With the exception of Hawaii, Alaska, Maine, and Vermont, where they are illegal, billboards are seemingly everywhere, advertising seemingly everything. Some Christian-themed billboards feature inspirational messages, while others proclaim solemn warnings.
A billboard bearing the message “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come” might seem to lack a little tact. Viewed out of context, these words from the Bible announcing Earth’s final judgment (Revelation 14:7) could appear to be almost abrasive. But taken within its context in the book of Revelation, the judgment is good news for people of faith, providing assurance rather than insecurity and building confidence rather than fear.
the judgment is part of the gospel
The words John wrote in Revelation 14:7, while a warning, are part of what the Bible calls the “everlasting gospel.” After creating a perfect world, God witnessed how the human family relinquished surrender and trust in their Creator and instead chose distrust and sin. But rather than forsaking an errant planet, God chose—in fact, had chosen before the foundation of the world (see Revelation 13:8)—to bear the consequences of sin Himself. Jesus would die for wayward humanity (1 Corinthians 15:3), and grace would be offered to the sinful that they might be saved and transformed (Romans 5:20; 12:2; Ephesians 2:8). Yet before God receives sinners into eternity, the judgment will reveal to heaven and Earth that all who are saved and all who are lost are rightly saved or lost. In a remarkable gesture, a sovereign God demonstrates to the universe that His dealings with humanity are fair and just.
The final gospel message to go to the world is contained in the proclamations of the three angels of Revelation 14. John writes that the first angel flies “in midair,” proclaiming a message to “every nation, tribe, language and people” (Revelation 14:6). In a time of global apostasy, the angel not only calls humanity to worship Christ as Creator but also alerts humanity to the fact that a judgment is taking place.
Former Harvard Law School lecturer Harvey Silverglate claimed that the average American might commit three felonies a day.* If that is so, it’s hard to imagine that many people would face their day at the judgment bar of God with a great deal of confidence. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And it also tells us that “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV). There isn’t a person alive who has not transgressed God’s law.
Viewed from this vantage point, the idea of a coming judgment could inspire dread. In fact, the book of Revelation itself asks the logical question, “Who can withstand it?” (Revelation 6:17). Nevertheless, the Bible says there will be a group of people who “see his [God’s] face” and have “his name . . . on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:4).
A tribunal will convene that will “bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). And yet, “a great multitude that no one could count” (Revelation 7:9) will be saved when Jesus returns.
Clearly, the judgment is not an impediment to anyone’s salvation. This judgment cannot possibly be onerous or oppressive. Instead, the judgment is redemptive. Good news—for you and me.
atonement is not intended to condemn
The judgment we read of in the New Testament is the end-time counterpart of Israel’s annual Judgment Day. On the Day of Atonement, the highest holy day of the Jewish calendar, Israel’s high priest made an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. “On this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:30). Any fracture in the relationship between God and the repentant was mended, and repentant worshipers went from the solemn services of that day knowing that their standing with God was solid and secure.
If the Day of Atonement existed for the purpose of condemnation, it wouldn’t have been known as the Day of Atonement—a day of reconciliation to God. The day itself was evidence that God had provided a way for sinners to become one with His great heart of love. If He hadn’t, not a single person would have any hope of redemption. “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). But God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The plan of salvation—Jesus dying for the sinner, then ascending to heaven to intercede for the fallen before God—represents mercy and love on the part of God, even for those who are interested in neither (Romans 5:8).
The services of the Hebrew sanctuary spoke of God’s desire to reconcile the world to Himself (see Ephesians 2:16). With sacrifices representing the death of Jesus at Calvary and ministered blood that spoke of the Savior’s own blood shed on behalf of the lost, the sanctuary services revealed a God seeking to save and not condemn. This was consistent with the ministry of Jesus, whom His Father did not send “into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).
Just as the sanctuary services were dependent on a sacrifice and a mediator, the judgment in heaven is dependent on the same. In the final judgment, Jesus is both the Sacrifice and the Mediator, and His ministry as High Priest is in our favor, not to our detriment. The Bible states that Jesus has entered “heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24). “For us.” Jesus, who died on the cross and rose from the dead to save the human family, ascended to heaven for that very purpose.
The almost incomprehensible truth of Scripture is that as undeserving sinners, we may “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). The judgment demonstrates God’s love in seeking to save the lost.
The stark warning in Revelation 14, announcing heaven’s judgment, indicates not the severity of God but the importance of the times in which we live. As humanity careens toward oblivion, God calls to people of all nations to awake to the solemnity of the moment and accept His gracious offer of salvation. An angel flying in the midst of heaven, crying to the world with a loud voice, represents to the world something of the deep longing in the heart of God to be reconciled to His own.
a loving shout
The railway line near which I grew up had an almost magnetic effect on my friends and me. We played there often, having to cross the railway tracks almost every day. One day, as my brother looked from our front yard, he saw me on the tracks and noticed a train approaching in the distance. Nervously, he watched to make sure that his little brother moved out of harm’s way. When I, seemingly oblivious to the approaching train, did not, my brother began to shout at me “John! Get off the tracks! A train is coming.” I couldn’t hear a word he said, but I could sense something was wrong. There was a train approaching! I got off the track in plenty of time. My brother, concerned for my safety, had done all he could to get my attention so I could be saved.
In Revelation 14, God does all He can to get our attention. An angel cries with a loud voice, “The hour of His judgment has come!” This urgent warning is God expressing His love for the human family, His pledge that heaven is with you on your journey, and His assurance that salvation may be yours now through faith in His Son, Jesus.
John Bradshaw is the speaker and director of It Is Written, an international Christian TV program headquartered in Collegedale, Tennessee.
* Harvey A. Silverglate, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent (New York: Encounter Books, 2009).