“And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” I John 2:28
In I John 2:28, the apostle John introduces a new theme of having “confidence” before the Lord Jesus “at His coming” to motivate his readers to continue to cultivate fellowship or intimacy with Christ despite the increase in false teachers or “antichrists” (2:18-27). 1 The Greek word translated “confidence” (parrēsia) refers “to a state of boldness and confidence, courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank.” 2 John will focus on how to have boldness at the prospect of Christ’s coming throughout the body of this epistle (2:29-4:19). 3
Verse 28 is known as “a Janus that looks in two directions: backward to summarize the preceding section” 4“and forward to introduce the following section. Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings who supposedly guarded portals. He had two faces, one on the front and the other on the back of his head. The month of January gets its name from him. It is the month in which we look backward on the past year and forward to the new year.” 5
John has looked back at his readers’ spiritual advancement (2:12-14), and he has warned them of enemies to their fellowship with God: personal sin (1:5-2:11), the enticements of the world (2:15-17), and the Devil and his false teachers (2:18-27). Now John looks forward at how to prepare to have boldness before Jesus at His imminent coming (2:28-4:19). The Greek phrase translated “that when He appears” (hina nean phanerōthē), is a third-class condition about the coming of Christ which could take place at any time. 6Itemphasizes the fact of Christ’s coming, even though the time of it is indefinite. 7
The apostle John expected the return of Christ in his lifetime when he writes, “that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (2:28). This expectation of Jesus returning at any moment in one’s life is called imminency and is common throughout the writings of the New Testament authors (Matt. 24:42-44; Luke 12:37-39; John 14:1-3; Acts 20:31; 1 Cor. 1:8; 4:5; 15:51-52; 16:22; Phil. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thess. 1:10-12; 4:15-17; 5:2-10; James 5:7-9; I Pet. 1:13; Jude 1:21; Rev. 2:25-27; 3:2-3, 11; 16:15; 22:7, 12, 17, 20).
As we look back at the Year 2022 and prepare for the New Year tonight, those of us who believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life can also expect Him to return at any moment in our lifetime. Even though eternal life is a free gift which can never be lost (John 4:40-14; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; Rom. 6:23b; Ephes. 1:13-14; 2:8-9), the New Testament makes it clear that every believer must give an account of his or her Christian life at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10) which takes place after the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth.
It is important to understand that the New Testament speaks of two different judgments separated by the Millennium or one-thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth. The first judgment is for believers in Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ which takes place in heaven after the Rapture of the Church (Rev. 4:1-4; cf. Rev. 22:12; John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:51-52; 2 Cor. 5:10; I Thess.1:10; 4:13-5:11). The second judgment is for nonbelievers after the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-10), and it is called the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).
Those who appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12) and the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15) are judged “according to their works,” not according to their faith or the lack thereof. Since every person is judged “according to their works” at both these judgments, there will be differing degrees of punishment for nonbelievers in the lake of fire as determined by the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Matt. 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47), just as there will be varying degrees of rewards for believers as determined at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 2:25-27; 4:1-4; 22:12).
In I John 2:28, the apostle John has the Judgment Seat of Christ in mind when he writes, “that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” It will be possible for transformed Christians (3:2-3) to experience shame before the Lord Jesus when He evaluates both the “good or bad” things we have done in our Christian lives (2 Cor. 5:10). Keep in mind that Revelation 21:3-6 which speaks of their being no more more death, nor sorrow, nor pain, takes place after the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rev. 4:1-4) and the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-10). In our transformed bodies (Phil. 3:20-21; I John 3:2), we will probably be more sensitive to sin because our sin nature will be gone along with its excuses and rationalizations for sin (I John 3:2-3). We will have a greater capacity to feel holy shame over sins that we committed on earth.
How can we reduce our shame and increase our boldness (“confidence”) before the Lord Jesus at His Judgment Seat? John instructs us to “abide in Him” (2:28a). Again, John refers to fellowship with God using the Greek verb menō (“abide”) which has already occurred 10 times in 2:6-27. “(John used menō 66 of the 112 times it occurs in the New Testament: 40 in John, 23 in 1 John, and 3 in 2 John.) In accord with his basic theme about fellowship (1 John 1:3), John once more enjoined the ‘abiding’ life.”8
The believer who abides in fellowship with God, who seeks to walk in the light as God is in the light and obey His commands (1:5-9; 2:3-11; 3:24) during his or her Christian life, will “have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” But for the Christian who has not been abiding in Christ during his or her Christian life, there will be less confidence and more shame before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
“Yes, there will be shame at this time for His children who have lived their lives for the flesh and in the flesh. Does this threaten their eternal destiny? No. No more than you may be more proud of some of your children than others. Maybe one of your children has taken the gifts he has been given, worked hard to develop them, and is doing something productive with his/her life. You are proud of that child, and rightly so. Perhaps another child even more gifted has buried his gifts in the sand, has not worked hard to develop his God-given abilities, and is not doing anything productive with his life. Of that child you may be ashamed. Is he still your child? Yes, but you probably would not wish to reward him for his slothful life.” 9
The Christian who lacks the “abiding” life will still be in heaven because that was already determined the moment he or she believed in Jesus for eternal life (John 5:24). But they will have less rewards because they did not abide in Christ. That is why John says to confess your sins now. Abide now. 10
Prayer: Father God, as we close out this year (2022) and begin a new year tonight (2023), we pause to confess our many sins to You because You are faithful and just to forgive the sins we confess to You. We want to begin the new year with a clean slate and a clear conscience. We look forward to the day when You come to meet us in the clouds at any moment to be with You forever. May You find us abiding in You at that time so we may have confidence and not be ashamed before You at Your judgment Seat. Please use us to share Your gospel of grace with those who are currently alive and destined for the lake of fire due to their unbelief. May Your Holy Spirit prepare them to hear and believe the gospel so they may also enjoy an eternal life of fellowship with You and receive eternal rewards with which to honor You. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 65.
2. 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), pp. 781-782.
3. Zane C. Hodges, Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 593; Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3752 to 3762.
4. Constable, pg. 65 cites Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, Vol. 4, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co., 1883, 1881, 1880, 1884), pg. 457.
5. Constable, pg. 65.
6. 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 205608 to 205629.
7. Constable, pg. 66 cites Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour, ch. 6: “The Imminency of the Coming of Christ for the Church,” Fourth ed., (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1991), pp. 108-37.
8. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3757.
9. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 135-136.
“And the nations shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor of the nations to Him.” Revelation 21:24
Last time we saw that there will be no need of the sun or moon to shine because the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ will illuminate the entire New Jerusalem on the new earth (21:22-23). This Celestial City is so bright that it will also provide light for the entire new earth. “And the nations shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor of the nations to Him.” (Revelation 21:24). Notice that there will be “nations” on the new earth, perhaps much like we have today. Since the New Jerusalem is inhabited by King Jesus and believers from the Church Age (21:2, 9-10; cf. 19:7, 22:17; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:27), these “nations” consist of believers in Christ from before and after the Church Age who live outside the city on the new earth. These other believers will also have access to the New Jerusalem because of their faith in Christ (21:27b).
Vacendak writes, “God will create human beings to live on the new earth just as He created Adam and Eve – sinless people whose status and condition will be similar to Adam and Eve’s before the Fall… More likely, believers who are alive on earth at the end of the Millennium will be brought into the new heavens and earth in their unresurrected bodies to populate it. These bodies will be transformed into sinless bodies, but will not have been resurrected. They will be like Adam and Eve before they sinned, but without the ability to sin. As such, they will procreate and populate the new heavens and the new earth, and so they will form the nations.”1
It is likely then that the nations will be comprised of resurrected and unresurrected believers from before and after the Church Age who “shall walk in” the brilliant “light” of the New Jerusalem. The “kings” (basileis) or rulers 2 are “overcomers” who remained faithful to Christ to the end of their lives (21:24b; cf. 2:10b, 25-27; 22:5; cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).
These “kings of the earth bring their glory and honor of the nations to Him” (21:24b). This suggests that there will be human government and economy on the new earth. The leaders of these nations will reenact what the wise men did over two thousand years ago when they brought their gold and other treasures to the Baby Jesus (cf. Matthew 2:1-11). 3 In eternity on the new earth, the kings of the earth are going to bring their “glory and honor” or treasures to King Jesus year after year in the New Jerusalem to worship and glorify Him. Everyone on the new earth will bring glory to God.
Next the apostle John informs us, “Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).” (Revelation 21:25). In John’s day, cities closed their gates to keep their enemies out, especially at night. But on the new earth there will be no need to shut the gates of the New Jerusalem because King Jesus will have no enemies on the new earth and there “shall be no night there” because the light of His glory illuminates everything. The phrase “shall not be shut at all” (ou mē kleisthōsin) is emphatic and literally says “shall no not ever be shut.” 4 Since the gates of the New Jerusalem will never ever be shut, the rulers of the nations will have continual access into the city.
“And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations so that they may enter it.” (Revelation 21:26). The kings “shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations“ into the New Jerusalem “so that they” themselves “may enter” (21:26b) through “its gates” (21:25a). Only overcoming or faithful believers will enter through the main “gates” of the New Jerusalem. This is seen in Revelation 22:14: “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” The majority of Greek manuscripts contain the phrase “do His commandments.” Only those believers whose lives are characterized by obedience to Christ to the end of their lives (cf. 2:10, 25-27) will be rewarded with this special honor. The emphasis of verse 14 is not on entering the city, but on entering by “the gates” into the city. Every believer can enter the city, but only some will come in through the gates. This is emphatic in the Greek text which literally says, “and by the gates they may enter into the city” (kai tois pylōsin eiselthōsineis tēn polin).The apostle John is emphasizing the way of entrance, that is, by the gates, and not the fact of entrance. 5
“Gates of ancient cities were for defense or honor or both. To be known ‘in the gates’ was to sit among the ‘elders of the land’ and have a position of high honor and authority (Proverbs 31:23, cf. ISBE 2:408). Since defense is not a function of these ‘gates’ into the heavenly city; they are to be regarded as places of honor and authority. The overcomer was promised ‘authority’ over the nations (Revelation 2:26). John describes them elsewhere, as memorials to the twelve tribes of Israel (21:12, 14). We are reminded of the Roman victory arches which sat astride the main thoroughfares entering into Rome. There were thousands of entry ways into Rome, but Caesar entered by these gates, by the victory arch. Through these gates, according to John, ‘the honor and glory of the nations’ will enter (Revelation 21:25-26).”6 “As Lange has suggested, to enter by the gates means to enter ‘as conquerors in triumphal procession.’”7
So what John probably had in mind when he speaks of the kings of the nations entering into the New Jerusalem through “its gates” (21:24-26), are “the victory arches that towered over the main thoroughfares entering into Rome. Through these gates the triumphant Roman generals and their soldiers would march.”8
For example, “the Arch of Titus near the Forum in Rome… was constructed after his victory over Jerusalem in AD 70.
“Engravings on it show Roman soldiers bringing back treasures from the temple in Jerusalem. Similarly, those Christians [believers] who remain faithful to their King will enter the city in victory and will be likewise honored.” 9
Whether you are an overcoming believer who enters through one of the main gates of the New Jerusalem or a non-overcoming believer who enters the city through another entrance, everyone will have a desire to bring honor and glory to God Who reigns over the new earth from that city. Not one person will be unwilling to do this because every citizen on the new earth will be a sinless believer. The eternal state will have rules and laws, but no one there will want to disobey them. 10
After mentioning who may enter the New Jerusalem, John now tells us what cannot enter the city. “But there shall by no means enter it anything profane, nor one who causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 21:27). Nothing that is “profane” (koinon) or impure 11 can enter the New Jerusalem, “nor one who causes an abomination” (bdelugma)which refers to “something that causes revulsion or extreme disgust… in the sight of God.” 12 Nor will anyone enter the city “who causes… a lie” (pseudos) or falsehood. 13
Even though the city gates will continually be wide open, nothing that is evil or leads to evil will ever be part of the New Jerusalem. This does not mean there will be people on the new earth outside the New Jerusalem who are evil. In the context of these final chapters in the book of Revelation, unbelieving people and all their evil ways have been confined to the lake of fire forever (cf. 20:11-15; 21:8). 14 This part of the verse is saying nothing about born again believers in Jesus who were evil or led people to do evil during their lives on the old earth because their sins are now gone forever since they are forgiven, immortal, and sinless (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; I Corinthians 15:35-57; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 5:26-27; I John 3:1-3).
“Only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (21:27b) will be able to enter or inhabit the New Jerusalem. It is important to observe that it is the absence of one’s name “in the Lamb’s Book of Life,” not the absence of good works, that determines one’s eternal destination. Evil works are not the issue for entrance into the New Jerusalem. Many of the earth’s greatest sinners’ names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life because they received God’s free offer of eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). 15
Alcorn states that many Americans believe going to heaven is their “default destination.”16 But this optimism is contrary to what Jesus warned when He said, “13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14). Christ makes it clear that “few” people find the way that leads into eternal life. This is probably because few people are being told that faith alone in Christ alone is the only way into God’s heaven (John 10:9; 11:25-26; Act 4:12; I Timothy 2:3-5).
What would keep all of us out of heaven is failure to believe in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life. This is the one sin that cannot be forgiven. All other sins are forgivable (Colossians 2:13-14; Psalm 86:5; 103:2a, 3a; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19b; Acts 10:43). 17
Jesus said God the Holy Spirit was sent to “8 convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me.” (John 16:8-9). The word “sin” (hamartias) means “to miss the mark or standard.”18 All people fall short of God’s perfect righteousness because “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) against God through their thoughts, words, actions, and motives. Our sin separates us from God because He is holy and righteous and cannot allow sin into His presence: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” (Habakkuk 1:13 NIV; cf. Isaiah 59:2). Because we are all sinners, we deserve eternal death or separation from God forever in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). We are not able to enter God’s heaven as we are. Hence, heaven is not our default destination. The lake of fire is our default destination. 19
Yet the world tries to persuade people that they are not sinners. Many secular scientists and psychologists seem bent on destroying peoples’ awareness of sin. They may say that all people are inherently good. As a result, many people have a difficult time admitting they are guilty of sin. Oh, they may admit that they make mistakes or have failures and vices, but it is very difficult for them to admit that they have sinned against God. Even some churches say that people are not that bad and because God is love, He will accept everyone into heaven. Hence, many people, including Christians, believe that going to heaven is their default destination.
But the ultimate proof of the world’s sinfulness, Jesus says, is that “they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9). A court of law can convict someone of murder or theft, but only God the Holy Spirit can convict someone of unbelief toward Christ. The Holy Spirit can convict people of their individual sins they have committed, but people can clean up their own lives and still go to the lake of fire. It is the sin of unbelief toward Jesus Christ that condemns people to an eternity in the lake of fire. Jesus said, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18).That is why the Bible says that “Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15). Those who refuse to believe in Jesus will not have their names written in the Book of Life.
Unbelievers are judged according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12-13; cf. Matthew 23:14; Mark 12:40), not their eternal destination. But their condemnation and placement in the lake of fire is because of their unbelief toward the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:15; cf. John 3:18).
Because faith in Christ and His full payment for sin on the cross (John 19:30) is the only solution to our sin problem, the Holy Spirit wants to convict people of their sinful condition, so they can see their need to believe in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life (John 3:14-16). The Holy Spirit is the prosecuting attorney who presents God’s case against sinful humanity. He creates an awareness of sin so that it cannot be dismissed or excused or evaded by taking refuge in the fact that “everybody is doing it.” When we are convicted of our sin, we admit to God that we have been wrong in our unbelief toward Jesus and then we believe or trust in Him alone, so we can live with Christ forever in the New Jerusalem on the new earth.
Do you know for sure your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Don’t wait and see, just hoping that your name will be in the Book of Life. You can know for sure right now by taking God at His Word. The apostle John who wrote Revelation and the gospel of John, also wrote First John. He writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). This one verse is written to “you who believe in the name of the Son of God.” Do you believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, Who died for all your sins and rose from the dead, proving His claims to be God are true (cf. John 20:31; Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:3-6)?
If you do, the Bible guarantees “you may know that you have eternal life.” It does not say you may “think” or “hope” you have eternal life. It says you may “know” with absolute certainty that eternal life is yours right now. Because Jesus Christ is “the truth” (John 14:6) and cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), we can be confident He will keep His promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him (cf. John 3:15-16). Do you now know for sure you have eternal life and a future forever home in the New Jerusalem on the new earth? If you do, you can tell God this through prayer.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for persuading me that I am a sinner whose default destination is in the lake of fire. I believe You took my place on the cross to die for all my sins and then rose from the dead, proving You are God. As best I know how, I am now believing in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and for the future forever home I will have in the New Jerusalem on the new earth. Please use me now to tell others how they can know for sure they will live forever with You in Your heaven. Help me remain faithful to You so I may honor and worship You more with the rewards You give for faithfulness. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. 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. 1586.
2. 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), pp. 169-170.
3. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 40.
4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 245.
5. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 974-975.
6. Ibid., pg. 975.
7. Ibid., cites John Peter Lange, “The Revelation of John,” in A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. John Peter Lange, et al. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 12:446.
8. Dillow, pg. 975.
10. Vacendak, pp. 1586-1587.
11. Bauer, pg. 552.
12. Ibid., pg. 172.
13. Ibid., pg. 1097.
14. Vacendak, pg. 1587.
15. Adapted from David Jeremiah, Answers to Your Questions about Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015 Kindle Edition), pg. 21 who cites William R. Newell, The Book of the Revelation, 9th ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1935), pg. 334.
16. Randy Alcorn, Heaven: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything the Bible Says About Our Eternal Home (Tyndale House Publishers, 2004 Kindle Edition), pg. 54 cites K. Connie Kang, “Next Stop, the Pearly Gates… or Hell?” Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2003.
17. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32) is not unforgivable, it is unforgiven because those who commit this sin are too hard of heart to seek God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ (Matthew 12:33-37). See “Can a Christian commit blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?” at www.seeyouinheaven.life.
18. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in The New Testament, Vol V:John and Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 267.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” Revelation 2:17
The ascended and glorified Lord Jesus now addresses the church in Pergamos. “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword.’” (Revelation 2:12). “Pergamum was famous for its university with a library of about 200,000 volumes, and for manufacturing parchment resulting in a paper called pergamena”1 from which the city derived its name. 2
“The city of Pergamos (the northernmost of the seven cities, fifty miles north of Smyrna) was full of temples and was a center for the cults of Zeus, Soter, Athena, Dionysus, and Asklepios.”3 “Emperor worship was more intense there than in any other surrounding city.”4
“Satan’s activity in this city not only affected the unsaved but also was profoundly detrimental to believers as well. They tolerated false teaching. Thus, Jesus tells the believers in this pagan city just what they need to hear.” 5
When addressing “the church in Pergamos” the Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “He who has the sharp two-edged sword” because His judgment of them with His Word was near (2:12; cf. Hebrews 4:12).
“It is interesting that Pergamum was a city to which Rome had given the rare power of capital punishment (ius gladii), which was symbolized by the sword. The Christians in Pergamum were thus reminded that though they lived under the rule of an almost unlimited imperium, they were citizens of another kingdom—that of him who needs no other sword than that of his mouth . . .”6
Because these believers at Pergamos were not doing anything about the false teaching in their church, the Lord Jesus wanted them to see His Word as an instrument of judgment and to know that His judgment of them was imminent (cf. 2:16; John 12:48). 7
Next, the Lord Jesus commends the church for holding fast to their commitment to Him amid a Satanic stronghold. “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” (Revelation 2:13). The Lord Jesus was aware (“I know”) of the difficulties these Christians faced in a city where “Satan” was very active, initiating both idolatrous practices as well as the persecution of believers.Even though these Christians were compromising the truth by tolerating false teaching, Christ graciously commends them for holding “fast to” His “name” and for refusing to “deny” His “faith” even after one of their fellow church members, “Antipas … was killed.”8
“Antipas is said to have been a dentist and a physician, but the Aesculapiades suspected that he was propagating Christianity secretly and they accused him of disloyalty to Caesar. He was condemned to death and was shut up in a brazen (or copper) bull, which was then heated until it was red-hot.”9
After commending them, Jesus rebukes these believers for compromising the truth. “14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” (Revelation 2:14-15). This church was toleratingthe false teaching “of Balaam” who introduced idolatry and “sexual immorality” to “the children of Israel” (2:14; cf. Numbers 31:15-16; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11).
In the Old Testament, Balaam told Balak that he could overcome the Israelites if he would involve them in the Moabite religious feasts that included sacred prostitution (Numbers 22-25; 31:15-16). This would compromise their faithfulness to God and subject them to His painful discipline. The unbelievers in Pergamos, likewise, were evidently encouraging the Christians to join in their pagan feasts, and the sexual immorality that accompanied those feasts (2:14). The believers in the church who participated in these immoral feasts had given their approval to Balaam’s teaching. The “Nicolaitans” evidently regarded these sins as acceptable, under the pretense of Christian liberty (2:15; cf. Revelation 2:6). Interestingly “Balaam” in Hebrew can mean “swallow the people,” so the conceptual connection between the Nicolaitans (“conquer the people”) and Balaam is clear. 10These false teachers were more interested in dominating or using people than serving them.
Chitwood makes an astute observation: “The main facet of the doctrine of Balaam which is being promulgated in Churches today is the teaching that [equal] future blessings and rewards have been set aside for every Christian solely on the basis of Christ’s finished work on Calvary and the Christian’s positional standing ‘in Christ.’ Thus, all Christians—regardless of their conduct during the present time—will receive crowns and positions of power and authority with Christ in the [millennial] kingdom. However, the teaching throughout the Word of God is to the contrary. The Israelites did not sin with immunity, and neither can Christians. Sin in the camp of Israel resulted in the Israelites being overthrown in the wilderness, short of the goal of their calling. And it will be no different for Christians.”11
It is a big deal to God when we cause other believers to stumble, especially when we do it knowingly and for profit like Balaam (2:14-15). That is why the Lord demanded that the Christians in Pergamos repent. 12 “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” (Revelation 2:16). The verb “repent” (metanoeō) is a compound made up of two Greek words. The first is meta,“after,” and the second is noeō,“to perceive, understand or think.” The two together mean “after perceiving, understanding, thinking” or “to change one’s mind.”13
These believers were to change their thinking and stop tolerating the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. If they failed to do this, Christ warns them, “I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” They would be judged by “the sword” proceeding from the exalted Lord Jesus’ “mouth.” Balaam had died, ironically, by the Israelites’ sword (Numbers 31:8). This judgment of unrepentant Christians at Pergamos would be by the unyielding standard of God’s revealed Word—that clearly condemns such compromise. Having taken sides with the enemy, they could expect God to oppose them in His “war” against evil. 14
Christian leaders are not to tolerate compromise in their churches, whether it be doctrinal or moral. Leaders cannot control peoples’ decisions, but if wayward Christians refuse to repent, leaders are to implement church discipline to restore them back to fellowship with God and one another (cf. Matthew 18:15-17; I Corinthians 5:1-13).
What does Christ promise believers who repent and live victoriously for Him? “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17). This verse mentions two eternal rewards for the believer who “has an ear” and “overcomes” by rejecting the teachings of Balaam and Nicolaitans.
The first reward consists of “the hidden manna to eat,” a possible reference to the miraculous manna from heaven, that sustained the lives of the Israelites in the wilderness, of which a sample keepsake lay “hidden” in the holy of holies (Exodus 16:32-34; cf. Hebrews 9:4). “This manna will surely provide the benefits good food offers today: increased energy, enhanced ability to serve God, and enjoyment. Eating that bread will forever remind us that the Lord Jesus is the Bread of Life (see John 6:35).” 15
It may be “hidden” in the sense that it is not available to everyone, only to those believers who reject the teachings of Balaam and Nicolaitans. 16 Some suggest it represents a special kind of intimacy with the Lord Jesus when He returns to earth to set up His Kingdom. 17
The second reward is “a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” I read an intriguing article about this white stone by Ken Yates that changed my view of this reward. 18
Yates has a friend who is a gemologist. When his friend sees the words “white stone,”“he thinks of a pure diamond. A diamond has a numerical rating from 0 to 10. The less color it has in it, the closer it has to a rating of zero. A zero is a perfect diamond with no color. It is a white diamond…
“Years ago, he wanted to give his wife a special gift. He wanted to find a diamond as close to a zero as he could find. He found one with a rating of .3. It was a special gem and one that was very expensive.
“He gave it to his wife on that special occasion. Being married to my friend for many years, she knew the special character of that gem. She knew that her husband had gone out of his way to give her this stone. She knew he wanted to give her something very special.
“I don’t think I need to tell any reader of this blog that this was a special piece of jewelry to this woman. Sure, it was beautiful. Sure, it was not like any other piece of jewelry she had. Sure, it was expensive.
“But there was something else about that gem. She knew that her husband had great joy in giving it to her. Every time she wore it, she was reminded of how he loved her. She knew that it had come from her husband who wanted to honor her.
“In other words, this gem was valuable to her because of the one who gave it to her. It was valuable to her because it showed what he thought of her. He found her worthy of this gem.” 19
Yates continues, “Don’t you think that it will be like that with those who receive this white stone at the Judgment Seat of Christ? John tells us that the stone will have a new name on it. The believers who receive it will know that the Lord thought they were worthy of it. They will know that He received great joy in giving it to them. The fact that it came from Him will make it of infinite value.” 20
Jesus said that the “new name” on this white stone will only be known by “him who receives it.” Certainly, the Lord Jesuswill know the name as well since He is the one giving (and probably inscribing) the stones. It is as if the Lord will say, “Because you refused to deny My name in time, I will honor you with a special name in eternity.”21
Dillow observes, “The giving of a ‘new name’ was a Jewish custom of assigning a name at a point in life which characterizes the person. See Judges 6:31-32, where Gideon was renamed Jerub-Baal, which means ‘Let Baal contend with him’ because he took a stand against Baal and cut down his altars. In the early church James was called ‘camel knees’ because of the calluses on his knees from so much kneeling while he was praying. Our Lord called Simon by a new name, Peter, which means ‘rock,’ signifying his future as the rock of stability in the church. Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, was called ‘Barnabas,’ which means ‘son of encouragement.’” 22
Each believer in Jesus Christ has his own distinct life message, his own unique history of struggle and demonstration of God’s life in his or hers. The Lord Jesus is a God of the individual as well as of the church. The secrecy of the name implies a special intimacy between Christ and each overcomer. It will be a name which in some way signifies an outstanding attribute of that person’s life. This of course challenges each of us to consider the question, “What will my name be?” And more significantly, “What would I like my name to be?” 23
In summary, Jesus’ message to the church in Pergamos challenges Christians to repent of any doctrinal or moral compromise so they can faithfully serve Christ until death and receive eternal rewards involving delicious foods and precious jewelry (2:12-17). Such rewards will forever bring Jesus glory and honor!
Prayer: Almighty Lord Jesus, some of us may be tempted to give up in our Christian lives because the journey is difficult. The road can be treacherous at times. Hidden dangers lie ahead of us that can overtake us. Things like betrayal, depression, disease, failure, loneliness, loss of loved ones, persecution, or rejection. Like the Christians at Pergamos, we may be living in an area of Satanic strongholds. Temptations bombard us continually in a declining society. We may be tempted to follow the world’s substitutes consisting of lust, greed, and pride (I John 2:16). But You call us to follow You against the cultural currents of compromise and evil. You offer us something far greater than fame, money, power, or sex – all of which are temporary. You offer us rewards that last forever and will be far greater than any earthly pleasure or treasure. Lord Jesus, please give us the strength to lean into You instead of this world when we are afraid or in pain, knowing You will give us eternal rewards consisting of delicious food and a precious white stone with our own special name on it. Both rewards will be eternal reminders that You deemed us worthy of such recognition. Both rewards will grant us greater intimacy with You throughout eternity. Thank You, our Lord and our God. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.
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 Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament,6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 213293-213295.
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. 1506.
4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 38 cites William Barclay, TheRevelation of JohnVol. 1 (The Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 110.
5. Vacendak, pg. 1506.
6. Constable, pg. 38 cites Alan Johnson, “Revelation.” In Hebrews-Revelation. Vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols., (Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pg. 440; G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Harper’s New Testament Commentaries series. New York: Harper, 1966), pg. 38.
7. Vacendak, pg. 1506.
9. Constable, pg. 38 cites Frederick A. Tatford, The Patmos Letters (By the Author, 1969; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, n.d.), pg. 75.
10. Constable, pg. 39 cites Alan Johnson, pg. 441.
11. Ibid., pg. 40 cites Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ (Norman, Okla.: The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 1986),pg 70; cf. Charles H. Savelle, “Canonical and Extracanonical Portraits of Balaam,” Bibliotheca Sacra 166:664 (October-December 2009), pp. 387-404.
12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2373.
13. 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. 640.
14. Constable, pg. 40.
15. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 78.
16. Evans, pg. 2373.
17. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings:Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 959-960; John f. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966); G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), pg. 252.
18. Ken Yates’ June 2, 2020, blog entitled, “Looking at the White Stone from a Different Angle (Revelation 2:17)” at www.faithalone.org.
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.” Revelation 20:11
“Abandon every hope, all you who enter here.” 1
“Those are the famous words appearing above the gates of hell in Dante’s ‘Inferno.’ According to Dante, those who pass beneath that sign will have absolutely no hope of ever getting out. Though the details of Dante’s fictional picture of heaven, hell, and purgatory range from the fantastic to the heretical, he was right about this: the final destination of the wicked is a one-way entrance. There is no hope beyond; there will be no escape from the lake of fire.”2
For over the last two thousand years, the disturbing facts recorded in Revelation 20:11-15 describing the final judgment of all unsaved people has instilled fear, sorrow, disappointment, and even denial in believer and nonbeliever alike. No one wants to hear that eternal punishment for sin awaits those who refuse to believe in God’s only provision for sin – His perfect Son, Jesus Christ. While believers in Jesus will find themselves enjoying the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ forever (Revelation 21:1-22:21), the nonbeliever will find himself or herself forever removed from His presence (Revelation 20:11-15). The facts of eternal punishment are clearly presented without a hint of any hope – “because no hope exists apart from God.” 3 (emphasis added)
In our study of the book of Revelation, we learned that the members of the unholy trinity (Satan, the beast, and false prophet) all received their final judgment and consignment to the lake of fire forever (19:20; 20:10). Now we will see the Judge of all the earth, the Lord Jesus Christ, determine the degree of eternal punishment for every nonbeliever who has ever lived before he or she is cast into the lake of fire (20:11-15). The “rest of the dead” will “live again” (receive bodily resurrection) to receive their final judgment (20:5). 4 This is thought to be “the most serious, sobering and tragic passage in the entire Bible.”5
The apostle John writes, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.” (Revelation 20:11). The words translated “Then I saw” (kai eidon) introduces additional information John saw in this vision (cf. 19:11, 17, 19: 20:1, 4, 12; 21:1-2). The continuation of chronological progression seems obvious from the continued use of kai often translated “And,” to introduce new information. All but one verse in this chapter begins with kai (20:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15). 6
Initially the apostle John sees “a great white throne and Him who sat on it” (20:11a). This throne is “great” because of the One Who sat on it – the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ (19:16; cf. I Timothy 6:14-16) – to Whom God the Father “has committed all judgment” (John 5:22). This throne is “white” because every verdict that proceeds from it is holy, just, pure, and righteous (cf. Psalm 97:2). 7 No one will be able dispute or reverse the final verdict and sentencing issued from this throne.
Erwin W. Lutzer writes, “We picture the scene: host beyond host, rank behind rank. The millions among the nations of the world, all crowded together in the presence of the One who sits upon the throne, the One who looks intently at each individual. We are accustomed to human judges; we know their partial and impartial verdicts. In the presence of the Almighty, all previous judgments are rendered useless. Many men and women acquitted on earth before a human judge will now be found guilty before God. Men who have been accustomed to perks, special privileges, and legal representation now stand as naked in the presence of God. To their horror they are judged by a standard that is light-years beyond them: The standard is God Himself… For the first time in their lives they stand in the presence of unclouded righteousness. They will be asked questions for which they know the answer. Their lives are present before them; unfortunately, they will be doomed to a painful, eternal existence.” 8
The location of this judgment is neither in heaven nor on earth, but in space as suggested by the statement “from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away” (20:11b). 9 The “earth” and “heaven” flee in terror from the Judge’s “face.” This portrays how serious and fearful it will be to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ at this final judgment. All of creation seeks to run away and hide, but “there was found no place for them” to escape (20:11c). 10 No unsaved person will be able to avoid this final judgment.
“Most adults have seen a courthouse, and some have probably been in a courtroom as a juror, witness, or part of a lawsuit. The scene is very imposing. Courtrooms often have high, vaulted ceilings with beautiful paintings and massive chandeliers. In the gallery the people sit on dark wooden benches with high, straight backs. The atmosphere is always serious and silent, except for a few muted whispers. Suddenly the door from the judge’s chambers opens and the bailiff enters, commanding all present to rise as the black-robed judge enters the courtroom. When the judge takes a seat behind the bar, court is in session. The parties are called, and the case begins.”11
This scene will someday occur before the bar of the King of kings and Lord of lords somewhere between earth and heaven – only it will be multiplied times infinity. 12 Jesus Christ Himself will conduct the trial, and no one is more qualified than Him. He made provision for the salvation of every human being (cf. John 19:30; I Timothy 2:3-5). But those who rejected Him and His offer of salvation, must now be judged by Him. 13
“And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before the throne, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” (Revelation 20:12). John “saw” the unbelieving “dead” from all ages of history “standing before the throne” in their resurrected bodies which are indestructible. The defendants at this final judgment of unsaved humankind will consist of the “small” or insignificant. No nonbeliever will be too unimportant to go unnoticed at this judgment. Unsaved people whose lives were barely a blip in history will be there. Nor will any unbeliever be too “great” or significant to escape judgment here. The unbelieving Alexander the Great’s, Julius Caesar’s, Stalin’s, and Hitler’s will be there. Unbelieving self-righteous religious leaders will be there. Atheists and terrible sinners will be there. Unbelieving procrastinators will be there. Unconverted church members will be there. No unsaved person will escape his or her day in God’s courtroom. 14
This multitude of defendants will be diverse in its religions. “We see Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, and Catholics. We see those who believed in one God and those who believed in many gods. We see those who refused to believe in any God at all. We see those who believed in meditation as a means of salvation and those who believed that doing good deeds was the path to eternal life. We see the moral and immoral, the priest as well as the minister, the nun as well as the missionary.”15
Swindoll describes the unsaved at this final judgment as…
“Those who existed amidst creation but replaced the Creator with idols and false gods.
Those who turned their backs on the free grace of God in favor of a works-based religion.
Those who repeatedly heard the gospel of Christ but rejected Him until it was too late.
Those who concluded, based on logic, reason, and experience, that God doesn’t exist.
Those who lived out their depravity through selfishness, wickedness, and violence.”16
This final judgment will involve the consultation of two heavenly records: the “books” and “the book of life” (20:12b). The first heavenly record (the “books”)will determine the degree of punishment for the nonbeliever in the lake of fire. These “books” contain the record of every unsaved human being’s deeds so they can be judged “according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (20:12c). 17 Since this judgment will be “according to their works,” there will be differing degrees of punishment among nonbelievers (cf. Matthew 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47), just as there will be varying degrees of rewards for believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 2:25-27; 22:12).
Millions if not billions of people have died thinking they are good enough to enter God’s heaven. Hence, Jesus Christ will examine all they have done throughout the course of their lives on earth and render His verdict the same for all nonbelievers: “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20).18
It is very important that we understand that the sinful deeds of the nonbeliever are not the basis on which the nonbeliever is consigned to the lake of fire. The basis of eternal condemnation is found in the second heavenly record: “another book was opened, which is the Book of Life” (20:12b),and it contains the names of all those who have been born spiritually into God’s family since the beginning of creation through faith in God’s promises(cf. Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:7). 19
Eternal condemnation in the lake of fire is not based on a person’s behavior, but on whether his or her name is written in “the book of life”(20:15). Those who believe in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of eternal life will be found to have their names written in the book of life (cf. John 3:16, 36; 5:24; et al.). They have been credited with God’s imputed righteousness because of their faith in Jesus, not because of their good works (Romans 4:5). No one will receive eternal life based on what is written in a book of deeds because everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness (Romans 3:23; 6:23). 20 Hence, all nonbelievers, will not have their names written in the book of life because they were never saved by grace through faith alone in Christ alone for His gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).
To have your name written in the book of life you must reject the idea that your own righteousness will gain acceptance before God. The apostle Paul wrote, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Galatians 2:16). Believers in Jesus for His gift of salvation will have their names written in “the book of life” and therefore, will never receive eternal punishment based on their deeds. Hence, they will not be summoned to appear before the great white throne. 21
But all unsaved people from all ages of history will be summoned to appear at the great white throne. No high-priced lawyers will get the case postponed or dismissed on a legal technicality. No one will jump bail. Everyone who is summoned must appear.22
“The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.” (Revelation 20:13). God will physically resurrect the bodies of all nonbelievers, and unite them with their spirits, even those bodies decomposed in “the sea.” “In the ancient world the sea was thought to be the most inaccessible place. No human could venture to the depths of the ocean. People believed that no one buried in the ocean could ever be disturbed. God makes it clear that even the most mysterious, difficult, out-of-the-way, forbidden places are fully accessible to God. The Day of Judgment is sure (Hebrews 9:27).” 23
The statement “Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them” refers to the physical bodies of the unsaved (“Death”) being joined with their souls and spirits which have been in “Hades.”24 “Hades” is the temporary holding place of the souls and spirits of all nonbelievers until the great white throne judgment (Luke 16:23-24).
At the time of physical death during this church age, the soul and spirit are separated from the physical body, with the immaterial parts (spirit and soul) of believers going immediately into the presence of Christ in the third heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4) and the immaterial parts (spirit and soul) of nonbelievers going to torments in Hades (Luke 16:23-24). At the Rapture of the church (I Thessalonians 4:15-17), believers’ souls and spirits will be united with glorified bodies appropriate to their eternal existence in heaven. Here in Revelation 20:12-13, nonbelievers’ souls and spirits are united with bodies suited for their eternal location. 25
John informs us a second time that all nonbelievers at the great white throne will be “judged, each one according to his works.” (Revelation 20:13b). The punishment of each nonbeliever will be proportional to their sinful works. The more wickedly they behaved, the greater the degree of their punishment in the lake of fire. The charges against each nonbeliever will be read to them before their sentencing. One interpreter describes the seriousness of this judgment:
“The accused, all the unsaved who have ever lived, will be resurrected to experience a trial like no other that has ever been. There will be no debate over their guilt or innocence. There will be a prosecutor, but no defender; an accuser but no advocate. There will be an indictment, but no defense mounted by the accused; the convicting evidence will be presented with no rebuttal or cross-examination. There will be an utterly unsympathetic Judge and no jury, and there will be no appeal of the sentence He pronounces. The guilty will be punished eternally with no possibility of parole in a prison from which there is no escape.” 26
Next John tells us, “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14). From this point on there will be no more since God will cast “death and Hades… into the lake of fire.” Being “cast into the lake of fire” is described as “the second death.”“When a person is arrested for a crime, he is sent to a temporary place of punishment awaiting trial. But once that person has been tried and found guilty, he is sent to a long-term place of punishment. Hades can be conceived of as a prison to which men are temporarily assigned because they have been bound over for trial, but the lake of fire is God’s permanent prison for the eternally lost (cf. Matthew 13:40-42; 25:41; Mark 9:43-44; Jude 1:7; Revelation 21:8).” 27
Just as believers in Jesus have two births – physical and spiritual (John 3:5-6), so nonbelievers have two deaths. The first death involves separation of the soul and spirit from the physical body. The second death involves separation of the soul and spirit from God forever.
Finally, John writes, “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15). The “lake of fire” will be the final and eternal location of every human whose name is “not found written in the Book of Life.” Every person who dies without believing in Christ alone for everlasting life will not be “found written in the Book of Life.” The “lake of fire” is a horrible place of eternal, conscious torment (14:10-11; 20:10) received in proportion to one’s sinful “works” done in the body (cf. 20:12-13). Those who receive this eternal punishment have not necessarily committed worse sins than believers who dwell with God in His heaven. Nonbelievers are simply reaping the fruit of their sins instead of enjoying the benefits of having Christ’s perfect record credited to their accounts (cf. Roman 3:22, 24-26, 28; 4:5-8). 28
Although many Christians and non-Christians have tried to deny or avoid the biblical truth concerning eternal punishment, as far as God’s revelation is concerned there are only two destinies for human beings; one is to be with the Lord forever in His heaven (John 3:36a; Revelation 21:1-22:21) and the other is to be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (John 3:36b; Revelation 21:14-15). This solemn fact is intended to motivate Christians to take the gospel to the ends of the earth no matter what the cost and doing everything possible to inform and challenge the unsaved to believe in Christ for His free gift of eternal life before it is too late. 29
The sentencing of nonbelievers to the lake of fire forevermay seem very harsh to us. Some of us may think it is unfair and inconsistent with God’s love and mercy. But we must remember that God is infinitely holy (Revelation 3:7; 4:8; 6:10; 15:4; cf. Isaiah 6:3) and just (Revelation 15:3; cf. Psalm 89:14; Isaiah 30:18). The penalty for sin must be paid (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ Himself loved us so much He personally bore the wrath and punishment of God for human sin (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 3:18), fully satisfying God’s demand to punish sin (I John 2:1-2).
Every person must decide to either accept Christ’s full payment for his or her sins (John 19:30) or pay the infinite price himself or herself in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). The price must be paid in full. Will we pay it ourselves in the lake of fire or will we believe in Christ and His full payment in our place? The choice is ours. Either way, God is perfectly fair and just. 30
If you do not know for sure you will live with Jesus in eternity, you can make sure right now so you can avoid eternal torment in the lake of fire. Simply believe Jesus’ promise in John 3:16: “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus is not asking you if you keep His commandments or go to church every week. Because He never said whoever keeps His commandments or goes to church every week should not perish but have everlasting life. Christ is not asking you if you pray or meditate every day because He never said whoever prays or meditates every day should not perish but have everlasting life. Nor is Jesus asking you if you persevere in good works or have been baptized with water because He never said whoever perseveres in good works or is baptized with water should not perish but have everlasting life.
No. Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Me?” because He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The word “believe” (pisteuō) in the New Testament means to be persuaded that something is true and therefore worthy of one’s trust. 31 When Jesus says, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” are you convinced He is telling the truth and therefore is worthy of your trust? If you are, then trust Him to give you His gift of everlasting life.
The moment you believe or trust in Jesus for eternal life – you have eternal life. It is so simple a child can do it, yet, as adults, we have made it difficult. Jesus says the person “believes” and “have.” We have what we take, correct? Jesus asks us to take the eternal life that He is freely offering to us.
For example, I sometimes illustrate faith by holding up a five-dollar bill at an evangelistic gathering. I explain to the audience that the first person who comes up to me and takes this bill from my hand can keep this bill. When someone does this, I then ask them why he or she came up. If they understand the simplicity of faith, they usually say because they believed my promise to give them the money.
Jesus Christ is saying, “I love you. I died for you. Do you believe? Will you trust Me to give you the never-ending life I bought for you with My own blood that was shed for you on the cross?”This is an invitation to believe in Jesus Christ and Him alone – not ourselves or Him plus our works. Nor is He asking us to believe in the Jesus of Islam or Hinduism or Mormonism or Jehovah Witnesses or some other religion. Christ is asking us to believe in the Jesus of the Bible.
Many people don’t believe in the lake of fire or hell, but they better be sure because no one can afford to be wrong on this issue. When we believe in Jesus, Christ promises we shall not “perish” in the lake of fire (John 3:16). This is the best news ever!
If you just believed in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, you can tell God this through prayer. You can simply say to the Lord, “Dear Jesus, I come to you now as a sinner. I cannot save myself. I believe You died for me on the cross and rose from the dead. I am now believing or trusting in You alone Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion), to give me everlasting life and rescue me forever from the lake of fire. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and for the future home I will have in Your heaven. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.”
When you believed in Jesus, He gave you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). He guarantees you will never come into judgment because He has rescued you from the lake of fire forever (John 3:16b; 5:24). God now wants to use you to tell your family and friends the good news of Jesus’ free offer of eternal life so they can be forever saved from the lake of fire the moment they believe in Jesus.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, all people have sinned against you and deserve to suffer eternal punishment and torment in the lake of fire. Yet because of Your amazing grace, we can be forever saved from the lake of fire simply by believing in Your Son who was lifted up on a cross to die in our place for our sins and then rose from the dead so whoever believes in Him should not perish in the lake of fire but have everlasting life with You in Your heaven. Because of Your great love and grace, we will not have to stand before the great white throne if we believe in Jesus. Please use us, we pray, to share this wonderful news with those who are perishing without Christ. May we be willing to do whatever it takes to share the gospel of grace with every lost person in the world today. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 366 cites Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, “Inferno,” Canto 3, retranslated by Michael J. Svigel from the Italian version of Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, vol. 1, ed. Charles Singleton, Bollingen Series 18 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), pg. 24.
2. Ibid., pg. 367.
4. 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. 1581.
5. Swindoll, pg. 367 cites John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2000), pg. 245.
6. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 229.
7. Vacendak, pg. 1581.
8. 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. 436 cites Erwin W. Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward: Triumph and Tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1998), pp. 164-165.
9. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6448.
10. Vacendak, pg. 1581.
11. Hitchcock, pg. 438.
13. Ibid., pg. 439 cites David Jeremiah, Escape the Coming Night (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997), pg. 236.
14. Hitchcock, pg. 439.
15. Ibid., cites Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward, pg. 166.
16. Swindoll, pg. 368.
17. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2419.
18. Vacendak, pg. 1581.
20. Evans, pg. 2419.
21. Swindoll, pp. 368-369.
22. Hitchcock, pg. 440.
24. Walvoord, location 6482.
25. Evans, pg. 2420.
26. Swindoll, pp. 371 cites John MacArthur, pp. 245-246.
27. Vacendak, pg. 1582.
28. Evans, pg. 2420.
29. Walvoord, location 6492.
30. Hitchcock, pg. 441.
31. 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. 816.
“So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.” Revelation 14:19
Having compared the upcoming bowl judgments to a grain harvest (Revelation 14:14-16), John now shifts his attention to the battle of Armageddon which is compared to a grape harvest (Revelation 14:17-20). The number of God’s messengers prepared to reap the harvest of God’s judgment increases in the following verses. “Then another angel came out of the temple, which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.” (Revelation 14:17). The sixth (“another”) “angel” in this group (14:6-20) “came out of the temple which is in heaven” ready to execute judgment with “a sharp sickle” like the angel of verse 14. Like that angel, this angel also represents the Lord Jesus Christ. 1
“And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, ‘Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.’” (Revelation 14:18). Then John hears “another” (seventh) “angel” who oversees “the altar” of incense and its “fire” (cf. 8:3-5). It is quite possible that this means the angel is responding to the prayers for vengeance by the Tribulation saints from under the altar (cf. 6:9-10). 2
This seventh angel loudly commands the angel with “the sharp sickle” to “thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” The earth is portrayed as a grape vineyard with many “clusters” of grapes which represent the different armies from around the world that will fight against Jesus Christ at Armageddon (cf. 16:12-16). 3 These various armies must be removed from their different locations around the globe to be “gathered” to Jerusalem (cf. Zechariah 12:3; 14:2). 4 Somehow Satan will deceive the kings of the earth to assemble outside Jerusalem to make war with the King of kings and Lord of lords as He returns to the earth with His church (Revelation 16:12-16; 19:7-19).
The word used for “fully ripe” (ēkmasan) means to be “fully grown” or in “prime condition.”5 “The grapes were full of juice and ready for harvest.”6 What this means is the rebellion of these armies that gathered to make war against King Jesus had reached a crescendo. 7 It was time for their judgment.
“19 So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.” (Revelation 14:19-20). Without delay, “the angel” swung “his sickle” and hurled the “gathered… vine of the earth,” representing the Beast and his global armies, 8“into the great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19). So, we see that the judgment pictured by the harvest of grapes here is more localized than the judgment portrayed by the harvest of grain, in that it focuses on the armies gathered far “outside the city” of Jerusalem (14:20) 9 “to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon” (16:16) or Megiddo. Megiddo is approximately forty miles northeast of Jerusalem and will be the site of this bloody battle between the Lord Jesus and the armies of the Beast. 10 This severe judgment by God against the Beast and his rebellious armies is portrayed as grapes being “trampled” in a “winepress” by the Lord Jesus Christ (14:19-20).
“When the grapes were put into the winepress, there would be people in the winepress who would stomp around on the grapes so that the juice would be released down into a collection vat. Using this image, in Revelation 14:19 the winepress is ‘the great winepress of God’s wrath.’ The Lord is the One who is doing the stomping, but He is stomping on people, not grapes. And what pours out is blood, not grape juice (Isaiah 63:2-3; Joel 3:13; Revelation 19:15). The imagery suggests that the stomping of His judgment is so intense that the blood from His winepress will splash out as high as a horse’s bridle.
“This is a picture of the ferocity of God’s judgment. The Lord is saying that at Armageddon He is going to throw all the nations into His great winepress and that His intense, blood-splattering judgment will extend throughout Israel from Megiddo to Bozrah.” 11
It seems probable that the “blood” of these armies will literally flow “up to” the height of “the horses’ bridle[s],” which is about four to five feet, “for one thousand six hundred furlongs,” which is two hundred miles (14:19-20; cf. 19:15-21). For that much blood to flow, vast numbers of people will have to die. Nothing in human history has ever come close to the ferocity of this battle. The blood will evidently drain out of the Valley of Jezreel, near the biblical city of Megiddo, 12 for two hundred miles, probably flowing eastward down the Jezreel Valley down through the Harod Valley to the Jordan Valley, and then south all the way to the Dead Sea. 13
It is important to see here that God is patient in giving people a chance to get right with Him prior to judgment. God waited until the “grapes” were “fully ripe”(14:18) before He had them thrown into the “great winepress of” His “wrath” (14:19). He does not judge people “at the first hint of their sinful rebellion, though that would be entirely justified. Instead, He provided extended opportunity for repentance and strikes with the sickle of judgment when rebellion has matured into an unmistakable pattern.” 14
If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ yet, please understand that God is being patient with you to give you an opportunity to get right with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. You are not promised tomorrow on earth. Today you can freely come to God as a sinner (Romans 3:23), realizing you cannot save yourself from the penalty of your sins (Romans 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). God loves you and longs to have a forever relationship with you. This is why He sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, to earth over two thousand years ago to die in your place on a cross and rise from the dead (John 3:16a; I Corinthians 15:3-6) so “whoever believes in Him should not perish” in hell, “but have everlasting life” both now and forever (John 3:16b).
Is there anything keeping you from believing in Jesus right now for His gift of everlasting life? If there is, what is it? Nothing you can think of could outweigh the horrors both of God’s temporal judgments on earth during the future Tribulation period (Revelation 6-19) and His eternal judgment of nonbelievers in the lake of fire (Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:15). God intended “the everlasting fire” of hell to be for the devil and his angels, not people (Matthew 25:41). But those who reject God’s free offer of eternal life in Christ Jesus, will send themselves to hell for all eternity (John 3:18, 36b; Revelation 20:15).
God is not asking you to clean up your life. He did not send Jesus into the world to condemn you but to cleanse you (John 3:17). All God asks is that you believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16 36). And when you believe in Christ, He guarantees you will “not perish” in hell, but “have everlasting life” both now and forever (3:16b). Do you believe this? If so, you are now God’s child (John 1:12) destined for heaven with God forever. You are no longer destined for the upcoming temporal judgments of the Tribulation period (I Thessalonians 5:9-10; 4:13-18) nor eternal judgment in the lake of fire (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9).
As we conclude Revelation 14:6-20, there are two principles for those of us who believe in Jesus to apply to our lives.“First, God’s grace gives us the freedom to choose His righteousness.”15 In the Garden of Eden, God created Adam and Eve with the freedom to choose between good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17). With this freedom of choice comes accountability. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God instead of obeying Him (Genesis 3:1-6), they sent all of humanity into a state of sin and death (Genesis 3:7-21; Romans 5:12-14; I Corinthians 15:22). 16
However, Christ’s death on the cross redeemed us from slavery to sin (Romans 6:5-7; Ephesians 1:7) so that we now have the choice through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to choose God’s righteousness instead of sin (Romans 8:1-13). God calls us as believers in Jesus to use the freedom of choice in the service of God, not self (Romans 6:12-13). 17
The second principle to apply to our lives is “God’s justice holds every person accountable.”18Some believers in Jesus think that because they are saved forever by grace through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), they are no longer accountable for their decisions or actions. It is true that believers in this Church Age will escape both the coming wrath of God during the Tribulation period on earth via the Rapture of the church (I Thessalonians 1:9-10; 4:13-5:9) and eternal torment in the lake of fire (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; Acts 16:31; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:15).
But the Bible also tells us that Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat ofChrist, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10). A day of God’s assessment of our Christian lives is coming to determine what if any eternal rewards we will receive for the things we did in our earthly bodies.
The Bible tells us in I Corinthians 3, that God is the One who will “reward” each believer “according to his own labor” (3:8b) at the Judgment Seat of Christ (3:9-15; cf. I Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Under the penetrating gaze of Christ, the quality of our works will be “revealed by fire” to determine our level of loss or rewards (3:13). Those whose work “endures” the flames “will receive a reward” (3:14). But “if anyone’s work is burned” up, “hewill suffer loss” at the Judgment Seat; “but he himself will be saved, yet as through fire” (3:15). While this passage does affirm the eternal security of an unfaithful believer (“he himself will be saved”) who enters heaven with little or nothing to show for in terms of service to God, 19 it also underscores the accountability of that believer to Christ. Jesus’ scrutiny of his unfaithful life will be painful (“yet as through fire”).
The day of God’s assessment of our Christian lives is coming. Are we prepared to face Christ’s revealing gaze at the Judgment Seat? Are we using our freedom of choice to choose to live a life that is free from sin’s domination, or have we forgotten that there will be an accounting of our works before Jesus? 20 God wants to use this knowledge of His future assessment of our Christian lives to motivate us to live faithfully for Him now so we can enjoy eternal rewards with Him throughout eternity.
Prayer: Holy Father, You have pierced our hearts with this vision of a harvest of grapes that depicts the future blood bath that will take place when King Jesus returns to earth to severely judge the Beast and all his armies who have rejected You, Lord God. Never has the earth seen such ferocity and shedding of blood as is described in this final battle that will take place at the end of the Tribulation period. To think that all of this could be avoided if people would trust in You and yield to Your righteousness. But in love, You created us with the freedom to choose. May those of us who believe in Jesus, use this freedom of choice to serve and honor You in the power of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives, knowing You will richly reward us for our faithfulness at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This final battle also reminds us of the importance of sharing the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection with those who are currently perishing without Christ, so they may believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life and be rescued from both temporal judgments on earth and eternal judgment in the lake of fire. Thank You, Father, for graciously revealing the future to us so we may prepare for what is coming. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition