Revelation 18 – Part 1

“And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!’” Revelation 18:2

In Revelation 17 we discovered that the woman riding on the scarlet beast represents the worldwide false religion that will exist during the first half of the Tribulation period whose headquarters is in the city of Rome, the city on seven hills or “mountains” (17:1-9). The fact that this woman is “sitting” on the beast suggests that Rome will initially control the beast and benefit from his expanding kingdom represented by the “seven heads and ten horns” during the Tribulation period (17:3). At the mid-point of the Tribulation when the beast rises to power claiming to be God (Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) and demands to be worshiped as such (13:1-18), Rome will refuse to comply and will be destroyed by the leaders of the world under the authority of the beast (17:10-17).

At the end of Revelation 17, we are told that “Babylon,” the code name for Rome (cf. 14:8; 16:19-21; 17:1, 9, 18; cf. I Peter 5:13), is the “great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth” (17:18). In the first century context when John wrote the book of Revelation, this could only refer to the city of Rome which ruled the world at that time. 1 Just as Rome relentlessly persecuted believers in Jesus when John wrote in the first century, the revived Roman Empire in the Tribulation period will also persecute believers who refuse to submit to her evil and idolatrous practices (17:6).

Regarding this end-times capital city, Swindoll writes, “That future Mecca of me-theism and Vegas vanity will be the mother of evil and all forms of false religion. Like Paris, she represents a lifestyle of high culture. Like Jerusalem, she’s a crossroads of world religion. Like Washington, she’s teeming with political power. In fact, if you were to take the powerful cities of the world and merge them into one grand megalopolis, you’d have ‘Babylon.’” 2

The belief that salvation is by works originated with the original Babylon in Genesis 11:4 when the people of the world led by Nimrod, Noah’s grandson (Genesis 9:8-12), said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” To avoid spreading over the face of the whole earth as God originally commanded (Genesis 1:28; 9:1), the people wanted to make a name for themselves by building a city and a tower that reached to the heavens. The desire to glorify self (“let us make a name for ourselves”), rather than God, is the foundation of religious /economic “Babylon” or Rome during the Tribulation period. 3

The apostle John now receives a new vision providing more details about why Babylon (Rome) will be destroyed during the Tribulation. “After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory.” (Revelation 18:1). This “angel” of the same kind (“another”) as the previous angel in 17:1 possessed “great authority” and “glory” indicative of the importance of the announcement of judgment he was about to make. 4 This is the only “angel” in the book of Revelation which is said to exude “glory,” 5 which suggests he just came from God’s presence (cf. Exodus 34:29-35; Ezekiel 43:2). 6

The presence of this angel once again emphasizes the importance of angels in the book of Revelation. They are present and active in the church age as well (Revelation 1-3), and some believers in Jesus “have unwittingly entertained angels” who are disguised as humans (Hebrews 13:2). But after the church is removed from the earth (Revelation 4:1-4), angels will assume a more visible role to fill the spiritual void in the church’s absence. 7

“And he cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!’” (Revelation 18:2). The repetition of the word “fallen” (epesen), which means to “be destroyed,” 8 indicates that God guarantees this future judgment and that it will happen swiftly. 9 The tense of this verb describes this future judgment as already having taken place to underscore its certainty. 10

When the beast and ten kings destroy Rome (17:16-17), it will “become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” This is a very appropriate description of Rome after its destruction because she was a city given over to idolatry, leading people away from the true God. Throughout history, demons have attached themselves to idols so that when people worship an idol, the demons can receive the adoration and worship they long for (cf. Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:16-17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; Psalm 106:36-38; Revelation 9:20). Since Rome’s character was demonic spiritually, God will bring the same character on her physically. 11

Next several reasons are given for Rome’s destruction. “For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.” (Revelation 18:3).

The first reason for Rome’s judgment is because she corrupted the nations of the world – “For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” The wealthy and sensual lifestyle of Rome was like a fine wine that other nations drank of and became intoxicated (cf. 17:2; 18:23; 19:2). 12 Her mixture of religion with wealth and sensuality misled nations to commit spiritual “fornication” or immorality by embracing various false gods.

The second reason for Rome’s judgment is due to her seducing foreign leaders to participate in her materialistic practices – “the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her.” Rome is pictured as a “great harlot” (17:1, 5, 15-16) who enticed foreign leaders into her worldly practices by offering them many financial advantages. 13

The third reason for Rome’s judgment is because she enticed merchants to share in her excessive wealth – “the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.” The word “merchants” (emporoi) refers to “one who travels by ship for business reasons.” 14 These businessmen are becoming wealthy by selling religious paraphernalia and by engaging in slave trade for the “bodies and souls of men” (18:12-13). 15 Notice that human trafficking will likely become more pervasive during the Tribulation period.

It is important to notice in these verses that wealth does not always come as a blessing from God. Satan can also give wealth, as is demonstrated from his promise to give Jesus worldly kingdoms in exchange for worship. 8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’” (Matthew 4:8-9). Many Christians can make the mistake of assuming that the presence of wealth in a particular church or individual’s life indicates God’s blessing and His approval upon that church or individual.16

It is possible for Satan to bless a church financially when that church compromises the gospel to entice people to be a part of that church. Satan does not want people to hear a clear and simple gospel message (“believe and be saved” – Luke 8:12), so he will deceive people into thinking God’s blessing is on a church that does not preach and teach belief in Christ as the only condition for eternal life.

Jesus warned in Matthew 7:13-14 that the size or prosperity of a church is not always an indication of God’s blessing. He said, 13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads [in]to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 How narrow is the gate and confined is the way which leads [in]to life, and there are few who find it.” The “narrow gate” that “leads into life” is faith alone in Christ alone as the only way into God’s heaven (John 3:15-16; 10:9; 14:6; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:3-5). Jesus prophesied that “there are few who find it” because there will be fewer and fewer messengers who preach such a message. The “wide… gate” that leads “into destruction” is any message that does not say faith alone in Christ alone is all that is required to enter God’s heaven. Jesus prophesied that “there are many who go in by it.”

This is why there are many prosperous churches in America that are not preaching faith alone in Christ alone as the only condition for entering God’s heaven. Likewise, there are also many fast-growing world religions standing in front of the wide gate proclaiming some other way to God that is not faith alone in Christ alone. How does God want believers in Jesus to respond to such wide-gate false religions? He tells us in the next verse in Revelation 18.

“And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.’” (Revelation 18:4). John “heard another voice from heaven” that may belong to the Lord Jesus. This voice calls God’s “people” to “come out” of Rome and her worldly lifestyle “lest” they “share” the same judgment for “her sins, and… receive of her plagues.” Some people living in Rome will hear the gospel preaching of the Two Witnesses during the first half of the Tribulation (11:1-12) or the 144,000 Jewish evangelists during the last half of the Tribulation (7:1-8; 14:1-5) and will believe in Christ for eternal life. To avoid Rome’s impending judgment, they will need to flee from the city.

This reminds us of Lot who warned his sons-in-laws to get out of Sodom before the Lord destroys it, but they refused, and died as a result (Genesis 19:14-25). This will also happen to God’s people who ignore His command to get out of Rome before He destroys it. 17 They will suffer physical death, but they will still enter God’s heaven because of their belief in Jesus for His gift of salvation.

If you are part of a church or religion that does not preach faith alone in Christ alone to enter God’s heaven, you are advised to flee from that church or religion. The apostle Paul warned the Galatian believers in Jesus not to support or join those who do not preach a “believe / faith alone” gospel (cf. Galatians 1:6-9; 4:12, 21-30; 5:1-12; 6:17). It does not matter how wealthy or kind a person or church is that teaches a different gospel. They are “accursed” by God if they preach a different way to heaven other than faith alone in Christ alone (Galatians 1:8-9).  

If they are believers in Jesus, they will lose rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ and could even experience God’s discipline here on earth (Galatians 1:6-9; 5:19-21; 6:7-8; I Corinthians 3:15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; I Timothy 1:18-20; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:23-26). If they are not believers in Jesus, they will experience a greater degree of punishment in the lake of fire for misleading people away from faith alone in Christ alone (Matthew 18:6-14; 23:13-15; 2 Peter 2:4-17; Jude 1:4-13; Revelation 19:20; 20:11-15).

The fourth reason for Rome’s judgment is seen in verse 5. “For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Revelation 18:5). Rome’s “sins have reached to heaven” and triggered God’s remembrance of “her iniquities” of trying to make a name for herself.This is reminiscent of the Tower of Babel when humankind tried to build a city with a tower “whose top is in the heavens” to “make a name” for themselves instead of for God (Genesis 11:4). Those who emphasize human effort and self-reliance to get to heaven like the original Babylon, will eventually deplete God’s patience. Because He is just and righteous, God must give Rome her just recompense.

“Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her.” (Revelation 18:6). God is commanding the beast and ten kings (17:16-17) to give Rome a double portion of judgment for her sins. For centuries Rome has misled people away from the true God and put to death His people (cf. 17:6; 18:24; 19:2). The “cup” she had used to entice others will now become the instrument of her own punishment.

Two more reasons for Rome’s judgment are given in the next verse. “In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.’” (Revelation 18:7). Rome’s sinful pride (“she glorified herself”) and self-reliance (“she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow’”)led her to believe she was invincible and immune to disaster. 19 God hates such shameless pride and self-reliance that leads to the rejection of His ways accompanied by viewing oneself as indestructible 20 and accountable to no one.

The reality is that such pride and self-reliance will be severely judged by God. “Therefore her plagues will come in one day – death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.” (Revelation 18:8). “In one day” God will give Rome “death and mourning and famine.” Vacendak suggests that Rome’s destruction in Revelation 18:8-11 “will be by means of a nuclear warhead… Kings, merchants, and shipmasters will all stand ‘at a distance’ when they see ‘the smoke of her burning.’ The desire to keep a certain distance between themselves and the mushroom cloud of smoke billowing up to heaven may indicate their fear of the nuclear radiation that now envelops the city.” 21

Instead of slowly declining, Rome will collapse suddenly in the Tribulation, much like the World Trade Center towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. 22

Throughout history, people have been deceived into believing their joy, peace, and meaning in life are found through the accumulation of wealth as represented by “Babylon the Great” or Rome whose materialistic and religious system will be swiftly destroyed before the Lord Jesus returns to earth (Revelation 18:1-8).

Rather than invest in the things of the earth which will soon disappear forever, believers in Jesus are to invest in heavenly treasure which lasts forever. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs His disciples to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20a) which cannot be lost (“where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” – 6:20b). We may miss those words “for yourselves.” It is not selfish to seek eternal rewards now because Jesus commands us to do this. In fact, to not lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven is disobedience to Christ.

Why is it important to lay up treasures in heaven for ourselves now? Jesus explains in the next verse. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our hearts follow what we value. The more we invest in Christ’s coming Kingdom now, the more our hearts will be focused on Christ and His coming Kingdom now, and the more glory and honor Jesus will receive in eternity (cf. Revelation 4:9-11; 21:24, 26).

How can we lay up treasures in heaven for ourselves? Jesus explained how earlier in Matthew 6. By doing “charitable deeds” (6:1-4), praying (6:5-6), and fasting (6:16-18) “in secret.” When we do these things for God alone (“in secret”) and not for public applause or recognition like the religious hypocrites did (6:2, 5, 16), Jesus promises that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (6:4, 6, 18).

Prayer: Father God, we thank You for Your penetrating Word that reveals the deception of our hearts. Many of us have been duped into believing that wealth is always a blessing from God. But Your Word today reminds us that Satan can also give wealth to those who fulfill his purpose of leading people away from the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ, as demonstrated by the worldwide false religion that will exist during the first half of the Tribulation period whose headquarters is in the city of Rome. Like Rome in the future Tribulation, many churches and religions today possess wealth, but they are not preaching belief in Christ as the only condition for eternal life. Instead, they preach human effort and self-reliance as the way to heaven. Please help those who are blinded by the allurement of these false religions today to discover the truth about Jesus Christ. He alone can give them eternal life as a free gift the moment they believe in Him because He alone paid for it all through His death and resurrection. Use those of us who believe in Jesus to rescue others from the snare of religion before it is too late for them. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

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. 1568.

2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 325.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 193.

4. Ibid., pg. 194.

5. Vacendak, pg. 1568.

6. Constable, pg. 194.

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2411.

8. 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. 815.

9. Constable, pg. 195.

10. The Greek verb translated “fallen” is piptō and it is in the aorist tense (epesen), suggesting a prophetic use which emphasizes the certainty of this future action by stating it as if it has already happened.  

11. Vacendak, pg. 1568.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pg. 1569.

14. BDAG, pg. 325.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1569.

16. Evans, pg. 2411.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1569.

18. Constable, pg. 196.  

19. Vacendak, pg. 1569.

20. Evans, pg. 2411.

21. Vacendak, pg. 1568.

22. Constable, pg. 197.

Revelation 17 – Part 4

“Then he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.’” Revelation 17:15

After the angel explained the interpretation of “the mystery” about “the beast” (17:7-14), he addressed the meaning of “the woman” riding on the beast (17:15-18). “Then he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.’” (Revelation 17:15). The angel interprets “the waters which” John “saw, where the harlot sits” (17:1) to be “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” indicating the worldwide evil influence Rome will have during the Tribulation period. During the Tribulation “there will be one ecumenical world religious system, embracing all nations and languages.” 1

So, the woman riding on the scarlet beast represents a worldwide religious system in the Tribulation period whose headquarters is in Rome, the city on seven hills (17:1-9, 15). Rome will be the center of the Revived Roman Empire during the Tribulation period. Rome is also home to the Vatican, the Roman papal authority whose influence reaches across the world to “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.” This worldwide false religion will be brought to a sudden stop around the mid-point of the Tribulation period.

“And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.” (Revelation 17:16). The “ten horns” John “saw on the beast” (17:7) represent ten kings (17:12) who will assist the beast in his worldwide kingdom during the last half of the Tribulation (cf. Daniel 7:23-24). These ten kings “will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.” This complete destruction of the city of Rome will most likely take place after the beast assumes his position in the rebuilt Jewish temple and claims to be God, demanding that everyone worship him or be killed (cf. Daniel 11:36-38; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 13:8, 15). 2 The Roman papacy will not agree to embrace this so it will be brought to an abrupt end.

The reason (“For…”) for Rome’s destruction is because God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” (Revelation 17:17). God in His sovereignty uses the sinful actions of people, in this case the ten kings and the beast, “to fulfill His purpose… until the words of God” about Rome’s destruction “are fulfilled.” 3 God has used evil people before to accomplish His purposes (cf. Judges 2:14-15; 3:7-8, 12-14; Ezra 1:1ff; Jeremiah 25:9-11; Ezekiel 38:21; Daniel 2:20-21; Haggai 2:22; Zechariah 14:13). Yet, individual sinners remain responsible for his or her own actions (cf. Ezekiel 18). 4

“And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 17:18). The angel interprets “the woman” whom John saw to be “that great city which reigns [present tense] over the kings of the earth.” In the first century context when John wrote the book of Revelation, this could only refer to the city of Rome which ruled the world at that time. 5 Just as Rome relentlessly persecuted believers in Jesus when John wrote in the first century, the revived Roman Empire in the Tribulation period will also persecute believers who refuse to submit to her evil and idolatrous practices. But this persecution will be short lived because God will use the beast and his allies to bring about the swift destruction of this evil worldwide false religion.

These events in Revelation 17 could begin to take place at any time once the church of Christ is removed via the Rapture (I Thessalonians 1:9-10; 4:13-5:11; Revelation 4:1-4). Jesus said, 32 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” (Mark 13:32-33). Christ said no one knows the “day and hour” of His coming, yet as we see conflict between Russia and Ukraine and chaos increasing around the world, the stage is being set for the beast to arise out of the chaos. Christians are to “watch and pray,” devoting their full attention, while there is still time, to God’s agenda for themselves, their families, their churches, and their communities. 6

Nonbelievers would be wise to come to Jesus Christ in faith soon before they are left behind to face a world that will experience unprecedented judgments as never before seen. If you are not sure you will go to heaven in the future, listen to what missionaries said to a prison guard who thought he only had a short amount of time to live. They told him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

The reason a person must believe or trust in the Lord Jesus alone is because we all have a problem called sin (Romans 3:23) that separates us from God (Romans 6:23). All of us have sinned against God with our thoughts, words, and actions. And we all deserve to pay the penalty for our own sins by dying forever in a terrible place of eternal suffering called the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15) or hell (Mark 9:43-48). But God does not want any of us to die forever in hell!

So, He sent His only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to earth two thousand years ago. Jesus lived a perfect life on earth (Hebrews 4:15), and then He died on the cross in our place to pay the penalty for all our sins (I Corinthians 15:3; John 19:30). The proof that He died is that He was buried (I Corinthians 15:4a). We do not bury a living person; we bury a dead person. Jesus then rose from the dead three days after He died (I Corinthians 15:4b) just as He promised He would (Matthew 16:21), proving that He is God (John 3:16; Romans 1:3-4). The proof that Jesus rose from the dead is that He was seen alive after His death by over five hundred eyewitnesses (I Corinthians 15:5-8). This is more than enough evidence to stand up in a court of law.

Jesus is alive today and He has the power to save us from hell forever and give us eternal life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). He now invites everyone to believe in Him alone to save them from hell forever (Acts 16:31). To “believe” in Jesus means to trust or depend upon Him alone.

Trusting in Jesus is a lot like riding on an airplane. When you ride as a passenger on an airplane, do you need to push the airplane to get it off the ground? No, of course not. Do you need to flap your arms to keep the plane in the air? No. All you must do is trust a person, your pilot, to take you to your destination.

In the same way, Jesus does not need us to help Him save us from hell forever. No amount of our good works can save us from the lake of fire because they are all stained with sin before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:8-9). All Jesus asks is that we believe or trust in Him alone to save us from hell forever (Acts 16:31) and give us everlasting life (John 3:16). Only Jesus can take away our sins because He paid the penalty of our sins in full (John 19:30) and rose from the dead. Believe in Him and the Bible guarantees “you will be saved” forever from hell (Acts 16:31).

If you just believed or trusted in Jesus Christ alone to save you from hell forever, you may tell God this through prayer. But praying this prayer does not get you to heaven. Only believing or trusting in Christ alone gets you to heaven. This prayer is a way of telling God you are now believing in His Son to save you.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, I come to You now as a sinner. I cannot save myself from hell. I believe You died for all my sins on the cross and rose from the dead. I am now trusting in You Jesus (not my good life, my religion, nor my prayers), to save me from hell forever and give me everlasting life. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for the gifts of Your salvation and everlasting life that I now have. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

When you believed in Jesus…

– He saved you from hell forever (Acts 16:31).

– He gave you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 3:16; 10:28-29).

– He came to live inside you through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20) and He promises never to abandon or leave you (Hebrews 13:5).

Jesus wants to be your best Friend. You can get to know Him by talking to Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and listening to Him as you read and apply the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17) together with other Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25).

– He now wants you to follow Him so He can show you how to tell other people the good news of going to heaven through faith in Him alone (Matthew 4:19; Mark 16:15).

Because of your faith in Christ alone to save you from hell forever, I will not say good-bye to you. Instead, I will say, “See you in heaven!”

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), location 6133.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 191.

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. 1568.

4. Constable, pg. 191.

5. Vacendak, pg. 1568.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pp. 2410-2411.

Revelation 17 – Part 2

“So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” Revelation 17:3

Before Armageddon is described in detail and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ takes place (Revelation 19), one final event must be addressed which is the destruction of Babylon the Great (Revelation 17-18).Last time we discovered that “Babylon” is a common code name in the New Testament for the city of Rome and its evil lifestyle (Revelation 14:8; 16:19; 17:1-18:21; cf. I Peter 5:13). John now receives a vision about this city and its decadence.

The apostle John writes, “So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” (Revelation 17:3). The angel (17:1) “carried” John “away in the Spirit into the wilderness.” The “wilderness” was a common place in the Bible where God met with people to give them revelation (cf. Exodus 3:1; I Kings 19:4; Luke 1:80). 1 It was there in the wildernesswhere John saw the “great harlot” mentioned in verse 1 as now “sitting on a scarlet beast,” which the interpreting angel identifies as the Man of Sin or Beast from the sea who will be “full of names of blasphemy” attacking the character of God (17:3; cf. 13:1; 17:7-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). 2 In this description the “beast” is “scarlet,” representing its luxury and splendor. 3

The fact that this woman is “sitting” on the beast suggests that Rome will initially control the Man of Sin and benefit from his expanding kingdom represented by the “seven heads and ten horns” during the Tribulation period.

“The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.” (Revelation 17:4). “The woman” was outwardly beautiful and wealthy much like royalty, and the “golden cup” in her hand added to her royal appearance, but it was full of idolatrous “abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.”

“In the Old Testament ‘abominations’ were sinful objects and practices that God hated – things such as carved images of pagan gods (Deuteronomy 7:25-26), idol worship (Deuteronomy 17:2-5) witchcraft (Deuteronomy 18:9-12), and sexual sin and perversion (Leviticus 18).” 4

The woman’s adornment is like the religious trappings of ritualistic churches today. While purple, scarlet, gold, precious stones, and pearls call all represent beauty and glory in relation to the true faith, here they reveal a false religion that misrepresents the truth. 5

John saw “on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (Revelation 17:5). In John’s day, “a harlot whose forehead was inscribed was considered the lowest of prostitutes, a tattooed slave.” 6 This is not the literal city of Babylon, but “MYSTERY BABYLON.” The word “mystery” (mystērion) refers to something not previously revealed but now made clear. 7 This “MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT” is a code name for Rome (cf. 17:1, 9, 18; cf. I Peter 5:13). Rome is not only a prostitute herself (sinful and ungodly) but is also “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH,” producing other idolatrous and immoral cities all over the world that mislead people away from the true God.

“In our day the ecumenical church has faced a lot of problems. It seems that they have recognized psychological differences in people and that it is impossible to water down theologies and practices to suit everyone. So, each group will come into this great world ecumenical system but retain some of its peculiarities. For example, those who want to immerse will immerse. Those who want to sprinkle will sprinkle. Those who want elaborate ritual will have it, and those who want no ritual will have that. You see, there is going to be more than the mother harlot – there will be a whole lot of harlots, a regular brothel.” 8

While I believe many born again Christians will come out of the Roman Catholic Church and be raptured before the Tribulation begins, the church’s overall idolatrous structure will continue to exist during the first half of the Tribulation and have worldwide influence among those who will suddenly become “religious” as the judgments of the Tribulation unfold.

Next John writes, “I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.” (Revelation 17:6). Of all the “abominations” in Rome’s cup (17:4), the most heinous would be the murder of the followers of God. She was “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” The word “drunk” not only suggests she was addicted to killing God’s followers, but she also found immense pleasure in doing so. Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul, and an innumerable number of others were violently executed at the hand of the Roman government. 9

Bible Prophecy teacher, Bill Salus states, “When we look at Rome… it … was first called pagan Rome with the Roman Empire and then it morphed into Papal Rome where of course now you have the Vatican. There is no shortage of crimes and sins that have been perpetrated by them. A few with Pagan Rome put to death God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Martyred Christians for over three centuries. Some sources say [there] were over 210,000 during the time of the spread of Christianity. [They] killed 1.1 million people, mostly Jews according [to] the Jewish historian Josephus by 70 AD. Destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD. Destroyed it again in 135 AD with the Bar Kokhba Revolt, killed 100,000 Jews between 132 and 135…

“As the Roman Empire started to disintegrate, they found it favorable to embrace Christianity to maintain its power for as long as it was good… We are dealing with religious aspects of the harlot world religion. And again, I would say that is centered in Rome and has something to do with the Vatican. And the Papal Rome… crimes and sins there: they expelled Jews from Spain in 1492 AD, expelled them from Portugal in 1497 AD, killed tens of thousands of Jews in the Crusades, hundreds of thousands of Protestants if not millions in the Reformation. It is responsible for at least 100,000 victims of sexual abuse in this country [USA]. What about worldwide? So, and these are just a few of the rap sheet of the crimes and sins.” 10

Just as history shows that the Roman Catholic Church has shed the blood of many believers and victims of the Crusades and Roman Inquisition, so this woman riding on the beast representing a future worldwide religious system will put to death many believers who remain faithful to Christ during the Tribulation period. The apostleJohn “marveled with great amazement” that a religious system claiming to honor God was so obsessed with killing His faithful followers (17:6b).

It is important to understand that the religious persecution by the Roman Catholic Church mentioned above does not represent biblical Christianity. Just because someone says they are a Christian or does something in the name of Jesus Christ does not mean they are genuine believers in Jesus.

The Bible emphasizes that eternal life is a free gift (John 4:10-14; Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). A person does not receive eternal life by living a good life, keeping God’s commandments, going to church, praying every day, being baptized with water, or hating their enemies. The Bible tells us that a person must come to God as a sinner (Romans 3:23), realizing that Christ died for all his sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6), and then believe or trust in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life (John 3:36; 6:40, 47). The moment a person believes in Christ alone to give him or her everlasting life, God not only gives him the free gift He paid for when He died on the cross – eternal life – He also comes to live inside that person through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20; 3:2) to give them the power to live a life that pleases Him.

Many people who claim to be Christians do not understand this simple gospel message. Instead of trusting in Christ alone to get them to heaven, they are trusting their good works or Christ plus their good works to get them to heaven, and therefore, they do not have God’s power in them to live a life that pleases Him. Many non-Christians use their religion to try to cover up their sins. So, it is important to understand that not all people who say they are Christians have God’s power in them to live a different life because they are not trusting in Christ alone to save them and give them everlasting life. Instead, they are depending on their good works or religious efforts to get them to heaven, instead of on Christ alone and His finished work on the cross.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for revealing more about the coming worldwide false religion whose outward appearance is very appealing, but whose inward condition is evil and against the character of God. Many people have been deceived by similar false religions today whose outward beauty and wealth are alluring, but inwardly they leave people empty and powerless to overcome their bondage to sin and shame. Such false religions are opposed to the true God, Jesus Christ, and mishandle His truth to lead people away from Him. We pray Lord God that You would remove the Satanic blindness from those who are involved in these false religions so they can discover the true God Who loves them enough to lay down His life for them on a cross and rise from the dead so whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 184.

2. 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. 1563; cf. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 313; Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2409.

3. Tom Constable, pg. 185.

4. Vacendak, pg. 1565.

5. 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 6068.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1564.

7. Constable, pg. 185.

8. Ibid., pg. 186 cites J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5 Vols., (Pasadena, CA: Thru the Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, In., 1983), 5:1033.

9. Vacendak, pg. 1564.

10. “Bill Salus on Mystery Babylon video on the August 26, 2018, Christ in Prophecy show at www.christinprophecy.org.

Revelation 17 – Part 1

1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.’” Revelation 17:1

Swindoll writes, “In 1844 Karl Marx famously described religion as ‘opium of the people.’” 1 Marx viewed “all religion as man-made – a crutch that helped people escape the hardships of this world system by resting their hopes, confidence, and comfort on something other than the heartless world around them. The cure for humanity’s need for religion, Marx argued, was to overcome the conditions of oppression and inequality that had forced people to seek psychological succor from outside themselves. Marx’s solution? Communism – an atheistic system that invoked as much religious zeal in the twentieth century as any of the man-made ‘religious’ systems Marx had criticized…

“Marx was right that all man-made religion is useless – merely a deceptive psychological crutch to distract people from the real conditions of the world. However, his unforgivable errors were to lump Christianity into the same category as a man-made religion and to propose atheistic communism to replace it.” 2

In Genesis 11:1-9, God gives us a picture of man-made religion that provides us with a heavenly perspective on the topic. After the global flood and Noah’s death, we travel to the land of Shinar which is the birthplace of man-made religion. Instead of the descendants of Noah obeying God’s command to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1), they moved east away from God to the land of Shinar. The people made a declaration of independence from God Himself, saying, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4). To avoid spreading over the face of the whole earth as God commanded, the people wanted to make a name for themselves by building a city and a tower that reached to the heavens.

The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, observes that the people built the tower out of “burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water.” 3 Swindoll concludes that the people must have disbelieved God’s promise to never flood the whole world again (Genesis 9:11-17), so they made their tower waterproof to keep from drowning. Plus, the entire building project was focused on constructing a physical way to gain access to heaven – something only God could freely grant to them. 4 From this we learn three fundamentals of man-made religion:

  • “Rejection of God’s promises – faithlessness.
  • Rebellion against God’s commands – disobedience.
  • Refusal of God’s grace – legalism.” 5

God judged these people who were united by one language by dividing them into different languages so they would be “scattered … abroad from there over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8-9) which is what the Lord originally commanded them to do (Genesis 1:28; 9:1). So, the city was called “Babel,” which means confused (Genesis 11:9a).

Walvoord writes, “Later the name was applied to the city of Babylon which itself has a long history dating back to as early as 3,000 years before Christ. One of its famous rulers was Hammurabi (1728-1686 B.C.). After a period of decline Babylon again rose to great heights under Nebuchadnezzar about 600 years before Christ. Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (605-562 B.C.) and the subsequent history of Babylon is the background of the Book of Daniel.

“Babylon was important not only politically but also religiously. Nimrod… had a wife known as Semiramis who founded the secret religious rites of the Babylonian mysteries, according to accounts outside the Bible. Semiramis had a son with an alleged miraculous conception who was given the name Tammuz and in effect was a false fulfillment of the promise of the seed of the woman given to Eve (Genesis 3:15).

“Various religious practices were observed in connection with this false Babylonian religion, including recognition of the mother and child as God and of creating an order of virgins who became religious prostitutes. Tammuz, according to tradition, was killed by a wild animal and then restored to life, a satanic anticipation and counterfeit of Christ’s resurrection. Scripture condemns this false religion repeatedly (Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17-19, 25; Ezekiel 8:14). The worship of Baal is related to the worship of Tammuz.

“After the Persians took over Babylon in 539 B.C., they discouraged the continuation of the mystery religions of Babylon. Subsequently the Babylonian cultists moved to Pergamum (or Pergamos) where one of the seven churches of Asia Minor was located (cf. Revelation 2:12-17). Crowns in the shape of a fish head were worn by the chief priests of the Babylonian cult to honor the fish god. The crowns bore the words ‘Keeper of the Bridge,’ symbolic of the ‘bridge’ between man and Satan. This handle was adopted by the Roman emperors, who used the Latin title Pontifex Maximus, which means ‘Major Keeper of the Bridge.’ And the same title was later used by the bishop of Rome. The pope today is often called the pontiff, which comes from pontifex. When the teachers of the Babylonian mystery religions later moved from Pergamum to Rome, they were influential in paganizing Christianity and were the source of many so-called religious rites which have crept into ritualistic churches. Babylon then is the symbol of apostasy and blasphemous substitution of idol-worship for the worship of God in Christ.” 9

With this background in mind, let’s return to our study of the book of Revelation. Revelation 16 recorded the seven bowl judgments leading to the battle at Armageddon at the end of the Tribulation. But before Armageddon is described in detail and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ takes place, one final event must be addressed – the destruction of Babylon the Great (Revelation 17-18). In the book of Revelation, one of out of every ten verses deals with Babylon. Two whole chapters address this city and its demise. It it clear that Babylon holds an important place in God’s final plan for the ages. 7

In the final climatic section of the book of Revelation (17:1-22:5), two cities will be contrasted, both being depicted as women. The first is evil and temporary: the city of Rome is referred to as “the great harlot” (17:1) or “MYSTERY BABYLON” (17:5). The second city is holy and eternal: the New Jerusalem which is described as “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (21:9). For John’s original readers, seeing the judgment of the corrupt city that ruled over them as well as the splendor of the city they would one day experience as home would motivate them to remain faithful to God amid the difficult trials they would face. 8

Much has been written about the identity of Babylon. Some believe it refers to the literal city of Babylon on the Euphrates River in modern Iraq that will be rebuilt in the last days. 9 But this is not possible because God said Babylon would become like Sodom and Gomorrah due to the conquest of the Medes (in 539 BC) and become an everlasting desolation never to be inhabited again (Isaiah 13:17-20; Jeremiah 25:11). 10

I understand “Babylon” in the book of Revelation to refer to the city of Rome (17:1-18:21; cf. 14:8; 16:19). That “Babylon” is to be taken symbolically is the use of the qualifying word “mystery” (Revelation 17:5). Compare this with Revelation 11:8 where Jerusalem is referred to as “the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” Likewise, since the apostle Peter was writing from Rome, he refers to the city using the common code name “Babylon” in I Peter 5:13. 11

Since the apostle John wrote Revelation while a Roman prisoner on the island of Patmos, he could not make any derogatory remarks about Rome in his writings, so he used the name “Babylon,” emphasizing that it was a code name by referring to it as “Mystery Babylon” (Revelation 17:5). 12

That John had Rome in mind when he wrote about “Babylon” is his reference to it as the city of “seven mountains” or hills 13 (Revelation 17:9). In the context of the first century, this could only refer to Rome which was known as “the city of the seven hills.” 14

Beginning in Chapter 17, John receives an invitation from one of the seven angels of the bowl judgments.  “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.” Revelation 17:1 The apostle John is invited by “one of the seven angels” that executed the bowl judgments, to “come” and see “the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.” As discussed earlier, this “great harlot” refers to “Babylon” (16:19), another name for the city of Rome. When John wrote the book of Revelation, the Roman Empire ruled the world, and the great harlot represents the capital city of that empire – Rome. This is confirmed in Revelation 17:18 which says “the woman whom you saw is that great city [Rome] which reigns [present tense] over the kings of the earth” at the time John wrote this book.

This great harlot “sits on many waters” which the angel interprets in 17:15 to mean “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (17:1b; cf. 17:15). The fact that she “sits” suggests enthronement. 15 This great harlot will lead the world in the pursuit of false, man-made religion. Rome is a lot like Hollywood – it represents both a city and an industry or lifestyle that has impacted the whole world throughout history with its evil influence, but the peak of its influence will be during the Tribulation period (cf. 17:16; 18:11-19). 15

Next the angel says of the great harlot, “with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” (Revelation 17:2). Because of Rome’s affluence and beauty, “the kings of the earth committed” spiritual “fornication” or immorality with Rome by adopting her sensual, materialistic, and idolatrous lifestyle (17:2a). From the Lord’s viewpoint, Rome’s influence was tragic, causing “the inhabitants of the earth” to be “made drunk” or controlled “with the wine of her fornication.” Rome’spagan and idolatrous false religion caused the world to sink deeply into its decadence and unbiblical views of a relationship with God. 17

“This will be a satanic spiritual ‘high’ like nothing Karl Marx could have imagined when he called man-made religion ‘the opium of the people.’ For this reason, judgment of demonic false religion will mean judgment of its devoted practitioners.” 18

One of the primary reasons the Lord will have this great harlot wiped out by the ten kings near the end of the Tribulation is because she had insistently “corrupted the earth” (19:2) in a variety of ways. 19

Like the first man-made religion that tried to access heaven through self-reliance and human effort (Genesis 11:1-9), all man-made religions continue to attempt to do the same today, though unsuccessfully like their predecessor. The culmination of such attempts will take place in the future Tribulation when “the great harlot” (Rome) will mislead the entire world away from the true God with its decadent false religion.

Considering man-made religions today, I must ask you, “What are you trusting to get you to heaven?” 20 Some people are trusting their works to get them to heaven. Non-Christian religions comprise this group such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. They believe that through human effort and/or self-reliance they can access heaven. Others trust in Christ plus their works to get them to heaven. This group consists of those who front-load the gospel with works such as Roman Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, and Seventh Day Adventists. It also includes those who back-load the gospel with works such as Calvinistic or Reformed churches. Both groups say faith in Christ is necessary, but such faith must be accompanied by works either at the beginning of your profession of faith or at the end of your Christian life to have eternal life.

However, some people are trusting Christ alone to get them to heaven. They believe Jesus’ promise when He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). This is biblical Christianity, not man-made religion.Christ never said,“He who does good works has everlasting life.” Nor did Jesus say, “He who believes in Me and produces good works has everlasting life.” Christ did all the work when He died in our place on the cross for all our sins and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). All Jesus asks of us is to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of eternal life.

When a person trusts his works to get him to heaven, he is telling God that His Son’s death was unnecessary. If I can trust my works alone to get me to heaven, then there was no need for Jesus Christ to die on a cross for my sins. In other words, Jesus failed to pay for my sins, so I must pay for my own sins.

When a person trusts Christ plus his works to get him to heaven, he is telling God that His Son’s death was disappointing. That is, Jesus died for some of my sins, but I must pay for the rest of my sins. Both responses are saying that Jesus Christ did not finish paying the penalty for all my sins so I must pay for some or all my sins.

But when a person trusts Christ alone to get him to heaven, he is telling God that His Son’s death was sufficient. It was enough. When Jesus was dying on the cross, He shouted, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The Greek word that is translated “finished” is tetelestai. Receipts in New Testament times were stamped with this word which meant that the debt had been paid in full.

All people have sinned against God with their thoughts, words, and actions (Romans 3:23) and deserve to be separated from Him forever (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15). But God so loved the world that He gave His only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to take the punishment for our sin when He was crucified in our place on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) and rose from the dead, proving He is God and had finished the work of paying our sin debt in full (Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:1-8; I John 2:2).

No amount of our good works can change the fact that we are sinners before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:1-20, 23; 4:5; Galatians 2:16). Christ did not make a down payment for our sin when He died on the cross so that we must pay the remainder of our sin debt to God. God does not accept us based on our good life, our keeping of His commandments, our religion, our prayers, our self-discipline, our knowledge, our water baptism, or the sacraments we have taken. We are accepted by God based on the full payment for our sin debt to God when Jesus Christ died and rose again on our behalf. God was completely and forever satisfied with Jesus’ full payment for our sin. The verb tetelestai is in the perfect tense. This means Christ made the full payment for our sin debt when He died on the cross and it remains paid in full to the present.

When we communicate the gospel with non-Christians, we must be clear that all people have sinned against God and deserve to die forever in the lake of fire (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Revelation 20:15). No amount of our good thoughts, words, or actions can change the fact that we are sinners before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). Because Jesus finished paying the penalty for our sins when He died in our place, that means we do not have to work for our salvation (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). All God asks of us is to believe in Jesus and His finished work on the cross as sufficient payment for our sins (John 3:14-15; 19:30). When we do, He gives us everlasting life and forgives all our sins (John 3:16; Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14). And then we can have the assurance that “It is finished!” Our sin debt is paid in full.

Will you believe or trust in Jesus alone to do for you what you could never do on your own? He is waiting for you to come to Him in faith just as you are and then He will forgive all your sins and give you life that never ends (Acts 10:43; John 3:15-16; 11:25-26).

Prayer: Lord God, some of us have been entrenched in man-made religion trying to gain access to heaven through our own efforts and self-reliance. Thank You for exposing us to the origin of this deceptive religion which leads people away from You. Thank You for sending the Lord Jesus Christ to earth to die in our place for all our sins and rise from the dead. Thank You that Jesus is alive today to give us eternal life and forgive all our sins the moment we believe in Him alone. Please open the eyes and hearts of those blinded by man-made religion so they may see their need for our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Persuade them to believe in Christ alone to give them eternal life and a future home in heaven so they can help others find the same freedom in Christ. In Jesus’ mighty name, we pray. 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. 308 cites Karl Marx, “Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechts-Philosophie,” Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher 1 (1844): 72.

2. Swindoll, pg. 308.

3. Ibid., pg. 309 cites Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.116.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), locations 6075 to 6097.

7. 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. 361.

8. 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. 1562.

9. Hitchcock, pp. 362-366; Charles H. Dyer, The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End Times (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1991), pg. 182; Henry M. Morris, Revelation Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Prophetic Book of the End Times (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1983), pp. 348-349; J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 1, 039.

10. Dr. David R. Reagan’s article, “Mystery Babylon” at www.christinprophecy.org.

11. Gary Derickson; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; Bob Vacendak, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1370, 1400; cf. 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 223503. 

12. Reagan’s “Mystery Babylon.”

13. The Greek word for “mountains” is orē which can also mean “hills” – see 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. 724.

14. Reagan’s “Mystery Babylon”; cf. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2410.

15. Constable, pg. 183 cites David E. Aune, Revelation 17—22, Word Biblical Commentary series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pg. 930.

16. Vacendak, pg. 1563.

17. Ibid.

18. Swindoll, pg. 313.

19. Vacendak, pg. 1563.

20. Adapted from EvanTell’s 3-circle illustration.

Revelation 14 – Part 3

“And another angel followed, saying, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’” Revelation 14:8

In another scene of John’s vision on earth (Revelation 14:6-13), the apostle hears four announcements that provide motivation to remain faithful to God and resist the beasts during the last half of the Tribulation period. God’s angels will make the first three announcements (14:6-12), and a voice from heaven will declare the fourth (14:13).

Last time we learned that the first angel proclaimed the everlasting gospel worldwide, calling unbelievers to “fear God and give glory to Him” because the reason for all the worldwide death and disaster during the last half of the Tribulation period is that “the hour of His judgment has come” (14:6-7). When people on the earth understand why all the calamities are taking place during the Tribulation, they may be more likely to believe in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life. 1

Next John records the second angel’s announcement: “And another angel followed, saying, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’” (Revelation 14:8). Much has been written about the identity of Babylon. Some believe it refers to the literal city of Babylon on the Euphrates River in modern Iraq that will be rebuilt in the last days. 2 But this is not possible because God said Babylon would become like Sodom and Gomorrah due to the conquest of the Medes (in 539 BC) and become an everlasting desolation never to be inhabited again (Isaiah 13:17-20; Jeremiah 25:11). 3

I understand “Babylon” in the book of Revelation to refer to the city of Rome (14:8; cf. 16:9; 17:1-18:21). That “Babylon” is to be taken symbolically is the use of the qualifying word “mystery” (Revelation 17:5). Compare this with Revelation 11:8 where Jerusalem is referred to as “the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” Likewise, since the apostle Peter was writing from Rome, he refers to the city using the common code name “Babylon” in I Peter 5:13. 4

Since the apostle John wrote Revelation while a Roman prisoner on the island of Patmos, he could not make any derogatory remarks about Rome in his writings, so he used the name “Babylon,” emphasizing that it was a code name by referring to it as “Mystery Babylon” (Revelation 17:5). 5

That John had Rome in mind when he wrote about “Babylon” is his reference to it as the city of “seven mountains” or hills 6 (Revelation 17:9). In the context of the first century, this could only refer to Rome which was known as “the city of the seven hills.” 7 In Revelation 17:18, John refers to Babylon as “that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” In the first century context when John wrote the book of Revelation, this could only refer to the city of Rome which ruled the world at that time. 8

The doctrine and practice of ancient Babylon will be manifested in its final form in the city of Rome during the Tribulation period. The founder of Babylon (“Babel”) was Nimrod, the grandson of Ham who was the son of Noah (Genesis 10:1, 6, 8-10). You may recall that after Noah planted a vineyard and became drunk from the wine, he passed out naked “in his tent” (Genesis 9:20-21). His son, Ham, entered his father’s tent and “saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside” (9:22). Instead of Ham’s brothers gazing at the nakedness of their father as Ham had done, they covered their father’s nakedness without seeing him naked (9:23).

“Nakedness” in the beginning of the Old Testament was a shameful experience for fallen people (Genesis 3:7). To be seen unclothed outside of one’s marriage was both dishonoring and vulnerable. Ham seemed to look at his father’s nakedness with some kind of enjoyment and even announced it to his brothers instead of covering his father’s vulnerable condition. But Shem and Japheth hid the shame of their father’s nakedness much like God had covered the shame of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). As a result of these two different responses, Noah pronounced a curse upon Ham’s son, “Canaan” (Genesis 9:25) because Ham was not ashamed of his father’s nakedness. But Noah blessed Shem and Japheth who, like Adam and Eve (3:7), sought to cover the shame of nakedness (9:26-27). The descendants of Ham, the Canaanites, became known for their shameless acts of sexual immorality which contributed to their eventual extinction.

Following in the footsteps of his grandfather’s unrighteousness, Nimrod persuaded his associates and followers to join together to “build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4; cf. 10:10). This was to be a rallying center for those who refused to obey God’s command to “fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28; 9:1). This movement was an imitation of what was real and true, for they had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar” (Genesis 11:3). This has ever since characterized Babylon in all the ages. It will never be more evident than during the Tribulation period when deception will be at its greatest.

God judged these people who were united by one language by dividing them into different languages so they would be “scattered … abroad from there over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8-9) which is what the Lord originally commanded them to do (Genesis 1:28; 9:1). So, the city was called “Babel,” which means confused (Genesis 11:9a).

Walvoord writes, “Later the name was applied to the city of Babylon which itself has a long history dating back to as early as 3,000 years before Christ. One of its famous rulers was Hammurabi (1728-1686 B.C.). After a period of decline Babylon again rose to great heights under Nebuchadnezzar about 600 years before Christ. Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (605-562 B.C.) and the subsequent history of Babylon is the background of the Book of Daniel.

“Babylon was important not only politically but also religiously. Nimrod… had a wife known as Semiramis who founded the secret religious rites of the Babylonian mysteries, according to accounts outside the Bible. Semiramis had a son with an alleged miraculous conception who was given the name Tammuz and in effect was a false fulfillment of the promise of the seed of the woman given to Eve (Genesis 3:15).

“Various religious practices were observed in connection with this false Babylonian religion, including recognition of the mother and child as God and of creating an order of virgins who became religious prostitutes. Tammuz, according to tradition, was killed by a wild animal and then restored to life, a satanic anticipation and counterfeit of Christ’s resurrection. Scripture condemns this false religion repeatedly (Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17-19, 25; Ezekiel 8:14). The worship of Baal is related to the worship of Tammuz.

“After the Persians took over Babylon in 539 B.C., they discouraged the continuation of the mystery religions of Babylon. Subsequently the Babylonian cultists moved to Pergamum (or Pergamos) where one of the seven churches of Asia Minor was located (cf. Revelation 2:12-17). Crowns in the shape of a fish head were worn by the chief priests of the Babylonian cult to honor the fish god. The crowns bore the words ‘Keeper of the Bridge,’ symbolic of the ‘bridge’ between man and Satan. This handle was adopted by the Roman emperors, who used the Latin title Pontifex Maximus, which means ‘Major Keeper of the Bridge.’ And the same title was later used by the bishop of Rome. The pope today is often called the pontiff, which comes from pontifex. When the teachers of the Babylonian mystery religions later moved from Pergamum to Rome, they were influential in paganizing Christianity and were the source of many so-called religious rites which have crept into ritualistic churches. Babylon then is the symbol of apostasy and blasphemous substitution of idol-worship for the worship of God in Christ.” 9

In line with what Walvoord wrote about Nimrod’s wife, Semiramis, Pentecost quotes Ironside: “Semiramis… is reputed to have been the foundress of the Babylonian mysteries and the first high priestess of idolatry. Thus Babylon became the fountainhead of idolatry and the mother of every heathen and pagan system in the world. The mystery-religion that was there originated spread in various forms throughout the whole earth… and is with us today… and shall have its fullest development when the Holy Spirit has departed and the Babylon of the Apocalypse holds sway.

“Building on the primeval promise of the woman’s Seed who was to come, Semiramis bore a son whom she declared was miraculously conceived! And when she presented him to the people, he was hailed as the promised deliverer. This was Tammuz, whose worship Ezekiel protested against in the days of captivity. Thus was introduced the mystery of the mother and the child, a form of idolatry that is older than any other known to man. The rites of this worship were secret. Only the initiated were permitted to know its mysteries. It was Satan’s effort to delude mankind with an imitation so like the truth of God that they would not know the true Seed of the woman when He came in the fullness of time…

“From Babylon this mystery-religion spread to all the surrounding nations… Everywhere the symbols were the same, and everywhere the cult of the mother and the child became the popular system; their worship was celebrated with the most disgusting and immoral practices. The image of the queen of heaven with the babe in her arms was seen everywhere, though the names might differ as languages differed. It became the mystery-religion of Phoenicia, and by the Phoenicians was carried to the ends of the earth. Astoreth and Tammuz, the mother and child of these hardy adventurers, became Isis and Horus in Egypt, Aphrodite and Eros in Greece, Venus and Cupid in Italy, and bore many other names in more distant places. Within 1000 years Babylonianism had become the religion of the world, which had rejected Divine revelation.

“Linked with this central mystery were countless lesser mysteries… Among these were the doctrines of purgatorial purification after death, salvation by countless sacraments such as priestly absolution, sprinkling with holy water, the offering of round cakes to the queen of heaven as mentioned in the book of Jeremiah, dedication of virgins to the gods, which was literally sanctified prostitution, weeping for Tammuz for a period of 40 days, prior to the great festival of Istar, who was said to have received her son back from the dead; for it was taught that Tammuz was slain by a wild boar and afterwards brought back to life. To him the egg was sacred, as depicting the mystery of his resurrection, even as the evergreen was his chosen symbol and was set up in honor of his birth at the winter solstice, when a boar’s head was eaten in memory of his conflict and a yule-log burned with many mysterious observances. The sign of the cross was sacred to Tammuz, as symbolizing the life-giving principle and as the first letter of his name. It is represented upon vast numbers of the most ancient altars and temples, and did not, as many have supposed, originate with Christianity.

“From this mystery-religion, the patriarch Abraham was separated by divine call; and with this same evil cult the nation that sprang from him was in constant conflict, until under Jezebel, a Phoenician princess, it was grafted onto what was left of the religion of Israel in the northern kingdom in the day of Ahab, and was the cause of their captivity at last. Judah was polluted by it, for Baal-worship was but the Canaanitish form of the Babylonian mysteries, and only by being sent into captivity to Babylon itself did Judah become cured of her fondness for idolatry. Baal was the Sun-God, the Life-giving One, identical with Tammuz.

“…though Babylon as a city had long been but a memory, her mysteries had not died with her. When the city and temples were destroyed, the high priest fled with a company of initiates and their sacred vessels and images to Pergamos, where the symbol of the serpent was set up as the emblem of the hidden wisdom. From there, they afterwards crossed the sea and emigrated to Italy… There the ancient cult was propagated under the name of the Etruscan Mysteries, and eventually Rome became the headquarters of Babylonianism. The chief priests wore mitres shaped like the head of a fish, in honor of Dagon, the fish-god, the Lord of life – another form of the Tammuz mystery, as developed among Israel’s old enemies, the Philistines. The chief priest when established in Rome took the title Pontifex Maximus, and this was imprinted on his mitre. When Julius Caesar (who, like all young Romans of good family, was an initiate) had become the head of the State, he was elected Pontifex Maximum, and this title was held henceforth by all the Roman emperors down to Constantine the Great, who was, at one and the same time, head of the church and high priest of the heathen! The title afterwards conferred upon the bishops of Rome, and is borne by the pope today, who is thus declared to be, not the successor of the fisherman-apostle Peter, but the direct successor of the high priest of the Babylonian mysteries, and the servant of the fish-god Dagon, for whom he wears, like his idolatrous predecessors, the fisherman’s ring.

“During the early centuries of the church’s history, the mystery of iniquity had wrought with such astounding effect, and Babylonian practices and teachings had been so largely absorbed by that which bore the name of the church of Christ, that the truth of the Holy Scriptures on many points had been wholly obscured, while idolatrous practices had been foisted upon the people as Christian sacraments, and heathen philosophies took the place of gospel instruction. Thus was developed that amazing system which for a thousand years dominated Europe and trafficked in the bodies and souls of men, until the great Reformation of the 16th century brought in a measure of deliverance.” 10

In Revelation 14:8 the second angel announces that “Babylon the great,” the city of Rome (17:1-9), “is fallen” or “judged by God” because “she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” The angel depicts “Babylon” as a temptress who gives “wine” to a man (“all nations”) to seduce him to commit “fornication” or spiritual adultery against the true God who will punish them with His “wrath.”

For centuries, pagan and papal Rome has seduced people away from the true God with her rituals and superstitions, and has persecuted those who proclaim the truth exposing her materialistic and idolatrous false religion (cf. Revelation 18:24). A detailed description of her upcoming judgment will be given in Revelation 17-18, but prior to that, God wants everyone to understand that her doom is certain.

Regardless of what you think the identity of “Babylon” is in the book of Revelation, one thing is certain – Jesus Christ will be triumphant in the end! Those of us who believe in Christ will be able to share in His victory.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we look to You for life everlasting, not to religion which fails to deliver any lasting satisfaction. Instead of entrusting us with rituals or superstitions to spread around the world, You have entrusted us with the gospel of grace which freely offers eternal life to those who believe in Christ alone. Thank You for calling our attention to the upcoming destruction of Babylon, a materialistic and idolatrous false religion that has ancient roots and dangerous practices. Please open the eyes of those who embrace her deceptions so they may find peace with the true God through faith in God the Son, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ mighty name, we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

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. 1551.

2. 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. 362-366; Charles H. Dyer, The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End Times (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1991), pg. 182; Henry M. Morris, Revelation Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Prophetic Book of the End Times (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1983), pp. 348-349; J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 1, 039.

3. Dr. David R. Reagan’s article, “Mystery Babylon” at www.christinprophecy.org.

4. Gary Derickson; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; Bob Vacendak, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1370, 1400; cf. 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 223503.  

5. Reagan’s “Mystery Babylon.”

6. The Greek word for “mountains” is orē which can also mean “hills” – see 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. 724.

7. Reagan’s “Mystery Babylon”; cf. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2410.

8. Reagan’s “Mystery Babylon”; Vacendak, pg. 1568.

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), locations 6075 to 6097.

10. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pp. 358-360 cites Harry A. Ironside, Lectures on the Revelation (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, [n.d.], pp. 287-295.

Why do some disciples or followers of Jesus abandon Him? Part 3

“‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.” John 6:64

The third reason why some disciples or followers of Jesus abandon Him is because THEY DISBELIEVE JESUS (John 6:64-66) and have no capacity to understand and follow Him. “‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.” (John 6:64). Some of the people who had been following Jesus and listening to His instruction had not believed in Him for His gift of everlasting life. They were disciples, that is, they placed themselves under Jesus’s instruction, but they were unsaved.

“Many of His disciples” found His words difficult (John 6:60, 66) and “some” of them did not believe in Christ for salvation (John 6:64a). Both saved and unsaved disciples found Jesus’s words to be disturbing. If Jesus knew that some were unsaved, why did He let them start out on the pathway of discipleship? Because He loved them, even Judas.  Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” If they wanted to sit under Jesus’s teaching day after day, why not? That way He could seek them day after day. God’s love is unlimited and is directed toward every person. It gets me excited to think we may have people who don’t know Christ coming to our Facebook page and website. God’s grace is available to everyone.

Then Jesus said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” (John 6:65).  Is Jesus teaching that only a small percent of people, the elect, are able to believe and be born again? Not at all, and here is why.

God never commands something to be done that the listener is unable to do. And God commands all people to believe in His Son for everlasting life (I John 3:23; cf. John 3:16; Acts 16:31). Since God is drawing all people (John 12:32; 16:8-11), including those who never believe, He has certainly given everyone the capacity to believe.

The unbelieving disciples He is talking to in this large group are being drawn to believe in Jesus. They should seek to understand Christ’s words because they give life (John 6:63). If they turn away from Christ’s teaching now because it is difficult for them to believe, then God may stop drawing them. Nowhere are we told how long God draws an unbeliever to Himself. God may draw someone for eighty years or eight days. But this drawing is resistible.

For example, Judas resisted God’s intense drawing for over three years. All who die without Christ have rejected God’s drawing in their life. It is possible that God may stop drawing an unbeliever who hardens his heart. But Jesus’ point in verse 65 is that it is impossible for lost people to come to Christ without the help of God. God must work in their hearts. God may be drawing some of you. Maybe you have started reading the Bible or going to church. Perhaps you are visiting Christian websites online. This is an indication that God is working in your heart to draw you to His Son.

“From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (John 6:66). This is perhaps the most “unsuccessful” sermon Jesus ever preached. When John chapter 6 opens, Jesus had 12,000-20,000 people following Him and listening to Him speak (John 6:10; cf. Matthew 14:21). When this chapter closes, He only has twelve men with Him and one of them is not even saved (John 6:67). Unlike some preachers today, Jesus did not sugar coat His message. He was not trying to win a popularity contest by preaching what people wanted to hear. This is a significant turning point in Christ’s ministry. He is shifting from a public ministry of up to twenty thousand to a more private training of the Twelve. As a result of this sermon, many of Jesus’s followers withdrew and went back to the things they had left behind (i.e. families, work, old habits and ways of thinking).

When you compare verse 66 with verse 64, you can see that “some” of those who abandoned Christ were Christians. Some did “not believe,” but “many” withdrew from Jesus. It was more demanding than even some of the believers expected.

Throughout my time as a pastor and evangelist, I have witnessed “disciples” withdrawing from Jesus and walking with Him no more. Much like the people in this crowd with Jesus, they stopped placing themselves under the teaching of God’s Word. Why? The teaching may have been too difficult or too disturbing to them. They may have been offended by the message of salvation which says eternal life is a free gift that one receives by believing in Christ alone apart from any works or merit of our own (John 4:10-14; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). So they abandon Christ to follow a preacher who says what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Others may drop off because they have not yet believed in Jesus so they don’t have God the Holy Spirit living inside them to give them the  capacity to understand and follow Christ’s teaching (cf. John 7:38-39; I Corinthians 2:10-16). Some believers may drop off because God is calling them to a deeper level of commitment and they still want to be in charge of their own lives so they pull away. Only the Lord knows for sure.

Where are you in relation to Jesus Christ? Are you following Him from a distance? Are you intrigued by His claims to be God? Have you noticed how loving and gracious He is with those who seek Him? Do you feel Jesus pulling you closer to Him as you listen to what He has to say? As you listen to Christ, do you find yourself having a difficult time understanding what He means? Do His words offend you? Is He demanding more of you and you do not want to place yourself under His control?

Wherever you find yourself in relation to Jesus Christ, please know that He loves you and He wants to spend time with you. Will you give Jesus a chance? Will you open your heart to what He has to say to you? Jesus loved Judas to the end of his life (John 13:1) even though Judas never believed in Christ for His gift of eternal life (John 6:64, 70-71; cf. 12:4; 13:2, 10-11, 21-30; 17:12; 18:2, 5). Please do not be like Judas and never believe or trust in Christ alone to save you from your sins and give you everlasting life.

We are also reminded by Judas Iscariot’s relationship with Jesus that what determines a person’s eternal destiny is not their works. Judas did many works for Jesus Christ as His disciple (Matthew 10:1ff; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6), but his unbelief toward Jesus condemned him to an eternity in the Lake of Fire (John 3:18; 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 16:7-11; 17:12). The Bible tells us that it is not our works that determine whether we go to heaven or hell (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9), but our response to Jesus Christ. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36).

On Judgment Day there will be many false prophets (Matthew 7:15) who stand before Jesus and appeal to their words (“Lord, Lord”)  and to their good works (“prophesied…cast out demons…done many wonders”) that they have done “in His name” for His glory as the basis of their entrance into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-22). And Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23). Why does He say this? Because they had failed to do “the will of the Father in heaven” as it relates to entering the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21b). Jesus said, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40; cf. 3:5, 15-16). Until a person is rightly related to Jesus by believing in Him for everlasting life, all their good works, words, and thoughts are “lawlessness” before a holy God (Matthew 7:23; cf. Isaiah 64:6).

Do you “believe in the Son,” Jesus Christ, for “everlasting life”? If so, then God promises that you now have “everlasting life” and your name is written in the Book of Life so that you will enjoy a home in heaven (John 3:36a; Revelation 21:27). But if you reject Jesus Christ or “do not believe the Son,” you “shall not see life” in heaven, “but the wrath of God abides” on you both now and forever in the Lake of Fire (John 3:36b; Revelation 20:15). It does not matter how many good works you have done for Jesus, if you do not believe in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life, you will still suffer torment forever in the Lake of Fire (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 20:10, 15).

Prayer: Almighty God and Savior, You know my heart better than anyone. You know every thought, feeling, and motive I have ever had. I can hide nothing from You. Although You know everything about me – the good, the bad, and the ugly – You love me and long to be in a personal relationship with me. Thank You for drawing me to Yourself through Your Word and the testimony of other Christians. Lord, please remove anything in my life that would hinder me from following You more closely. I do not want to be like those who abandoned You and walked with You no more because they found Your teaching to be difficult or disturbing. Knowing how much You love me and value me, motivates me to stay close to You. Precious Lord Jesus, please continue to draw those who do not believe in You yet to Yourself. Please send others to model Your grace and truth to them. Thank You my Lord and my God for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’s name. Amen.   

How can a holy God come into my life and cleanse me from all my sin?

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” John 2:19, 21-22

We learned last time that the temple of God is located in every believer in Jesus Christ now (I Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). You may wonder, “How can a holy God come into my life and cleanse me from all my sin?” The next several verses in John 2 explain.

“Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.’” (John 2:17). Jesus’ zeal or enthusiasm for God would ultimately lead to His death. Do we have this kind of zeal for God’s kingdom? God’s work? Are we willing to risk our lives or reputations for the Lord? This kind of enthusiasm comes from a dynamic relationship with the Lord. We cannot manufacture this kind of zeal on our own. It comes from knowing and loving Jesus!

“So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ ” (John 2:18). The Jews did not question Jesus’ actions, but they did question His authority. Who does He think He is by doing this? They demanded a miraculous sign to prove He has the right to take such action. I love Jesus’ response here. He confuses them even more. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” (John 2:19). He used this statement to stimulate the thinking of these Jews. “Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ ” (John 2:20). Such a massive and enduring structure was not likely to be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.

Thanks to John’s post-resurrection perspective we know that Jesus is not speaking of destroying the literal temple, but rather He is talking about His own body – that it will be destroyed and then raised back to life. “But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” (John 2:21-22). It is not the Jerusalem temple but the human body of Jesus that represents the presence of God. Let me remind you of something. Christianity is not about buildings. It is not about a church building. It is not even about a philosophy of life. Christianity is about a relationship with the One who died and rose again for our sins so we can have eternal life.

So the reason a holy God can come into our contaminated lives full of sin is because of Christ’s death and resurrection. God’s holiness demands that sin be punished, but His heart desires that the sinner be pardoned. Hence, God sent His Son Jesus to take the punishment you and I deserved.

The United States was shocked in 1998 by the tragic news of two young boys who opened fire on schoolchildren as they ran from their building in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Four children and a teacher were killed and five others were injured. The teacher died when she stepped forward to shield one of her sixth graders. She saved the girl but lost her own life. The teacher became her substitute and died in her place.

Jesus Christ died as our Substitute. Just as the teacher took the bullets for the young girl, Christ took the punishment for our sin and died in our place. Jesus Christ did what our good works could never do. We are saved by Christ’s dying, not by our doing. Three days after His death Jesus came back to life. By rising from the grave on the third day He proved He had conquered sin and death and that He is God (Romans 1:3-4).

Christ’s death and resurrection make it possible for a holy God to live inside of us. Praise Jesus for laying down His life so we may enjoy fellowship with Him both now and forever! While going to heaven to live with Christ in the future is extremely important, it is also important to know that Jesus wants His disciples (followers) to take sin seriously in their lives now. He wants us to trust Him to cleanse our lives of all sin and corruption. He wants us to rely on His indwelling resurrection power to help us say “NO” to sin and “YES” to the Savior.

Prayer: Precious Savior and Lord, it is mind boggling to know that the holy God of the Bible indwells every believer in Jesus Christ, including me!!! Thank You, Lord Jesus, by making this possible through Your shed blood on the cross which not only paid the penalty for all of my sins (John 19:30), but also continues to cleanse me of my daily sins so I may enjoy closeness with You (I John 1:7). Thank You for Your resurrection power which is always available to help me to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to holy living. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

What happens to a Christian who rejects Christ’s sacrifice?

Some people believe that a Christian who rejects Christ’s sacrifice or falls away from the Lord, loses his salvation or was never saved in the first place. Is this true? A common Bible passage they refer to is in Hebrews 10:26-31. Let’s take a look at this.

The author of the book of Hebrews is writing to Christians who are being pressured to return to Judaism and give up on their Christian faith. These Christians were in danger of returning to animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins instead of holding fast to the all sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:1-18; 3:12; 7:11-28; 10:1-18).

After focusing on the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross to perfect them and give them total acceptance before God (10:1-18), the writer of Hebrews admonishes his readers to boldly “draw near” to God in a “new and living way” without unbelief or consciousness of sin or guilt (10:19-22). They are to persevere in the faith (10:23) and Christian fellowship till Christ’s return (10:24-25), when the promise of the eternal inheritance will be awarded to those who persevere (cf. Heb. 9:15; 10:35-37).

The warning in Hebrews 10:26-31 applies to genuine Christians as do all the other warnings in the book of Hebrews. If one honestly looks at all the times “we” is used in this book (2:1, 3; 3:6; 4:3, 13; 7:26; 10:10, 19, 39; 12:1, 25; 13:6; et al), he would conclude that the author of Hebrews is including himself and is therefore addressing Christians. Let’s look at verse 26: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. ” The author’s use of “we” (hēmōn) in verse 26, also means he does not exclude himself from potential apostasy. The word “For” (gar) connects this section with the previous one (10:19-25) which is explicitly addressed to Christians. They are to hold fast to their Christian confession and not forsake assembling together (10:24-25). So this connective gar introduces the danger of “willfully” (10:26) not holding fast to their Christian confession and forsaking their assembling together. This danger in Hebrews 10:26-31 is the reason why they should not apostatize i.e. reject Christ’s sacrifice (10:1-18) and forsake assembling together (10:24-25).  

Nothing in the transition from the encouragement section (10:19-25) to the warning section (10:26-31) suggests a change in audience. Both sections are to genuine Christians. Notice the phrase “the knowledge of the truth” (tēn epignōsin tēn alētheias) in verse 26 does not mean mere information here in light of the context, but a genuine and personal knowledge which only a believer in Jesus can possess. The only other usages of this phrase in the New Testament refer to believers (cf. I Tim. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1). Also, the phrase in Hebrews 10:30, “His people” (ton laon autou) alludes to the fact that those who are to be judged are God’s people. They have been redeemed by Him.

To substantiate the genuineness of their Christian faith further, the author of Hebrews has already described his readers as having been “enlightened” by the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 6:4a; cf. 10:32), which leads to “tasting” or receiving the gift of eternal life (Hebrews 6:4b; cf. John 4:10; Rom. 6:23; cf. Heb. 2:9), which makes possible partnership (Hebrews 6:4c; cf. 1:9; 3:1, 14) with the Holy Spirit, under Whom they feed on the Word and taste God’s power (Hebrews 6:5). Only a believer can “fall away” from the Lord. One cannot fall away from the Lord unless he HAS the Lord. These Christians were in danger of returning to animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins instead of holding fast to the all sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:1-18; 3:12; 7:11-28; 10:1-18).

Since these are genuine Christians, we know that they have everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Jesus promises that those who hear and believe His promise of everlasting life “shall not come into judgment” for their sins (John 5:24), including the sin of apostasy or turning away from Christ’s sacrifice. Christ guarantees that those who believe in Him will “never be cast out” of God’s family (John 6:37) nor will they ever die spiritually (John 11:25-26). No one and nothing can separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Believers in Jesus are sealed by the Holy Spirit after hearing and believing the gospel, so that they will be safely and securely delivered to heaven in the future (Ephesians 1:13-14). God’s Word does not contradict itself. So it is important to interpret Hebrews 10:26-31 in a way that harmonizes with the clear teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:15-16; Romans 4:5; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:16; I John 5:1, 13).

In the background of this willful sin of apostasy (10:26), is the “presumptuous” sin in which no sacrifice was provided for (Numbers 15:29-31). So when a believer apostatizes, there is no place to turn to, to secure sacrificial protection against God’s temporal wrath and retribution. To turn one’s back on the only sacrifice that God accepts, is to fall under God’s temporal judgment. An apostate changes sides so to speak, and puts himself on the side of God’s enemies (James 4:4), and can therefore experience God’s fiery wrath (cf. Hebrews 6:4-8).

When Hebrews 10:27 says, “but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries,” it means that whereas no sacrifice for sins remains, there does remain a certain fearful expectation of judgment from God. Since fear is punishment (cf. I John 4:18), the fearful expectation is itself a part of God’s judgment on the Christian who departs from the Christian faith.

A more severe punishment is also in the mind of the author of Hebrews. “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Hebrews 10:28). A quick, sure death accompanied a severe infraction of the Old Covenant (e.g. blasphemy, Lev. 24:11-16; murder, Lev. 24:17; Numbers 35:30; false prophecy, Deut. 18:20; etc.). But especially in mind here is idolatry and the rejection of the decision of a priest or judge (cf. Deut. 17:2-13), since Hebrews 10:28 alludes to Deuteronomy 17:6.

Please keep in mind that Solomon died while steeped in idolatry (I Kings 11:1-43) and yet he was a believer in the coming Messiah. God declared that Solomon would be His son and He, God, will be Solomon’s Father (I Chronicles 28:6). Hence, Solomon is a believer in the coming Messiah because he is a child of God (cf. John 1:12). Also, God used Solomon to author three books of the Bible: Proverbs (Solomon was the principal author), Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. The Bible says that the human authors of the Bible were “holy men of God” who “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Even though Solomon was an idolater, the Bible says he was a “holy” man of God. How can this be? He is “holy” in God’s eyes because he has been set apart from his sin and shame by virtue of his faith in the coming Messiah who would die for all of his sins – including the sin of idolatry (cf. Isaiah 53; Colossians 2:13-14).

But a worse punishment awaits a New Covenant believer who apostatizes. By using the form of a question, the writer raises the level of fear with the uncertainty involved in Hebrews 10:29: “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” This more severe punishment is not spelled out. But it is conceivable that there are worse punishments than a sure, quick death in the Old Testament.

For example, King Saul suffered a worse punishment than death as he went though prolonged manic-depression and paranoia. He also was consumed by fear and hatred (I Samuel 13:8-28:25), yet he was genuinely saved since Samuel said he would be with him after death in Paradise (I Samuel 28:19; cf. Luke 16:22; 23:43). That Saul was a genuine believer is also substantiated by the following:

We must first understand that “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Under the law of the Old Testament, good works have nothing to do with salvation from hell. Salvation is always (in Old and New Testaments) based on the sufficient sacrifice of Christ’s death on the Cross and is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Gen. 3:15; 4:3-5; 15:6; John 3:14-18; Rom. 3:21-5:1; Gal. 2:16; Ephes. 2:8-9; Heb. 9:11-10:18; 11:4).  

After the prophet Samuel anointed Saul to be king over Israel, he informs Saul about various signs that will take place after he leaves Samuel’s presence (I Sam. 10:1-4). Samuel tells Saul that when he comes to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is, he “will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.” (I Sam. 10:5b-6). 

The events that Samuel predicted came to pass as he said (I Sam. 10:9-11). A summary statement of these events is given in verse 9: “As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day.” (I Sam. 10:9). Verses 6 and 9 clearly refer to Saul’s conversion because how else can a person be “changed into a different person” and God change their hearts? 

It is also significant that during this encounter a group of prophets were prophesying (I Sam. 10:5, 10). It is likely that they were prophesying about the coming Messiah of Israel. After all, the apostle Peter said, “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). When Saul joined in with the prophesying of the prophets, he did so as a result of believing what they were saying about the coming Messiah. The Holy Spirit’s saving work in Saul’s life is manifested by Saul joining their prophetic testimony. Even if Saul had not prophesied, he would still be a new man with a new heart because salvation is always based upon faith alone in Jesus the Messiah. 

This Messianic hope was also understood by Moses as revealed by the writer of Hebrews “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasure of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ [literally, “the Christ” or the Messiah] greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Heb. 11:24-26). So Moses believed in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, but he also pursued Christ for eternal rewards just as Saul should have pursued them. But Saul did not pursue Christ as he should have, and therefore, he would forfeit eternal rewards that could have been his. 

Consider King David. He should have been killed for his sins of adultery and murder (cf. Deut. 22:22; Exodus 21:12-14), but instead he went through the prolonged agony of God’s discipline for almost a year (Psalm 32:3-5; 51:8). That included physical weakening and inward grief. His vitality was dried up and he was weighed down with guilt.

This more severe judgment may also have come upon the Corinthian believers who were “weak” and “sick” and eventually died because of their mistreatment of one another at the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:29-32; cf. 10:1-13). The wrath of God is not limited to unbelievers, as believers can also experience God’s present-day wrath in which He gives the disobedient believer over to the consequences of his sin resulting in self-destruction (Romans 1:18-32; 5:9-10; 13:4-5). Believers can be saved from God’s present-day wrath through the life of Christ living through them (Romans 6-8). One might also think of prolonged illness, insanity, loss of loved ones or other things in regard to a more severe punishment than physical death.

The reasons for such a punishment are found in Hebrews 10:29: “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” He has “trampled the Son of God underfoot.” His apostasy is an unruly trampling on the dignity and claims of Christ (cf. Heb. 6:6). He regards the sanctifying blood of the New Covenant, which “sanctified” him, as impure or unholy. Notice the apostate has been “sanctified,” which in the author’s mind is the same as justification – it is a completed action (cf. Hebrews 2:11; 10:10, 14).

The phrase “by which he was sanctified” (en hō hēgiasthē)  contains a masculine or less likely neuter relative pronoun (hō) which cannot refer back to the word “covenant” (diathēkēs) because that word is feminine and a relative pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender and number (see Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 1955, pp. 125-126; and see Goetchius, The Language of the New Testament, 1965, p. 336, #308). Neither can this pronoun refer back to the “Son of God” because the logical sequence of words clearly refers the subject back to the one who has “counted the blood of the covenant a common thing.” Also in the book of Hebrews Christ is the Sanctifier, not the Sanctified (Heb. 2:11; 10, 14). So the most likely antecedent is the “blood” (haima), since it agrees with the pronoun in number (singular) and gender (neuter). The “by” (en) indicates that it is by means of the blood that the apostate is sanctified. Hence, it is the apostate who is sanctified by the blood of Christ. The apostate also outraged  or “insulted the Spirit of grace” by rejecting Christ’s sacrifice for all his sins.  

In Hebrews 10:30, the author quotes from Deuteronomy 32:35-36. “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ ” Deuteronomy 32:35-43 refers to God’s severe chastisement of “His people,” not His “professing” or “ungenuine” people, and to their restoration. The author’s selection of Deuteronomy 32 is most appropriate. The description of His wrath against His unfaithful people sounds much worse than execution by stoning (Deut. 32:19-27; cf. Lamentations 4:6, 9). Deuteronomy 32:38-33 describes Israel’s lack of wisdom and the bitter effects of their idolatrous practices. Notice Deut. 32:31, “For their rock [pagan gods] is not like our Rock [Israel’s God], even our enemies themselves being judges.” Israel acknowledges the difference between their idolatrous gods and the true God they had turned from. Deuteronomy 32:34-39 then speaks of God’s judgment upon His people, after which He will restore them. Verse 40-43 in Deuteronomy 32 speak of God’s judgment upon His enemies. After judging His people (Deut. 32:35-36a), He will have compassion on them and ask them about the pagan gods they had turned to (Deut. 32:36b-37). This assumes that they survive the judgment.

Therefore, in Hebrews 10:30, the writer of Hebrews is referring to God’s temporal judgment on those who abandon their Christian confession of Him (i.e. apostate Christians). He then concludes that it is terrible to come under God’s temporal judgment. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). If any of His Christian readers were tempted to abandon their Christian faith and some were, these words of temporal judgment would have been sobering. No doubt they would be more inhibited to think about doing such a heinous thing!

Conclusion: Rather than teach that a Christian who turns away from the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ and goes back to his old religion loses his salvation or was never saved in the first place, Hebrews 10:26-31 affirms that a person who believes in Jesus Christ for everlasting life is secure forever, but it also warns of the dangers of departing from our Savior.

What happens to a believer who falls away from the Lord?

“4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” Hebrews 6:4-8

The author of Hebrews is referring here to genuine Christians who have been “enlightened” by the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 10:32; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6), which leads to “tasting” or receiving the gift of eternal life (John 4:10; Rom. 6:23; cf. Hebrews 2:9), which makes possible partnership (Hebrews 1:9; 3:1, 14) with the Holy Spirit, under Whom they feed on the Word and taste God’s power (Hebrews 6:4-6). Only a believer can “fall away” from the Lord. One cannot fall away from the Lord unless he has the Lord. This “falling away” refers to casting away their Christian hope (2:1; 3:13-14; 10:26) or apostasy. These Christians were in danger of returning to animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins instead of holding fast to the all sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:1-18; 3:12; 7:11-28; 10:1-18).

It is humanly “impossible… to renew” a believer who has fallen away from the Lord to repentance or a change of mind so that they come back to the Lord. Why? Because they have approached Christ the same way His enemies did who crucified Him – they put Him to “open shame” by rejecting Him (6:6b). But what is impossible for people is not impossible for God (Jeremiah 32:17; Luke 18:27). The believer who falls away from the Lord is not in danger of damnation.

We have Jesus’ guarantee that if a person comes to Him for the bread of life he or she will never need that bread again: “And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst’ ” (John 6:35). Christ promises that those who come to Him in faith will never hunger or thirst for everlasting life because it is permanent and cannot be lost. 

We also have Jesus’ word that those who come to Him in faith will never be cast out of God’s family because Jesus is determined to do the will of the Father: “37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day” (John 6:37-39). The believer will never be cast out under any circumstances because Jesus is determined to do His Father’s will which is that He loses no one. Jesus has never lost a believer and He never will. 

But someone may say, “Well, I guess it really doesn’t matter what we do once we get saved. Throw your faith away and mock Chrstianity, and you will still go to heaven!” The writer of Hebrews is telling us, “Oh yes it does matter if you throw away your Christian faith!” The apostate believer may be safe from the fires of hell, but he or she is not safe from the fire of God’s discipline as verses 7-8 teach: 

7For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” Hebrews 6:7-8

The writer of Hebrews uses an illustration from nature to summarize the consequences of pressing on to maturity as opposed to denying Christ. The field that produces according to the intention of the farmer is blessed, but the field that produces thorns and thistles is burned. So when a Christian is properly fruitful, God blesses. But when a believer produces a bad harvest, he is disciplined. This idea of blessing obedience and cursing disobedience is seen in Deuteronomy 27-28 as well.

When we become Christians by believing in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life, we are a lot like a plot of ground that belongs to God. And God has poured out His grace upon us like rain from heaven. And He has a right to expect that our lives will be fruitful, productive, and useful to Him and to other people. And when they are, God blesses that life. But if after we have received the blessings of His matchless grace, we produce briars, thorns, and fruits of a sin-cursed world, then God rejects that kind of a life and it falls under His temporal curse. And its destiny is to suffer the fire of His discipline.

The “thorns and briars” have worthless results (and harmful ones) of departure from the faith. Such land is disapproved (cf. I Corinthians 9:27). In this ancient practice after the land was burned, it was replanted. So even though burning is a picture of temporal judgment of the apostate, it also offers hope because of the purifying effect of the land. Just as the burning of a field was temporal and did not destroy the ground, so God’s judgment on His people is temporal and its purpose is to destroy their fruits, not them, so they can be productive once again for the Lord (cf. I Timothy 1:18-20). Keep in mind, however, that this judgment could lead to physical death (cf. I Corinthians 5:5; 11:30; I John 5:16).

But the writer of Hebrews does remind us that there are worse punishments than a sure, quick physical death as in the Old Testament. 28Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (10:28-29).

For example, King Saul suffered a worse punishment than death as he went through prolonged manic-depression and paranoia. He also was consumed by fear and hatred (I Samuel 13:8-28:25), yet he was saved since Samuel said he would be with him after death (I Samuel 28:19). Also King David should have been killed for his adultery and murder (cf. Exodus 21:12-14; Deuteronomy 22:22), but instead he went through the prolonged agony of God’s discipline for almost a year (cf. Psalm 32:3-5; 51:8). This included physical weakening and inward grief. This “worse punishment” may also have come upon some of the Corinthians who were “weak”and “sick”and eventually died (I Corinthians 11:29-32; cf. 10:1-13). The wrath of God is not limited to non-Christians, as believers can also experience God’s present-day wrath (Romans 1:18-32; 5:9-10; 13:4-5) whereby He gives the disobedient over to the consequences of their sins resulting in self-destruction. Believers can be saved from this wrath through the life of Christ living through them (Romans 6-8).

The reasons for such a punishment are found in Hebrews 10:29 above. The apostate “has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” His apostasy is an unruly trampling on the dignity and claims of Christ (cf. 6:6). He regards the sanctifying blood of the New Covenant, which sanctified him, as impure or unholy. Notice this apostate has been “sanctified” by the blood of Christ which in the author’s mind is the same as justification (cf. 2:11; 10:10, 14).

The reason it is impossible for us to renew an apostate back to repentance is because God reserves that believer for the fire of His discipline (6:8). And if repentance is ever going to happen in this life, it will only happen after they have gone through the scorching heat of God’s temporal judgment. Hebrews 10:30 says, “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’” This verse does not say God will judge the unsaved. It says “The Lord will judge His people.”

Rather than teach that a Christian who falls away from the Lord loses his salvation or was never saved in the first place, Hebrews 6:4-8 affirms the eternal security of the believer but also warns of the dangers of departing from our Savior.