniquities, who could stand?  Then to turn to Christ, our only comfort in life and in death, the only name given among men whereby we can be saved, but He is mighty to save.  So we turn from sin, we turn to Christ, we turn to You and in faith we will not fear the judgment but we will look forward with assurance to the life everlasting.  In Christ we pray.  Amen.