Revelation 1 – Part 2

“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” Revelation 1:7

In the opening verses of the book of Revelation, the apostle John explains that the message of this book is from and about Jesus Christ, especially as it relates to end-time events (1:1-2). The promise of a special blessing is given to encourage readers to prepare for what is going to take place in the future (1:3).

John then addresses his readers. 4 John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 1:4-5). John sent this letter (all of Revelation) “to the seven churches” which are addressed in chapters 2 and 3. The number “seven” signifies completion or fullness in the Bible which can be taken to mean this message is for the “whole” church throughout history, including all of us today. These seven churches were in the Roman province of “Asia” Minor or western modern Turkey.

Notice that John extends “grace” before “peace” to his readers (1:4b). Why does he do this? Before undeserving sinners can experience “peace” with God, they must be saved by God’s “grace” or undeserved favor. “God doesn’t save us because of any good thing we have done, will do, or even promise to do. God saves us solely by His grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is God’s gift to undeserving sinners—we must never forget that! The result of this precious grace is a relationship that offers us true peace that overcomes any trials and tribulations the world can bring. What a reassuring greeting to the members of the persecuted church! Though John will later describe judgment and distress that will overtake wicked unbelievers in the future, God’s own people receive grace and peace.” 2

What about you, my friend? Have you found peace with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ? The Bible says, 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are saved from hell “through faith.” Not through religion or regulations. Not through our good works or morality. It is through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Too many churches are saying we are saved through faith plus… I believe this must break God’s heart. Because when we say it takes more than faith in Jesus to save us from hell, we are saying to God, “Your Son’s death was disappointing. Jesus paid for some of my sins, but I must pay for the rest of my sins.” In other words, we are telling God that Jesus did not get the job done, so we have to help Him. But listen: Jesus does not need our help to save us from our sins. He did not make a down payment for our sins when He died on the cross. He made the full payment for our sins. That is why He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). He finished paying the penalty for all our sins when He died in our place. He simply asks us to humbly accept His free gift by faith. And when we do, we are saved forever!

This wonderful salvation is “the gift of God.” Do you ever have to pay to receive a gift? No. Why? Because a gift is already paid for. Salvation is free to you and me because Jesus Christ already paid for it all when He died for our sins and rose from the dead. The hand that receives the gift of salvation is our faith in Jesus Christ. The moment we believe in Jesus for His gift of salvation, “we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1).

John tells us that “grace” and “peace” are from the Triune God. First, he refers to God the Father when he writes, “from Him who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4c; cf. Revelation 4:8; 11:17; 16:5). This brings to remembrance the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14-15. God the Father transcends all of time – past, present, and future. He was in control of our past. He is in control of our present. And He will be in control of our future no matter what we face. This is important to remember when we read through the series of judgments in the book of Revelation. God’s abiding presence in our lives enables us to experience His peace which surpasses human understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Next, we see that “grace” and “peace” are also from God the Holy Spirit. John writes, “and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne” (1:4d). Remember the number “seven” represents completion or fullness in the Bible. In Revelation 4:5, we read, “Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” (cf. Zechariah 4:2-7; Isaiah 11:2-3). The Holy Spirit gives “perfect illumination and insight concerning all that transpires everywhere. By this perfect wisdom God rules the universe. The imagery of God’s throne is used throughout the rest of the book (the word throne is used forty-two times). The believers of the seven churches undoubtedly received great encouragement from this greeting as it emphasizes that God is at work in their lives with complete awareness as well as perfect insight.” 3

We may think that God is distant or doesn’t care about us when we face difficult times. God wants to remind us that He is fully aware of our needs and circumstances, and He is at work in our lives. In fact, the Bible tells us that when are in so much pain that we do not know how to pray, the Holy Spirit will intercede for us to God the Father (Romans 8:26-27). He fights for us before the throne of God.

John introduces God the Son last in this acknowledgment perhaps to emphasize His importance: “And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth” (1:5a). The Lord Jesus is described as “the faithful witness.” Throughout His entire earthly ministry, Jesus was faithful to share the truth He had received from His Father in heaven (John 3:11, 32; 4:44; 7:7; 8:14-18; 18:37). This would be especially true concerning the future events He would disclose in this letter. As “the firstborn from the dead,” Jesus was the first to rise from the dead and remain alive forever, making Him superior to all others. When John says that Jesus is “the ruler over the kings of the earth,” he is looking ahead to Christ’s future ministry after His Second Coming to earth (see Revelation 11:15; 19:15-20:6). 

John is so overtaken with joy at the mention of the glorious and majestic Lord Jesus Christ, that he breaks forth into praise: 5 To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6 and He made us into a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:5b-6 NKJV NASB). John gives glory to God the Son since this is the primary purpose of the book of Revelation. John ascribes “glory and…  dominion” to Jesus who has always “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” In giving glory to Jesus, John first “draws our attention back to the cross where he had once stood as an eyewitness to the sufferings of his Savior (John 19:26-27, 35). By the shedding of His blood, Christ paid the debt in full for the sins of the world and thereby released believers from the guilt and penalty of their sins. On our behalf, He conquered death and gave new life to all who believe.” 5

No one loves us as much as Jesus. How do I know this? Because He “washed us from our sins in His own blood” the moment we believed in Him. Another evidence of His love for us is that “He made us into a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” The moment you and I believe in Jesus for His gift of salvation, we are placed in His “kingdom” (corporately) as “priests” (individually) “to His God and Father.” This emphasis on God’s love at the beginning of this book would be a great source of comfort for his readers considering the following revelation of much judgment to come on humanity (Revelation 6-19). Everything God does is because He loves His people. 6

The first prophetic utterance in the book of Revelation is given in the next verse: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” (Revelation 1:7). In verses 5 and 6 John focused on how worthy Jesus is of eternal “glory” and “dominion.” But now he sees Christ coming back to earth to obtain this “glory” and “dominion.” This verse announces the climactic event in Revelation, namely, the return of Jesus Christ to the earth at His Second Coming (Revelation 19:11-16).  All that takes place between this verse and Revelation 19:11-16 leads up to that event.

The word “Behold” (Idou) draws attention to what follows. 7  To put it in our own vernacular – “Stop whatever you are doing and pay attention to what I am about to say! You don’t want to miss this!”

This Jesus Who washed us from our sins in His own blood at His First Coming is coming back to earth again this time “with clouds.” Just as Jesus ascended physically and visibly to heaven with a cloud (Acts 1:9-11), so He will return from heaven to earth physically and visibly with clouds. As Christ gradually descends out of the sky to destroy His enemies at the end of the Tribulation (Revelation 19:11-21), “every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him.” “All mankind will have the opportunity to witness the return of Christ to earth, including Jews, Who will mourn their crucifixion and prolonged rejection of the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10; John 19:37). The phrase ‘all the tribes of the earth (gēs)’ is a reference to every nation on the planet (the same Greek phrase is used in the LXX in Genesis 12:3; 28:14; Psalm 72:17; and Zechariah 14:17 in reference to the entire earth). John is elated that both Jews and Gentiles will believe in Christ and mourn over their mistreatment of Him. Thus, he proclaims, ‘Even so, Amen. (Emphasis added)’ ” 8

This Second Coming of Christ to earth (Revelation 1:7) is in in contrast to the future Rapture or sudden removal of the Church which will probably not be visible to everyone (I Corinthians 15:51-52; I Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 4:1-4) because it will take place suddenly. Only those who are “in Christ” (believers in Jesus) will hear “the trumpet of God” sound (I Thessalonians 4:16) when the Rapture takes place.

Other contrasts in the Bible between the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ to earth include the following:

a. The Rapture is imminent – it could happen at any moment (Matthew 24:36-51; I Corinthians 15:51-52; I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), whereas the Second Coming is preceded by numerous signs (outpouring of Spirit, prophesy, dreams, visions, blood, fire, columns of smoke, warfare, darkening of sun and moon, unprecedented suffering, etc. (Matthew 24:4-35; Joel 2:28-32; Revelation 6-18).

b. The Rapture removes believers (Matthew 24:40-41; I Thessalonians 4:13-18) whereas in the Second Coming, Christ returns with believers to the earth (Jude 1:14; Revelation 19:8, 14).

c. The Rapture results in the removal of the church and the start of the Tribulation (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), whereas the Second Coming results in the return of the church to earth and the start of the 1000-year-rule of Christ on earth (Revelation 19:8, 11-20:6).

d. The Rapture brings a message of hope and comfort (I Thessalonians 4:13-18), whereas the Second Coming brings a message of judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:3-9; Revelation 19:11-21).

e. The Rapture of the church was previously unknown (“mystery,” I Corinthians 15:51-58) to the Old Testament writers, whereas the Second Coming is predicted in both Old and New Testaments (Joel 2:28-32; Zechariah 14; Matthew 24:4-30; Mark 13:24-26).

f. At the Rapture, the Lord takes believers from earth to heaven “to the Father’s house” (John 14:3); at the Second Coming, believers return from heaven to the earth (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 19:8, 11-21).

g. At the Rapture, Christians are judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 4:1-5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 4:4), but at the Second Coming, Gentile nations are judged (Matthew 25:31-46).

h. The Rapture is before the day of wrath (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), but the Second Coming concludes the day of wrath (Revelation 11:15-18; 19:11-20).  

i. At the Rapture, Christ comes in the air (I Thessalonians 4:16-17), but at the Second Coming Christ comes to the earth (Zechariah 14:4).

j. At the Rapture, Christ claims His bride (John 14:2-3; I Thessalonians 4:13-18), at the Second Coming, Christ comes with His bride (Revelation 19:8, 14).

k. At the Rapture, Christ gathers His own (I Thessalonians 4:16-17), but at the Second Coming, angels gather the elect (Matthew 24:31).

l. At the Rapture, Christ comes to reward (I Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 22:12), at the Second Coming, Christ comes to judge (Matthew 25:31-46).

m. At the Rapture, Christ comes as the Bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16), but at the Second Coming, Christ comes as the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2).

Next Jesus confirms the preceding prophetic forecast of His return to earth (Revelation 1:7) with a solemn affirmation of His eternality and omnipotence: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8). “The Alpha and Omega” are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and signify here, Jesus’ comprehensive control over all things—including time (cf. Revelation 21:6; 22:13). He is in control of the past (“who was”), the present (“who is”), and the future (“who is to come”). Christ is the Creator of all things (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), and He will bring history to its conclusion. Christ is yesterday, today, and tomorrow because he exists eternally. 9

Jesus is “the Almighty.” The Greek word for “Almighty” is pantokratōr, “the all-powerful One.” It is used ten times in the New Testament, nine of them in Revelation (2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22). 10  Because Jesus is the all-powerful God, He has the ability to bring to pass the promise of His Second Coming to earth. 11

In conclusion, the fulfillment of Jesus’ visible and bodily return to earth to defeat His enemies (Revelation 19:11-21), is based upon the Triune God’s power to fulfill His promises and plans (Revelation 1:4-8). Since God has the power to bring His prophetic predictions to pass, He also has the power to fulfill His individual plans for each of us. His power cannot only save us from an eternity separated from Him, but it can also give us peace which surpasses human understanding during times of distress. Therefore, we can trust Him to take care of us.

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for giving us Your grace which saves underserved sinners from hell forever the moment we put our faith in Christ alone. This same grace can also give us peace as we face tribulation and distress in our modern world. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for washing us clean of all our sins with Your shed blood the moment we believed in You. No one loves us like You do, Lord. Because You are in control of our past, present, and future, we can trust You to take care of us during these uncertain times. Nothing is too hard for You, Lord God Almighty. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), g. 2368.

2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 35.

3. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1496-1497.

4. Ibid., pg. 1497.

5. Swindoll, pg. 36.

6. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 16.

7. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 468.

8. Vacendak, pp. 1497-1498.

9. Evans, pg. 2369.

10. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

11. Vacendak, pg. 1498.

Revelation 1 – Part 1

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” Revelation 1:3

People all around the world are wanting to know what the future holds for them, especially during this global pandemic. They turn to astrology, clairvoyants, fortune cookies, crystals, doctors, mediums, meteorologists, palm readers, political analysts, prophets, psychics, religious leaders, scientists, statisticians, or tarot cards, tabloid newspapers, etc. Sometimes these forecasters do get it right. But more often their predictions are way off. Forecasts about the future are only as reliable as their sources. 1

When the source of information is our limited human perspectives on the past and present, the most intelligent ‘expert’ can only offer an educated guess. On the other hand, if the source is the all-knowing sovereign God, we can be certain that what He speaks will surely come to pass.” 2

Before God gives us some amazing descriptions about the future in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, He wants to assure us that the Source of these predictions is very reliable. These visions of the future do not come from some fanatical religious zealot or psychic who is trying to make a living. The Source of these incredible predictions comes from God Himself.

The apostle John, the same human author of the gospel of John, 1, 2, and 3 John, writes, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.” (Revelation 1:1a). John immediately alerts his readers to the Source of this book’s information when he writes, “The Revelation of [about or from] Jesus Christ.” The Greek wordfor “Revelation” (apokálypsis) means “disclosure,” 3 “uncover,” 4 or “unveiling.” 5 “It means bringing something to light that was formerly hidden or kept secret. Today the term ‘apocalypse’ conveys the idea of a cosmic cataclysm or disaster. Though the apocalypse of John includes some of these elements, the term’s meaning is much broader. It refers to any kind of unveiling. In this case, God revealed the future to John in order to inform His people what would take place.” 6

Jesus Christ is the Giver of this revelation, and He is its main subject. 7  There is no author more trustworthy than God Himself. In the book of Revelation, as the events unfold leading up to the return of Jesus Christ to earth to set up His kingdom, we are going to learn more and more about Him. Our view of Christ will become clearer as He discloses more of Himself and His redemptive plan in this book. Our lives can be forever changed as we encounter the glorified Lord Jesus Christ in this book!

When John writes, “which God gave Him to show His servants,” he is referring to “God” the Father giving Jesus (“Him”) this revelation “to show His servants,” one of whom is “John” the apostle (Revelation 1:1b). If we are struggling to accept what God says in this last book of the New Testament, it may be time for us to surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ as “His servants.” Being Jesus’ servant means being dependent upon and yielded to God which is the best way to hear God’s voice. 8

Did you ever wonder why the Lord Jesus chose John to receive this amazing revelation about the future? I think the main reason is because John was trustworthy. John wrote in his gospel, 23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. 24 But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, 25 and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” (John 2:23-25). During the week-long feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus did many miracles. As a result, many people believed in Christ for eternal life. But John informs us that “Jesus did not commit (or entrust) Himself to them, because He knew all men.” Jesus “knew” that these new believers were not ready to obey Him yet. Why do I say this?

Because Jesus later says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21). Christ “manifests” or discloses more of Himself to the believer who “has… and keeps” His commandments. Friendship with Christ is conditioned upon obeying Him. Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). This friendship refers to Jesus disclosing His thoughts to those who obey Him. Thus, Jesus’ friends are those to whom He entrusts Himself.

John had one of the most intimate relationships with Jesus among all the disciples. The Bible says of John, “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23). John was not only physically close to Jesus’ heart (“leaning on Jesus’ bosom”) the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He was also spiritually close to the heart of our Lord (“whom Jesus loved”). Christ trusted John so much that He even assigned him to provide and care for His own mother, Mary (John 19:26-27). John had proven his faithfulness to Jesus through his obedience to Him. As a result, Jesus gave John the privilege of providing and caring for His own mother.

About sixty years later, John, then in his nineties, had been exiled for his faith by the emperor Domitian to a penal colony on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, about forty miles from Ephesus.” It was there (Revelation 1:9) that the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ entrusted John with this incredible revelation in the last book of the Bible because John had proven himself to be trustworthy to Christ through his obedience. Jesus could count on John to write down exactly what he was told.

What about us? Are we a trustworthy friend of Jesus’? Have we demonstrated our love for Him by keeping His commandments (John 15:14)?  For some of us, we don’t know Jesus any better today than the day we became a Christian, even though that may have been years ago. Christ will not disclose Himself to us if we are not willing to go on and obey Him. He refuses fellowship with Christians who are not ready to obey Him.

For any relationship to grow deeper, there must be mutual trust. I am not going to be transparent with you until I develop a certain level of trust with you. Likewise, you are not going to be transparent with me until you have cultivated more trust in our relationship. The same is true of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus knows our hearts. And He knows if we are ready to obey Him and grow deeper in our relationship with Him or not. He knows if we are still trying to be in control of our lives instead of Him.

The content of this revelation Jesus gave to John has to do with “things which must shortly take place” (Revelation 1:1b). The words translated “shortly” (en tachai) mean that from God’s point of view (cf. 2 Peter 3:8) these future events will take place very soon (cf. James 5:8-9). 10

“A major thrust of Revelation is its emphasis upon the shortness of time before the fulfillment. In the midst of persecution God’s people do not have long to wait for relief to come. To say that the relief will come ‘suddenly’ offers no encouragement, but to say that it will come ‘soon’ does. . . .

“The presence of en tachei in 1:1 shows that for the first time the events predicted by Daniel and foreseen by Christ stood in readiness to be fulfilled cf. Dan. 2:28-29, 45]. Therefore, John could speak of them as imminent, but earlier prophets could not.” 11

The fact is, not only will these future events laid out in the book of Revelation begin to take place at any moment, but they also “must” take place (cf. Luke 21:9). “Not one word of God, including the prophecy and promises of Revelation, will fail to come to pass!” 12

The events recorded in the book of Revelation are designed to show the triumph of Jesus Christ as He subjects all enemies to Himself and then reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 6:1-20:15). As far as the world is concerned, Jesus Christ was rejected. The book of Revelation picks up where the Cross leaves off. It reveals Jesus Christ to the world as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

The importance of the book of Revelation can be seen in the way God gave it to humankind. “God” the Father “gave Him [Jesus]” this revelation “to show His servants… And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John.” (Revelation 1:1). The chain of communication was from “God” the Father to Jesus (“Him”) to “His angel” to the apostle “John,” and finally to the “servants” of Christ.

Equally striking is the signification of the book. The glorified Lord Jesus “sent and signified” this revelation “by His angel.” The Greek word translated “signified” (esēmanen) “refers to speech that gives a vague indication of what is to happen. John uses this word three times in his Gospel (cf. John 12:33; 18:32; 21:19) and in each case what is being said is not immediately or easily discerned and yet it is not so unintelligible that its meaning is impossible to determine. While the Book of Revelation is full of symbolism and signs that can be difficult to understand, it is a book that can be understood. Just as many of Christ’s parables were intended to be confusing so that His disciples would come to Him for an explanation (cf. Matt 13:10-17), the Revelation of Jesus Christ might be intentionally confusing so that readers dig deeper, longer, and more prayerfully into the text of Scripture.” 13

The apostle John “bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.” (Revelation 1:2). The book of Revelation is “the word of God” and “the testimony of [from or about] Jesus Christ.” John was faithful to bear “witness” or share “all [the] things he saw” from “Jesus Christ” with the churches of Asia Minor. It is important to recognize that the book of Revelation is just as divinely inspired and authoritative as the rest of the Bible. It is “the word of God.” It is not the apostle John’s opinions. It is from the mouth of God.

John now presents the first of seven blessings mentioned in the book of Revelation (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14). “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3). This is the only book in the Bible that contains this specific, unique promise. For this reason, the book of Revelation has often been called the ‘Blessing Book.’ The inclusion of this blessing seems to anticipate that many would be tempted to neglect the study of Bible prophecy, especially the book of Revelation.” 14

This one verse underscores that the book of Revelation was meant to be a very practical book. Let’s look at three significant elements in this one special blessing: 15

1. “He who reads” – In the early church, few people had a personal copy of the Scriptures, so someone would read them aloud to the congregation.  Today this blessing extends to all who read the book of Revelation, including you and me. I pray that this will encourage everyone reading this article to pick up their Bible and begin reading this life-changing book. If you do not have a Bible, please go to www.youversion.com and download a free digital Bible.

2. “those who hear the words of this prophecy” – Just to hear the book of Revelation read can be a tremendous source of blessing during these troubling times in our modern world. Knowing what is going to happen in the future is intended to bless us. But knowing Bible prophecy is not enough to experience the fullness of this blessing.

3. “those who… keep those things which are written in it” – Not only is it essential to “read” and “hear” Bible prophecy, but we must also “keep” or obey what is written. God has given us the book of Revelation not only to make us knowledgeable of things to come, but to help us prepare for them so we are ready to face the glorified Lord Jesus Christ.

The reason God has given this special blessing is because the time is near” for the prophecy’s fulfillment. The future events recorded in the book of Revelation could begin to unfold at any moment. So many things are happening in our modern world that indicate the nearness of Christ’s return for His church – global movement toward immorality/lawlessness, global movement toward Israel standing all alone, an increase in the frequency and intensity of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, an increase in weather anomalies around the world, the rise of church apostasies, etc. 16 This should give us all a sense of urgency to prepare for Jesus’ coming.

The fact of the matter is all people must face God as their Judge (Hebrews 9:27). It does not matter how hard we exercise or what kind of diet we are on, we are going to face God as our Judge in the future.

Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of eternal life will face God as their Judge to determine the degree of their punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). Those who do believe in Christ, will face Him as their Judge at the Judgment Seat of Christ to determine the degree of their rewards in heaven (Revelation 4:4; 22:12).

If you are not a Christian, then hear and believe the final invitation from God near the end of the book of Revelation. “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17). If you thirst for eternal life, Jesus Christ promises to give you “the water of life” or eternal life (John 4:13-14) “freely” (John 4:10; Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 21:6b; 22:17) if you will “come” to Him in faith. Eternal life is free to you and me because Jesus Christ paid for it all when He died on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Christ does not give eternal life to you because you earned it by living a good moral life. He gives eternal life as a gift to you when you believe in Him alone for it (John 3:15-16, 36; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26). Friends, believe or trust in Jesus alone and He will give you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29).  

If you are already a Christian, you can prepare for the Jesus’ return by living for the Lord Jesus Christ now to receive eternal rewards from Him at the Judgment Seat (Revelation 2:7, 10-11, 17, 25-28; 3:5, 11-12, 21; 4:4; 22:7, 14; cf. Matthew 25:19-23; Luke 19:15-19; Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). If you are not living the way Jesus wants you to live, He instructs you to confess your sin to Him and He guarantees to forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). Then surrender your life to Jesus and begin to follow Him as a disciple (Matthew 4:19). Get involved in a local church where you can hear the Word of God faithfully taught and fellowship with other committed Christians who can help you to grow in Christlikeness (Hebrews 10:24-25). And share the gospel of grace with as many lost people as possible while we still have time (Mark 16:15)!

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You so much for giving us the book of Revelation. During this time of uncertainty, we need a sure Word from our great God and Savior. Many of us often think of Revelation as being filled with nothing but judgments resulting in death or suffering. Thank You for reminding us that this incredible book also contains blessings intended to give us hope and encouragement during these troubling times in our modern world. May Your Holy Spirit lead each of us to prepare for Your soon return. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 33.

2. Ibid. 

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 112.

4. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 211318.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 11; John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.  

6. Swindoll, pg. 14.

7. Constable, pg. 11; Swindoll, pg. 33. The words “of Jesus Christ” in the Greek text (Iēsoús Christou) can be taken as a genitive of subjectivity (Christ is the Giver of the revelation) and objectivity (Christ is the Subject of the Revelation).

8. Tony Evans, pg. 2368.

9. Swindoll, pg. 14.

10. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1495; see also Robertson, Kindle Locations 211356-211373).

11. Constable, pg. 12 cites, Robert Thomas, Revelation 1—7: An Exegetical Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 55-56. Cf. 22:6; Deut. 9:3; Ezek. 29:5 (LXX); Luke 18:8; Rom. 16:20. See Mark L. Hitchcock, “A Critique of the Preterist View of ‘Soon’ and ‘Near’ in Revelation,” Bibliotheca Sacra 163:652 (October-December 2006):467-78.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1495. 

13. Ibid.

14. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 6. Constable, pg. 13 cites, David E. Aune, Revelation 1—5 (Word Biblical Commentary series, Dallas: Word Books, 1997), pg. 20.

15. The following discussion of these three points is adapted from Mark Hitchcock, pg. 6. 

16. Retrieved from an interview by Nathan Jones with Pablo Frascini on September 20, 2021, entitled, “Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs” at www.christinprophecyblog.org .

The Book of Revelation – Introduction

“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” Revelation 1:19

The Lord is leading me to begin a verse-by-verse study through the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Never in my lifetime has it been more important to look at God’s prophetic word in the book of Revelation. People all around the world have sobering questions about what is going to happen in the future. We need to focus on the book of Revelation because it has more graphic details about the Second Coming of Christ and the years immediately preceding it, than any other book of the Bible. 1

Yet at a time when attention to this prophetic book is most needed, its importance has lessened in churches and in the lives of Christians. During my forty-two years as a believer in Jesus Christ, I can count on one hand how many messages I have heard about this book. Why?

One major reason for this is because “the subject matter and widespread symbolism can make it hard to determine what to take literally and what to take figuratively.” This has led to many different interpretations and even division among Christians. Some fanatical teachers have misused this symbolism to set dates about future events. 3 Christians have quit their jobs or sold their homes because a well-known preacher told them Jesus was coming on a specific date. This has left many Christians reluctant to turn to the book of Revelation.

This difficulty in determining what is symbolic and what is literal in Revelation has led to four major approaches to understanding the message and meaning of this book: 4

1. THE ALLEGORICAL APPROACH. With this approach Revelation is viewed as a collection of stories about the battle between good and evil and has no reference to actual past or future events. For example, the “Beast” or “Antichrist” of Revelation, is not a real person, but the personification of evil. 5 This view interprets Revelation in a nonliteral sense.

2. THE PRETERIST APPROACH. According to this view, Revelation is perceived as a symbolic portrayal of events that took place during the first century in the Roman Empire, specifically the church’s conflicts with Judaism and paganism in John’s day. Proponents of this view would identify the “Antichrist” as a past Roman Emperor. 6 Hence, advocates of this approach believe Revelation does not pertain to actual future events. The weakness of this approach is that it contradicts the book’s claim to be mostly about future events which have not yet taken place on earth (cf. Revelation 1:3, 19; 22:7, 10, 18-19).

3. THE HISTORICAL APPROACH. According to this approach,Revelation is seen as a symbolic portrayal of church history from the Day of Pentecost until the Second Coming of Christ to earth. Many proponents identify the “Antichrist” with one of the medieval popes, but they do not agree on which one. 7 The weakness of this view is that interpreters find it difficult to agree on what part of history a given passage refers to.

4. THE FUTURIST APPROACH. Those who hold to this view of Revelation see the major portion of the book (Revelation 4–22) as prophetic events yet to happen (e.g., the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ, the Millennial kingdom, the Great White Throne judgment, and the Eternal State). This is the only approach that takes seriously Revelation’s claim to be a prophetic book. The futurist approach requires a more literal interpretation and belief in the supernatural, 8 which its critics are uncomfortable with. These approaches are listed from the least literal interpretive approach to the most literal. 9 I will be using this approach as we study the book of Revelation.

A good place to start when interpreting the book of Revelation is with Jesus’ prophetic teaching in Matthew 24-25. When talking about the seven-year Tribulation period, many Bible teachers say that the first half of the Tribulation will be a time of peace followed by judgments during the last half of the Tribulation. But Jesus said of the first three-and-a-half years that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:7-8). This is hardly a period of peace. 10

“Revelation bears this out as well. In fact, as shall be seen in the comments on Revelation 6-11, because of the seal and trumpet judgments that will fall on the earth during the first three-and-a-half years, half of the earth’s inhabitants will have lost their lives! This can hardly be thought of as a time of peace on earth. It is important to note that the purpose of the second seal judgment is “to take peace from the earth” (6:4; emphasis added).

The truth is that all these troubles will signal that God’s judgments have begun. Then during the last three-and-a-half years—once the Man of Sin has defiled the temple in Jerusalem (cf. Matt 24:15)—the earth will endure even greater troubles. ‘For then there will be great tribulation (thlipsis megalē, ‘great travail’, or ‘intense birth pains’; cf. anguish in John 16:21), such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be’ (Matt 24:21; emphasis added). It is clear that as the last three-and-a-half years transpire, the world will reach a point of chaos and trouble that is without parallel in human history. Again, this is borne out in Revelation 12-19, and especially seen in the bowl judgments and the Battle of Armageddon.

“In Matthew 24, immediately after Jesus’ words about the Great Tribulation, He said that unless God limits that era to three-and-a-half years, life on earth would cease to exist (v 22). Far from being a time of peace followed by disaster, the seven-year Tribulation Period will begin with troubles and will conclude with even greater troubles. This is clearly seen in both the Olivet Discourse as well as the Book of Revelation.” 11

Before we begin our verse-by-verse study, let’s look at some foundational information to help us understand Revelation.

AUTHOR: The writer of Revelation identifies himself four times as “John” (Revelation 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). From the first century to the present, orthodox Christians have almost unanimously agreed that he is the Apostle John. Dionysius was the first to dispute the Johannine authorship, and did so on the grounds that he disagreed with the book’s theology and found many inaccuracies in its grammar. These objections were disregarded in the early church by most of the important fathers such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen… Practically all scholars today who accept the divine inspiration of the Book of Revelation also accept John the Apostle as its author. However, Erasmus, Luther, and Zwingli questioned the Johannine authorship because it teaches a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ.” 12

The many allusions to the Old Testament found in the book of Revelation, as well as the style of writing, suggest the author was a Jewish Christian from Palestine. According to early church tradition, the apostle John ministered from about AD 70–100 in Asia Minor—the location of the “seven churches in Asia” (Revelation 1:4, 11; 2:1–3:22). Thus, these believers would have been well acquainted with him. 13

DATE:  Some of the early church fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Irenaeus, and Victorinus) wrote that the Apostle John experienced exile on the island of Patmos during Domitian’s reign (Revelation 1:9). 14 They wrote that the government allowed John to return to Ephesus after Emperor Domitian’s death in A.D. 96. As a result, many conservative Bible scholars date the writing of this book near A.D. 95 or 96. 15

PURPOSE: The book of Revelation is one of the most encouraging and hope-filled books in all of the Bible because its main subject is the Person of Jesus Christ. It is a “revelation” or disclosure of Jesus Christ in His role as Judge (Revelation 1:1a) to local churches (Revelation 6:10; 11:18; 14:7; 15:4; 16:5, 7; 17:1; 18:8, 10, 20; 19:2, 11; 20:12-13; cf. Ps 96:13; Acts 10:42; 2 Tim 4:1). 16  Unlike any other book in the Bible, the book of Revelation exalts Christ as the One to whom the Father has “committed all judgment” (John 5:22). 

Revelation begins by showing what the Judge is like (chap. 1). Then the book gives an in-depth look at the Judge in His dealings with three groups—(1) the local assemblies of believers (chaps. 2-3), (2) rebellious mankind (chaps. 4-19), and (3) the lost of all the ages (chap. 20). Once the Judge has completed His work of judgment, we observe the aftermath of His judgments—the new heaven and earth—the glorious and eternal dwelling place of Christ and His people (chaps. 21-22). This inspired book has enriched and encouraged the lives of God’s people for centuries, especially believers who are surrounded by trouble and persecution.” 17

The assurance that Christ will ultimately judge the wicked and reward the godly, motivates believers in Jesus to remain faithful to Him until the end of their lives on earth. Such faithfulness to Christ will distinguish them as “overcomers” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 21:7), and will result in many rewards, including ruling with Christ forever (Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21; 22:5).

An outline of the book of Revelation is contained in one verse. The ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ instructs the apostle John to “write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” (Revelation 1:19). When He says, “the things which you have seen,” He is referring to the incredible vision John received of the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ walking among the seven lampstands representing seven churches (Revelation 1:10-20). The phrase “the things which are,” describe the exalted Lord Jesus’ messages to the seven churches (Revelation 2:1-3:21). And “the things which will take place after this,” refers to the removal of the Church from the earth, the seven-year Tribulation, the return of King Jesus with His Church to earth, followed by His one thousand-year reign on the earth, the final judgment of all unbelievers, and the new heaven and new earth where King Jesus will live with all believers forever (Revelation 4-22).

Prayer: Lord God, it is with great anticipation that we approach the book of Revelation. Thank You so much for preserving this book which encourages us to remain faithful to the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ, until our lives end here on earth. Please help us to be humble as we study each verse, knowing that God the Holy Spirit is our Ultimate Teacher. Open our hearts to see Your heart in every verse. You never intended for this book to cause division or doubts among Your people. You intended for this book to reveal Jesus Christ in such a powerful way that…

– we have hope for today.

– any fears we have about the future will be removed.

– we have greater motivation to live for Him in light of future rewards.

– we have a greater desire to worship Him Who will triumph over evil!

In the mighty name of the King of kings and Lord of lords, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2368.

3. An example is when Revelation 12 sign proponents claimed that the sun, moon, and stars alignment with the woman in Revelation 12 would be literally fulfilled on September 23, 2017, and that this will be the sign heralding the rapture of the church (Retrieved from a retrochristianity.org article on August 7, 2017). Another example is when Harold Camping set dates twice in 2011 for the Rapture of the Church (see Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days [Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition], pp. 197-198). William Miller, founder of the Millerites, predicted Christ’s return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. But it did not happen. Later, another Millerite, Samuel S. Snow, predicted Christ’s return to earth on October 22, 1844. When it didn’t happen, many left Christianity (Retrieved on September 18, 2021, from Wikipedia article entitled, “William Miller (preacher).”

4. Most of this discussion is adapted from Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1492-1493, unless otherwise noted. 

5. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 2.

6. Ibid., pp. 2-3.

7. Ibid., pg. 3.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1493.

11. Ibid., pp. 1493-1494. 

12. Walvoord, pg. 164.

13. Evans, pg. 2365.

14. Constable, pg. 1 cites Isbon T. Beckwith The Apocalypse of John (New York: Macmillan, 1922), pp. 366-93; George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (1972 reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), pg. 8; and Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (Anchor Bible series, 2 vols. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966), 1:lxxxviii-xcii.

15. Constable, pg. 1 cites Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd Ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), pp 707-712; William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1 (The Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 17;  James Moffatt, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” In The Expositor’s Greek Testament Vol. 5 (1910):281-494 4th Ed., Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll. 5 vols. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1900-12), pg. 327; Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 6, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), pp. 274, 343; David E. Aune, Revelation 1—5 (Word Biblical Commentary series, Dallas: Word Books, 1997), pg. lxix.

16. Vacendak, pg. 1491.  17. Ibid. pg. 1490.

How can I live above average? Part 4

“Oh, … that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” I Chronicles 4:10d

God created us to live above average. To learn how to do this, we are looking at a simple, yet profound prayer of a man named Jabez. Even though Jabez got off to a painful start as his name suggests (“Jabez” means “Pain”), he did not let that determine his destiny. He chose to live a life that was honoring to God, despite his painful beginning. And we can do the same.

You and I can live above average for God’s glory by following the same principles found in Jabez’ prayer. The first three principles we have looked at are…

– Seek God’s blessing in our lives (I Chronicles 4:9-10a).

– Ask God to increase our territory or influence for Him (I Chronicles 4:10b).

– Ask God for power to accomplish His dream for our lives (I Chronicles 4:10c).

As God gives each of us His blessings, and as He grants us more influence and power to impact more people for Him, guess whose territory we will be invading? Satan’s. And the devil hates it. He will do whatever he can to mess things up. That is why Jabez prayed, “And that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” (I Chronicles 4:10d).

Jabez “knew Satan would try to use coming blessings as an opportunity to tempt him to become independent from God.” 1 Do we understand this? Our tendency when we experience great success, is to depend less on God and more on ourselves. When our lives or ministries are endowed with God’s supernatural blessings, influence, and power, this can dull our sense of dependency upon the Lord.It is during these timeswhen we are most vulnerable to the devil’s attacks. When influential Christian leaders fall into sin, it causes great pain and even disillusionment for believers who looked up to them as godly examples.

The fourth and last way to live above average is to ASK GOD FOR PROTECTION OVER OUR LIVES (I Chronicles 4:10d). Why did Jabez do this? Because in those days, the more land you had, the more influence you had, and the better-known you were.

It is still true today. The more successful we are, the more critics we have. The closer we grow to the Lord and the stronger we become as Christians, the more the devil will harass us, because he does not want us to grow and impact more people for Jesus Christ. If the devil is not attacking us, that should cause us concern. It may suggest we are no threat to him because our lives are conforming more to the world’s ways than to God’s will.

But when we are sharing God’s blessings with more and more people, Satan is not going to ignore us. The devil will use different strategies to set us up for a fall. He may use carelessness, complacency, distractions, discouragement, fear, opposition, oppression, or even pride to make us less effective for Jesus. He may even attack our families to bring us down!

I have discovered in my own life that I need to pray this way especially before and after a success. In the Philippines when I returned home from a fruitful mission trip, I was most vulnerable to defeat. I was exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This made me more vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. I was more prone to holding a dangerous view of my own strengths. It is during those times that I needed to cry out to God, “Keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.”

Jesus understood the schemes of the devil. This is why He taught us to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13). When was the last time we asked the Lord to lead us away from the temptation to do evil? Just as God wants us to ask Him for more blessings, influence, and power, He also wants us to ask Him for protection from the evil one, so we won’t yield to sin, and cause pain to God, ourselves, and others.Since Satan is much wiser and stronger than us, we desperately need God’s supernatural protection over our lives every day.

Too often, Christians wait until Satan starts to attack them before they pray for protection. Imagine what would happen if we prayed for protection before the devil opposes us? What if we prayed for God to lead us away from temptation before it ever happens?

Without a temptation, we would not sin. Most of us face too many temptations—and therefore sin too often—because we don’t ask God to lead us away from temptation. We make a huge spiritual leap forward, therefore, when we begin to focus less on beating temptation and more on avoiding it… As we move deeper into the realm of the miraculous, the most effective war against sin that we can wage is to pray that we will not have to fight unnecessary temptation. And God offers us His supernatural power to do just that.” 2

If we live by these four principles that Jabez prayed for, we are going to live above average. Do we want to break out of mediocrity? Do we want to see God work in our lives? Are we tired of drifting through life not knowing where we are going? Then we need to pray and live as Jabez did.

When we pray in faith, as Jabez did, we will live above average. How do I know that? Look at these verses:9 Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers10 So God granted him what he requested.(I Chronicles 4:9a, 10e). Jabez had a painful beginning and a prosperous ending. Why? Because he prayed the way God loves to hear His children pray. Jabez got what he sought from God because he asked for it. He was like Jacob who said as he wrestled with God: “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (Genesis 32:26). Do we pursue God until we see a transformation in our hearts and/or situation? 3

God honors those who ask. He opens the floodgates of heaven for those who diligently seek what He wants. What do you want God to do in your life? Heal a broken relationship? Ask Him. Help you with a problem? Ask Him. Help you with some goals? Ask Him. Lead more people to Christ and disciple them? Ask Him. God is not some policeman up in the sky waiting for you to mess up so He can pounce on you! God wants to bless your life. He wants you to live above average for His glory.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for these powerful insights from the prayer of Jabez. It is Your will that we seek countless blessings from You with which to bless others. It is Your profound desire to take more territory from Satan through the preaching of the gospel and the making of disciples of Jesus Christ. But when You bless us, Satan attacks us. Knowing this, can help us be on the alert for the devil’s deceptions. Father, please keep us safe from Satan’s temptations that pull at our emotions and our physical needs, that call out to our sense of what we deserve, what we have the “right” to feel and enjoy. Because You are the true Source of all that is really life, guide our steps away from all that is not of You. Please protect our families and communities from the evil one. We know that Jesus Who is in us is far greater than the evil one who is in the world, so we have nothing to fear. At the name of Jesus Christ all other powers on earth will bow or flee. Thank You so much for surrounding us with Your protective hand, Lord. We love You and trust You, Mighty God. In the name that is above all other names – Jesus Christ – we pray. Amen. 4

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 711.

2. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pp. 67-68.

3. Evans, pg. 711.

4. Portions of this prayer were adapted from Wilkinson, pp. 72-73.

How can I live above average? Part 3

“Oh, … that Your hand would be with me.” I Chronicles 4:10ac

We are learning how to live about average by looking at four principles found in the simple, yet profound prayer of a man named Jabez. The first principle we learned was to seek God’s blessing in our lives (I Chronicles 4:9-10a). As God gives us His blessings, He wants us to share those blessings with others. So we are to ask God to increase our territory or influence for Him (I Chronicles 4:10b) so we can pass His blessings on to other people.

But as God increases our territory or influence for Him, we may start to feel overwhelmed with all the opportunities He gives us to impact others for His glory. Perhaps the expansion of your business opportunities starts to deplete your energy and resources. Maybe the ministry opportunities God gives you seem to be more than one person can handle. If you prayed for your family to impact more people, you may start to see more teenagers gathering in your dining room than you thought possible. And you notice their negative influence seems to be greater than your positive influence. When this starts to happen, Christians can start to feel misled, inadequate, scared, frustrated, or even angry with the situation.

When this happens, we need to pray like Jabez prayed: “Oh, … that Your hand would be with me.” (I Chronicles 4:10c).As God gives us more opportunities to influence others for Him, we start to realize, “This is more than I can handle. This is beyond my abilities and resources.” This is a good place to be because it shows us our dependence upon God.

Hence, the third principle for living above average is to ASK GOD FOR POWER TO ACCOMPLISH HIS DREAM FOR YOUR LIFE (I Chronicles 4:10c). God loves to use ordinary people who trust Him. Jabez’ faith caused him to believe that God would help him with his goals and dreams. There is something more important than being talented or educated – it is faith. It is believing that God will work in and through you.

Even though Jabez’ mother named him “Painful,” his faith kept him going. He may have had some kind of handicap or disability to be given this name. But he did not let his painful past keep him from looking ahead in faith and being used by God. What is your handicap? Is it physical? Spiritual? Emotional? Is it a traumatic childhood? A frustrating job or problem in your marriage? Is it a health limitation? An illness? Whatever it may be, Jesus says, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23).

When we pray, “Oh, that Your hand would be with me,” “we release God’s power to accomplish His will and bring Him glory through all those seeming impossibilities… Notice that Jabez did not begin his prayer by asking for God’s hand to be with him. At that point, he didn’t sense the need. Things were still manageable. His risks, and the fears that go with them, were minimal. But when his boundaries got moved out, and the kingdom-sized tasks of God’s agenda started coming at him, Jabez knew he needed a divine hand—and fast. He could have turned back, or he could have tried to keep going in his own strength. Instead, he prayed.” 1

In Acts 11:21 the Bible describes what happens when the hand of the Lord is with His people: “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” As we surrender to God and rely on His Holy Spirit, we can receive “a fresh spiritual in-filling of God’s power” 2 that enables us to accomplish His will for His glory. God’s presence is manifested in supernatural ways as we look to Him to supply the strength that is needed to fulfill His plan for our lives.

Jesus promised in Matthew 28:19-20, “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… 20 and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” No doubt Jesus’ followers felt overwhelmed when He commanded them to “make disciples of all the nations.” That was a “God-sized” task for these first century disciples and it still is for us today. But Christ guaranteed them (and us) His presence (“and lo, I am with you always”) to provide all that they needed as they made disciples of the nations.

Even today, if we need more people, Christ’s presence can provide more people. If we need courage or protection, His presence can provide them. If we need wisdom in making decisions, Jesus’ presence can give us that wisdom. If we need more resources, the presence of our risen Lord Jesus can supply them. Whatever we need to fulfill His dream for our lives, His presence is more than adequate to provide.

Can you picture God doing this where you live? Can you see His hand causing people to believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of salvation and begin to experience a new life as His disciples? It all begins when we seek God’s blessings, we ask for more influence, and we rely on His presence to give us the power to accomplish His will all for His glory.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we admit we have a great need for Your presence in our lives as You pour out Your blessings to us and give us opportunities to share them with others. Without You, Lord, we can do nothing of eternal value. We cannot do what You have called us to do in our own strength. We desperately need You to supply what we lack. Thank You so much for God the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us the moment we believe in Jesus. This same Spirit Who brought Jesus back to life can give us resurrection power. Through Him we pray You will enable us to continue to share Your blessings with those You bring into our lives. Thank You for being with us, Lord God. Thank You for wanting to use us for Your glory. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pp. 48-49.

2. Ibid., pp. 55-56.

How can l live above average? Part 2

“Oh, that You would… enlarge my territory.” I Chronicles 4:10ab

We are learning how to live about average by looking at four principles found in the prayer of a man named Jabez. The first principle we learned last time was to seek God’s blessing in our lives (I Chronicles 4:9-10a). As God increases the blessings in our lives, we will soon discover that He does not want us to keep them to ourselves.

This leads to our second principle for living above average: ASK GOD TO INCREASE YOUR INFLUENCE FOR HIM (I Chronicles 4:10b). After asking God to bless him a lot, Jabez prayed, “Oh, that You would… enlarge my territory.” (I Chronicles 4:10b).

In Jabez’s time part of Israel’s recent national history was Joshua’s conquest of Canaan and the partitioning of the Promised Land into chunks of real estate for each tribe. When Jabez cried out to God, ‘Enlarge my territory!’ he was looking at his present circumstances and concluding, ‘Surely I was born for more than this!’ As a farmer or herdsman, he looked over the spread his family had passed down to him, ran his eye down the fence lines, visited the boundary markers, calculated the potential—and made a decision: ‘Everything You’ve put under my care, O Lord—take it, and enlarge it.’ ” 1

The problem with too many of us is that we are too easily satisfied where we are. We have become complacent with our little plots of land in the kingdom when God wants to use us to expand the influence of his kingdom in history. People who are complacent aren’t motivated to ask God for anything, so they don’t receive anything from God. Jabez wanted his kingdom influence to grow, and he knew the Lord could deliver.” 2

What would it look like to ask God to enlarge your territory? If you own a business, you might pray for God to give you more business opportunities. Is that wrong? Not if you are running your business God’s way.Your business is the territory God has entrusted to you to touch more lives for His glory. 3

If you are a wife and mother, you might pray for your family to touch more lives for the Savior. Ask God to give you favor in key relationships and increase your family’s influence, so more people are changed for God’s glory.

As Christians, we would pray for God to enlarge our territory so we can impact more non-Christians with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul writes, “Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about His… plan concerning Christ.” (Colossians 4:3 NLT). When was the last time you asked the Lord to give you an opportunity to share the gospel with someone? God loves to answer this prayer request. One of the reasons we may not be sharing the gospel with the unsaved is because we are not asking the Lord to give us more influence.

Do you want to see more lives transformed by our great God and Savior (Titus 2:13), Jesus Christ? If so, then pray for God to enlarge your territory. Make this a priority. Paul writes, “Pray first that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and triumph wherever it goes, winning converts everywhere as it did when it came to you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 LB). Notice the word “first” in this verse. Does it say to pray first for those who are sick or hurting? No. Does it say to pray first for political leaders? No. Does it say to pray first for a job or money? No. We are to pray first for God’s word, the gospel, to spread. Why? Because having a personal relationship with God through believing the gospel is the most important need in peoples’ lives.

I must warn you, if you start praying this way, you may start to have people showing up in your inbox or at your doorstep. And the strange thing is, they may not even know why they are reaching out to you. But God knows. He is the One Who set up this divine appointment.

To live above average, we must pray above average. Imagine what God will do as we plead with Him to enlarge our territory? Wouldn’t it be awesome to see our neighbors and the people in our communities come to faith in Jesus Christ? Remember, all things are possible with God (Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27).

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the greatest blessing of all – knowing You through Jesus Christ. Thank You for reminding me not to keep that Blessing to myself, but to share Christ with others. Please enlarge my territory by granting me opportunities to share Jesus with those who do not know Him as their Savior. Increase my love for lost people and my boldness to share the gospel with them. Help me to be a good manager of the territory You have entrusted to me. I pray for greater influence to touch lives for Your glory. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 31.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 710.

3. Wilkinson, pg. 31.

How can I live above average? Part 1

“And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed.’ ” I Chronicles 4:10a

Do you ever feel invisible and unimportant, like no one notices you or cares about you? Everybody wants to be recognized. Not only do we want to be recognized, we need recognition for the sake of our own mental health. When my daughters were much younger, they would say to me, “Watch me, Daddy, watch me!” before they would shoot a basketball or do a tumbling maneuver. They wanted to be recognized. They wanted to stand out from the crowd.

As adults, we do the same thing, except we are not as blatant about it. We do it by the kind of clothes we wear, by the kinds of cars we drive, by the way we fix up our houses, decorate our lawns, or by the way that we talk or style our hair. “Watch me!” we cry out. We have a deep need to be different, to be excellent, to stand out from everybody else.

God never meant for us to live a mediocre, average life. He designed us for excellence. He created us to live above average. To learn how to do this, I want to introduce you to four principles found in the life of a man named Jabez. There are only two verses in the Bible about this man, but they are two verses that can transform our mediocre lives into lives that bring honor to God. These two verses are found in I Chronicles 4. The first nine chapters of I Chronicles consist of genealogies listing over six hundred names. Forty-four names into chapter 4, God singles out one man for special recognition and his name is “Jabez.” Even though there are just two verses about this man, he is given honorable mention above six hundred other people.

“Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers…” (I Chronicles 4:9a). In other words, Jabez was special. But what did Jabez do that caused his name to be given more honor than his brothers? Why did God say this man lived above average?

Before we answer that question, it is important to look at the kind of start Jabez got in life. He had a very painful beginning. And his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ ” (I Chronicles 4:9b). In Hebrew, the name “Jabez” (יַעְבֵּ֔ץ) means “Pain.” 1 A literal rendering could read, “He causes (or will cause) pain.” 2

How would you like to go through childhood as “Pain”? “Here comes Pain.” “This is my friend, Pain.” No doubt Jabez received a lot of bullying and harassment because of his name. Why did his mother name him Jabez? Perhaps it was a difficult pregnancy or delivery. It could have been because of emotional pain in the mother’s life – the father left during the pregnancy or died. Maybe the family was going through a financial crunch during this time, and one more mouth to feed seemed unbearable to her. Whatever her reason – this was not a good start for this boy.

One of the things we learn from Jabez is we don’t have to let our past determine our present or even our future. Maybe your parents told you, “You would never amount to anything. You can’t do anything right. You are nothing but a pain.” Don’t listen to those lies. Jabez did not. He chose to live above average. He turned his pain into gain. How?

Jabez was not singled out because of some great feat he did for God or because he had overcome great obstacles. Rather, he was honored above his brothers because of his simple, powerful prayer of faith that moved God to respond. 3 He handled his problems by handing them over to God. He chose to live a life that was honorable to God despite his painful beginning. He prayed to the God of the universe. It is as if he was saying, “God, You know me. You know my mom called me a pain, and at times I have been. But now I want to break out of that rut, and I know the only way I can do that is if You will bless me. I want to live a life, God, that is more honorable to You.”

Do you want to live above average for the glory of God? Then you need to pray like Jabez. The first thing Jabez prayed was, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed.” (I Chronicles 4:10a).  What does the word “bless” mean? It does not mean “have a nice day.” Nor is it connected to sneezing. The Hebrew word for “bless” (בָרַךְ) means “to impart supernatural favor.” 4 To ask for God’s blessing means to ask for His supernatural favor and kindness to be poured out into our lives. “Oh, God pour out Your goodness into my life.” 

When Jabez asked God to bless him “indeed” (תְּבָרֲכֵ֜נִי),this was like adding five exclamation points! 5 “Bless me not just a little, but a whole lot! Pour it on, God!” While all his friends were content with being average and mediocre, Jabez said, “God, I want you to bless the sandals off me! I want you to do something big with my life!” Jabez did not want to be average or ordinary. He deeply wanted God’s blessing on his life. So, our first principle is to SEEK GOD’S BLESSING IN OUR LIVES (I Chronicle 4:9-10a).

Notice that Jabez did not specify how God should bless him. He did not pray, “Oh God, please bless me with a new BMW or a million-dollar salary.” No,Jabez trusted in the goodness and mercy of God to determine how he would be blessed. This is such a powerful reminder for us to want what God wants for us.

The beautiful thing about just throwing yourself on the mercy of God is that he decides what’s in your best interest. Jabez brought God an empty cup and asked him to fill it as he saw fit. That’s a prayer of faith. Let God decide what to fill your cup with and how high to fill it.” 6

Jesus taught, 7 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8). God has decided that He will not do certain things for His children until they “ask.” So, we are to “ask… seek… and… knock” for what we need. How long are we to ask God? Until He answers. If He has not said, “Yes” or “No,” then we are to keep asking Him. Why?

Jesus explains, 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11). Children will often ask their parents persistently for things until they receive a reply. And like a loving father who would not give anything harmful to his kids when they ask, so God will not give harmful things to His children when they pray to Him.  Jesus’ point is if sinful dads know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our perfect Father in heaven give what is “good” to us when we ask? 7 The more we believein the goodness and generosity of our heavenly Father, the more we will persist in asking Him to bless us.

On the other hand, if we don’t ask the Father for His blessing, we will miss out on His gifts that only come to those who ask Him. In the same way that a father is honored to have a child beg for his blessing, your Father is delighted to respond generously when His blessing is what you covet most.” 8

Christians can just drift through life today. They have no goals and no ambition. As a result, they never accomplish much for the Lord. They are merely existing. Everyone of us needs a dream from God. If we are not dreaming, we are drifting. When we stop dreaming, we start dying. When we stop setting goals, we stop growing. God made us for growth. He wants us to stretch and develop. God never created us to go through life with a half-hearted attitude, wondering what we are doing and where we are going. God wants us to have great ambition.

He invites us to ask for big requests. “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3). The apostle Paul says that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). This means you cannot “out-ask” God. You cannot “out-dream” God. If you could stretch your imagination to the greatest limits of what you think could possibly happen, God can go far beyond even that. He can go beyond your imagination. God says, “Trust Me. Ask for things. Get a big dream.”

There are three misconceptions that keep us from seeking God’s blessing on our lives and dreaming big for Him:

1. We confuse humility with fear. We say, “Oh, I could never do that,” and we think we are being humble. But that is not true humility. That is fear; that is a lack of faith. A humble person would say, “With God’s help I can do that. With God’s blessing I will do it. I cannot do it on my own, but with God’s help I will do it.” That is true humility.

2. We confuse contentment with laziness. It is true that the apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Philippians 4:11). But this does not mean he did not set any goals. Paul isn’t saying, “I have learned not to set any goals or have any ambition in life.” He was saying, “Even though my goals may not be reached yet, I have learned to enjoy today to the fullest because I am confident God will take care of me.” If contentment was used as an excuse for laziness, who would ever feed the poor or take the gospel to other nations? How would anyone ever get an education? A third grader would say, “I have learned to be content with the third grade,” and he would never go beyond that. We don’t want to confuse contentment with laziness.

3. We confuse small thinking with spirituality. Do you ever hear people say, “I serve God in my own little way”? My reply would be, “Why don’t you start serving God in a bigger way? Why not let God use you more?” Others may say, “Well that’s just the way I am. That’s the way God made me.” But it is wrong to blame God for your lack of growth. Don’t confuse small thinking with spirituality.

When Jesus said, “your Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:11), we are reminded of a very important truth. Before we can pray the way Jabez did, we must know God as our heavenly Father. It is not knowing about God. It is knowing Him personally. How? The Bible says, 21 If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. 22 But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin…” (Galatians 3:21-22a NLT]. We cannot become God’s child by obeying God’s laws. God’s laws reveal our sinfulness and that we are slaves of sin. No matter how much good we have done, we are still sinners. We all fall short of God’s standard of perfection and deserve to be punished (Romans 3:23; 6:23a). When we realize we cannot save ourselves from sin, then we will be more open to receiving the promise of eternal life through faith in Christ alone Who died for all our sins.

22b So we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ… 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:22b, 26 NLT). To know God as our Father requires faith in Jesus Christ. Just as we trust a chair to hold us up through no effort of our own, so we must trust Christ through no effort of our own to give us everlasting life. Once we do, it does not matter when Jesus returns, we will have a home in heaven with Him. We won’t have to panic when some preacher or prophet starts predicting the end of the world, because we have the assurance we will live with Jesus forever because of our faith in His promise to give eternal life to whoever who believes in Him (John 3:16).

Child of God, if you are not asking God to give you good things, you are living below average! But when you ask God for more and more blessings, you are asking Him to engage in one of His favorite activities. After all, God loves to give and He has a store- house full of blessings to give you, but You must ask Him for them. When we ask God to bless us, we step forward into another life. And as God blesses us, He wants us to share those blessings with others, which leads to what Jabez prayed next.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for reminding us through Jabez, that pain does not have to be the last word in our lives. You created us to live above average. We can begin to do that by seeking Your blessing in our daily lives. Please help us believein Your goodness and generosity, Father. In the same way that a loving father is honored to have a child beg for his blessings, You are also eager to respond generously when Your blessing is what we seek the most. Please remove the misconceptions that keep us from seeking Your blessing on our lives and dreaming big for You, so we can honor You more by living above average. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:

1.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 710.

2. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 20.

3. Evans, pg. 710.

4. Wilkinson, pg. 23.

5. Ibid., pg. 22.

6. Evans, pg. 710.

7. Ibid., pg. 1503.

8. Wilkinson, pg. 27.

How can I overcome loneliness? Part 3

“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” 2 Timothy 4:16

In 2 Timothy 4, the apostle Paul is writing to his dear friend named Timothy. Paul was a dying old man as he wrote from prison in Rome to Timothy. He urged the younger man to visit him because he was lonely. We are learning from Paul some different causes and cures for loneliness. So far we have discovered that loneliness can be caused by transitions in life (2 Timothy 4:6-8) and separation from loved ones (2 Timothy 4:9-12, 21). The cures for these are utilizing our time wisely (2 Timothy 4:13) and recognizing God’s presence in our lives (2 Timothy 4:17a).

The third cause of loneliness is OPPOSITION (2 Timothy 4:14a). Although Demas had merely abandoned Paul (2 Timothy 4:10), Paul writes that “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm.” (2 Timothy 4:14a).It’s likely that this is the same Alexander in Ephesus who was a false teacher and whom Paul ‘delivered to Satan’ (1 Tim 1:19-20) because Paul warns Timothy, who was ministering in Ephesus, to watch out for him and his opposition to sound teaching (2 Tim 4:15).” 1

Paul is saying, “Not only am I getting old and sitting here alone in prison separated from my dear friends, but I have also been attacked.” We don’t know exactly what Alexander did. He may have vigorously opposed Paul at his trial. Maybe he slandered Paul’s name or attacked his reputation. Maybe he was turning people against Paul – we don’t know for sure. But to be vigorously opposed creates a very lonely feeling inside of us.

Remember when you were a little kid on the playground at school and everybody ganged up on you? “You are not our friend anymore!” they said.You felt opposed and you felt all alone, didn’t you? It is a painful experience to face opposition when everyone else is having fun. It is lonely to be misunderstood, to be embarrassed, and humiliated. The temptation is to build walls of protection around ourselves. But doing that only makes us lonelier.

We may harbor resentment toward those who have opposed us. We may want to get back at them and make them pay for the hurt they have caused us. The way Paul responds to the opposition in his life provides the third way to deal with loneliness: RELEASE THE HURT (2 Timothy 4:16). Don’t exaggerate your loneliness and don’t rehearse it over and over: “I’m so alone. I’m so alone.” Also, don’t allow the loneliness to make you bitter and resentful.

Paul said, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” (2 Timothy 4:16). Paul’s words are reminiscent of Jesus’ and Stephen’s words toward their enemies before they died (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60).

Paul had a lot of time on his hands, but he did not have any time to become bitter and resentful. He chose to forgive those who wounded him. Paul knew that bitterness only makes you lonelier and builds a wall around your life because no one likes to be around a cynic – someone who is always resentful and complaining.

Paul is saying, “I want to be a better person, not a bitter person, so I will utilize my time, recognize God’s presence, and release my hurt.” Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to our circumstances. We can choose to focus on our feelings, or we can choose to focus on the truth. The truth is forgiveness frees us from past hurts.

All of us have been hurt and wounded by others, especially those we trusted. From beginning to end, the Bible emphasizes the importance of forgiveness. God even commands us to forgive (Ephesians 4:32). Therefore Jesus taught us to pray, 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors… 14 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). Forgiveness is so important because it is connected to God’s forgiveness of us. I cannot enjoy fellowship or closeness with God the Father if I am not willing to forgive those who have hurt me. Being unforgiving connects us to our past hurts and makes it difficult to fully enjoy the blessings of our relationship with God and with other people.

One of the ways we can know we have not forgiven someone is we keep rehearsing bitter and defensive thoughts toward those who have hurt us. We keep going “back to court” in our minds with all the things we wish we had said or want to say to them. 2 God invites us to release the hurt others have caused to us. Forgiveness requires the cancelling of a debt (cf. Matthew 18:21-35). Perhaps the person who has hurt us owes us an apology, justice, money, repentance, restoration, suffering, understanding, etc. God wants us to cancel the debt they owe us.

I am learning that there are three things that can hinder me from forgiving others: judgments, vows, and false beliefs. 3 When someone hurts us, we can hold on to judgments about them out of fear. We may judge their motives and try to read their minds. We tell ourselves, “He or she is evil, selfish, and does not care about me or love me.” Christ warns us about making such judgments (Matthew 7:1-2). These judgments can cause heart wounds that keep us from healing and growing. When we refuse to forgive that person, we can bind ourselves to the person we are judging and become more like that person.It is important to repent of our judgments and ask God to release the person and ourselves from the consequences. 4

Not only do judgments about our offenders hinder us from forgiving them, but so do the vows we make. Jesus opposed the practice of distorting vows so they could convey or conceal a lie (Matthew 5:33-35). We can make inner vows to survive the hurts we have suffered. For example, when a person I trusted hurts me, I may make an inner vow that says, “I will never trust anyone again!” Or “If I need others they will take advantage of me!” These types of vows can become self-curses that result in isolation and loneliness, which cause us even more pain. These inner vows can often become subconscious and do not disappear with time. They are like a contract that must be renounced or broken.  It is important to ask God to forgive us and break these vows we have made. 5

False beliefs or lies can also prevent us from forgiving others. We may tell ourselves, “If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.” But the truth is, only God knows what is just (Romans 12:19). Or “If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.” The truth is that just because you forgive them does not mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again (Matthew 18:15-18).

If you are struggling with loneliness because of unforgiveness, take some time today to ask God to reveal to you the people who have hurt you. 6 You may want to start with those closest to you (e.g., a parent, spouse, sibling, child, close friend, etc.). What wound did he or she cause to you? (e.g., abandoned, abused, betrayed, criticized, lied, neglected, rejected, etc.).

What are the judgments or things you believe about them? (e.g., they are evil, lazy, selfish, stupid, weak, didn’t love me, didn’t care for me, etc.). Repent of these judgments and ask God to release the person and yourself from the consequences (Matthew 7:1-2).

What vows did you tell yourself to survive the wound? (e.g., “I don’t need or trust anyone,” or “whatever I do, it won’t be enough,” or “all men/women are ______,” etc.). Renounce and repent of these vows, asking God to forgive you and to break them.

What effect did the wound have on you (How did you cope)? (e.g., anger, addiction, codependency, depression, food, isolation, stress, workaholism, etc.).

What debt do they owe you? What would they have to do for you to trust them again? (e.g., apologize, change their behavior, justice, make restitution, money, repent or seek your forgiveness, etc.). Talk to the Lord, asking Him to make you both willing and able to cancel their debt.

What false belief or lie is keeping you from forgiving them? Say the following false beliefs below to yourself to see if they feel true. If they do, then focus on the true beliefs until the false beliefs no longer feel true.

False belief: If I forgive them, they will get off the hook and there will never be any justice.

True belief: Only God know what is just (Romans 12:19).

False belief: Forgiveness means I must pretend that nothing ever happened.

True belief: Forgiveness is not denial. You must tell yourself the truth about what they did and how it affected you to really be able to forgive from the heart (Matthew 18:35; John 8:32).

False belief: If I forgive, I will become vulnerable to them again.

True belief: Just because you forgive them doesn’t mean that they are safe, and you must trust them again (Matthew 18:15-18).

False belief: My unforgiveness punishes them and is justified because I am right; they will never see their wrong and repent if I let go.

True belief: The truth is, it is God’s mercy and kindness that leads us to repentance. Only He knows what will change them (Romans 2:4; Ephesians 4:24-32).

If you are ready, insert the name of the person you have chosen to forgive into the following prayer of forgiveness:

Father God, Your Word says that to be forgiven, I must forgive. And so, I come to You in the name of Jesus, in obedience and love, and I bring (name) _____ before You. I cancel _____ debt to me (e.g., apology, change of behavior, humiliation, repentance, suffering, etc.). I choose to forgive this hurt against me, and I ask that You would not hold these sins against _____ on my account. I release _____ from any desire on my part to see _____ punished. In fact, as You have told me to do, I bless _____ in Your Son’s name, Jesus. You know _____ desires, needs, and hurts. You know what would bless _____. And so, I ask that You would pour out Your love and healing to _____ and bring _____ Your highest good, because Your name is Good and Love, and You are not willing that any should perish. Now also, Father, please heal my heart and set me free to love _____ as You do. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2220-2221.

2. Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Books 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 123-124.

3. Ibid., pp. 126-131.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. The following steps are adapted from Ibid., pp. 129-132.

7. Adapted from Ibid., pg. 132.

How can I overcome loneliness? Part 2

“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” 2 Timothy 4:17a

We are looking at different causes and cures for loneliness in 2 Timothy 4 where the apostle Paul is writing to a young pastor named Timothy. Paul was near the end of his life, and he was having to deal with loneliness. The first cause of loneliness we learned was the transitions of life (2 Timothy 4:6-8). The cure for this was to utilize our time wisely (2 Timothy 4:13).

The second cause for loneliness is SEPARATION FROM LOVED ONES (2 Timothy 4:9-12, 21). When we are separated from our friends or from our family (because of career, COVID, military deployment, health, or any reason) – that can cause loneliness.

Paul says to Timothy, Be diligent to come to me quickly.” (2 Timothy 4:9). Then Paul mentions his best friends, but none of them are with him except Luke: 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica — Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. 12 And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.” (2 Timothy 4:10-12). Paul is in a foreign country in a prison, and he is saying, “I miss these people.” These were his best friends, his previous traveling companions. Paul was a “people person,” andhe loved to be among people. But now at the end of his life he experiences the loneliness of separation because his friends are in other countries.

Today you can contact people in other parts of the world using various electronic devices, but Paul did not have access to those devices. It took a long time to reach someone. Three times in this chapter Paul asks Timothy to come to him (2 Timothy 4:9, 13, 21). Why is he saying this? Because he may not be around much longer, and he really wants to see his dear friends.

Whom do you need to call or visit? Whom do you need to write a letter of appreciation to? You need to do it now while there is still time. Help relieve someone’s loneliness of separation by reaching out to them.

The second way to deal with loneliness is to RECOGNIZE GOD’S PRESENCE (2 Timothy 4:17a). Even though most of Paul’s friends were far away from him, the Lord was not. Although his companions abandoned him when he gave his first defense before the imperial court (2 Timothy 4:16b), 1 the Lord did not. Paul writes, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” (2 Timothy 4:17a). While Paul stood before his accusers and prosecutors, “the Lord stood with” him. God gave Paul the strength he needed to fight the good fight and finish the race and keep the faith even though others had forsaken him. God’s presence gave him all the support he needed.

While it does help to have others supporting us, it is also true that people cannot always be there for us twenty-four hours a day. Where is God when we are lonely? He is right next to us to give us all the support we need. God said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). There is no place where God is not. He is everywhere at every time, and we can constantly talk to Him. Prayer is a great tool to use during lonely times. Occasionally, when we are feeling lonely, our instinct is to turn inward and revel in self-pity. Like the apostle Paul, we can learn that loneliness is a signal that it is time for us to get better acquainted with our precious Savior Who replaces our loneliness with His loving presence.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, all of us go through times of loneliness and self-pity. During the coronavirus pandemic, we have experienced prolonged periods of separation from loved ones. Like the apostle Paul, some of us have also been abandoned by friends when we needed their support the most. As best we know how, we want to thank You, Lord, for these times when we feel lonely because they can remind us to get better acquainted with You. By Your grace, help us learn to talk to You when we feel all alone or abandoned. Because You are our Refuge, we can safely share our most intimate thoughts and feelings with You, knowing You still love and accept us. You understand what it feels like to be alone or abandoned. Your presence can give all the support we need when we find ourselves struggling with loneliness. When we are weak, Your presence makes us strong. In Your ever-present name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert W. Wilkin; J. B. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1216.

How can I overcome loneliness? Part 1

“Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments.” 2 Timothy 4:13

We live in a world of 7.9 billion people, 1 many living right on top of each other in crowed cities. We are wired together through incredible communication devices. Yet, despite all these circumstances that you think would inspire community, more people than ever feel alone in the world today. Research has shown that loneliness is especially on the rise among older teens and young adults due to the coronavirus pandemic. 2

Loneliness is one of the most miserable feelings a person can have. You may feel that no one loves you or even cares if you exist. Can you be wealthy and lonely? Ask the Donald Trump’s and Bill Gates’s of the world. Can you be popular and lonely? Ask the Kim Kardashian’s and Dwayne Johnson’s of society. Can you be beautiful and lonely? Ask the beauty queens who have attempted suicide. Can you be married and lonely? Ask the people who marry because of loneliness and then get divorced a few years later for the same reason.

All of us experience loneliness at one time or another, but there are specific causes and cures for it. Sometimes we bring loneliness on ourselves and other times we are in situations that are uncontrollable. The apostle Paul found himself in the latter as he wrote his second letter to a young pastor named Timothy. In 2 Timothy, Paul was a dying old man as he wrote from prison in Rome to Timothy and urged the younger man to visit him because he was lonely.

For the next few days, we are going to look at the causes and cures of loneliness. The first cause is THE TRANSITIONS OF LIFE (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Life is full of transitions and stages. Growing older is a series of changes, and any change can produce loneliness. We are lonely when we are born, and we cry until we are cuddled. We are lonely when we attend our first school or get a new job. Moving to a new community can be a lonely experience as can entering retirement. The death of a loved one is lonely. COVID has been a huge transition for the entire world which has resulted in many experiencing more loneliness.

The apostle Paul is now in the final transition of life, and he knows his time is short. He is feeling alone. “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.” (2 Timothy 4:6). Paul is saying, “Timothy, I don’t have much time left. I may be executed by Nero soon or I may die from old age.”

As Paul spends his last days alone, he says 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul is saying, “I have fulfilled my ministry and now I am ready to receive my reward of ruling with Christ along with all who have loved His appearing.” The first cause of loneliness is simply the transitions of life. Any new experience we must face, can be lonely.

There are healthy ways and there are self-defeating ways to deal with loneliness. One self-defeating way is to become a workaholic. You burn the candle at both ends and end up not being nearly as bright as you thought. It takes its toll on you physically and emotionally.

Some people try to overcome loneliness through materialism. They buy everything around them. They tell themselves, “If I can just get those things I want, then I will be happy.” But things don’t satisfy. We need people. We need acceptance and love, not things. Some people have an affair – they look outside their marriage to cure their loneliness. But this only leads to more pain and shame. Others may turn to alcohol or drugs. Some people lose themselves in afantasy world by reading novels or watching pornography online. Others do absolutely nothing but sit around and have a pity party. These responses to loneliness are self-defeating. They only create more loneliness and pain.

The apostle Paul did none of these self-defeating things. He did several things to overcome his loneliness which are just as relevant today as they were when Paul went through his days of loneliness. The first cure is UTILIZE YOUR TIME WISELY (2 Timothy 4:13). Make the best of your tough situation. Resist the temptation to do nothing. Loneliness can paralyze us if we just sit around and do nothing. If life gives you a lemon, think of creative ways to make lemonade. This is what Paul did.

Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:13). Paul refused to sit around and feel sorry for himself. He didn’t complain, “God, is this what I get for thirty years of ministry? Is this my reward for starting many churches, for being the person most responsible for taking the gospel to the Roman world? Is this what I get – to die in a damp and dark prison in Rome all alone?” No, Paul did not throw a pity party. Instead, he says, “If I am going to be alone, I might as well be comfortable. I’m going to make the best of a bad situation. Bring my cloak so I can at least be warm.”

Often lonely people don’t take care of themselves. They don’t eat right, they don’t exercise, and they ignore their personal needs. My grandparents were just the opposite. They were constantly walking, reading, and serving others. That is probably why my grandmother lived to be over a hundred and my grandfather lived to be almost ninety-nine.

It is important to pay attention to your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Learn to take care of yourself. When Paul admonished husbands to love their wives as they love their own bodies, he wrote, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.” (Ephesians 5:29). Other than those with mental illness, people naturally take care of their physical bodies. 3 Men are to care for their wives just as they care for their own physical bodies. This is precisely what “the Lord” Jesus “does for the church” – He nourishes and cherishes it.

Are we taking care of our physical bodies? Are we eating properly, exercising, getting adequate sleep, and participating in activities that are life-giving? During times of loneliness, we can easily neglect our personal needs.

Paul did not ignore his personal needs. He says, “Bring my coat and my books, and I will take advantage of this solitary time; I will use it for writing and study time.” This was a big change of pace for Paul because he was a doer, a church-planter. More than anything else, he wanted to be in the Roman coliseum preaching the gospel to hundreds instead of in a prison studying. But sometimes God can use loneliness for our good. If Paul had been in the coliseum he would have been preaching, but God left him in prison and we got part of the New Testament instead, which has impacted far more lives for Jesus Christ! You know, probably the only way God could get Paul to sit still was to put him in prison. And Paul’s response was, “If I cannot be where the action is, I will create action right here.”

Since COVID restrictions were put in place early in 2020, the Lord led me to begin this online ministry to the world. Rather than moping around and feeling sorry for myself, I asked the Lord to show me how to utilize my time and talents for Him. And He led me to start See You in Heaven online to multiply disciples of Jesus around the world until all hear His gospel of grace.

What does the Lord want you to do with the time and talents He has given you? Take time to ask Him and wait quietly for His response. Write down what He impresses you to do. I believe we do not have much time left here on earth before Jesus returns for His church. Let’s focus on His leading and use our time and talents in a way that honors Him and fulfills His purpose for our lives.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for the example of the apostle Paul. Even though he was facing a huge transition in his life, he did not sit around and feel sorry for himself. Instead, he took care of his personal needs and utilized his time and talents for You. As a result, we now have a part of the New Testament that continues to change countless lives for Your glory. Like Paul, help us to take care of our personal needs so we can be more available to be used by You to impact this world for Jesus Christ. All of us have time and talents that You have given us. Please show us how to best utilize them all for Your honor and glory. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Retrieved on September 4, 2021, from https://www.worldometers.info/ .

2. Retrieved on September 4, 2021, from Colleen Walsh’s February 17, 2021, article entitled, “Young adults hardest hit by loneliness during pandemic,” The Harvard Gazette.

3. J. B. Bond, Robert Wilkin; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1067.