Lesson 13March 19-25
Read for This Week's Study: Rev. 20:1-3, Jer. 4:23-26, 1 Cor. 4:5, Rev. 20:7-15, Phil. 2:9-11, 2 Pet. 3:10.
Memory Text: "'And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away'"(Revelation 21:4, NKJV).
People often ask why did evil arise in the first place? Central to the answer is freedom. True freedom, true moral freedom, involves risk, because if persons (or beings) are truly free, then they must have the option to do wrong.
Fair enough, but the next question arises: Why then didn't God just blot them out when they did wrong and spare the rest of us the horrible results of rebellion?
The answer gets to the heart of the great controversy. As we will see this week, the Lord runs a kind of "open" government, and though much about Him and His ways are mysterious, He will resolve the great controversy in a way that will forever end all questions about His self-denial, goodness, justice, love, and law.
Indeed, we will be given a thousand years to get answers, at least answers regarding the fate of the lost (we'll have an eternity for the rest). After the Second Coming, the redeemed will live and reign with Christ for a thousand years. And, even more incredible, they will have an active role in judgment. Let's look at the final steps in the long-playing drama of the great controversy.
Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, March 26.
Read Revelation 20:1-3. What is being described here, and what hope does it offer us?
Binding or being bound is used in a number of ways in the Bible. On the simplest level it applies to a prisoner. Jesus loosed many who had been bound by Satan. Furthermore, the act of binding is used to describe the power that God gives the church over evil, making it a symbol of judgment.
When a dangerous criminal is captured, it is necessary to bind him. However, many times in the Bible when people are bound, they are hardly criminals. John the Baptist was put in chains because he denounced the moral evils of the king (Matt. 14:3-4). Jesus was bound in the Garden (John 18:12), at His trial (John 18:24), and in death (John 19:40). Paul (Acts 21:33) and Peter (Acts 12:6) were both bound.
Jesus also spent a lot of face-to-face time with people whom Satan had bound. There was a demoniac bound with broken chains on his wrists and ankles (Mark 5:3-4). Before Jesus released him from demons, nobody could restrain the evil. He met a woman whose back had been bent over, and He released her (Luke 13:11-12, 16). He also released Lazarus from the tomb and from his grave clothes(John 11:43-44). Then there was Barabbas, who, although chained, was released so that Jesus, not him, would be crucified (Mark 15:7-15). In all of these instances, we see Satan either trying to keep people imprisoned with affliction or binding the innocent in order to allow evil to flourish. But we also see Jesus breaking the bonds of death in order to bring release and freedom to a world hopelessly imprisoned by Satan. In the end, Satan is bound and cast into outer darkness (Rev. 20:1-3).
Also, part of Jesus' mission to free those whom Satan bound was to empower His followers. He assured them that Satan ("the strong man") could be bound and his house plundered (Matt. 12:26-29, NKJV). In other words, Satan has no power against Christ and Christ's followers because Christ has released His people from the bonds of Satan.
As Paul observed, "the word of God is not chained" (2 Tim. 2:9, NKJV). It is the means whereby Jesus silenced Satan (Matt. 4:4, 7,10), and we can use the same power to resist him, as well.
What promises can you claim that will free you from whatever chains the evil one seeks to bind you with?
The "Why" Questions
The opening verses of Genesis describe the earth as being "without form, and void" (Gen. 1:2). This same phrase is repeated by Jeremiah to describe the earth after its destruction by the seven last plagues and the Second Coming, with every city on earth "broken down at the presence of the LORD"(Jer. 4:26, NKJV). In Jeremiah's description, there is no man (Jer. 4:25); in John's account, Satan is unable to deceive anyone (Rev. 20:3).
The dramatic and universal effects of the Second Coming can explain what is happening here in Revelation. First, Jesus promises to take His followers to a place He left earth to prepare (John 14:1-3). Paul adds the detail that those followers include the living, and those who have been resurrected from their graves (1 Thess. 4:16-17). John adds another detail: after the first resurrection at the Second Coming, the remainder of the dead will stay dead until the thousand years end (Rev. 20:5).
Read Revelation 20:4. What is being described in this text?
"Judgment was committed to them" (NKJV). How could they judge without getting more information than they have now? Before the final destruction of the wicked, the saved are given the opportunity to get many of their "why" questions answered. Even more amazingly, the redeemed even play a role in judging the lost. "In union with Christ they judge the wicked, comparing their acts with the statute book, the Bible, and deciding every case according to the deeds done in the body. Then the portion which the wicked must suffer is meted out, according to their works; and it is recorded against their names in the book of death."-Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 661.
During this time of opening the records, we will see the countless times that God's still small voice beckoned the lost with words of kindness and love. How patiently He persisted, only to be repeatedly drowned out by the clatter of the things that this world flaunts as desirable. Silently He waited, longing for an opportunity to be recognized as the One who paid an infinite price so they could have life, but instead they chose death. Is there anything in your life that is keeping you from hearing His voice? He is still patiently waiting for you. Choose life.
Read 1 Corinthians 4:5. What is promised to us here in regard to the Second Coming? How can you lean on this promise now, when, no doubt, you have a lot of unanswered questions?
In Bible times, there were two places for judgment: the city gate and before the king's throne. The elders at the gate decided all the small cases, but the king decided all the large issues. His was the final word in ensuring justice. Similarly, the Bible pictures God enthroned as King of the universe, guaranteeing that justice is finally done (Rev. 20:11-15).
Read Revelation 20:7-15. How do we understand these momentous events?
Revelation 20:1-15 is all about the thousand years; so, this particular judgment occurs in that time frame. It is not the same scene that is described in Revelation 20:4, where there are many thrones, because in Revelation 20:11 there is only one. Rather than being at the beginning of the thousand years, it is at the end, after the second resurrection (Rev. 20:5), and after Satan convinces the hosts of the unsaved to surround the Holy City (Rev. 20:7-9). God's great white throne is seen above the city at that point. Present is every person ever born; some inside the city, some outside. This is the time that Jesus spoke about when He said that there would be some people who ask God why they did not make it into God's kingdom (Matt. 7:22-23). It is also the time that Paul spoke of when he said that one day every knee shall bow down before Jesus, "of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and . . . every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. 2:9-11, NKJV).
The purpose of judgment is not to teach God anything that He doesn't already know, for He already knows everything. The purpose is to ensure that everybody knows exactly why God has judged the way that He has. Every person, every angel, will be able to say, "'You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were'" (Rev. 16:5, NIV). The saved and lost, both among humans and angels, will see the justice and righteousness of God.
The final act in this drama is the destruction of "Death and Hades," plus those not "written in the Book of Life" (Rev. 20:14-15, NKJV). Jesus holds the keys to Death and Hades (Rev. 1:18). Neither of these has any reason to exist any longer. Rather than facing eternal torment, as is so commonly taught, the lost are destroyed. They cease to exist forever, the opposite of eternal life.
New Heavens and a New Earth
Sin and rebellion have been unwelcome intruders. They were never meant to be here. They inflicted incredible damage, but now that the cause of that damage no longer exists, it is time to restore everything to perfection. Not until that happens will the great controversy be completed.
Read Revelation 21:1-2, 9-10; 22:1-3. What are the main features of John's description? What do they mean?
When John describes new heavens as well as a new earth, he is repeating what Peter said: "the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat" (2 Pet. 3:10, NKJV). As we know so well, the earth is in desperate need of more than just a makeover. Everything here is going to be completely destroyed in order to make way for a whole new existence.
John also talks about no more sea (Rev. 21:1). He wrote this from a prison island (Patmos) where the sea prevented his escape. Even in a modern boat, it takes hours to reach the island where John wrote these words. In the earth made new there will no longer be any form of barrier that prevents the redeemed from moving freely or seeing their loved ones.
The New Jerusalem sounds incredibly spectacular. It is described in terms of a city from Bible times because that is all John knew about. However, artists' impressions that depict it with first-century Roman architecture do it a major disservice because this is a city "whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:10).
Our minds can barely grasp these descriptions. How fun it is to let our imagination dwell on what's in store for us though. We can barely begin to imagine it. Also, the huge dimensions of the city inform us that there is no shortage of space. There is room for everyone.
Look around at the beauty of the natural world and what it tells us about the character of God, even despite the ravages of sin. How can what we see here now help inspire us to trust in the hope of what we don't yet see?
No More Tears
Read Revelation 21:3-5. What do the tears there mean?
We are all experienced with what it means to cry. We are also familiar with the action of wiping tears from another's eyes: a mother tenderly comforting her child; a close friend comforting a companion; or one parent comforting the other in the midst of heartache or tragedy. We also know that we do not allow many people to touch our face. So, what does it mean that God touches our face other than that we will have an intimate tie with our Maker?
It is hard to imagine a world without death, sorrow, or crying. Pain, sweat, tears, and death have been the norm for humankind ever since the Fall (Gen. 3:16-19). Yet, from that time on God has assured the human race that failure and loss are not all there is to look forward to. God has given little indicators along the way that He will one day redeem us and bless us with His presence.
God does so first with the promise of a Redeemer (Gen. 3:15); then with the assurance of His presence in a tabernacle (Exod. 25:8); then with the reality of the Word becoming flesh and tabernacling among us (John 1:14); and finally, by placing the throne of the universe in our midst (Rev. 21:3).
Many Bible verses give a summary of this covenant assurance, using such words as, "I will be their God," "you shall be my people," and "I will dwell among you." One example is: "'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people'" (2 Cor. 6:16, NIV).
Jesus came the first time to neutralize the effects of the broken covenant. Jeremiah described the consequences of the broken covenant this way: "'Why do you cry about your affliction? Your sorrow is incurable. Because of the multitude of your iniquities, because your sins have increased, I have done these things to you'" (Jer. 30:15, NKJV). Thanks to Jesus, that is now history. Revelation 21:3essentially gives us the climax of the Bible. Perhaps the tears are what we shed over the final annihilation of the lost, but God Himself wipes them away, and sorrow and suffering are forever "passed away."
These texts imply an intimacy with God once we are in heaven. We, though, don't have to wait until then to have that kind of relationship with Him. How can you walk, even now, closely with the Lord?
Further Thought: Think about the millennium, and about our understanding of it. Though we are not told a lot, we are told enough to know a few things. First, the millennium occurs before the final destruction of the lost. Second, before that final destruction, the saved spend this time getting a lot of questions answered. So much so that they themselves get to help partake of that judgment. That is, they themselves are judging. "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?" (1 Cor. 6:2, NKJV). And: "Do you not know that we shall judge angels?" (1 Cor. 6:3, NKJV). Also, as we read this week, during this thousand years "judgment was committed to them" (Rev. 20:4, NKJV); that is, the saints. Thus, these two points together reveal an important truth: none of the lost will face final judgment until after the millennium, until the saved not only understand why the wicked are lost but also play a role in passing judgment upon them. Think about what this tells us about the character of God and the openness of His government: before a single person faces the ultimate fate of the lost, God's people will get to see very clearly the justice and fairness of God's final judgment upon them. It's going to be painful, for sure; but when it's finished, as we have already seen, we will shout: "'You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were'" (Rev. 16:5, NIV).
- How does the reality of the great controversy help us better understand why suffering and death exist now, even though many difficult questions remain unanswered?
- If someone were to ask you: "How can I have a closer and more intimate walk with the Lord?" what would you say?
- Dwell more on the idea of being prepared now for heaven. What does that mean? How do we understand this idea in light of the gospel?
- What are some of the questions that you would like answered? Until they are answered, how do you learn to trust in the goodness and righteousness of God amid so much tragedy?
"Are You An Angel?"
Days were lonely for Florie in her new home, so she decided to visit her new neighbors and invite them to study the Bible. Four people agreed to come to her home to study.
One person was a man named Nildo. When he didn't come to the Bible study, Florie went to visit him. She knocked on the door, but no answer. When she went to the back door, she thought she heard someone moaning. She found the door unlocked, so opened it.
She found an old man lying on a bed in a back room, moaning. Florie, a nurse's aide, could see that the man's bed was soiled and his clothes were wet. He was hungry and thirsty.
Florie bathed and dressed him in fresh clothes. She changed the bed linens and fixed him some porridge. As she cared for him, the man asked, "Are you an angel?"
"No," she answered. "I'm Florie, and I'm from the Adventist church. I came looking for Nildo. He asked for Bible studies, but didn't come today."
"I want Bible studies too," the old man said eagerly.
Florie looked at the man and said gently, "I came to bring a message to you." Then she sang a song for him.
When she finished singing, he exclaimed, "I know that God sent you here." Then he added, "Nobody likes me. But today I've learned that God cares for me. I've done some terrible things. I thought that God couldn't forgive me, but now I have hope."
Florie spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with the old man, whose name was Benedicto. He told her that he had been paid to murder people who were political enemies of the person he worked for.
Florie stayed for several hours, but as she was getting ready to leave, Benedicto's daughter walked in. She was surprised to find Florie there, and asked what she was doing.
"I'm Nildo's Bible teacher," Florie answered. "When he didn't come to the study, I came looking for him, but found your father. I saw that he needed help, so I helped him."
But the man's daughter wasn't pleased. "If you knew what kind of man he is, you wouldn't have helped him!" she said. "He isn't worth it! He shot my mother, and now she can't use her arm! Why didn't you just leave him alone to die?"
Florie answered quietly, "If you'll permit, I'm willing to come every day and care for your father!"
"You'll do it alone," the woman said. Then she continued to paint a black picture of the old man as Benedicto sat on his bed listening. His head was bowed, but she could see tears on his cheeks.
Florie came every afternoon to care for Benedicto. She began giving him Bible studies. She invited Nildo, his sister, and other family members to join them. When the study was finished, she cared for Benedicto's needs.
During the next few months Nildo learned to forgive his father, and he found grace and forgiveness in Christ. Benedicto, Nildo, and one of his sisters were baptized. Six months later, while Florie was caring for him, Benedicto died peacefully.