The Perfected Kingdom — Part Two
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The Perfected Kingdom — Part Two

Revelation 7:9–12  (ID: 2399)

In this sermon, Alistair Begg continues to explore the message of Revelation, surveying several ways believers have interpreted this vital portion of Scripture. While there is room for debate about some matters, he points out, several things are certain: we know that Jesus’ return will be secret, will be sudden, and will separate those who believe from those who do not. When He comes—personally and physically—to gather His Church, His appearing will be a visible and marvelous display of His matchless glory.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Kingdom of God, Volume 2

Matthew 1:1 – Revelation 22:21 Series ID: 26802

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to take your Bibles, and if you turn to the last book of the Bible, you’ll be where we need to be. Some of you know we’re not working systematically through a text at the moment, but, nevertheless, all that we are seeking to do is grounded in the unfolding story of the Bible. Now, let’s pray together before we turn to the Scriptures:

Father, we thank you that what we hear from you is more important than what we say to you. What we say to you in song and in prayer, we want to be from our hearts and sincere, but we recognize that we desperately need to hear your voice. So, speak by your Spirit and through your Word, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

We are working our way through the story of the Bible and have used the framework of the kingdom of God as a key to opening up our grasp of God’s big picture. And we came last time to the mention of the perfected kingdom, and the kingdom in all of its perfection suggests that that is the end of the story, which is, in actual fact, where we are. And that’s why we find ourselves in the book of Revelation: a book that is for some people phenomenally intriguing and one into which they dip with frequency, and equally so for other people it is a book that is absolutely alarming and into which they dip very, very seldom.

The book of Revelation all centers on a great throne from which God will judge and to which all will finally come.

Our good friend Derek Thomas suggests that when you go into the book of Revelation there are three things that you need to keep in mind, three factors that need to be in your thinking so as not to lose your bearings: First of all, that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we have a fearsome foe, namely the devil himself, who actually always threatens more than he can deliver. Nor should we lose sight of the Lamb, who is actually a Lion. And we certainly mustn’t lose sight of the fact that there in the book of Revelation it all centers on a great throne from which God will judge and to which all will finally come. 

Now, when we began our sortie into this last time, we said that we ought to do so with a measure of caution. And our caution is directly related to the fact that we need to find out just how to interpret the book of Revelation, and that is not as easy as it may seem at the beginning. Some of our greatest heroes have themselves proved to be men of clay when it comes to this matter.

For example, in the early part of the sixteenth century—in 1530, to be exact—Martin Luther worked feverishly to try and complete his translation of his Bible into German. The reason he was working so quickly was because he was convinced that Jesus was about to return. He wrote concerning it as follows: “It is certain,” wrote Luther, “certain from the Holy Scriptures that we have no more temporal things to expect.” In other words, it’s all over. This is 1530—Martin Luther. Remember Luther? “All is done and fulfilled: the Roman Empire is at an end, the Turk has reached his highest point, the pomp of papacy is falling away, and the world is cracking on all sides, almost as Michael if it would break and fall apart entirely.”[1] Paradoxically, he then chided one of his good friends, Stifel, when three years later, Stifel calculated that the world would end at 8 a.m. on the nineteenth of October 1533. And Luther said, “Come, come, now, Michael, you can’t be saying things like that,” to which Michael presumably replied, “You’re the guy who thought it was going to end just three years ago, hence your feverish attempt at translating the Bible.”

Now, we could go a number of places to make much of this, but there is enough for us. We recognize that the best of men are men at best, even in their attempts to interpret and explain the Bible. That is why the Spirit of God is ultimately our teacher, and why we as individuals need to come to the Bible thoughtfully. And we need to examine everything that is told us by those who teach the Bible, so that, like the Bereans in an earlier generation, we can examine the Scriptures to see if these things are so.[2]

Four Views on Interpreting Revelation

Now, what I want to do is to give you the four essential ways in which Revelation is traditionally interpreted. And the first of these we refer to as preterist—preterist. This, in its essence, views all of the prophecies—all of these apocalyptic prophecies—as having already been fulfilled. The preterist view of Revelation says that in AD 70, with the collapse of the temple, we find the fulfillment of all of the prophetic elements that are before us. There is clearly a great advantage that falls to those who hold this view, inasmuch as when people ask them for an explanation of some of the really hard parts of the book of Revelation, some of the more bizarre elements, some of the strange symbolic pieces—“What do you think about the four horsemen of the Apocalypse?” they may be asked or “What do you think about the dragon coming out of the sea?” or “How do you explain this or that?”—the preterist says, “Well, actually, I don’t think about it very much at all. I actually haven’t given a lot of thought to it, because of course it was all taken care of in AD 70, when all of the prophetic passages were fulfilled.”

The second view is the historicist view—the historicist view. And this views the book of Revelation as presenting us with prophecies which we ought to see as taking place in a linear progression. So that, from the first century all the way through to the very end of time, there is a prophetic timetable, there is a calendar that is moving in that way. And if that doesn’t immediately ring bells for some of you, when I tell you this, you’ll get the picture clearly, those of you who have any background in this at all.

The way in which the letters to the seven churches in Revelation has traditionally been presented in most of our circles has been from a historicist perspective. And consequently, if you went to one of those conferences where each evening the Bible teacher was going to take one of the letters to the churches in Revelation, then you may recall that it went something like this: You went on a Monday evening, and he did the letter to the church at Ephesus. And in the course of explication, he explained that this letter relates to the first century AD. When you went back on Tuesday and did Pergamum, then you were also told that this related to about the third century AD, to the time of Constantine. Wednesday night, for Thyatira, and you discover that this letter was about the Middle Ages. Thursday, for Sardis, we discover that this is the period of the Reformation. Friday, Philadelphia, we were told, is the era of the modern missionary movement. And on Saturday night, just before we were ready for church on Sunday, to get us all shipshape and ready to go, we were told that the letter to Laodicea concerned apostasy in the last days and was actually the only letter of all of them that had any direct and immediate application to us at whatever point we found ourselves in the twentieth or now in the twenty-first century. So, in that perspective, the seven churches represented seven distinct eras or seven specific times.

The third view is referred to as the idealist view. And this view—instead of seeing the progression in Revelation as being linear from A to Z—this view sees the prophecies as being descriptive of spiritual realities that are to be found in every age, including our own age. So, for example, from the idealist perspective, in teaching the letters to the seven churches, the teacher would say, clearly, that this letter was written to the church in Thyatira. It was written to a specific geographical location, it was written concerning a specific point in time, it was written to address specific issues that were being dealt with by the people who were living there. Otherwise, it was a waste of time writing the letter. So, having been written for those express issues, the point of application would then be, “Isn’t it interesting that—although we are removed from this place by a significant geographical distance and by a significant length of time—that the issues that the fledgling church was being confronted by, we still confront today? And isn’t it wonderful that the message of the triumphant risen Christ, which was the answer to their dilemma in the first century, remains the answer to our dilemma at the threshold of the twenty-first century?” Now, from this perspective, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, then, are not tied to a particular period of time. But they would represent the aggression and the bloodshed and the economic instability and the death which were not locked to a particular moment or place in time but which are so clearly part and parcel of the unfolding drama of time itself.

The fourth view is the futurist view. And in simple terms, the futurist perspective on Revelation says that Revelation is dealing only with the events that are related to the very end of the world. That the only way to understand the book of Revelation is to see it immediately in terms of the imminent awareness and pressing urgency that is attached to the fact that this book was written for those who are right up against the return of Jesus, as it were. And if you think about that for a moment, how does anybody know they’re right up against the return of Jesus? I mean, certainly Luther thought he was, but that was 1530; that’s nearly five hundred years ago.

So, you’re sensible people: those are the views. I’m not going to tell you who holds all these views. I can tell you—I can give you names of all your favorite radio preachers and the people who write books, and I can hang them up there for you on the screen. That would make it too easy for you. Because some of you are saying to yourself, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know what I believe. I don’t know where I fit in this.” So, you’re saying, “Who believes what?” And if you can get one of your heroes hung up against one of those, hey, it’s pretty easy from that point out, isn’t it? You say, “Well, if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. Stop the thinking—let’s go.” Not a good idea. I don’t look over my shoulder and find many people lining up with me on my peculiarities in relationship to my understanding of eschatology. And I’m not suggesting that many of you should. I’m suggesting that you better take great care, that you better become students of the Bible, that you better think the issues out.

Students equally committed to the authority of the Bible, to the sufficiency of the Bible, hold to radically different explanations of Revelation’s central and main event.

But let me say this to you: each of these varying views and each of the varying views as it relates to the millennium—whether it’s postmillennial, amillennial, premillennial, pan-millennial, as some humorists have suggested (they don’t know what it is, but it’s all going to “pan” out in the end)—whatever view it may be. (I’ve developed another one: I’m going to call myself promillenial, inasmuch as, whatever it is, I’m for it.) But all of those different perspectives, you need to understand, have been held by able and sincere students of the Bible. Okay, you need to understand this: that equally committed students of the Bible—equally committed to the authority of the Bible, to the sufficiency of the Bible—hold to radically different explanations of the central and main event.  But this you need to understand, too: that the differences that exist between them do not arise as a result of any disloyalty to the Bible.

You see, traditionally, at least in America, these issues have become touchstones of orthodoxy. And once a particular view has been baptized as the orthodox position within any framework of believers, then the flow-through from that has been, “Anybody who doesn’t hold to this view must be somehow or another disloyal to the Bible.” But if you think about that for very long, there’s no reason why that should be. And I’m suggesting to you that it’s not the case. What is the case is that the principle of interpretation employed by those equally able and sincere Bible students determines the way in which the story is then explained. In theological terminology, it is all about hermeneutical principles: principles of interpretation. And it is the principle of interpretation, not the presence or the absence of a loyalty to the Bible, that thereby distinguishes between those who hold different positions. I could say more than that, but I probably shouldn’t.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, when he preached on this, says, “I shall be very pleased”—to his congregation, he says—“I’ll be very pleased if, by the end of this series, you feel less certain than you were at the beginning. I shall feel that I have achieved my objective because if there is one subject about which dogmatism should be entirely excluded”—that’s my writing—“should be entirely excluded, it is this: I’ve known large numbers of people whose spiritual life has become dry and barren simply because fixing the time of the Lord’s second coming has become almost an obsession with them.”[3]

The Return of Christ

The return of Jesus will be personal, physical, visible, and glorious.

Now, what do we know about the return of Jesus Christ? Well, there are certain things that are absolutely straightforward and about which there is no debate: one, that he’s going to return personally; two, that he’s going to return physically; three, that he’s going to return visibly; and four, that he’s going to return gloriously. The return of Jesus will be personal, physical, visible, and glorious.  The return of Jesus is secret, it is sudden, and it brings separation. There’s no disagreement in all scholarship of equally committed, able students of the Bible concerning those things. The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. But the disagreements as to the hows and the whats and the wherefores is perfectly understandable.

Eventually, the reigning power of Christ will be established when his kingdom comes in all of its permanent fullness.

Now, that is why, when you stand back far enough from the Old Testament and you look at it, you see that it is an unfolding arrow, as it were, scrolling forward to Jesus. And when you stand back from the book of Revelation, you discover that what is being declared, first to these beleaguered saints in the first century, is that they shouldn’t be alarmed by all that is taking place because Jesus is actually in control. And that, eventually, the reigning power of Christ will be established when his kingdom comes in all of its permanent fullness.  And when that day comes when, in terms of Revelation chapter 21, God ushers in a new heaven and a new earth, it will be as a result of the fact that the old one has been ushered out. And the book of Revelation, in part, may be understood in terminology that is frequently used—namely, “Out with the old and in with the new.”

We now live in the realm of reality TV, which is in itself a misnomer; when you can fake reality, you’re really dealing with the ultimate superficiality. But, nevertheless, every day we are now turning on our TVs, and we are introduced to these “reality-based” programs. And one of the most favorite genres now has to do with makeovers. So, they make people over, they make gardens over, and they make houses over. And a lot of these, I think, are coming over here from the BBC. Life must be very dull over there at the moment, as they are sitting around watching old Mrs. Jenkins get her house cleaned up for her or her backyard brought into line with sensibility. But you know how it goes: you come into the house—if you’ve seen the one about those dreadful houses full of junk and magazines and pots and pans—you can’t hardly get from one room to the next, and this lady’s living in the middle of it all. And the camera comes in and we see it in all of its chaos, and then eventually, within a half an hour, they throw all of the junk out, and Mrs. Reynolds is now able to move from room to room, and it’s been out with old and in with the new. And we all go and have a coffee and say, “That is absolutely fabulous.”

Now, listen, why is it that people are so intrigued by this? Because they clearly are. Well, there are a number of reasons, and we’re not going to dwell on them. But one of them is, everybody fancies the idea of a makeover. Hence, the powerful impact of a song by Cher, for a blip on the radar: “If I Could Turn Back Time.” There’s a resonance in culture with that; everybody says that. “Goodness, gracious, look how fast this has gone. If I could start again, I’d love to. If I could begin again, I would. Is there any way that I can get this body made over? Is there any way that I can get this life made over? Is there any way that I can get this old stuff out and the new stuff in?” So, it is an appealing concept, and it is a pressing concern in our culture. That’s why they’re able to sell advertising on the back of it. If they can’t advertise on the back of it, there’s no point in doing it. And so, the very notion that, when it comes to the issue of our world, the old is going to be ushered out and the new is going to be ushered in is frankly quite fascinating.

And our friends and neighbors are consumed with thoughts of where our world is going. They may not mention it every day, but it’s not difficult to get conversation moving in that direction. And if you have a chance to talk with them, it may start with how you deal with the deer. Or it may start with some mosquitoes or some little creatures that have been found in Ashtabula, so that you can’t build a school because it’s going to impinge upon—what was that thing that they found? A moth. They found a moth, and it shut down a multimillion-dollar school project. Now, there’s a good starting point on a Monday morning: “What do you think about that? Do you think a moth should be able to shut down a school project? Do you think that children’s education in this Ashtabula region is worthy of consideration? Or do you think we ought to just fold it up for the time being—after all, we found a moth?” Now, people have different views on that, and I understand. That’s okay; I have got nothing against moths, per se, but it reveals a view of the world. It is a point of entry to allow us to say, “You know, the Bible has something to say about how the world began. The Bible has something to say about where man fits in the whole scheme of the animal kingdom. The Bible has something to say about how God is going to wrap up this universe, as well.”

“Oh,” say our friends, “so how is it all going to end?” “Well, actually, what God is going to do is he’s going to get the old out and he’s going to bring the new in.”

“Oh,” says your perceptive friend, “but people have been trying that all the time and it hasn’t worked. Marxism tried it, and it didn’t work. Humanism has tried it, and it hasn’t worked. Totalitarianism, on the right-hand side, has tried it, and it has been an abject failure as well. Are you telling me that there is a way in which this whole world of ours is going to be set aside and a new one put in place?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Well,” says our friends, “why do you think it is that Marxism hasn’t worked? Why do you think it is that the humanist dream is dead? Why do you think it is that after all this time talking about, ‘Well, just a little more education, just a little more social welfare, just a little better hospitals, just a little better consideration for the prisoners, just a little more of this and….’ Why has it taken us all of this time to get this right?”

“Well, the Bible says, if you’re prepared to listen now—I mean, I know you may think this is strange,” we say to our friends. “But what the Bible says is, is that the reason that Marxism or humanism or any other -ism couldn’t address the issue is because they don’t address the issue.”

“Well, what’s the issue?”

“Well, I know you’re not going to like this either, but let me tell you what the issue isn’t first of all. The issue isn’t capitalism versus communism. I mean, if I have to have a political view, I guess it’s capitalism—I mean, an economic perspective, it’s capitalism. But I recognize something: under communism, man exploits his fellow man; under capitalism, the reverse is the case.[4] There is not an economic theory that is not impinged upon by sin, selfishness, and greed. No matter what you want to say, that is why Ken Lay was taken away in handcuffs during the week. The problem is not communism; the problem is not capitalism; the problem is not ignorance that will be addressed by ever-increasing developments in the world of education. The problem is not wicked government. Well, what is the problem then? Well, the problem, says the Bible, is that the world is in the power of evil—and evil that originates from Satan himself.

“What? Man, you people at that Parkside—no wonder people say you’re weird. Do you believe that?”

Well, look at Revelation 17 and 18 and 19 and 20. There’s your homework. When you read that… Let’s say you give it to a seventh grader to read: “Read 17 for me, think about it for ten minutes, and come back and tell me what Revelation 17 is about.” Any sensible seventh grader will read Revelation chapter 17, and they will come back and say it’s about the fall of Babylon. And you will say, “Excellent, go to the top of the class.” Because that’s exactly what it is about. But some of you have never seen that; some of us have never got past the seven angels with the seven bowls. Some of us have been so consumed with the fact that verse five is in capitals:

This title was written on her forehead:





Oh ho! There’s everything in there, isn’t there, for a rainy afternoon’s dialogue? “Oh, let’s have a conversation about the abominations of the earth.” Right? So, off we go on the abominations of the earth. Away we go, down through this rabbit hole, down, and we’re away in the abominations of the earth. Someone says, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. What is Revelation 17 about?” “Don’t know—dealing with the abominations at the moment!” Well, don’t you think you oughta come out of the hole, stand back for a moment or two, and get the big picture?

It’s about the fall of Babylon. Babylon—do we know anything about Babylon? Babylon—sounds like Babel. That’s right. Where do we get Babel? Genesis 11—we remember that in the big picture seven months ago or whenever it was. We remember that the Tower of Babel was built by the people. Remember, they said, “Let us make a name for ourselves so that we will not be scattered.”[5] Right? “We want to all get together, make a big name for ourselves, build our kingdom—we don’t want to be scattered.” (That’s verse 5, I think—didn’t check.) Go to verse 8, and it says, “And so, God scattered them.” “Let’s build a big tower so we won’t be scattered.” God says, “Got another idea”—zippity doo dah, and they’re scattered. Language is introduced to the world—anthropologists go crazy when we suggest that—but nevertheless, here comes language: a language which divides rather than unites, so that the nations of the earth will be scattered. United Nations says, “Let’s put all the nations back together.” God says, “Let’s scatter all the nations. When I finally put the thing back together, it’s not going to be put back together in terms of multinational political associations. It’s going to be put back together on the basis of the fact that out of all of these scattered nations there will be those who bow down before the Lamb and declare, ‘Salvation belongs to you alone.’”[6] That is the union of the races, that is the union of the nations, that is the ultimate perspective that the Bible gives.

Now, when you stop for a moment and you say to yourself, “Well, you know that is very interesting.” Because the Tower of Babel was a symbol of human arrogance and pride. Babylon itself, the capital of the great empire that crushes Judah and drags the inhabitants of Judah into exile, is then the name that is given to this personification of evil itself. Now, given the history of Babel and Babylon, it’s no surprise that John gives the name “Babylon” to this woman. Look at this: She represents the world, conceived and committed to living without God. She represents the kingdoms of this world, if you like. She’s called a prostitute in verse 2 because the kings of the earth committed adultery with her: “the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.” What does that mean? Well, it’s talking about spiritual, moral adultery. And what he’s saying is this: that by her seductive powers, she seeks to drag away those who will not keep their focus on what God is doing. And, as Christians reading the book of Revelation, in the first instance and in all the years that have passed, John is saying we need to resist her advances.

We live in a world that is actually hostile to Christ, hostile to the Bible, hostile to the story that we are pursuing. And the temptation for us is to run away and hide.

The people of Judah, who were crushed by Babylon, lived as exiles in the sixth century BC; we live as exiles in the twenty-first century, because we live in a foreign land. “Our citizenship is in heaven”—that’s what the Bible says —“and from there we await a Savior.”[7] In the meantime, we live in a world. We live in a world that is actually hostile to Christ, hostile to the Bible, hostile to the story that we are pursuing. And the temptation for us, as for the initial readers, is to run away and hide —is to gather into a little holy huddle and say, “Well, what does it really matter if the world is going to hell in the end? Let it come down. We’re not going; we’re going somewhere else.”

I mean, I pulled up behind a car yesterday, and not only was he driving really slowly, which annoyed me, but he had a sticker on the back that said, “There are no speed limits at the rapture.” Now, I don’t know what he meant by that—presumably, he’s planning on speeding up when the rapture comes—but apparently, he’ll be gone when it comes by hi … So I don’t know what he was on about, but he should have sped up. But the whole idea of it is—the whole idea is that the non-Christian pulls up behind, says, “Oh, that must be one of those Christians again—he’s out of here, you know: ‘Have a great life! Tough for you. Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah! We’re gone. We’re away. Cheerio!’”

You say, “Where did that develop from?” Do you care about this nation? Do you care about your kids? Do you care about your grandchildren? Of course you do. It’s impossible to be a citizen and not. Do you care about it to the point of preoccupation? Probably not. But what if we are at the threshold of humanity, as opposed to at the end of humanity? ’Cause every generation is the end-time generation, inasmuch as we’re all going to die. But we know that Luther in 1530, he was all over it and missed it completely.

And the concerns of a generation for what’s going are expressed not only in the pages of the Bible, but they’re expressed in the songs of the generations. Do you realize it’s forty years since

Come gather ’round people,
Wherever you roam,
And admit that the waters 
Around you have grown,
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.  
If your time to you  
Is worth savin’,  
Then you better start swimmin’  
Or you’ll sink like a stone, 
For the times they are a-changin’.[8]

And Dylan then goes to where? “Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen”—the media. And then where? “Come senators, congressmen don’t block the halls”—politics. And then where?

Come mothers and fathers  
Throughout the land  
And don’t criticize  
What you can’t understand.  
Your sons and your daughters  
Are beyond your command  
And your old road is rapidly fadin’.  
Please get out of the new one
if you can’t lend a hand,  
’Cause the times they are a-changin’.

That’s forty years gone by. Sounds like a prophet, doesn’t he?

And here we sit as Christians and the very book of Revelation—which is this triumphant story of the power of the risen Christ—instead of it becoming for us the impetus for a life of holiness and the impetus for a life of zealous evangelism, it becomes the impetus for great and telling and pressing debate. And once again in our generation—and our time is gone—once again in our generation, the seductive power of the world seeks to squeeze the juice out of us. Seeks to come along and take us somewhere we don’t want to go. And the word of God to his people was, “Make sure that you resist the advances of Babylon. Don’t let her seduce you; don’t succumb to what she’s saying.”

The Kingdoms of God and Man

Let me give you one illustration of how this takes on a face for us now. The kingdom of the world is built in opposition to God, right? Augustine had this tale of two cities—well, Dickens had A Tale of Two Cities. But Augustine had the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. And he said the kingdom of man is apparently very successful and progressing and growing, and this little kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, you know. It doesn’t seem to be doing very much at all. And the pressure on those who are in this little kingdom—remember Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid little flock, because,” he said, “it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”[9] He understood: “You don’t look very powerful, you don’t look very mighty—and you’re not. But don’t worry about it; just say your prayers before you go to bed: ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’”[10] Hold on to that, and make sure that you do. And don’t be seduced by the people who come to you and say, “Oh, nobody believes that anymore. You’re not going to hold to that anymore, are you? You’re not saying that anymore, are you?”

Like, in what arena? Well, probably the most pressing arena of all is in the arena of human sexuality, and is in the matter of marriage itself. And even as I address you now, on Friday past the Senate began to debate the amendment—the marriage amendment. Taking a draft of the potential amendment, which they then set before them, and they will convene again tomorrow morning and they will continue. And this is what they’re discussing—this is the proposed amendment, in part, that “marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the Constitution of any State … or Federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.”[11]

Cohen, writing in the Washington Post, in a very skillful article says this: “If the opponents”—that is, the opponents of gay marriage—“were not so blinded by bigotry and fear, they would see that homosexuals provide the last, best argument for marriage.”[12] “Homosexuals provide the last, best argument for marriage.” Remember what Isaiah said when we looked at the prophesied kingdom? He said that “they will call evil good, and they will call good evil.”[13] Now, here it comes, the seductive power of the world. And part of the Christian community says, “Well, that’s not our business. What these people want to do on their own is up to them. We’re not in charge of that kind of thing. We’re about this.” Yeah, if you want to go live on a hill, you are, but not if you want to see your grandchildren grow up in the United States of America unbesieged by these issues. And the reason Cohen argues as he does is, he says this: that homosexuals understand love and they understand commitment. And he’s not all wrong. There are no shotgun marriages amongst homosexuals; no one’s getting married because they have to. And he goes on to say that he hopes that gays may save the institution that heterosexuals have trashed. And the skill in his article is that there is more than a measure of truth in what he says. And the very absence of volume from the Christian community has got, at least in part, to be related to the fact that within the Christian community we too are part and parcel of a trashed divine institution: walking from our marriages, failing to keep commitments—’cause it’s hard, or whatever it might be. We’ve lost the moral high ground to be able to speak to our generation. But speak we must, despite our disappointments, despite our regrets, and despite our failures.

The Human Rights Campaign, which is the nation’s largest political gay organization, said of the president’s commitment yesterday—eleventh, tenth… maybe today—his address was today, wasn’t it? He makes an address to the nation on a Sunday—radio address. I’m sure you all listened to it. Today is the eleventh—it was today. Maybe it was yesterday—doesn’t matter. The President came out and he said, “To defend marriage, our nation has no other choice than to be committed to this amendment.” That’s gutsy.

Response of the Human Rights Campaign: “The president should focus on the priorities of the American people, not the agenda of his extremist base.” Does language mean anything? Sorry? I am now blind, bigoted, and part of the “extremist base.” How extreme is it to believe that human physiology, combining with theology, upholds the notion of monogamous heterosexual sexual relationships? How extreme is that? What about this idea? Doesn’t that seem a little extreme? But we’re seduced. Twenty years have gone by from it being a psychiatric condition to being a human right.

And if we in this generation do not stand up to the plate for this, then subsequent generations will marvel and bemoan our moral ineptitude in a way that generations would have had to moan and bemoan the absence of Wilberforce in the British Parliament in taking on slavery. This is not an issue of marginal concern. This is foundational, because God said it’s this way! And the great seductive power of Babylon stands and triumphs over the airwaves and seeks to cower us into submission. Well, we will not bow, because we cannot bow, and I invite you to do what you ought to do.

They tell me that not everybody in America is registered to vote. Well, everybody in Parkside, I’m going to assume, is registered to vote. And if not, you will be, won’t you? By this time next week.

I became a citizen at 10:30 in the morning, May the twenty-eighth, and with the help of kindly lady all dressed up in red, white, and blue, with things sticking out of her head, who, she told me, was a Daughter of the American Revolution—and I had no reason to doubt her. At 10:35, I registered to vote. And I sent an email to the White House saying, “Dear Mr. Bush: Way to go on the marriage amendment. I just became a citizen of the United States. I am so proud to support you in this endeavor.” And if any of you jokers out there are part of the thirty percent that does nothing in every general election, then, okay. I understand that you have learned that it is important to render unto God the things that are God’s, but don’t forget Jesus said, “You better render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”[14]

And the privilege of freedom and democracy and voting rights has been given to us in order that, in the providence of God, not operating by divine fiat or miraculous intervention but through the sensible response of his children in the spirit of the age, things may be turned around. And it will be done not as a result of pastors getting agitated in the pulpit, but it will be done as a result of people stepping out from the pews to say, “Jesus wins—we understand that. Jesus is coming back—we understand that too. But, in the meantime, we have a responsibility to live in our culture and to be influences upon our culture, and therefore, God being our helper, we will do what we can.” I give it to you.

O God our Father, thank you for the Bible. Thank you for your clarity concerning the main and the plain things. Save us from sitting on our hands, acquiescing, being seduced by the spirit of our age, losing our opportunity to speak with clarity and with kindness, not in a bombastic way, not in an unkind way, but at the same token, just being prepared to hold the line, to take “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, … to take arms against a sea of troubles,”[15] to seize the “tide in the affairs of men, which taken [in] the flood, leads on to fortune”[16] and when missed must leave a generation paddling in the shallows. Help us to work this out as individuals. This isn’t going to be achieved by churches as entities but as result of individuals doing that which they have been given the privilege of doing. So, help us to understand the Book. Help us to understand what it means to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s, so that we may live our lives and look over our shoulders feeling that we’ve done what we ought to do and that we have done so in obedience to your Word. May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be the abiding portion of each one today and forever more. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther to John Frederic, Duke of Saxony, February or March 1530, in Luther’s Correspondence and Other Letters, ed. and trans. Persevered Smith and Charles Jacobs, vol. 2, 1521–1530 (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1918), 516.

[2] Acts 17:11 (paraphrased).

[3] Source unknown.

[4] John R. W. Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (London: Marshall Pickering, 1990), 40.

[5] Genesis 11:4 (paraphrased).

[6] Revelation 7:10 (paraphrased).

[7] Philippians 3:20 (paraphrased).

[8] Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (1964).

[9] Luke 12:32 (paraphrased).

[10] Luke 11:2 (paraphrased).

[11] Federal Marriage Amendment, H. J. Res. 56, S. J. Res. 16, 108th Cong. (2003).

[12] Source unknown.

[13] Isaiah 5:20 (paraphrased).

[14] Matthew 22:21 (paraphrased).

[15] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3.1.

[16] William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 4.3.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.