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We open the Word of God now to Luke chapter 21, Luke chapter 21.  And this will be the fifth in our series of messages on the signs of the return of Jesus Christ, the signs of the return of Jesus Christ.  And to understand His return, we are sitting at His feet and hearing Him speak about it.

As you will remember, Luke chapter 21 takes place during the last week of our Lord's life, actually on Wednesday evening before His crucifixion on Friday.  He sits down with His disciples on the western slope of the Mount of Olives and tells them that He will return in the future to establish His kingdom.  He will come in power and glory.  The first time He came in humility to die.  The second time He comes in power to reign.  So we're learning about the Second Coming of the Lord from the Lord Himself.  This particular message that our Lord gives is in answer to questions asked by the disciples. When He told them that He was going to come and bring the kingdom and bring the current age to an end and establish the glorious age of His kingdom, they wanted to know when.  That's an appropriate question to ask.  When?

And that is their question, if you will notice again, in verse 7 of Luke 21.  "Teacher, when therefore will these things be and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?"  And Jesus gives them the answer beginning in verse 8.  It is the longest answer to any question Jesus is asked in the New Testament.

Luke 21, Mark 13, and Matthew 24 and 25 give us the composite answer.  By far, the longest answer to any question Jesus was ever asked, which reminds us that understanding the future, understanding prophecy, understanding the end of history is an important issue.  It is not a minor thing or the Lord would have not taken so much time and given so much material in answer to a simple question.  It demands some work, some study but it can be understood, it should be understood. It has powerful impact on our lives now when we understand what God has planned for the future.

If you look at the way the world is going today and you listen to the harbingers of future doom and those who take it upon themselves to warn us about what's coming, you would think that somehow everything has gone wrong and is getting worse and going down a track toward disaster, careening out of control.  We are constantly being terrified as a population by the things that could happen.  We are made aware through the media, through people who warn us and also through dramatic films and books and things that at any point in time something could come careening out of outer space, the piece of some meteorite from somewhere or some other body crash into this planet and shatter it into a billion pieces and everything would be over.  We are warned all the time of a depletion of the ozone around the earth, of toxic waste on the planet, of potential plagues of bacteria that are learning to morph themselves away from those kinds of antibiotics that have been used to treat them through the years and that are coming into forms that we really can't deal with.  We are warned continually about the fact that the world is terrorized by people who have nuclear power, who are gaining the ability to wipe out cities, states and perhaps even whole countries with this massive power bred by new science and new technology.  There are 100 different ways that we might be made afraid of the future.

Has everything gone wrong?  Has God lost control?  Is He not the sovereign anymore?  Is this a good idea gone bad?  Wouldn't we have expected that after Jesus had come and died on a cross and provided salvation and said, "I'll build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it," and risen from the dead and ascended to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit, that He was now in charge and reigning over the development of His kingdom, that everything would have gotten better and better and better?

Well there are people who think that. They're called post-millennialists, if you want a technical term.  They think that the church is going to grow and it's going to get more powerful and more powerful until finally Christianity makes the world better and better and better and finally makes the world so good that we provide a kingdom and we call Jesus back to reign over the kingdom we've provided for Him.

Is that the plan?  And has somehow that plan gone awry?  The first time Jesus came, the ending didn't look good at all.  He ended up on a cross like a common criminal.  But that was reversed very fast as He came out of the grave on the third day and then visibly ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit, the evidence of which was manifest on the Day of Pentecost when the people spoke in languages they didn't know to give glory to God and then to preach the gospel.  But shouldn't history be somehow affected by the coming of the Holy Spirit and the development of the church?  Is this really the plan — that we live on the brink of the next great disaster that could wipe us out as all prior civilizations have lived on that brink?  And even though we in this day have managed by science and technology to mitigate some of the impact of the things that could wipe us out, as I said, there are many more things that can now wipe us out than there were in the past.

What should we have expected?  What should the disciples have expected?  And what did Jesus tell us to expect?  Let's look at the text and find out.

Verse 8, here's His answer.  When are you coming?  When will it be the end of the age?

"See to it that you be not misled, for many will come in My name saying, 'I am He and the time is at hand.'  Do not go after them.  And when you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.  Then He continued by saying to them, 'Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be great earthquakes and in various places plagues and famines and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake.  It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.  So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves, for I'll give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.  But you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends and they will put some of you to death and you will be hated by all on account of My name.  Yet not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives.'"

In a word, that is a totally pessimistic view of the future.  There isn't one hopeful element.  Three things jump out of that.  One, the age between now and My coming will be marked by religious deception.  There will be those who come and say, "I am Christ, I am He, the time, the kairos, the epoch, the golden age has come, do not go after them.  They are false."  The period of time between the first and the Second Coming of Christ is marked by religious deception in the name of Christ, the flourishing, the development, the escalation and the growth of a false kind of Christianity.

Secondly, it is not only marked by religious deception, but by global disaster, global disaster involving war, disturbances, earthquakes, plagues, famines, terrors, and great signs from heaven.

Thirdly, it is marked by believer persecution, or distress.  Look for three things: deceivers, disasters and distresses on those who are believers.  Really not what maybe you might have thought the Lord would set in motion.  Now that I've come and risen from the dead and ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit and the kingdom will be built and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, maybe you thought the next line would be, "We're going to take over the earth, reduce all the natural disasters, reduce all the wars and eliminate all persecution of the people of God.”  Just the opposite: escalating deception, escalating disasters and escalating distress on the heads of those who belong to God.

Look at history around you, folks. It's right on schedule.  It's right on schedule.  When the disciples said, "When is this going to happen and what is going to be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age?" Jesus could have said to them, and He did on other occasions, "It's an hour when you don't expect," Luke 12:40.  You're not going to know.  Or in Matthew 24:36, "Of that day and hour no one knows."  Or in Acts 1:7, "It's not for you to know the times and the epochs that the Father has put in His own power.”  He is sovereign over those.  And that is true.  We cannot know the day or the hour.  In fact, in 1 Thessalonians 5, the apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Spirit says that He will come like a thief in the night, invisible and unexpected, in an hour when you think not. You're not to know.  That's in God's hands.  And in 1 Timothy chapter 6, verses 14 to 16, Paul again says, "At the appearing of our Lord will be at the proper time determined by the one who is the Sovereign."  We don't know the exact moment.  We don't know the day and the hour when He's going to come.  We don't know when He's going to rapture the church and begin to launch the judgments in the time of tribulation that precede His return to set up His kingdom and to judge the ungodly and to reward the righteous.  We don't know when that is going to begin.

But, in the meantime, Jesus says, here's what you can expect: between His first coming and Second Coming, deception, disaster, and distress, clearly pessimistic.  Fallen world, careening, yes; a fallen world cycling downward, yes; escalating deception, escalating disasters, escalating persecution, and it reaches its fever pitch right near the very end.  It's described to us in careful detail in Revelation 6 through 19.  There you have the details of the final seven-year period before the Lord establishes His kingdom: horrific deception, horrific disasters, horrific persecution and distress upon those who name the name of Christ.  It starts now, Jesus is saying, and it escalates until it reaches its highest point, just prior to His return.  Expect a constant array of deceiving false teachers. Expect physical disasters and expect persecution, all increasing toward the end.

This is such a crucial prophecy for our Lord to give, for a couple of reasons that ought to be obvious.  Number one, because it shows that He is God because only God knows the future.  He vindicates His claims to deity by predicting the future and here we are 2,000 years later saying, "That's exactly the way it has been, that's the way it is, and clearly that's the way it's going to continue to be in this world."

Secondly, it not only shows His supernatural knowledge of the future but it shows His supernatural control of the future because this is the plan.   This is the plan.  His first coming didn't end in failure. It ended in success for He purchased our redemption on the cross and God vindicated His death on the cross by raising Him from the dead, which was the divine validation of His perfect sacrifice, and took Him to heaven, seated Him at His right hand, made Him Lord and gave Him authority over all; sent the Holy Spirit into the world to redeem, to build the church in His name.  His first coming is validated by His resurrection, His ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit.  And the Scripture is crystal clear that the Father will exalt Him and glorify Him when He sends Him back the second time.  But in the meantime, in the meantime this is what experience in the world is going to be like.

I want to call your attention to verse 9.  "When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified for these things must take place first.  But the end does not follow immediately."  So what He is saying is here's what to expect: deception, disasters, distress, persecution.  But when you see that, that doesn't mean the end is coming immediately.

As I said, this event, this message that Jesus gave is also included in Mark 13 and Matthew 24 and 25.  And reading some of the text out of Matthew helps to enrich what Luke records, for in Matthew 24:8 Jesus added this, "All these things are merely the birth pains,” merely the birth pains.  It's a very vivid analogy used often in the Scriptures, used often by the Jewish writers, familiar to Jewish people.  Birth pains are an increasing sequence of contractions that finally become intense, fiercely intense and result in the big event, birth.  It's an apt analogy for understanding human history.  The contractions, or the pains, start out light and they increase and they increase and they increase till they reach a point of excruciation before the big event.

So, Jesus is saying these are just the birth pains.  These are just the very early birth pains and they've been going on for 2,000 years and have been escalating.  And if you want to see what they're going to look like at the very end just before the event then you read Revelation 6 through 19 and that's why we got the little book for you called Because The Time is Near so that you can read that and have an explanation of all those events during that last seven years before the Lord comes.

The present afflictions, I suppose they are more like Braxton Hicks contractions. You ladies would know what that is. Braxton Hicks contractions are premature labor pains.  They do indicate that you're pregnant.  They do indicate that you're going to have a baby.  They do indicate there is an event.  But they are not equal to the real ones that come later and grow in final intensity.

I'm not sure exactly where we are in the process.  I don't know how much longer this world will suffer these birth pains.  I don't know how fast they will escalate and I don't know precisely when the end will come.  But I know what we're experiencing is exactly what Jesus said we would experience.

First of all: deceivers.  Let's go back to verse 8. We already covered it, just a reminder.  "See to it that you be not misled.  Many will come in My name saying I am He and the time is at hand.  Do not go after them."  Here our Lord promises many false representatives of Himself.  They'll come in His name, in the name of Christ, false forms of Christianity, false claims to be Messiah.  And I told you that during the time of Felix as governor over Israel, right after Christ, Josephus, the historian, says there was a would-be Messiah being executed every day.  They proliferated in those early years.  And Christianity found its way to falsehood very, very rapidly.  And if you read the early church fathers, even in the next century, you begin to see all kinds of false claims of Christianity, all kinds of heresies and bizarre interpretations of Scripture that have to be dealt with and fought against so that sound doctrine can survive.  And it goes on through the centuries as councils meet to crystallize the Trinity and to crystallize the deity of Christ as the salient and true representation of Christian doctrine.  At the same time you have the flourishing of gnostic gospels that end up in ridiculous, ludicrous movies like “The DaVinci Code,” even today.

So, there will always be those who have a different approach to Christianity, who say they represent Christ when they do not.  And today the world is filled with false Christianity.  Its edifices, its cathedrals, its religious forms are all over the place across this planet.  It is extensive, extensive.  And so we're not surprised at the growth of false Christianity.  That's going to happen.  Don't go after them.  Be like the noble Bereans who searched the Scripture to see if things were so.  Deceivers: no surprise, no surprise at all.  In fact, if you think Christianity is going to take over the world, you've got it exactly wrong.  False Christianity is going to prevail on the popular level.

Secondly: disasters.  We already covered a lot of point one in the previous messages.  Secondly:  disasters. Expect a proliferation and escalation of false religion and false religious leaders and they are absolutely everywhere today, if not capturing the world by institutional churches and forms, capturing the world by TV with their false teachings, misrepresentations of Christ; and periodically being uncovered as charlatans and frauds. But many get away with it.  But in addition to that, there will come global catastrophes.  Notice verse 9.  "When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified."

It's easy to become terrified.  If I didn't know what Scripture says, if I didn't know God was sovereign, if I didn't know God was on the throne and God was ordering history, this would be a terrifying world to live in.  It would be a terrifying world to raise children in.  It would be terrifying to think about your grandchildren, to think about your future in this world, especially with people out there making the worst case scenario all the time for everything that possibly could go wrong.  And so the Lord understands that.  And we can be terrified by the way things go in this world, even in a primitive world around the time of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It was a terrifying world to live in because it was marked by wars and disturbances.  It was marked by terrifying things.

Let me break that out a little bit.  Just take wars and go down to verse 10 and you'll see He explains what He has in mind.  He continued by saying to them, "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom."  If there is any subject that dominates world history it is the subject of what?  Of war.  If you ever study the history of the world, you study the history of war.  That's what it's all about.  It's the history of who conquers whom and who subjugates whom, and who defeats whom, who wins, who loses, who triumphs, who advances, who retreats.  The whole of human history is the history of war.  Nothing is more characteristic of humanity than war: civil war, border war, tribal war, family war, revolutions, rebellions, military actions, terrorism, genocide, world wars.  The only time there's any peace is when everybody pauses to reload.  We were all euphoric when glasnost and perestroika came along and we thought the cold war with Russia was over and that they were no longer a threat to us with their nuclear power.  And we were so happy about that.  There was such great liberation at the time.  And now we're beginning to find out that all they've been doing the whole time since then is reloading and making alliances with even more fearsome enemies in the Middle East.  This is to be expected.  This is the way the world will be.  This is exactly what Jesus says. We are not at all surprised.  It will escalate — escalate in its destructive capability because as technology and science escalates, the ability to kill more and more and more and more becomes reality.

Before the time of Jesus Christ, historians record about seventy significant wars; seventy. That has nothing to do with conflicts, rebellions, clashes, battles, conflicts, attacks.  They go on every day all over the world.  Seventy wars recorded before Christ.  In the 1,000 years after Christ, 50 wars.  Fifty wars in a thousand years.  In the next 500 years, 100 wars.  In the next 300 years, 250 wars.  In the last 200 years, 500 wars.  Twenty wars in the last four years.  Escalating, escalating, escalating, escalating with kill power, escalating, escalating, escalating.

Staggering list of wars.  I got my hands on an encyclopedic record of wars.  Page after page after page after page, twenty some pages of tiny, tiny type and that only covers what could be constituted as some kind of war which would be a conflict in which there were many engagements and many battles and that lasted a prolonged time.  We know that we're potentially on the brink of war, that there are enemies of the United States and enemies of other nations who are armed with nuclear weapons and more and more coming all the time, and the people who have it selling it to the people who don't have it.

But this is nothing compared to what's going to come in the future.  What our Lord is showing us here is that this is going to be characteristic of the time, but this is birth pains, which means it's going to go stronger and stronger and greater and greater and more intense.  And if you want a glimpse at the very end into those final seven years, turn in your Bible to Revelation chapter 6, Revelation chapter 6 and let's see where it's finally going to go.

Revelation chapter 6, and as I said, Revelation 6 through 19 gives us all of these terrible disasters in their last and final form in the years just before Jesus returns.  Verse 1, "I saw the Lamb broke one of the seals,” seven seals. This is the scroll that is the title deed to the earth. The Lamb of God has a right to take over the earth from the usurper, Satan.  He takes the title deed, in John's vision, out of the hand of God. He begins to unroll it and with the breaking of each seal, a judgment is released on the earth.  The first one is a white horse, verse 2, “and he who sat on it had a bow, and a crown was given to him and he went out conquering and to conquer."  This is a picture of the final Antichrist who comes as a great world conqueror.  He broke the second seal, verse 3. "I heard the second living creature say, 'Come,' and another, a red horse, went out and to him who sat on it was granted to take peace from the earth that men should slay one another and a great sword was given to him."

This is an indication at the end of a massive effort in war which people will slaughter one another.  How bad will it be?  Look at Revelation 9 verse 14, Revelation 9 verse 14. We get a little more specific.  This again is in the judgments.  There are three sets of judgments: seal judgments, trumpet judgments and bowl judgments.  This is in the trumpet judgments of the future.  Sixth angel sounds in verse 14, and the word comes verse 13 the sixth angel sounds.  In verse 14 the word comes, "Release the four angels bound at the great river Euphrates."  The picture in the vision is that there are four angels at the Euphrates in the Middle East and they are holding back something. They are restraining something.

In verse 15 "The four angels who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year were released."  They were released so that they might kill a third of mankind.

Who did this?  Verse 16: "The number of the armies of the horsemen were 200 million."  Here is a force of 200 million released in the Middle East to come and kill a third of the world.  Everything is east, north, south of Israel, the focal point.  In the future, all we can see here is some massive slaughter of a third of humanity, driven by a great, militant, hostile force from the Middle East.  In the 16th chapter of Revelation and verse 13...well verse 12, the sixth angel pours a bowl. This is a bowl judgment, on again the great river Euphrates. Its waters have dried up that the way might be prepared for the kings from the east.  Here's the same force coming from the east.  And the way is made open.  They are released from the angelic restraint.  "I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, out of the mouth of the false prophet three unclean spirits like frogs."

In John's vision this is a representation of demons coming forward. Spirits of demons, verse 14, performing signs, go out to the kings of the whole world to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.  Demons are going to move the kings of the world to engage in this battle.  You've got this massive force from the east that is going to call the whole world into conflict.  Not an unimaginable scenario.  Not an unimaginable scenario.

All the world gathers.  They gather for what is the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.  Verse 16, they are gathered to a place in the Hebrew called Har Meghiddo. That's Mount Megiddo. That's in the north of Israel. I've been there many times.  They will be gathered into that great plain.  The great sweeping force from the east and all the nations of the world gather together for that final, immense conflict.  As they come to fight each other, they will have to turn to fight another who comes out of heaven, chapter 19 verse 11.  Heaven opened, “behold a white horse and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True and in righteousness He judges and makes war."  Here comes Christ.  "And His eyes are a flame of fire. Upon His head are many diadems and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself."

People always ask me what that name is.  "And He's clothed with a robe dipped in blood. His name is called the Word of God. The armies which are in heaven clothed in fine linen — white and clean — are following Him on white horses." And these would be the saints and the angels.  "From His mouth comes a sharp sword.  With it He smites the nations and rules them with a rod of iron, treads the winepress of the fierce wrath of God the Almighty, crushing them.  On His robe and His thigh He has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords."

The aftermath in verse 17, "An angel standing in the sun cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in mid-heaven, 'Come. Assemble for the great supper of God.'" The birds can eat the rotting flesh of the nations that have gathered against the saints and been destroyed by the returning Christ.  The birds come and eat the flesh of kings and commanders and mighty men and horses, all the carnage left after Armageddon.  "And the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assemble to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. The beast was seized and with him the false prophet who performed signs in His presence by which he had deceived those who received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image.  The two were thrown into the Lake of Fire, which burns with brimstone. The rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse and all the birds were filled with their flesh."

Just a footnote, the greatest location of migrating birds on the planet is Israel.  All the birds from all across Europe fly over Israel, when winter starts, into Africa; plenty of birds for the carnage.

Whatever wars are going on in the world, whatever wars have gone on in the past, whatever wars will go on in the near future, they're going to be nothing like the great, final conflagrations that occur in the time of tribulation.  Further description of those wars is found in Daniel 11 and also in Zechariah chapter 14.  So Jesus says, nation rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom. We're talking about something far bigger than what happened at 70 A.D.  Some people think this all relates to 70 A.D., that this is all surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem forty years after this...this crucifixion of Jesus.   In 70 A.D. the Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem.  They did.  They brought down the temple and the city, as Jesus said they would.  He predicted that back in verse 6, not one stone in the temple left on another.

But then He expands beyond that.  There's no way that you can describe 70 A.D. as nations against nations and kingdoms against kingdoms.  It's just global.  And it will be the characteristic of the period between the two comings, escalating to a ferocity unknown and unimagined at the very end.

Then go back to verse 9 and take the second word: disturbances, disturbances.  Commotions, catastrophes, upheavals, cataclysms, any of those would be synonyms for that word.  But we can go down to find a further explanation in verse 11.  What are these disturbances?  They are “great earthquakes and in various places plagues and famines and terrors and great signs from heaven."

Has the world experienced those things?  Is that not characteristic?  The first one is seismoi megaloi, from which we get “seismic” and “mega,” big earthquakes, massive earthquakes, great earthquakes.  I was reading over the weekend a book called The Language of God by Francis Collins, who is the director of the human genome project, who has some interesting insights into these things but he was affirming that the earth as we know it with its life on it is 4.5 billion years old.  This planet is disintegrating at such a rapid rate that there's no way you could humanly, mathematically, scientifically extrapolate back and 4.5 billion years ago have this earth.  It is deteriorating much, much faster than that.  At best, if you follow the biblical account, it's been around about 6,000 years and we're living on a dying planet.  We're living on a disposable planet.  It is disintegrating.

They're right.  The environmentalists are right.  It's...It’s going in the wrong direction.  The second law of thermodynamics is in operation. All things tend toward disorder.  It's happening around us.  And there's this massive effort to try to save the planet.  Hey, it's been around 4.5 billion, why can't it be around another 4.5 billion?  We've got to save the planet by using less hair spray, or Right Guard, or whatever aerosol you use, or by stopping all industry, penalizing all manufacturing so they don't dump toxic waste into streams.

Can we save the planet?  No, the planet under slow disintegration.  The birth pains are already obvious.  There are great earthquakes, there always have been.  We have records of earthquakes.  Interestingly enough, going back to the first one that is actually on record that I could find is January 23, 1556. There were lots of earthquakes before that.  There are just not good records about them.  In 1755, 80 thousand died in Portugal in an earthquake.  In 1857 there was an earthquake in Naples, right at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. Eleven thousand died.  In 1908 at the famous Reggio Calabria, the Straits of Messina between Italy and Sicily, there was an earthquake that killed 20 thousand.  In 1920 there was an earthquake in China that killed 200 thousand.  In 1922 there was an earthquake in Japan that killed 150 thousand.  Again another one in China in ‘27 that killed 200 thousand.  In 1939 in Turkey there was an earthquake that killed 33 thousand.  In 1960 in Morocco, 10 thousand were killed in an earthquake.  In 1970 in Peru 70 thousand were killed.  In 1976, some of you will remember, the Guatemalan earthquake killed 25 thousand.  The same year in China, an earthquake killed a quarter of a million people.  In 1985, you remember, the earthquake in Mexico City, 10 thousand people died.  In 1988 in Armenia, 25 thousand died.  In 2001, 21  thousand died in an earthquake in India.  In 2002, 31 thousand died in an earthquake in Iran.  In 2004, 283 thousand died because of the Sumatran earthquake and the effect of that on the ocean.  In 2005, 75 thousand died in Kashmir. And those are just some of the earthquakes with the bigger numbers.

The extreme earthquakes range from an 8.5 to a 9.5 and they both happened in the same place.  You don't want to move to Chile.  Tens of millions of people have been killed and there will be more earthquakes.  There will be more because Jesus said there will be more.  But we haven't seen anything like the kind of earthquakes that God has prepared for the future.

Turn to Revelation 16, verse 17.  "The seventh angel sounded." This would be the last blast of trumpet judgments, the last bowl judgment, which is the last part of the last trumpet judgment. They're kind of telescopic.  "The seventh angel poured out his bowl on the air and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne saying, 'It is done.” It's over. This is the last judgment before Christ comes.  “There were flashes of lightning, sounds, 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."  John is given a vision of that last of all these great earthquakes.  The great city was split into three parts, Jerusalem. The cities of the nations collapsed.  “Babylon the great was remembered before God to give her the cup of the wine of her fierce wrath.”  And again you have Babylon connected with the end.

How bad is this earthquake?  Look at verse 20, "Every island fled away and the mountains were not found.”  Huge hailstones, about 100 pounds each, came down from heaven upon men.  And what is their response?  “They blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.”  Jesus said, "Expect great earthquakes.  Expect them to escalate in a fallen, corrupted physical realm."

Not just earthquakes.  Verse 11: "in various places, plagues and famines."  A play on words in the Greek: loimoi and limoi, loimoi and limoi, plagues and famines, often connected. As you would well know, plagues can lead to famines.  Interesting study, the history of plagues; it's always fascinated me.  The great plague of Athens 400 years before Christ; they're not really sure whether it was a bubonic plague or whether it was smallpox, measles, typhus. Even anthrax has been suggested for that plague 400 years before Christ.  After Christ they began to name the plagues by the emperor: the Antonine Plague, the Cyprian Plague, the Justinian Plague.  There were plagues in the early centuries after Christ, they think related to smallpox.

The plague of Justinian in the sixth century they think was a viral hemorrhagic plague or maybe the first notable bubonic plague.  In the eighth century there was the plague of Constantinople.  And by the time you jump ahead a little bit, 1347, you have what is called the Black Death that sweeps across Europe, England, Ireland, Scotland, Portugal, Russia, just massacring people everywhere, whole villages, whole cities, people dying by the hundreds of thousands all across Europe.  In the fifteenth century, early in the fifteenth century around 1402, Iceland had a plague.  In the sixteenth century, right in the euphoria of the Reformation period of time, just after the death of Calvin, Italy, Sicily and segments of northern Europe suffered a horrible plague, possibly bubonic in nature.  Then there was the London Plague at the end of the sixteenth century.  In the next century, the Italian Plague and a great plague that swept through the city of Milan.  In the seventeenth century, a plague in Seville, Spain, another horrible plague in London, one in Vienna in the eighteenth century, the great plague of Marseille, bubonic again.  Another bubonic plague in 1771 hit the city of Moscow. Those are only some in the... Well really, from 1850 to 1900 there is a pandemic of bubonic plagues in China that killed millions and millions of people.  Today we're afraid of the SARS virus, the bird flu, staph infection running wild and we realize that bacteria are morphing around some of the antibiotics that have been dealing with them in the past.  We are told to be afraid of these things, to wash our hands, to sanitize ourselves, etc., etc.  There is the reality that with all the immigration, legal and illegal, coming into America that we are being subjected to those kinds of viruses and those kinds of bacterial influences for which we have no antibodies developed in our society.  And the whole world is put on notice that we're all susceptible to all of this.

This is just exactly what Jesus said you could expect, and along with it, famines.  There are at least 2,000 significant famines on record.  The first one on record: 440 B.C. in Rome, but many, many other famines, by the tens of thousands, really.  Villages and cities have experienced famines.  Great famine in India in 650, a great famine in Spain in 750.  In the 800s, the ninth century, drought and famine.  The consequence of drought killed the entire Mayan civilization which was a civilization of multiplied millions of people in Mexico. All that are left are some Mayan pyramids to this day, but the whole civilization went down in a famine.

From the eleventh to the seventeenth century, England had many famines.  Ireland, Scotland, all of Europe, India, Egypt, Mexico, Portugal, Germany, Italy, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, Poland, France, millions of deaths in France, 100 thousand died in a famine in Sweden.  One third of the population of Finland was wiped out in a famine.  Today there is deadly famine sweeping across the whole continent of Africa.  Millions of people are dying of famine there.  This is how it is in the world in which we live, this fallen world.

Let me show you the future.  Revelation chapter 6 verse 5, back to the horsemen, the four horsemen of the apocalypse as they're often called.  "He broke the third seal.  I heard the third living creature say, 'Come.'" This is an angelic creature in John's vision, giving him a view of the future.  He looks “and behold, a black horse and He who sat on him had a pair of scales in his hand.  And I heard, as it were, a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, 'A quart of wheat for a denarius, three quarters...three quarts of barley for a denarius. Do not harm the oil and the wine.'"

Now we get scarcity with grain and scarcity with oil and wine, famine conditions.  You have war and then you have famine.  Many times, of course, famine is a result of war.  And out of that, you have the fourth seal broken in verse 7, the fourth living creature says, “Come.” The fourth horseman shows up, an ashen or pale horse, “and he who sat on it had the name of death."  War, famine, death.  Hades, the grave, is following to collect the people that are dying.  “Authority was given to them over one fourth of the earth to kill with sword and with famine and with plague and by the wild beasts of the earth.”

There's coming a time in the future when the plague, the pestilence, the famine will kill one fourth of humanity.  The effects of these catastrophes are worldwide. They are global and they are unstoppable and they are worst at the very end.

And he further mentions terrors. Go back to verse 11.  "And there will be terrors," phobētron, from which we get “phobia,” from phobos, the Greek verb “to be afraid.”  Phobētron, horrific sights, gathers up anything that's left from verse 8 that we just read in Revelation 6, the wild beasts of the earth.  Whatever isn't covered under famine and plague, anything else.  Whatever isn't under war, famine and plague would be under terrors.  Just gathers up what's left as illustrated by the wild beasts.

And then: great signs from heaven.  What should we expect in this period of history?  Death at the hand of wild beasts?  I'm sure that's happened.  Earthquakes?  That's happened and happening and will happen, escalating.  Plagues?  Yes.  Famine?  Yes.  And even great signs from heaven.  What could that be?  Is it a meteor hitting the earth?  That's happened.  What could it mean?

Well where does all our weather come from?  It comes from heaven.  Has weather been a blessing?  Sure.  Has it been a curse?  Of course it's been a curse.  Heat in drought, scorching, parching the hungry and the thirsty and leaving them dead, storms that come, bring so much water that they drown whole civilizations, whole cities.  Even the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius goes up into the air and deposits gas coming down out of the air and asphyxiates the whole of Pompeii. Hurricanes, tornados, ice storms, snow, flood.

Back to Revelation 6 to learn more about this.  Revelation 6 verse 12, "I looked when he broke the sixth seal and there was a great earthquake and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair." That's goatskin. Black means the sun goes out. The moon becomes like blood, dark as well.  In the future there will be a great earthquake and the sun will go out and the moon as well, for it’s reflected light from the sun.  “The stars of the sky fell to the earth as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind and the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up.  And every mountain and island were moved out of their places.  And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They said to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us.’” As long as you're falling, fall on us “’and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb’ for the great day of the wrath has come and who is able to stand?"

The future, time of the tribulation, massive changes in the heavens above, massive.  Look at chapter 8 and verse 3, another angel came, stood at the altar, has a golden censer. And verse 4 says, the smoke of the incense in that censer with the prayers of the saints went up before God out of the angel's hand.  The angel took the censer, filled it with the fire of the altar, threw it to the earth; a symbolic act.  There followed peals of thunder, sounds, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.  "And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared them to sound them.  And the first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and were thrown to the earth.  A third of the earth was burned up.  A third of the trees were burned up.  And all the green grass was burned up."  Fire coming from the sky.

"The second angel sounded. Something like a great mountain burning with fire" a meteor perhaps, “was thrown into the sea.  A third of the sea became blood.  A third of the creatures in the sea had life, died.  A third of the ships were destroyed.  The third angel sounded and a great star fell from heaven,” another heavenly body catapulted to the earth like a torch, “fell on a third of the rivers and the springs of waters.”  The salt waters are devastated and so are the fresh waters.  “The name of the star is called wormwood and a third of the waters became wormwood and many men died from the waters because they were made bitter,” or toxic.  A fourth angel sounds, a third of the sun, a third of the moon, a third of the stars were smitten, a third of them might be darkened and day might not shine for a third of it and the night in the same way.  You know what that means. All the tides are thrown off.  Day and night is thrown off.  All the crops are thrown off.  Things can't grow.  Life is total chaos.

"And I looked and heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven saying with a loud voice, 'Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound.’"  If it's that bad with the first four, what in the world is going to happen with the final three?

This is the future of this planet.  This is the future of humanity.  This is the future of the world.  Deceivers will flourish and abound in the name of Christ.  False Christianity will cover the globe.  Deception and disaster... Disaster will come and stay and grow and escalate until the final disaster.

The final deception will be carried out by Antichrist and the false prophet.  And he will deceive many.  The final disasters, we read you, from the book of Revelation.  There's one more component, and we'll save that for next time: distress to believers.  Jesus predicts persecution and that has been the history of the church, even until today.  And the greatest persecution will come to the tribulation saints in the future, as we will see.

Father, as we look at the world around us, we can see that what our Lord Jesus said is exactly the way it is.  How affirming that is to know that He knows accurately and precisely and that the visions given to John about the future confirm the character of these disasters and deceptions is escalating because they are identified as birth pains that are increasingly intense until most intense at the very end.  You are the Lord of history. You are the God of history.  On one hand it is so tragic that sin entered into this world, and yet You allowed it in order that You might demonstrate Your grace, that You might manifest Your salvation, that You might call together a people who love You and serve You, and display forever to them and to the holy angels Your love and Your goodness and Your forgiveness.  And our hearts ache for all those in the world who are caught in the deception of false religion, have nowhere to turn, who live in fear of the impending and very real dangers that they face every day and have no one to give them hope and assurance about life after death.

Lord, help us to be faithful to proclaim the good news, that in a dying world there is a living gospel, and a dying...on a dying planet there's a living Savior, and a dying society there's a living church, that you can be delivered from death to life by coming to the true knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and have your heart filled with everlasting joy and hope in anticipation of what awaits us.  We know that nothing can separate us from His love and one day He will bring His own to glory.  Even now while all this is happening on earth, we know what's going on in heaven, for Jesus said this, "I go to prepare a place for you and I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am, there you may be also."

So, Lord, we're so thankful that You are now preparing a place in heaven for us while this world careens towards its final judgment.  We look forward to the day when we will enter into that place because of Your grace.

Before I close the prayer and while you're still praying, a reminder that if you don't know the Lord Jesus Christ, this would be the day to open your heart, confess Him as Lord and Savior, repent of your sin, receive His salvation and heaven and joy.

Father, we do thank You so much for the staggering wonder of Your Word which You've given to us so that we're not in the dark about what's going on.  You are the God of history, history is Yours and we're part of it.  We're part of the history You're writing that ends in eternity and eternal joy. What a blessing.  Father, draw to Yourself many, even today, out of this perishing world into that eternal kingdom where all is joy and promise.  And we'll thank You and we say this for Your glory alone, Amen.

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