Revelation 4:8(2)

Sermon preached on May 13, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

I usually like movies about time travel. They open up all sorts of interesting possibilities. One of the main themes of movies like that is that you can go back in time and change things—prevent certain disasters from happening or change the course of history by eliminating someone like a Hitler or Stalin. One movie,
Terminator 2, had premise that there was a great war between human beings and machines and that the humans were on the brink of victory being led by a man named John Connor. But the machines made a time machine to send a robot back in time to kill him when he was just a young boy. The thought was that this would change the outcome of the war because without his leadership the humans wouldn't win.

I have many things in my past that I'd like to change. There's one thing that wouldn't normally wouldn't be high on my list, but sometimes it gets pushed up a few notches. It's something that happened in 1985, I think. We had a little Bible Study in Potsdam on Sunday afternoons and Bev attended and I was driving her home after one of those studies. It was in the winter and it was freezing rain and the road was icy. We went slipping and sliding and the car went off the road. I really wish I could go back and change that. Not because going off the road was so bad. It wasn't. No one was hurt at all and there was no damage to the car. But the thing is, Bev never lets me forget that incident. Ever since then she's been critical of my driving and teases me about it.

But seriously, I have lots of things in my past where I wish I could go back in time and change them. Did you ever regret something you said and you wish you could snatch the words back out of the air and put them back in your mouth? I've been there.

Other people have regrets about someone who died. In February, 1959 musicians Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Rudy Valens and others were giving a series of concerts in the Midwest. They were traveling by bus and the bus broke down between one of their stops. They were so cold that some of them got frostbite before it was fixed. Buddy Holly wanted to get away from the bus for awhile so he hired a small plane to take some of them to their next stop. He had room for two others so he was going to take his friend Waylon Jennings and one other with him. But the Bog Bopper had a slight fever and asked Jennings if he could go on the plane in his place. When Holly found out that Jennings had given his place to the Big Bopper, he joked with him and said,

"I hope the bus breaks down again."

Jennings replied,

"Well, I hope your plane crashes."

It did and Holly and everyone else on board was killed. It was just a joke but Jennings said it took him a long time to get over that.

All of us have things in our past that we'd like to change. That sin that you committed—the harsh word, the lie, the betrayal, the hatred that you gave in to—you regret it and wish you had your time back. If you did, you would do things differently.

But we can't and at times like that it seems like time is our enemy. We are 'in time'. It boxes us in. It limits us in so many ways.

Our knowledge is limited because it's in time. The old saying is absolutely true,

"Hindsight is 20/20."


"If I knew then what I know now."

Time also places limits on our ability. One of my relatives died when I was sick with appendicitis. I had just been released from the hospital but I was too weak to travel and go to his funeral. By the time I was better the funeral was long in the past. Any other time I would have been able to attend. I still regret that.

Time makes some things too late. Lots of people have gone to the doctor and the doctor tells them they have advanced cancer and that there's nothing they can do. He tells them that if they had caught it earlier they would have been able to cure it.

We see this with big events as well. In his work on the Second World War Winston Churchill said that he knew as early as 1942 that Germany, Japan and Italy would lose the war. He said that once America and Russia joined the war against them, the outcome was settled. In
The Hinge of Fate, he said that in 1942 he knew that,

"A fearful and bloody struggle lay before us, and we could not foresee its course, but the end was sure."

Churchill may have been wrong in believing that in 1942. If the Germans had developed the atomic bomb then, they might have won the war. But whether it was 1942, 43 or 44, or even early 1945, there did come a point where the war was lost for Axis powers. Even if they had developed the atomic bomb as the Russians were closing in on Berlin, it would have been too late. After that point there was nothing they could do to change the course of the war—it was lost. Time limits us in ways like that. It limits our choices, our abilities. We can't control time. Sometimes it is like an enemy that can't be overcome—that the chance for victory has past and now that all that's left is defeat.

It's going to seem that way for Christians in the future. The beast out of the sea is going to make war against the saints and conquer them. Then the beast out of the earth is going to appear and perform great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven. He is going to deceive the inhabitants of the earth. He is going to cause all who refuse to worship the image of the first beast to be killed. He will force everyone to receive his mark, either on his hand or on his forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless they have the mark of the beast, which is 666. It's like Christianity is going to be wiped off the face of the earth. It brings to mind Jesus words in Luke 18:8,

"when the Son of Man comes,
will he find faith on the earth?"

What Jesus told tells His followers is that they need to be prepared for that. In Revelation 13:10 we read,

"This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness
on the part of the saints."

But how can Christians be patient when all seems lost, when these blasphemous beasts are working miracles and winning the whole world over? The answer is in the praise of the four living creatures in our text. They never stop saying,

"Holy, holy, holy is
the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come."

They praise God for His holiness, power and eternity. These are three things that we are to keep in mind. To help us hold on to hope, we need to remember that

God is the Lord of time.

In Revelation Jesus presents His eternity, God's eternity, in relation to our salvation. The point is that we are never to lose hope because God rules time and that nothing, can prevent His bringing salvation to His people.

For example, in Revelation 1:4 the phrase, 'who is, who was, and who is to come' is combined with 'grace and peace'. John wrote,

"Grace and peace to you
from him who is, and who was,
and who is to come,
and from the seven spirits before his throne."

The truth is that He who rules time will always have grace and peace for us. His grace and peace to us will never cease. Nothing can prevent it from coming to us.

In 1:8 the expression in our text is combined with Jesus' saying that He is the

"Alpha and the Omega".

And in 1:17-18 Jesus said to John,

"I am the First and the Last.
I am the Living One; I was dead,
and behold I am alive for ever and ever!
And I hold the keys of death and Hades."

The expressions Alpha and Omega and First and Last are merisms. For example, if you want to indicated that you searched everywhere you'd say that you searched 'high and low'. When Moses wanted us to know that God created the whole universe, he said that God created 'the heavens and the earth'. G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 199)

"These merisms express God's control of all history, especially by bringing it to an end in salvation and judgment… The God who transcends time guides the entire course of history because he stands as sovereign over its beginning and its end."

Again, God's eternity is tied to our salvation, to grace coming to us. Jesus declares that He is alive for over and ever and that He holds the keys of death and Hades. No one can stop Him from saving His people, because He holds those keys. He ever lives to make sure that we are saved. Right after that in Revelation 1:19 Jesus said to John,

"Write, therefore,
what you have seen, what is now
and what will take place later."

Jesus shows that He is in control of history. He guides it. He rules it.

Another place that is parallel to our text is in Revelation 11:17. The twenty-four elders praise God with these words,

"We give thanks to you,
Lord God Almighty,
the One who is and who was,
because you have taken
your great power and have begun to reign."

They continue in verse 18 praising God for his judgment on the wicked and His rewarding His prophets and saints. Again, His eternity is tied to the salvation of His people and the judgment of their enemies.

In every one of these instances God we see that God is asserting His Lordship over time. Because He is the Lord of time He is able to give grace and peace. Because He is the first and last and has defeated death and is alive for ever and ever, He is able to save His people and give them eternal life. Because He is the One who is and who was—He has begun to reign and judge His enemies and save His people.

Putting all this together we conclude that God's relationship to time is not like ours. He is not boxed in by it. He is not limited by it. He is not thwarted by it. He is the Lord of time. (Frame, The Doctrine of God, p. 558) God rules. Time does not change Him. Time does not limit Him. Quite the contrary, time is merely an instrument in His hands. He is the One who was, and is, and is to come.

The way that some theologians express this is by saying that

God transcends time.

What is eternity? Some people think of it as unending time, or to be more precise, as time extended infinitely in both directions, past and future. We're going to live forever and ever. God has granted His people eternal life. They think that the only difference between God and us, in regard to time, is that God always existed. He didn't have a beginning.

But the Bible suggests that there's much more to it than that. But God's relationship to time is not like ours. The picture that it presents is that God is far above time. It suggests that He is not bound by time like we are.

To understand this, first consider what physics tells us. Einstein told us that that time is relative. Time is related to matter, to space. They refer to space-time. Time is related to is related to matter. Near a black hole time slows down, even stops. Without matter there is no time. Time is something that has been created. So when God created the universe He also created time.

But we don't want to base our theology only on physics. We need to look at the biblical evidence. The Scriptures speak of eternity in terms of time. Yet, even while doing this, it hints that with God, time is different than it is for us. He is above time. For example, Psalm 90:2 says,

"Before the mountains were born or you
brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God."

That suggests that there's a disjunct between God and time, that He is above time, outside of time. Indeed, it implies that nothing in creation can have an effect on God's eternity. From everlasting to everlasting He is!

The apostle Paul's words in Romans 8:38-39 indicate that God is in complete control of time. He asks who can separate us from the love of Christ. He said,

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

He could not say that unless God was in complete control of time, unless He had power over it.

John 8:58 also worthy of note in this regard. Jesus said,

"I tell you the truth,
before Abraham was born, I am!"

Note that Jesus didn't say that that before Abraham was born, "I was". We would expect that if His eternity was just unending time. But instead of saying "I was", He said, "I am". Leon Morris writes, (The Gospel of John, p. 420)

"It is eternity of being and not simply being that has lasted through several centuries that the expression indicates."

Christians, what a wonderful Savior you have in Jesus. He is eternal. Hebrews 13:8 says,

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday
and today and forever."

He is the Lord of time. John 8:58 refers back to the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14,

"I am who I am.
This is what you are to say
to the Israelites:
'I am has sent me to you.'"

Herman Bavinck writes, (The Doctrine of God, p. 156)

"God's eternity should rather be conceived of as an eternal present, without past or future.

Boethius says,

"With God all is present."

Psalm 90:4 reads,

"For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night."

Michael Horton writes, (The Christian Faith, p. 257)

"Even if God's eternity is not the simultaneity of past, present and future, the reduction of a millennium to 'a watch in the night' at least tends in that direction."

Indeed, Isaiah 57:15 says that God inhabits eternity. It reads, (ESV)

"For thus says the One
who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity,
whose name is Holy:
I dwell in the high and holy place…"

John M. Frame says that a good metaphor for thinking of God's relationship to time is of God looking, (The Doctrine of God, p. 557-558)

"down on time from a lofty height."

According to 1 Timothy 1:17 God is, (ESV)

"the King of the ages,
immortal, invisible, the only God…"

Donald Macleod writes, (Behold Your God, p. 30)

"God is self-determining. He formulates plans. He makes decisions. He initiates actions and carries it through. He is not a helpless component in a relentless causal nexus but an independent agent, immanent in the sequence of events and always involved in it: but never imprisoned by it."

What does this mean for us?

First of all this means that

you should never cease to have faith. It means that you should never give up hope. It means that God will prevail.

So often we're like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It was the first Easter morning. Jesus was risen from the dead. He had told them that repeatedly. They knew that the women had found the tomb empty. They said to Jesus, (Luke 24:21ff)

"And what is more,
it is the third day since all this took place.
In addition, some of our women
amazed us.
They went to the tomb
early this morning but didn't find his body.
They came and told us that
they had seen a vision of angels,
who said he was alive.
Then some of our companions
went to the tomb and found it
just as the women had said,
but him they did not see."

They knew about Jesus' predictions about His rising from the dead on the third day. They knew the tomb was empty. They knew about the angels appearing to the women. Yet how did they react to it? They were leaving Jerusalem. This was something they shouldn't have been doing. As soon as they recognized the Lord they got up and returned to Jerusalem. But here they are going away. What were they like when Jesus found them? We read, (Luke 24:17ff)

"They stood still,
their faces downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, asked him,
'Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem
and do not know the things that
have happened there in these days?'
'What things?' he asked.
'About Jesus of Nazareth,' they replied.
'He was a prophet, powerful in word
and deed before God and all the people.
The chief priests and our rulers
handed him over to be sentenced to death,
and they crucified him;
but we had hoped that he was the one
who was going to redeem Israel."

They 'had hoped'. But their hope was gone. In their thinking, because Jesus had been crucified, it was game over. It was too late. The Jewish leaders had won. They defeated Jesus. That's the implication of their words. The time for Jesus' victory had passed. Now that He had been crucified it was too late. But Jesus immediately rebuked them. He said, (verses 25-27)

"How foolish you are,
and how slow of heart to believe
all that the prophets have spoken!
Did not the Christ have to suffer
these things and then enter his glory?"

Verse 27 then says,

"And beginning with Moses
and all the Prophets,
he explained to them what was said
in all the Scriptures concerning himself."

God has eternal purposes.

They are often mysterious and puzzling to us.

But one of the key things that our text implies is that
we don't have to understand God's ways in order to be certain and confident and hopeful about the future. The truth is that if you know God, if you know certain things about Him (that He is holy, that He is Almighty, that He is eternal) then you don't have to understand His ways in order to have faith and hope in Him. Knowing Him is all you need.

Let me illustrate. I'm married to Marg and I know her. I don't always understand her ways, but that doesn't matter. For example, one day I watched as she left for work. She goes to Lisbon the back way and she went down the end of Judson Street to Route 310. But instead of turning left to go past the church to Lisbon, she turned right, down toward Kinney's and Price Chopper. I thought that was strange and I wondered if she had just made a mistake. Sometimes when you're not concentrating you'll turn the wrong way. But I've since found out that sometimes she'll get doughnuts on the way to school for her choirs, or she'll get some treats at Kinney's as prizes for her students. But you see the point—I don't know everything she does but I don't have to.

That illustrates what our trust in God should be like. We don't understand many of His ways. But we know that He is eternal and that He loves us with an everlasting love. No matter what happens, we don't have to lose our faith or doubt Him. He is holy, the Almighty, the One who was, and is, and is to come. We know Him and that should be enough for us. G. K. Beale says, (Revelation, p. 333)

"The significance of the two titles 'Lord God Almighty' and 'the one who is and was and is coming' is to emphasize that the God who transcends time is sovereign over history. But this is no abstract theology of God. Through John the readers are being given information from the heavenly, secret council room of the Lord. The titles show that the intention of this crucial vision is to give the supra-historical perspective of 'the one who is, was, and is coming,' which is to enable the suffering readers to perceive his eternal purpose and so motivate them to persevere faithfully through tribulation."

Secondly, this means that

we should realize that nothing in time can change God.

Indeed, it's implied here that God's holiness and power are eternal. They four living creatures say,

"Holy, holy, holy is
the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come."

God doesn't change. His character doesn't change. It can't change. He will always be holy. He will always be Almighty. As Robert Mounce writes, (Revelation, p. 126)

"his holiness and omnipotence stretch from eternity to eternity:"

Nothing in time can change Him. You can always have confidence that nothing in the present or the future can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Lastly, if you're not a Christian this means that

God is inescapable.

He was, and is, and is to come. He is the Lord of all. In this life you can ignore Him for a time. But He has created you and sooner or later He will demand a reckoning. Unless you go to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins that reckoning will be terrible indeed for He is the Holy God who cannot tolerate sin. Find life in Jesus today.