Bible Study Series: Genesis and Revelation - The Beginning and the End
In the hands of the living God - The Judgment and Grace of God
by I Gordon
We are going to look at another connection between Genesis and Revelation, this time focusing on the judgment and grace of God. I have called it 'In the hands of the living God'. A second title could have been 'The entrance and exit of sin and judgment'. We'll explore what it means to be in the hands of the living God comparing the position of believers and unbelievers. Now I probably need to say early on that this will be quite a solemn message. It is, quite literally, one concerning life and death.
As I have been studying the entrance and exit of sin and judgment lately it has led to two main thoughts:
1. The gravity of the situation for the unbeliever
2. The wonder of the blessed secure position that the believer has been given.
You see, both believers and unbelievers are in the hands of God – whether they see it or not. For believers it is the most secure place in the universe. For the unbeliever, as scripture says ‘It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ So I want to look at the following:
- The entrance of sin and death and especially God’s reaction and judgement as seen in the book of Genesis
- The contrast with the entrance of God’s grace and provision in Genesis
- The exit of sin and death through judgement as shown in the book of Revelation
- The exhibition of grace in the days of eternity
The focus on both judgement and grace are needed. We live in an age were not much is heard about the judgment of God but the dread of His judgment magnifies the incredible beauty of His grace. We need both. As Pastor Robert Jeffress has said:
“There are some people who would say,’God’s given me a different ministry. God has called me to go preach about the love of God. I’m not called to preach about sin and controversial things. I’ve been called to preach about the love of God.’ And they’re sincere when they say that. But they are sincerely wrong. The fact is... The love of God has no meaning whatsoever unless you understand the judgment of God that all of us deserve.”
Judgment: God's response to the fall of mankind
Gen 3:22-24 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"-- (23) therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. (24) So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
We have studied previously how Eve was deceived by the Serpent and Adam simply disobeyed at the fall of mankind. Sin entered into the realm of humanity and the bliss of the perfection of the garden of Eden and fellowship with God was ended instantly. The judgment of God followed quickly. It is this judgment that I want to focus on firstly. We read in Genesis that God had something to say to all three parties:
Gen 3:14 The LORD God said to the serpent...
Gen 3:16 To the woman He said...
Gen 3:17 Then to Adam He said...
There were consequences and judgments for all. Adam and Eve were then driven out of the garden as we read above, with a cherubim, the highest order of God's angelic realm, placed to guard the entrance back into the garden, least they ate from the tree of life and lived forever in their fallen sinful state. This perfect home that had been made for them was gone... lost. Judgment with swift. It had to be. God's nature can not overlook it. One of the problems we can have when we think of God is that we think He is like us. News flash... He's not! His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways, not our ways. What is the old saying?
‘In the beginning God created man in His own image and we have been trying to repay the favor ever since.’
The problem stems from the fact that we fail to grasp the utter perfection of God's character. Utter complete perfection in His purity and holiness. Utter complete perfection in His judgments. And thankfully, utter perfect in His love and grace. But many in this world just think of God as an benevolent old ruler just turning a blind eye to sin. They kind of expect God to say to Adam and Eve after they sinned ‘Ok, yes you messed up... but boy that serpent, he can be quite crafty can’t he? Look, I know I said in the day you eat of it you will die… but given the situation, the craftiness of the serpent, the fact that it is your first offense, the fact that I don’t really think you meant any harm and will hopefully do better, So I’m willing to overlook it this time. You are free to go and enjoy the garden but please, let's just try be a little more careful next time will you?’
But God isn't like that. He cannot be. The perfection of His character does not allow Him to overlook sin. Even one sin. And so the consequences of the fall became incredibly real, incredibly fast, for Adam and Eve. Spiritual death entered. Separation from God occurred. They were driven out of this perfect home. Judged. Yet at the same time, God did something else. You see coupled with the utter perfection of His holiness and judgment comes the utter perfection of His love and grace towards those that see their need of His forgiveness.
Grace: God provides a covering
Gen 3:21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.
In the midst of the judgment came grace. In came in the form of a covering. You might recall that the very first thing that Adam and Eve did after the fall was see their own nakedness and attempt to make a covering for themselves out of fig leaves. That pitiful effort sums up mankind's own efforts to try and provide a covering for their sin. But really, how long would fig leaves last? What kind of covering would that provide? J. Vernon McGee writes:
These fig leaves concealed but did not really cover. Adam and Eve did not confess; they just attempted to cover up their sin. They were not ready to admit their lost condition. This is the same condition of man today in religion. He goes through exercises and rituals, he joins churches, and he becomes very religious. Have you ever noticed that Christ cursed the fig tree? That is quite interesting. And He denounced religion right after that, by the way; He denounced it with all His being because religion merely covers over sin.
In contrast to man's efforts, God gave them something lasting. Note the following:
|Man’s attempt to cover was hopelessly inadequate but God provided a way. The Lord initiated it. Mankind has forever been trying to cover his spiritual nakedness and shame through pointing to this or that good thing they have done… but it is even more inadequate to cover one’s sin and shame as Adam’s fig leaves were to cover his physical nakedness and shame. God provided… He always has – if we simply see our need and accept it!
|‘Garments of skin for Adam and Eve’
||On the day Adam and Eve took of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they died spiritually. They probably should have died physically but another took their place. An unnamed animal, likely a lamb or sheep, lost its life so that Adam and Eve could be covered. It pictured, as He would do through the dispensation of the law with its animal sacrifices, the One who would take our place - Jesus Christ. 'For without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness' (Heb 9:22)
|‘And clothed them’
||God’s provision would fully cloth them. It has been said that the oldest profession is prostitution. Actually it is gardening followed closely by being in the clothing business! God is the owner and operator of this business. He has been clothing those that see their nakedness right from the start and still does it!
So here begins the entrance of sin and judgment into this world but also the entrance of grace... a covering for all who see their need. So it begs the question... Are you covered? Is your covering a 'what' or a 'who'? In other words is it based on what you do or a person who did it for you? Is your covering based on temporal fig leaves or an eternal sacrifice? Let's see how Revelation end this theme of sin and judgment, starting with those that have not accepted God's provision for sin.
The final judgment and exit of all sin
So sin and judgment for mankind comes in, in Genesis. But it goes out in Revelation.1 Did you know that there will be an exit for both sin and judgment when it is all dealt with openly and finally? We learn of this day in the book of Revelation chapter 20. It occurs in three stages but we will focus on the last for after this there will NEVER again be any sin or judgment. The first stage is the final revolt of mankind, led by Satan, at the end of the 1000 year kingdom reign of Christ as recorded in Revelation 20:7-9. If ever there was a passage that highlights how wicked mankind is, this is it. It shows that after living in the perfect conditions of His kingdom, man will still hate the King of Kings and will rebel again Him. The second stage in the judgment and exit of sin follows in Revelation 20:10. Satan is thrown into the lake of fire! About time! But the third and final stage involves the judgment of all unbelievers throughout the ages. Here are the sobering words:
Rev 20:11-15 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. (12) And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. (13) And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. (14) Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (15) And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
In his commentary on Revelation, Tim Lahaye writes the following after this passage:
You have just read the most awesome passage found anywhere in the Bible. It confronts man with the sobering truth of his ultimate encounter with God.
Let me be clear that no believers will be before the throne at this judgment. We stand before the 'bema seat of Christ' after the rapture but this is for 'the dead, great and small'. It is for unbelievers, Whether they were a king of a country or a street sweeper matters not on that day - they will all be on same level before God. But put yourself in the shoes of one who must come before God... as JUDGE, at the great white throne. And remember what was said earlier - God is perfectly holy and righteous. He cannot overlook even one sin. Remember also, as mentioned earlier, that scripture says 'It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.' (Heb 10:31). If a person will not accept God's provision for sin then they will pay for it themselves. And 'the wages of sin is death'. So think of the scene before us:
Jesus told us that Heaven and Earth would pass away but His words would never pass away (Matt 24:35). He also said ‘There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.’ (John 12:48) Well that day has come and what a solemn day it is. Everything has gone. Heaven and earth, the Bible tells us, have fled and are no more. All that remains is a judgment throne, a Judge and those that have to stand before this throne.2 William Newell, in his commentary on the book of Revelation, writes the following:
“Weigh each word:
Great - it is the Infinite before whom the finite must stand.
White - it is the unveiled, undimmed blaze of the divine holiness and purity and justice.
Throne - it is majesty unlimited, in which inheres utter right to dispose of the destiny of creatures. Before such a throne, creatures cannot stand; but they shall stand-even the lost!"
Jesus, speaking of the judgment of mankind, said that many will come on that day calling Him Lord speaking of the things they did… But He will say to them 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers!' Again, put yourselves in the shoes of those that stand before Almighty God on that day. The greatest lawyers won't be able talk their way out of this one for everything is recorded. The most accomplished confidence tricksters have no chance of tricking the Lord who knows all. No one can call in false witnesses or use power or wealth to sway the result for the Judge they stand before is perfect, holy, upright. Imagine the fear and terror before the Lord knowing that you have rejected His sacrifice for sin. Every mouth will be silenced at the great white throne. But oh that it didn't happen earlier when they had the chance! For God's law was given to silence every mouth so that mankind would stop talking about their 'fig leaf coverings' and so-called good works, and look to the One who could really provide a covering.
Rom 3:19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God.
The Bible tells us that on this day of the great white throne all unbelievers will be judged based on their works but it is not for whether they gain eternal life or not. It is for the degree of punishment (Luke 12:47-48). Imagine standing before this throne! Imagine thinking that you have been a good person and had works yet didn't have the one work God has required of all mankind. And what is that work?
John 6:29 Jesus answered them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.'
I have friends that will likely come before this throne. I have work mates that will. I have extended family members that likely will. I'm sure you do too. These are solemn thoughts but they should renew our desire to speak about the Lord and His salvation. Oh the dread of standing there and finding that your name is not written in the book of life! The church in general doesn't speak much of God's judgment or of hell anymore. It's not P.C. It's not a nice thought. Yet I know, speaking personally, that it was this thought of judgment and hell that first gripped my heart and got me to search further and read His word for the first time. It was a conviction of sin and a fear of what would happen if I died that eventually got me to cry out 'what must I do to be saved?' I remember watching a video called 'A glimpse of eternity' which was the testimony of a New Zealander called Ian McCormack. He was a surfer that was stung multiple times by box jelly fish while diving. These jellyfish have the first or second (depending on who you are listening to) deadliest venom in the world. In his testimony he spoke of being pronounced clinically dead and experiencing both hell and heaven. He describes the fear of feeling trapped and left in hell (which would have been Hades, not the lake of fire) before being allowed to see a glimpse of the glory of Heaven. I went into this video as a contented, confident pimple faced teenager who had no time for God... and came out a pretty shaken individual worried about the judgment of God and where I was going if I died! But this, for me as an unbeliever, was a healthy fear.
Luke 12:4-5 "I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!
In the hands of the living God - The perfect provision of Grace
More than likely, if you are reading this, you are a born again believer and have been considering these verses thinking 'oh boy... there but for the grace of God go I!' 'That could have been me standing there facing judgment. I didn't deserve His free gift of salvation...'3 The majesty and glory of God's grace is illuminated against the dark backdrop of His judgment, is it not? I want to end with the contrast for believers... because you are in those same hands. Those hands that the Bible says are a terrifying thing for unbelievers to fall into, are also the place of refuge and security for the believer. As perfect as His judgment is for those that do not accept His offer of salvation, so is the perfection of His salvation for those that do! We are in His hands. They are the most powerful hands in the universe. Think again of what this means. Jesus said:
John 10:27-29 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
Believers are not only in the Lord Jesus' hands, but are in the hands of the Father. For this reason 'they shall never perish'! Just as we don't see God's perfect holiness and judgment, so many believers don't see the perfection of the salvation that He offers. Salvation is of the Lord and He doesn't only half save! Knowing the security of salvation Paul could write:
Rom 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What confidence this brings! What grace! Paul knew that there was nothing present or even future that could separate believers from God's love. The powers of the angelic realm can't do it, nor can any created thing (and that includes you if you have been born again!). God's salvation is not 'daisy-salvation'. It is not 'He loves me, He loves me not, He loves me, He loves me not...' It is a grace that scripture says we will be amazed at in the ages to come.
Eph 2:4-7 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, (5) even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
When I was a young believer, first seeing God's grace in its incredible glory, I used to ask people the following question (it was a way to see if they understood what God had done!) Here it is:
Do you have to be perfect to go to Heaven?
You are probably thinking 'no, no one is perfect. Thankfully God is not requiring perfection!' The answer of course is 'Yes!' You do have to be perfect to go to Heaven. God is perfect and cannot accept anything less into Heaven. But thankfully, He was willing to come and die so that the perfect standards of the law could be met BY HIM, and that perfection could be credited to your account. Every believer is perfect in Christ Jesus (Heb 10:14). It is His nail pierced hands that accomplished this for us. It is His clothing of righteousness that is given as a free gift to cloth us.
Isa 61:10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
And so we have come full circle. What did we see right back at the start in the book of Genesis? We saw the judgment of God after the sin of Adam and Eve, This pictures the final judgment at the end of the age where all the dead and unbelievers will be judged once and for all. You do not want to be part of that judgment. You don't want those that you know to be part of that judgment. Paul wrote 'Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men...' (2 Cor 5;11). He goes on to write:
2Co 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
We also saw in Genesis the covering that God immediately made for Adam and Eve. God is in the clothing business. He did, and does, provide a perfect covering for our sin. The judgment and wrath of God is very real. It is done with perfect justice. But so also is His salvation and grace perfect for those that see their need.
If you are not a believer, I implore you, as I had to do when I first saw that I was heading for judgment, seek God! Ask Him to show you the truth. Look into the claims of Jesus once again. Make the effort to reach out to Him by reading the Bible while asking that He will speak to you. And... believe! If you are a believer already, think of those around you that don't know the Lord. Ask the Lord for opportunities to share Him and what he did. Take courage in these last days!