Revelation 19 – Part 6

“And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.” Revelation 19:19

After the beast or Man of Sin rules over the earth the last three and a half years of the Tribulation period (Revelation 13:5), the King of kings and Lord of lords will bring his reign to an abrupt end when He returns to earth 1 (19:17-21; cf. Daniel 11:45b; 2 Thessalonians 2:8) with His heavenly armies consisting of faithful church age believers (Revelation 19:7-8; cf. 2:10, 17, 25-27; 3:5, 10-11; 17:14) and God’s angels (cf. Matthew 16:27; 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).

Following the description of Jesus Christ and those who will follow Him back to earth at His Second Coming (19:11-16), the apostle John writes, 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather together for the great supper of God, 18 that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, both free and slave, both small and great.” (Revelation 19:17-18). With the beast and the armies of the world gathered at Armageddon (19:19; cf. 16:14-16) and with Jesus Christ and His armies assembled in the sky (19:11-16), John sees “an angel standing in the sun” to command the attention of the world. But instead of calling out to people on the earth, this angel “cried with a loud voice… to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven” or the sky between Christ and His armies, and the beast and his armies.

The angel invites these scavenger birds to “the great supper of God” in anticipation of the vast slaughter of Jesus’ enemies at the battle of Armageddon (19:19-21; 14:18-20; 16:13-16). Jesus predicted this when He said, 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” (Matthew 24:27-28). The Greek word translated “eagles” (aetoi) means “vultures” in this context. 2

“The great supper of God” is not the same as “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (19:7-9). The marriage supper of the Lamb will be a time of great rejoicing and celebration for Jesus and His bride, the church (19:7-9; cf. 3:14, 20; 21:2, 9; 22:17; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-32) and will take place following “the great supper of God.” This marriage celebration will last one thousand years on the earth during the Millennial Kingdom following the battle of Armageddon (20:1-6; cf. Isaiah 25:6-9; 35:1-10; 55:12). 3

“The great supper of God,” however, will be a time of great sorrow and judgment. At this supper, instead of eating the food, people will be the food. Five times John uses the word “flesh” (sarkas) when describing this supper (19:18) to emphasize the immense slaughter of humanity when Jesus Christ defeats His enemies at the Battle of Armageddon. Those of “all” classes and statuses – “kings… captains… free and slave… small and great” – will die instantly along with their “horses” from the sharp sword proceeding from King Jesus’ mouth (19:18; cf. 19:15).

Swindoll writes that “one commentator notes that the angel’s pronouncement ‘is gruesome and powerful, guaranteeing before the battle has been joined that the end result is certain. The angel commands all the birds… [using] ironically the same verb in 16:15, 16 for the false trinity “gathering together” the nations for the final battle. At the same time as the evil forces gather for Armageddon, the carrion birds are called to gather for the aftermath of the inevitable slaughter.’” 4

Most interpreters take the term “horses” figuratively instead of literally. But I prefer to take these “horses” literally. It is quite possible that modern modes of transportation and modern weapons technology had been destroyed by the many divine judgments and/or nuclear wars throughout the Tribulation so that at the end of the Tribulation the primary mode of transportation was on horseback and weapons included chariots, swords, spears, bows and arrows. This preserves a literal understanding of Bible prophecies which predicted such things for end time battles (Revelation 19:18; cf. 9:7-19; 18:13; Ezekiel 38:1-39:29; Zechariah 12:1-14; et al.).

Faithful believers in Jesus who have not died or been martyred during the Tribulation (cf. 12:13-17; Matthew 24:13) will enter the Millennial Kingdom with mortal bodies and repopulate the earth (cf. Genesis 9:1; Isaiah 65:17-23). 5

Some Bible interpreters believe all nonbelievers will die when King Jesus returns to earth. But Vancendak disagrees: “But in light of the information given by the Lord regarding the Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46, it is obvious that there are some unbelievers (who have apparently survived by hiding in elaborate and costly underground bunkers or even caves) that will be brought before Christ for judgment (cf. Matthew 25:32) after He takes His throne. They will be sent, not to Hades, but to the lake of fire: ‘Depart from Me… into the everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41). Of course, they will appear at the Great White Throne. The text simply means that they will have the same fate for the next one thousand years as the Beast and the False Prophet (cf. 19:20). The ‘holding tank’ of this corrupt bunch will be the lake of fire. Though one cannot be dogmatic on this, it seems likely that infants and children still alive after Armageddon who have not reached the age of accountability will enter Christ’s kingdom and eventually repopulate the earth. Some will grow up and believe in Christ and others will not. This accounts for the huge army Satan gathers at the end of the thousand years to war against Christ (see 20:7-9).” 6

As the birds of prey gathered, John saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.” (Revelation 19:19). King Jesus will not return to earth to bring unpredictable judgment against unsuspecting innocent parties. The “beast” or Man of Sin and his allies have deliberately waged “war against” King Jesus “and against His army” (cf. Psalm 2:1-3), and Christ will strike down these wicked foes. 7

Next John records the results of this final battle: “Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.” (Revelation 19:20). We are not told how or by whom “the beast” and “the false prophet” were “captured.” John simply focuses on the accomplishment of this feat. Their time in power is over because Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1; I John 5:20), not the beast who claimed to be God (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4). 8

The false prophet had “deceived” people on earth to receive “the mark of the beast” and worship “his image” during the last half of the Tribulation period (19:20; cf. 13:11-18).No doubt he appeared to the world to be a very spiritual spokesman with amazing supernatural powers (“worked signs by which he deceived”). Those who were deceived by him will not only face God’s temporal judgment when King Jesus kills them in battle, but they will also face God’s eternal judgment in the lake of fire (cf. 14:9-11). 9

So heinous and wicked was their blasphemy against God that the “beast” and “false prophet” will be the first human beings to be “cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.” This verse is clear that there is no annihilation in store for those who reject Jesus Christ. Some have wrongly taught that because God is love, nonbelievers are punished in hell for a time before simply ceasing to exist. It is clear from 19:20 and other verses 10 (cf. Matthew 25:41, 46; Mark 9:43-48; Jude 1:7; Revelation 14:10-11; 20:10, 15; 21:7-8) however, that their punishment is without end.  

Those who have rejected Christ and died throughout history up to this point are in torments in hades (Luke 16:23). The lake of fire is a different place prepared for the devil and his fallen angels (Matthew 25:41). 11 After the thousand-year reign of King Jesus, the beast and false prophet will be permanently joined by the devil and all nonbelievers in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10-15).

John tells us, “And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.” (Revelation 19:21). Following the beast’s and false prophet’s capture and placement in the lake of fire, “the rest” of the beast’s allies who remained on the battlefield “were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse.”

“Then suddenly it will be all over. In fact, there will be no war at all, in the sense that we think of war. There will be just a word spoken from Him who sits astride the great white horse. Once He spoke a word to a fig tree, and it withered away. Once He spoke a word to howling winds and heaving waves, and the storm clouds vanished, and the waves fell still. Once He spoke to a legion of demons bursting at the seams of a poor man’s soul, and instantly they fled. Now He speaks a word, and the war is over. The blasphemous, loud-mouthed Beast is stricken where he stands. The false prophet, the miracle-working windbag from the pit is punctured and still… Another word, and the panic-stricken armies reel and stagger and fall down dead. Field marshals and generals, admirals and air commanders, soldiers and sailors, rank and file, one and all – they fall. And the vultures descend and cover the scene.” 12

So many people will be killed “that all the birds” will have plenty to eat. Imagine how foolish the beast and his global armies will look as they point their weapons at the all-powerful Creator God, Jesus Christ, Who spoke the entire universe into existence (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:1-2)!!! Although foolish, it is like humanity to overestimate “their abilities, forever proud of their technology, yet never coming to terms with their own weakness before the all-powerful, all-knowing Lord of the universe.“ 13

May none of us make the same mistake as these people. Revelation 19 teaches us that there are two suppers in the future: the marriage supper of the Lamb which will involve great joy and celebration or the great supper of God which will involve great destruction and judgment. If you want to make a reservation for the marriage supper of the Lamb, you must meet two conditions:

1: You must have childlike faith in Christ alone to enter His coming kingdom. Why? Because all of us need a Savior because all of us have sinned against God (Romans 3:9-23) and deserve to be separated from Him forever in a terrible place of suffering and torment called the lake of fire or hell (Romans 6:23; Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 20:15). But God loves us so much He gave His only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place for all our sins and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6; John 19:30). Jesus Christ is alive today and He invites us to have childlike faith in Him alone to enter His coming Kingdom. Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:15).

If you are ready to trust Jesus alone for entrance into His future kingdom on earth, you can tell Him through prayer. But remember, praying a prayer does not get you into Jesus’ kingdom. Only believing or trusting in Jesus alone for everlasting life will gain you entrance into His kingdom on earth (John 3:5-6, 14-16). This prayer is a way of telling Jesus you are now trusting in Him alone.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I cannot save myself from my sins. I believe You died in my place for all my sins on the cross and rose from the dead at Your first coming. And I believe You are coming back to earth to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords in the future. I am now trusting You, Jesus, alone (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers) to give me everlasting life now and a future home in Your coming kingdom. Thank You Jesus for the everlasting life I now have and the home I will have in Your future kingdom on earth. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

When you believed in Jesus, He gave you everlasting life which can never be lost or taken away from you (John 10:28-29). Jesus guarantees you will enter His kingdom on earth when He returns with His church (Mark 1:15; 10:15; John 3:5-6, 16). He wants to use you now to tell others this good news of His coming kingdom so they also may trust in Him alone to be saved and enter His future kingdom on earth.

The second condition for participating in the marriage supper of the Lamb is 2. we must live faithfully for Jesus after believing in Him for eternal life.While all believers are called or invited to prepare for the wedding supper with Jesus to share in rewards and the glory of Christ’s kingdom, only those believers who prepared by being obedient to Jesus until the end of life on earth will be able to participate (Revelation 2:25-27; 3:5; 19:7-9; cf. Matthew 8:11-12; 22:1-14). All believers will enter and live with Christ in His eternal kingdom through faith in Him alone (Matthew 18:3; John 3:5; 16), but only faithful believers will be able to enjoy ruling with Him there (Luke 19:11-27; Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21).

If you found this to be helpful, please share this with those you want to see attend the marriage supper of the Lamb in Jesus’ future kingdom on earth. Thank you and may the Lord Jesus Christ richly bless you!

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. 1576.

2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 22.

3. Vacendak, pg. 1572; Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 207 cites J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 5 (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), pg. 1048; Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2414.

4. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 346 cites Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moises Silva (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), pg. 687.

5. Constable, pg. 213.

6. Vacendak, pp. 1576-1577.

7. Evans, pg. 2416.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1577.

9. Ibid., pp. 1577-1578.

10. Evans, pg. 2416.

11. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6303.

12. Swindoll, pp. 346-347 cites John Phillips, Exploring Revelation, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), pg. 236.

13. Swindoll, pg. 347.

Must I work to get to heaven?

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12

Recently I was asked what Philippians 2:12 says about working out our salvation. Some students of the Bible have referred to this verse as proof that you must work to get to heaven. However, we do not want to overlook the fact that the apostle Paul is writing to Christians as demonstrated by his reference to them as “saints” (1:1), “brethren” (1:12, 14;3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8, 21), and “beloved” (2:12). These are all terms that the apostle reserved for genuine Christians. Since his readers have already been saved from hell, he cannot be telling them how to get saved again.

The Greek word for “salvation” (sōtērian/sōterias) means “deliverance.” 1 What a person is delivered from is determined by the context. Paul uses this word three times in Philippians (1:19, 28; 2:12). In chapter 1 Paul spoke of his “deliverance” (sōtērian) through the Philippians’ “prayer and the supply of the Spirit” (1:19). Since Paul was in prison (1:12-14) he could be referring to his deliverance from prison. In verse 20, he spoke of Christ being “magnified in” his “body, whether by life or by death.” In 1:28 Paul explains to his readers that a lack of fear toward their “adversaries” by boldly preaching Christ to them would be to their adversaries “proof of perdition,” but to these believers it would be proof “of salvation [sōterias]. In the context, this means it would be proof of God delivering them from failing to magnify Christ amid difficulties by bolding preaching Christ.

When Paul writes, Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), clearly, he says that obedient “works” are necessary for this kind of “salvation [sōtērian].” Paul is not saying to work “for” our salvation. We are to work “out” our salvation. He has clearly taught that salvation from hell is a free gift from God that is received by faith alone (Ephes. 2:8-9). Deliverance from hell has nothing to do with our works.

But this kind of salvation must be “worked out.” It involves obedience even under the most difficult circumstances. Since Paul already said this kind of deliverance involves Christians magnifying Christ (1:19-20, 28), Paul has the same meaning in mind here. The word “therefore” (2:12) points us back to the humble and obedient example of Jesus Christ (2:6-11). Christ’s glorious exaltation was preceded by His humble obedience which led to suffering on the cross.

In a very graphic way, Jesus Christ “worked out” his salvation and we must learn to think of salvation as something more than simply getting to heaven. In Philippians 2:6-8, Christ illustrated One who “saved” His life by “loosing” it (cf. Matthew 16:25). If we live our lives according to our natural, selfish desires, then we are guaranteed to “lose” it. That kind of life will have no eternal or enduring value and it will be utterly ended as soon as it is finished. If, however, we do with our lives what Christ did with His (lose it), then we are guaranteed that it will endure for eternity and there will be eternal “reward” (exaltation) for that life (Matthew 16:27). Hence, we end up saving our life from being wasted on our natural desires and lusts.

No wonder we should “work out” this salvation with “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). To “fear” God means to take Him seriously. We are to magnify Jesus Christ in living and in dying (1:19-20). The stakes are eternally high and once our life has been lived on earth, there is no reversing of what has been done. Every day we live for the wrong thing is a day lost in eternity.

God wants us to humbly and unselfishly serve one another like Christ served us. But there are two things that work against us from fulfilling God’s desire. First, we don’t want to and second, we cannot. Christians by nature have neither the desire nor the ability to humbly consider others as more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3-4) because their sinful hearts are selfish. Hence, Paul says, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Our responsibility is to “work out” this salvation with “fear and trembling” (2:12) because God is at work in us to give us the desire and power to do His will (2:13).

There is an important balance between Philippians 2:12 and 2:13. Our responsibility is to “work out” while verse 13 emphasizes God’s role which is to “work in” and “through” us. If we only focus on verse 12, we will become legalistic or ascetic, relying on our own strength for spiritual power. If we dwell on verse 13 only, we can become passive and complacent. We are to live a life of “discipline / dependence” – fully cooperating with God’s Spirit to work in and through us to humbly serve one another.

Philippians 2:12 is not talking about salvation from hell, but about salvation from failing to magnify Christ in any circumstance. As Christians, we are to continue to magnify Christ in any circumstance by obeying Him as humble servants as He works in and through us.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for confronting us with the importance of working out our salvation from failing to magnify Jesus in any circumstance. Unlike salvation from hell which is by Your grace through faith alone in Christ alone apart from any works, this kind of salvation involves obedient works so Christ is magnified in our Christian lives. We need You to work in our hearts to make us willing and able to obey You especially when we face challenging circumstances, so Christ is magnified whether we live or die. Just as Christ’s glorious exaltation was preceded by His humble obedience which led to suffering on the cross, so our eternal rewards will be preceded by humble obedience to Christ which may lead to suffering and physical death. Oh Father, help us magnify Jesus in any circumstance by obeying Him as You work in and through us. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 985-986.

Revelation 18 – Part 2

“They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’” Revelation 18:19

When my wife and I drive through the countryside, we like to play a game that involves choosing our favorite houses and dreaming of what it would be like to live in them. I especially like the log cabin look far from the road surrounded by trees on the west and north to protect the occupants from Iowa’s cold winter winds. My imagination makes changes to the appearance of the house and its location. The biggest change I want to make is the owner. It should be me!

Perhaps your dream is not some house. When it comes to luxuries, we have all kinds of options for channeling our envy. Yours might be a swimming pool in the backyard, exquisite furnishings in your living room, a powerful V-8 with four on the floor, an expensive antique, a mountain cabin, a trip to Paris, the latest electronic device, or a flawless gem. The list of potential luxuries is without end. When it comes to possessing the luxurious, our imaginations have no limits. 1

God never directly forbids luxuries. The apostle Paul said he had learned “to live in prosperity… being filled and… of having abundance” (Philippians 4:12 NASB). By themselves, prosperity, fullness, and luxury are not sinful. It is when these things begin to possess us that we find ourselves guilty of Babylon’s allurement. Like the farmer in Luke 12:16-21 who thought “life” was found in his possessions instead of in his relationship with God. Jesus said that man was a fool because he was rich toward the things of the world but poor in his relationship with the Lord. This man looked to his material wealth for peace and security. He focused on the gift instead of the Giver. 2 And we can be prone to do the same. Instead of focusing on what is temporary, we need to focus on what is eternal. This is the primary lesson God wants us to learn from Revelation 18.

Last time, we learned several reasons why the worldwide false religious and economic system called “Babylon,” the code name for Rome (Revelation 14:8; 16:19-21; 17:1, 9, 18; cf. I Peter 5:13), would be swiftly destroyed by the ten kings and beast (17:16-17) during the last half of the Tribulation period (18:1-9). God hates the shameless pride and self-reliance that led Rome to reject God’s ways. Hence, the Lord will severely and swiftly judge this city for her decadent influence upon the nations and leaders of the world.

Following the message from heaven (18:1-9), John now focuses on a new message from the earth which included three groups that grieved the destruction of Rome (18:10-19). The first group is world leaders. 9 The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, 10 standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’” (Revelation 18:9-10). As mentioned last time, Vacendak suggests that Rome’s destruction“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.” 2

World government leaders (“the kings of the earth”) will grieve when they see the destruction of Rome whose sensuality and wealth had sustained them and enabled them to live luxuriously. They were in shock that such a “great… mighty city” could be destroyed in such a short amount of time (“in one hour”)! This city was great and mighty, but its Judge was greater and mightier!

The second group mourning Rome’s destruction is merchants. 11 And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: 12 merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; 13 and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men.” (Revelation 18:11-13). The word “merchants” (emporoi) refers to “one who travels by ship for business reasons.” 3 These businessmen grieve over the loss of customers and profits that Rome’s destruction causes.

The wailing of these merchants is greater than that of the kings (18:9-10) and ocean travelers (18:17b-19) because their loss is greater. The variety of goods that are listed here suggests how extensive the trade will be at this time in history (18:12-13). Most of the things listed by John were luxuries in his day. Constable identifies “eight categories into which these twenty-nine items fall.

“These categories are: (1) precious metals and gems (gold and silver, precious stones and pearls”), (2) clothing (“fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet”), (3) furnishings (“citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble”), (4) spices (“cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense”), (5) food (“wine and oil, fine flour and wheat”), (6) animals (“cattle and sheep, horses”), (7) implements (“chariots”), (8) people (“bodies and souls of men”).” 4

“Persons are ‘bought and sold’ (and even traded!) by athletic teams; and our great corporations more and more seek to control the lives of their officers and workers. As people become more enslaved to luxury, with more bills to pay, they find themselves unable to break loose from the ‘system.’” 5

These merchants had become wealthy by selling Rome’s religious paraphernalia and by engaging in slave trade for the “bodies and souls of men” (18:12-13). 6 Now their source of wealth and luxury was all gone. “The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have been lost to you, and you shall find them no more at all.” (Revelation 18:14). The “fruit” these merchants “longed for” was no longer available to them. The words “rich” (liparos) and “splendid” (lampros) refer to food and clothing respectively. 7 The extravagant lifestyle Rome once provided was no longer possible for these businessmen. The phrase “shall find them no more at all” contains two doubt negatives in the Greek text (outketi ou mē), emphasizing that these luxurious things these merchants craved will never ever return. 8

God’s destruction of wealth in this case should not be taken to mean God condemns wealth in general. There are many wealthy people in the Bible who walked with God – Abraham, Job, Joseph, and Solomon to mention a few. In the case of Solomon, the Bible clearly says that great wealth is a gift and reward from God (2 Chronicles 1:11-12). What the Bible condemns is the love of money or being controlled by it (I Timothy 6:10). The more God blesses us, the more grateful and worshipful we should be toward Him. But in the case of Babylon (Rome), wealth led to self-centeredness and a rejection of God. 9

That Rome’s wealth controlled the merchants of the world during the Tribulation is evident in their response to the destruction of Rome’s luxurious possessions.15 The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, 16 and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! 17 For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.’” (Revelation 18:15-17a). These merchants are not mourning the loss of human life or the swift removal of other people’s income, but that “in one hour such great riches came to nothing.” 10 Possessions were far more important to them than people.

A third group that grieves Rome’s destruction is the ocean travelers. 17b Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance 18 and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What is like this great city?’” (Revelation 18:17b-18). There are four groups of ocean travelers represented by: “shipmaster” (ship captains and other ship crew officers), “all who travel by ship” (passengers), “sailors” (ship crewmen under the crew officers), and “as many as trade on the sea,” such as fishermen and divers for pearls. 11 These ocean travelers are of special interest here because they represent sea merchants and shipping companies, being the shippers and distributors of Rome’s luxurious possessions. 12 Like the merchants of the earth (18:10, 15), they too are all standing “at a distance” from Rome due to the fear of nuclear radiation enveloping the city from the nuclear warhead explosion (18:17b).

These ocean travelers grieve deeply because of the collapse of this great economic empire which they thought was invincible as their question (“What is like this great city?”) implies (18:18).

“They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’” (Revelation 18:19). In the Old Testament, throwing dust on one’s head represented great grief (Joshua 7:6; I Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:2; 13:19; 15:32; Job 2:12; Lamentations 2:10). 13 The ocean travelers and tradesmen express the same laments as the kings (18:10) and merchants (18:15-17).

Just in case anyone might think this swift economic destruction is mere happenstance, John makes its source clear: 14 “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!” (Revelation 18:20). The angel instructs God’s people in “heaven,” including “saints” (all believers), “apostles” (who were martyred), “and prophets” (those who received and proclaimed divine revelation),to “rejoice over” Rome’s destruction because “God has avenged” them. The greed of nonbelievers to accumulate wealth for themselves resulted in countless opposition to the gospel and God’s servants throughout history. 15 God was now repaying the greedy oppressors of His people through the destruction of the city of Rome – the source of their income and luxury.

In his first epistle, the apostle John writes, 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” (I John 2:15-16). When John speaks of “the world,” he is not talking about planet earth. He is referring to an organized system under the authority of Satan that desensitizes us to God and His Word (cf. John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2). If, as a believer in Jesus, you “love the world,” you lose intimate fellowship with God. We love the world when it controls our affections and guides our choices by getting us to exclude God from our lives. 16

What does the world promise us if we love it? First, it promises to satisfy legitimate desires in illegitimate ways (“the lust of the flesh”). For example, eating is a legitimate desire; but gluttony is worldly. Sex is a legitimate desire; but outside of marriage it is worldly. 17

Second, the world tempts our minds through what our eyes behold (“the lust of the eyes”). The Bible calls this covetousness which is desiring and pursuing that which is not legitimate for us to have 18 – such as our neighbor’s possessions, livestock, and spouse.

Third, there is “the pride of life” which involves living to impress others. 19 What those in love with the world forget is that “the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:17). The world and its lusts are transient. The world makes the “now” more important than eternity.

As believers in Jesus, we are passing through, and the world is passing away. The cost of loving the world is the loss of personal intimacy with God (“he who does the will of God abides forever”). The term “abides” is a fellowship term in John’s writings (John 8:31; 15:4-7, 9-10; I John 2:6, 10, 14, 17, 24, 27-28; 3:6, 14, 17, 24; 4:12-13, 15-16; et. al). The believer in Jesus who loves the world will still be with God in heaven in the future, but he will not enjoy heaven nearly as much because he wasted his opportunities to love God while he was on earth. Instead, he invested his life in what is temporary instead of in what is eternal.

But the believer who is doing “the will of God” possesses a lifestyle that will not be interrupted by the passing away of this world. He experiences uninterrupted fellowship or intimacy with God. He will experience “boldness” at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I John 2:28; 4:17) where the eternal worth of his earthly life will be evaluated (I Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). However, the believer who lives out of fellowship with the Lord does not “abide” forever in that his worldly lifestyle will be radically interrupted when he goes to heaven. His worldly lifestyle will not abide forever. It stops at heaven’s gates. But a dedicated lifestyle to Christ really has no ending.

How do we see the wealth and luxury of this world? Do we see it as it truly is? Can we use it without it controlling our lives? How would we feel if the luxuries in our lives which we have considered to be necessities suddenly went up in smoke? Would it deeply grieve our hearts to suddenly see the things of this world go up in smoke? Or is our heart focused on Christ in heaven? 20

Prayer: Father God, thank You for Your Word which brings us back to You. Satan has designed this world to draw us away from You. We can often become so focused on what is temporary that we lose sight of what is eternal. Thank You for reminding us that our lives here on earth are intended to prepare us for eternity with You. Please help us to focus on the Giver and not the gift. By Your Spirit working in and through us, we pray that each of us would establish an eternal identity that outlasts this present world system as we learn to do Your will. Use our time, talents, and treasures to advance Your gospel of grace around the world so more people can discover the abundant life that Christ came to give. In Jesus’ mighty name, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

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

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. 1568.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 325.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 198.

5. Ibid., cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 615.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1569.

7. Constable, pg. 199 cites Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John 2nd Ed., (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pg. 235 and R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John Vol. 2, International Critical Commentary series (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), pg. 108.

8. Ibid., cites Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol. 6 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 442.

9. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2412.

10. Ibid.

11. Constable, pg. 199 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pg. 339.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pg. 200.

14. Evans, pg. 2412.

15. Constable, pg. 200.

16. Evans, pg. 2337.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Constable, pg. 200 cites J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 5 (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), pg. 1041.

Revelation 14 – Part 1

“Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” Revelation 14:1

A couple of days ago, my wife and I went to the movie theatre to watch a film after we saw its preview the week before. That’s what previews are meant to do. They show exciting scenes from an upcoming movie to entice viewers to come see the film in its entirety. Sometimes, however, the preview of an upcoming movie leads us to expect one thing, but the producer of the film delivers something entirely different. 1 Fortunately for my wife and me, the movie lived up to the excitement the preview generated in us the week before.  

One thing we can be sure of about God’s previews of the future in the book of Revelation is they will not disappoint us. “Not only does He know the future, but He also controls it. He’s not simply the leading actor in the coming end-times drama; He’s the writer, producer, and director! So when He gives us previews of things to come, we should pay close attention. These scenes aren’t meant to satisfy our curiosity but to warn the rebellious and to encourage the righteous.” 2

After receiving revelation about Satan’s two wild beasts (the World Ruler and the False Prophet) who will triumph during the last half of the Tribulation period (13:1-18), John now receives revelation that describes both what happens to those who refuse the mark of the beast (14:1-5) and what happens to those who receive the mark of the beast (14:6-20). You may recall in Revelation 7, we learned that God would save two groups of people during the first three and a half years of the Tribulation period: He will save and seal 144,000 Israelites (7:1-8) through the preaching of the Two Witnesses (11:1-12), and He will take to heaven a multitude of people from all nations who will die during that time (7:9-17).

Beginning in Revelation 14, John now fast forwards to the end of the Tribulation period where he sees the following: “Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” (Revelation 14:1). 3 John saw “the Lamb,” the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:29), “standing” victoriously “on Mount Zion,” the earthly Jerusalem,at the end of the Tribulation period. Many prophetic Scripture predicted that at the end of the Tribulation period Jesus the Messiah will return to Jerusalem from which He will rule His kingdom on earth (Isaiah 2:3; 24:23; Micah 4:1, 7; Zechariah 14:1-21; cf. Acts 1:9-12; Revelation 19:11-20:6). 4

Standing with Christ at the end of the Tribulation are the “one hundred and forty-four thousand” Jewish evangelists who faithfully proclaimed Jesus’ gospel message to the ends of the earth during the last three and a half years of the Tribulation when the beast ruled without mercy over the earth (14:1a; cf. 7:1-8; Matthew 24:14). Some religious groups, like the Jehovah Witnesses, teach that these 144,000 people are the sum total of all people who will be saved.  This is not true! We already saw in Revelation 7 that there are an innumerable number of people saved during the Tribulation period (7:9-17) in addition to the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (7:1-8). These evangelistic Jews will prepare the way for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth. 5

Because they refused to worship the beast and take up his mark, these 144,000 Jews will be rewarded with the Lamb’s “name” and “His Father’s name written on their foreheads” (cf. 3:12) in contrast with the mark placed on nonbelievers’ foreheads by the False Prophet (cf. 13:16). Because of their faithfulness to Christ to the end of the Great Tribulation, they will rule with King Jesus from Mount Zion in His eternal Kingdom (14:1b; cf. Romans 8:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21). 6

Notice at the end of the Tribulation that John does not see 143,800 Jewish evangelists. He sees all the 144,000 are supernaturally preserved by the Lord. Not one of them was killed. They have endured all the horrors of the seven-year Tribulation and are still standing victoriously with the Lamb on the earth because God faithfully protected them. 7

So, in this preview, we see in place of the beast from the sea, the Lamb of God. And in place of the beast’s followers with the mark of the beast on their foreheads, we see the Lamb’s followers with His and the Father’s name on their foreheads. In addition, we also observe in place of the pagan-controlled earth we see the God-controlled Mount Zion or Jerusalem. 8  This contrast in scenes is meant to encourage believers in John’s day and ours. While our journey on earth will contain trials and tribulation (John 16:33), it will end with a glorious mountaintop experience. This is intended to motivate us to remain faithful to Christ to the end of our Christian lives.

Next John writes, “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.” (Revelation 14:2). Some Bible students think this verse means that “Mount Zion” (14:1) is the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Hebrews 12:22) since John speaks of this scene in heaven. 9 But the text says John “heard a voice from heaven.” This does not necessitate that the Lamb and His 144,000 followers are in heaven. Since the 144,000 are the same group described in Revelation 7:1-8, they are specifically said there to be sealed and preserved safely through the Tribulation on earth. This preview of their future indicates that they will be kept safe on earth into the Millennial Kingdom without going to the third heaven (Paradise) since this is the meaning of the seal in Revelation 7:3-4. 10

The “voice” John heard “from heaven” was loud like “many waters” roaring at a waterfall or like “loud” claps of “thunder.” We are not told who this voice belongs to. It could be “the voice” of the Tribulation martyrs (7:10), an angel (cf. 6:1; Daniel 10:6), or many angels (cf. 5:8, 11: 7:11; 19:6). But it cannot refer to the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (14:3). I believe this voice represents the inhabitants of heaven consisting of the Tribulation martyrs and God’s angels.

John also tells us he “heard the sound of harpists playing their harps” (14:2b). In the book of Revelation, we are told that the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (5:8), and the victorious believers from the Tribulation period (15:2) will all have harps along with those mentioned in Revelation 14:2. The “voice” and “harps” most likely represent the singing and music of the inhabitants of heaven (cf. 19:6). 11

“They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.” (Revelation 14:3). The “new song” this heavenly group sang “before the throne” in heaven could only be learned by “the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth” (14:3). Please understand that the biblical text does not say the 144,000 were standing before the throne in heaven. It simply says they “could learn that song” which was being sung in heaven by this heavenly choir.

It is quite possible that being able to learn this new song was in itself a reward for these 144,000 faithful evangelists. Vacendak writes, “Since the emphasis here is not on the contents of the song but on the fact that only the 144,000 could learn it, this could very well be a special reward for their dedication to God like the reward of the ‘new name’ in 2:17 that is known only to Christ and the victorious one receiving it. Because these faithful witnesses will have an utterly unique experience in their service to Christ on earth, it is fitting that they enjoy a unique experience with Christ in eternity.” 12

After all, they had earned such a reward. “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed by Jesus from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:4). These 144,000 evangelists “were not defiled with women, for they are virgins” who avoided both sexual immorality and spiritual adultery with the Satanic world system led by the Man of Sin or the beast (14:4a; cf. James 4:4; I John 2:15-16). 13

It is likely these servants of the Lord were unmarried in view of the strenuous times the last half of the Tribulation would bring. This brings to remembrance the apostle Paul’s admonition to singles (“virgins”) who were engaged to remain single in view of the “present distress” or persecution under Nero’s rule (I Corinthians 7:25-26). 14  

The 144,000 followed Jesus “wherever He goes” being forever grateful for the incredible price He paid (“redeemed by Jesus”) for their sins (14:4b; cf. Matthew 16:24-27; Luke 9:23-26). These evangelists were willing “not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). 15

They were “firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” in that they were the first converts of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11) during the first half of the Tribulation period who were saved and sealed (cf. 7:3-4). Following their conversion, they were discipled by the teaching of the Two Witnesses before fleeing Judea to begin their worldwide gospel ministry during the second half of the Tribulation (14:4c; cf. Matthew 24:13-22). 16

“And in their mouth was found no falsehood, for they are without fault.” (Revelation 14:5). Even though deception will abound under the reign of the beast, there will be “no falsehood” found in the mouths of the 144,000 evangelists because they boldly shared the truth of the gospel and “are without fault” in that their lifestyle was one of faithful obedience to the Lord, not perfection. By God’s grace, they knew the will of the Lord and faithfully pursued it without stumbling into sin (Titus 2:11-13; Jude 1:24). 17

What do we learn from these 144,000 Jewish evangelists? First, if we are to be effective witnesses for Christ, we must be pure in our relationships with others. The 144,000 Jewish evangelists “were not defiled with women, for they are virgins” (14:4a). If we love the world more than the Lord Who created the world, people will not be as likely to listen to us if we claim to be followers of the one true God. If we are impure like the world around us, we will not have a credible message for those who are confused or lost in the world’s corruption. 18 Ask yourself, “Do I keep myself pure in my relationships with others – especially those who are of the opposite sex? Or do I blur the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and questionable speech? Do I pursue worldly desires and lusts, or do I make it my priority to pursue the things of God (James 4:4; I John 2:15-17)?” 19

Secondly, like the 144,000 evangelists, we must faithfully “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (14:4b). The Lord Jesus came to earth “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He promised,Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Our responsibility is to follow Jesus. Christ’s responsibility is to make us fishers of men. Do you feel inadequate to share the gospel with the lost? Do you ever think that you do not know enough to share the gospel with non-Christians? Ask the Lord Jesus to help you follow Him daily and He will teach you all you need to know about evangelism. The best way to learn to talk to unbelievers is to walk and talk with Jesus. He will lead you to the unsaved people His Holy Spirit has prepared to hear and believe the gospel (John 16:7-11). Believing this will give you boldness as you go to share Christ with a lost world. Ask yourself, “Do I practice immediate obedience to Jesus or delayed obedience? What keeps me from practicing immediate obedience?”

The more we appreciate what Christ has done for us (“redeemed by Jesus”), the more grateful we will be to represent Him as His ambassadors to a lost world (14:4c; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15-21). We will be more willing “not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).

Thirdly, like the Jewish evangelists who were discipled by the Two Witnesses after their conversion (Revelation 7:1-8; 11:1-12), we must also be trained by older believers to effectively live for Christ now (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:2). Ask yourself, “Have I been taught by an older believer how to live for Jesus? If not, am I willing to place myself under a more mature believer to learn how to follow Jesus? If I have been discipled, am I now discipling others? If not, what is keeping me from doing this?”

Fourth, like the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, we must live a life of integrity, speaking the truth with our lips (“in their mouth was found no falsehood”) and living the truth with our lives (for they are without fault”) (14:5). If our mouths and lives are full of lies, people will not believe us when we tell them the gospel is true. Ask yourself, “Do I compromise the truth to avoid rejection or disapproval? Do I speak half-truths, white lies, and deception to avoid conflict with others? Do I live with integrity in public and in private? Am I hiding any secret sins?” If you answer “Yes” to any of these questions in this paragraph, turn to the Lord, confessing these sins to Him. The Bible promises “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

When we remain faithful to Christ and preach the truth of the gospel amid an array of false gospels and deceptions in this world, we will be richly rewarded in eternity by the Lamb of God Who redeemed us (Revelation 14:1-5; cf. Matthew 16:24-27; I Corinthians 3:5-14; 4:1-5; 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; I John 2:18-3:3, 24-4:6; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21; 22:12).

Prayer: Precious Lord God, thank You for these encouraging verses that describe the victory of the Lamb and His faithful followers at the end of the Tribulation period. After reading Chapter 13 which is filled with horrific deception and destruction under the Antichrist’s and False Prophet’s regime, our hearts are filled with hope to see Jesus and the 144,000 Jewish evangelists standing triumphantly on Mount Zion in Jerusalem at the end of the Great Tribulation. By Your grace Lord God, we ask You to enable us to be faithful witnesses to the truth of the gospel with our lives and our lips. May Jesus live in and through us so those who are confused and perishing without Christ in this corrupt world, can find the healing and hope that only Jesus can give them. We ask You to remove the Satanic blinders from the hearts and minds of the unsaved so multitudes will believe in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life which can never be lost. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, 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. 263.

2. Ibid.

3. The majority of Greek manuscripts read “the” (τὸ) Lamb in place of “a” Lamb, and “His name and” (τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ καὶ) before “His Father’s name.”

4. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1549.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), 2402.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1549.

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. 291.

8. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 154 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pp. 188-189.

9. Constable, pg. 154 cites Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Scripture Press Foundation, Victory Book, 1986), pg. 88; J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ, Edited by J. Otis Yoder (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1971), pg. 208; Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 607.

10. Constable, pp. 154-155 cites John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pg. 214.

11. Vacendak, pp. 1549-1550.

12. Ibid., pg. 1550.

13. Ibid.

14. Constable, pp. 156-157.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1550.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Swindoll, pg. 267.

19. Ibid., pg. 268.

Revelation 11 – Part 2

“And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.” Revelation 11:12

We saw last time that through two witnesses God brings directly to faith in Christ, He will proclaim the gospel of the kingdom during the first half of the Tribulation period, resulting in the salvation of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists who will then evangelize all the nations during the last half of the Tribulation period (Revelation 11:1-6; cf. 7:1-17; Matthew 24:14). These two end-time prophets empowered by God’s Spirit will seem to be untouchable and unstoppable even though their enemies will hate them because of the judgments they bring upon the earth (11:5-6). But like other servants of the Lord, when God says, “Mission accomplished,” He removes His protection from them and permits their enemies to kill them. 1

The apostle John writes, “When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.” (Revelation 11:7). It is only when the two witnesses “finish their testimony” after 1260 days (three and a half years – 11:3) that God will permit “the beast” to “kill” them. They will not die prematurely. This is the first of 36 references to “the beast” in Revelation (cf. Daniel 7:21). 2 He is the Antichrist, as later passages will show (Revelation 13:1-10; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 17:3-13; 19:20; 20:10). As John testifies in his first epistle, the Antichrist and his servants, will deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah-God, and will mislead many people away from the truth that Jesus alone guarantees eternal life to those who believe in Him (I John 2:18-25; 4:3; 5:9-13, 18; 2 John 1:7; cf. John 11:25-27; John 14:6; Acts 4:10-12). This verse in Revelation 11 describes the Antichrist as having his origin in the “bottomless pit,” the abode of Satan and his demons (cf. Luke 8:31). 3

It is interesting to discover that the Greek word translated “testimony” (11:7),is martyrian, which has the same root as our English word “martyrdom.” Swindoll writes, “Originally, to be a martyr meant to give public testimony about the truth, but that public witness could lead to the sealing of that testimony with death. Thus, these two ‘martyrs’ of the future will follow their Savior and countless saints before them in the path of martyrdom for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” 4

Only “the beast” or Antichrist will be able to stop these two witnesses. At the middle of the seven-year Tribulation (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15), he will become the world’s dictator and “will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them” (11:7; cf. 13:1-10). His power overrules the power of these two witnesses—but only temporarily. 5

It is important for us to remember that just like these two witnesses, our times are in God’s hand as well (cf. Psalm 31:14-15). We, too, are invincible until the Lord is finished with us, and we have completed our work for Him on earth. What a comforting, strengthening truth this is amid a dark and devastating world. 6

We see the world’s contempt for these two prophets in their response to their deaths. 8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. 9 Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.” (Revelation 11:8-9). The beast will add insult to injury by allowing the “dead bodies” of the two witnesses to “lie in the street” of Jerusalem where the “Lord” Jesus “was crucified” (11:8). To leave a corpse unburied was the worst indignity that someone could perpetrate on a person in biblical times (cf. Psalm 79:2-3). 7 “Spiritually” Jerusalem was “called Sodom” because of its pride and iniquity (cf. Genesis 13:13; Ezekiel 16:49) and “Egypt” because of its oppression of God’s people (cf. Exodus 3:7; 20:2). 8

Some “peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations” will not allow the two witnesses to be buried, viewing their corpses for “three-and-a-half days” (11:9). Just as individuals from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” will be saved by the blood of the Lamb (7:9), some from every ethnic group will also harden their hearts against God. The beast will engineer all this activity to show he is superior in power to God’s two witnesses and to the God they serve. 9

This viewing of the witnesses’ dead bodies by every ethnic group implies some worldwide display, now made possible by modern technology. 10 Television and satellite communications make this scene seem even more plausible today.

Mark Hitchcock writes, “It means their bodies will be seen simultaneously by people all over the world. If this is correct, it means that John saw something that has only become possible in the last sixty years, almost two thousand years since he predicted it.

“At the time this prophecy was given, and for centuries after, the scope of such a prediction would have seemed impossible. Yet today it’s commonplace. It happens 24/7 every day on cable news all around the world, even in many poor Third World countries.” 11

“As Tim LaHaye says, ‘Ours is the first generation that can literally see the fulfillment of 11:9 in allowing people of the entire world to see such an awesome spectacle. This is one more indication that we are coming closer to the end of the age, because it would have been humanly impossible just a few years ago for the entire world to see these two witnesses in the streets at a given moment of time.’” 12

The entire world will celebrate the deaths of these two witnesses. “And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 11:10). John informs us that “those who dwell on the earth” will celebrate not only the death of the two witnesses, but the triumph of the beast as well. This celebration will involve gifts, like those given at a Christmas or birthday party, because wicked men and women will delight in the death of two prophets who “tormented” them with supernatural judgments and the preaching of God’s truth. 13

Hitchcock quotes Ray Stedman, They keep telling the truth to people who want only to embrace their delusions. They keep blunting the Antichrist’s carefully concocted propaganda. . . . The vile and godless society of the world under the Antichrist takes the death of the two witnesses as a cause for global celebration. One is reminded of a saying that was common among ancient Roman generals, ‘The corpse of an enemy always smells sweet!’” 14

People all over the world will be so ecstatic these witnesses for God are dead that they will hold a Christmas-like celebration and send gifts to one another—Satan’s Anti-Christmas. This is the only mention of any kind of rejoicing or celebrating on earth during the entire Tribulation period. People will be so thrilled to see these men dead that no burial will be allowed. They will want to watch their bodies rot in the street.” 15

This worldwide celebration of the two witnesses’ deaths will not last long. “Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.” (Revelation 11:11). John tells us,“After the three-and-a-half days the breath of… God” resurrected the two witnesses causing “great fear to fall on those who saw them.” The two dead bodies that “stood on their feet” will “terrify these onlookers, because these gawking God-haters will be able to do no more to silence their enemies beyond killing them. The use of the prophetic present tense in the verbs in this verse pictures what is future as fact.” 16

Picture the scene—the sun-drenched streets of Jerusalem, the holiday crowd flown in from the ends of the earth for a firsthand look at the corpses of these detested men, the troops in the Beast’s uniform, the temple police. There they are, devilish men from every kingdom under heaven, come to dance and feast at the triumph of the Beast. And then it happens! As the crowds strain at the police cordon to peer curiously at the two dead bodies, there comes a sudden change. Their color changes from cadaverous hue to the blooming, rosy glow of youth. Those stiff, stark limbs—they bend, they move! Oh, what a sight! They rise! The crowds fall back, break, and form again.” 17

As these mockers look on with fear, They heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.” (Revelation 11:12). Before these God-haters are even able to process all that they are observing, they hear “a loud voice from heaven.” The beast’s bragging will be silenced by God’s voice calling, “Come up here.” At that, the witnesses will be taken up in a cloud while “their enemies” watch. 18 Just as Christ was raised from the dead and ascended in a cloud (cf. Acts 1:9), so these two witnesses will ascend to heaven in a cloud and will be seen by “their enemies.” Their glorious ascension is also like that of Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), and Christians at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:17). 19

This is a quite a scene. People all over the world will see the two witnesses caught up to heaven on their favorite TV newscast as the analysts will sit around discussing its significance. 20

Shortly after the ascension of the two witnesses, God’s judgment fell upon the city of Jerusalem. “In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.” (Revelation 11:13). A “tenth” of Jerusalem’s buildings are destroyed as “a great earthquake” rips through the city, and kills “seven thousand people.” The people in Jerusalem who survive the earthquake become “afraid” and give “glory to the God of heaven.” As God often does, in this instance He will allow catastrophic events to occur because those events will bring Him greater glory. 21

The biblical text does not say that these survivors believe in Christ for eternal life. Instead, their response is like people who endure frightening events such as tornadoes or typhoons and acknowledge them as acts of God. However, a person who is overwhelmed by God’s power and a person believing in Christ for eternal life are two different things. 22

The great Jerusalem earthquake following the ascension of the two prophets will bring a close to the interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments. “The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.” (Revelation 11:14). The “second woe” or sixth trumpet judgment announced in 8:13 had come to pass, leaving only the “third woe” or final trumpet judgment, to come “quickly.” 23

The account of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:1-14 encourages us to remember that no matter how dark things may be, the Lord never leaves Himself without a witness. Paul Benware offers this comforting insight about the life and ministry of the two witnesses: 24

“These two miracle-working servants of God are lights for the Lord in the morally and spiritually dark city of Jerusalem. The two witnesses are a reminder that even in the worst of times God does not leave Himself without witnesses.” 25

When I observe people mocking God and His servants today, I often complain about the lack of Christian influence in the world. But God is convicting me to be His witness in the darkness. This is the challenge from Revelation 11:1-14 to all of us who know the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. God wants to use each of us regardless of our past or our weaknesses. One day He will send His two witnesses to proclaim His life-giving message to a wicked world. But for now, God has sent those of us who believe in Jesus to announce the truth about the risen and ascended Christ to a world that is reeling in the darkness of deception.

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, we thank You for this amazing account of the two witnesses who were permitted to be killed by the Antichrist only after they had finished their prophetic ministry to the world. What a great reminder that no one can touch us until we have completed the work You have given us here on earth. And just as the death of the two witnesses was not final, nor will ours be. You raised them from the dead so they could ascend to heaven, and You will also triumphantly raise up believers who have died to be caught up together with those believers who remain alive to meet our Lord Jesus in the air when He returns for His church prior to the horrific judgments of the Tribulation (I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-18). Thank You for promising us triumph after tragedy. Please enable us to proclaim your life-giving gospel message with all boldness and faithfulness so more people can be translated into Your presence the moment You tell us to “Come up here.” In the name of the ascended Lord Jesus Christ, 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. 217.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 127.

3. Ibid.

4. Swindoll, pg. 217.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2394.

6. 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. 349.

7. Constable, pg. 127.

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. 1538.

9. Evans, pg. 2394.

10. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), locations 5617-5623.

11. Hitchcock, pg. 350.

12. Ibid., cites Tim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), pg. 188.

13. Evans, pg 2394.

14. Hitchcock, pg. 349 cites Ray Stedman, God’s Final Word: Understanding Revelation (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1991), pg. 220.

15. Hitchcock, pg. 349.

16. Constable, pg. 128.  

17. Hitchcock, pp. 350-351 cites John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), pg. 150.

18. Evans, pp. 2394-2395.

19. Constable, pg. 128.

20. Hitchcock, pg. 351.

21. Evans, pg. 2395.

22. Vacendak, pg. 1538.

23. Walvoord, location 5628.

24. Hitchcock, pg. 352.

25. Ibid., cites Paul N. Benware, Undersanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach (Chicago: Moody, 1995), pg. 254.

How can I live above average? Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Ibid., pp. 55-56.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 7

“Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.” John 21:11

We are learning from Jesus’ fourth post-resurrection appearance in the gospel of John several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. Together we have discovered that…

– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).

– Our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ Who is gracious (John 21:7-8).

– Our risen Lord Jesus gives us reminders of His faithfulness to care for us (John 21:9).

– We are to accept Jesus’ invitation to enjoy His company (John 21:10).

Now we will look at the seventh lesson from the risen Lord Jesus. After Jesus supernaturally enabled His seven disciples to catch a net full of fish, six of the disciples drug the net to shore behind their boat while Peter swam over to Jesus on the shore (John 21:6-8). When they all arrived on the shore, they saw that Jesus had prepared breakfast for them consisting of fish and bread (John 21:9). In response to Jesus’ request to “bring some of the fish” they “just caught” (John 21:10), John writes, “Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.” (John 21:11).

When John notes that “Peter went up,” it suggests that Peter climbed into the boat to help the other disciples with the fish. Since the net “full of large fish” would be pulled behind the boat, Peter most likely got into the boat and stood in the stern to help retrieve the net. Then he would have jumped into the water again to help haul the net to shore. 2

Why does John mention “one hundred and fifty-three” large fish were caught? There have been many symbolic interpretations made about this number. This “number has been used to teach about the Trinity, the perfection of the church, Christian conduct, and the church’s missionary task.” 3

It is better to take the number literally without any symbolical interpretation. John was both an eyewitness and a fisherman who experienced an incredible catch of large fish thanks to the risen Lord Jesus. Most likely John mentioned the number as a matter of historical detail. With a group of men fishing, the common procedure would be for them to count the fish they caught and then divide them equally among the fishermen.” 4  

Mentioning such a detail would “lend authenticity to his testimony (cf. 2:6). He was, after all, a fisherman himself. Most fishermen know exactly how many fish they have caught whenever they catch some, and this was a very unusual catch.” 5

The Holy Spirit drew me to a significant detail in the last part of this verse which reads, “although there were so many, the net was not broken.” The fact that the net is full of so many “large fish” and does not break, is a second miracle in this appearance of the risen Lord Jesus. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry when the disciples had caught nothing all night, Jesus instructed them to launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4). When they obeyed Jesus, “they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.” (Luke 5:6). Jesus then told them, “From now on you will catch men.” (Luke 5:10b). Notice that Jesus uses a metaphor to describe the disciples’ gospel-preaching ministry. They would use their “gospel-nets” to catch people.

This post-resurrection repetition of the miracle in Luke 5 would have refreshed the disciples’ “memories of that first catch of fish and reminded them that people, not fish, was now to be their focus. In that first miraculous catch, Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, picturing His presence with them when He came into this world. Now, He is on the shore, picturing Him in heaven as He directs and provides as they fish for people. But on both occasions, the abundant catch came when they obeyed the simple command of Jesus.” 6

In contrast to that earlier catch of fish, the unbroken net in John’s account may symbolize that there is room in God’s family for all people (I Timothy 2:4). God does not desire for any people to perish in hell (2 Peter 3:9), but for all to come to faith in Jesus for His gift of salvation. After all, God “desires all” people “to be saved” and Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all” people (I Timothy 2:4-6). The fact that the net was not torn illustrates that the gospel can catch many people without failing. 8

Hence, our seventh lesson is THE POWER OF THE RISEN LORD JESUS IS CAPABLE OF CATCHING MULTITUDES OF PEOPLE IN HIS GOSPEL-NET (John 20:11). Our effectiveness in evangelism is not based upon our giftedness, methodologies, personalities, presentations, or training. The power in evangelism is in the life-changing message of the gospel and our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, there is no need for us to be ashamed or afraid when we share the gospel of Christ. The apostle Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16).  

In January of 2011, I went on my first short-term missionary trip to the Philippines with the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. During our first two days preaching the gospel in public schools on the island of Catanduanes, I saw more people indicate they were believing in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life than I had witnessed in nearly twenty years of pastoral ministry in America. What I learned from that trip was the power in evangelism did not rest upon me or my abilities, but in the clear message of the gospel. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Are we sharing the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection with those who do not have Jesus Christ in their lives? The gospel-net of Jesus Christ is large enough and strong enough for all people, no matter what their condition, color, culture, or country. Jesus wants us to cast His gospel-nets wherever unsaved people gather. It may be in our homes, in our neighborhoods, at a marketplace, in a school, at a basketball court, in government offices, or on the internet. Jesus Christ died for all people, and He desires to save all people. Will you avail yourself to Him to use you to make an eternal difference in the lives of others? Christ wants to use you to be a channel of blessing to a lost world.

Prayer: Hallelujah Lord Jesus! Thank You for the eternal difference You are making in our needy world. Thank You for entrusting us with Your gospel-nets so we may catch men and women, and boys and girls for Your glory. Please enable us to obey Your command to preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15), no matter what their economic status, education, morality, or nationality. Show us where to cast Your gospel-nets. We ask that You grant us the boldness to overcome our fears and declare the good news of Your death and resurrection to those You have prepared to hear and believe it. Use us we pray, to be a channel of blessing to those You have placed in our lives. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The the Greek word translated “went up” is anabainō and it means “to go up, ascend.” (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. 58).

2.J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 377.

3. Laney, pg. 377 cites J. M. Ross, “One Hundred and Fifty-Three Fishes,” The Expository Times 100 (July 1989): 375.

4. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 702-703.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 392.

6. Steve Cole’s September 27, 2015 sermon at www.bible.org entitled, “Lesson 105: Serving Christ Effectively (John 21:1-14).”

7. See 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. 568.

8. Constable, pg. 392.

How can I overcome my fears? Part 5

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:23

Since coming to faith in Jesus in 1979, the Lord has enabled me to share the gospel of Christ with many people. For the past ten years, God has also given me the opportunity to train believers in evangelism and discipleship. I have found that it is very normal to experience fear when sharing the gospel with non-Christians. The goal is not to not have fear in evangelism, but to overcome that fear with God’s boldness.

The Lord has taught me that one of the reasons Christians experience fear in evangelism is that they do not know what to say to an unsaved person. So the obvious solution is to teach fearful believers what to say to a non-believer. This leads us to our next verse about overcoming our fears.

We are learning how to overcome our fears by looking at how Jesus enabled His disciples to overcome their fears when He encountered them the evening of His resurrection day hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews.From this encounter we have learned to overcome our fears when we …

– Rely on Jesus to calm our fear with His peace-giving presence (John 20:19).

– Redirect our focus to the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection to convince our doubting hearts (John 20:20).

– Renew our sense of purpose (John 20:21).

– Relate to the Person of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).

After breathing the Holy Spirit upon His ten disciples to prepare them physically and visually for the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days later on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem (John 20:22; cf. Acts 2:1-21; 11:15-16), Jesus then says to them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23).

What does this verse mean? Is Jesus giving His disciples the ability to forgive and retain sins? Does this verse provide the biblical basis for Roman Catholic priests to forgive the sins of their parishioners?

To properly understand this verse, it is important to know that the Bible teaches that God is the only One who has the power and authority to forgive sins committed against Him. The Lord God said, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25). Mark 2:7 points out that only God can forgive sins. “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus demonstrated that He was God when He demonstrated the divine authority to both forgive the paralytic’s sins (an invisible healing) and enable him to walk (a visible healing). Jesus said to the scribes who thought He committed blasphemy by claiming to forgive sins, “ ’But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’ ” (Mark 2:10-12).

When we look at the Greek grammar of John 20:23, we learn that the first verbs in the two clauses (“forgive” and “retain”)are an aorist (aphēte) and present tense (kratēte), whereas the second verbs in each clause (“are forgiven” and “are retained”) are perfect tense verbs in the passive voice (apheōntai,  kekratēntai). “The perfect tense portrays past action and affirms an existing result.” This implies that the abiding state of the second verbs in each clause began before the action of the first verbs.

The passive voice indicates that someone has already done the forgiving or retaining. That Person must be God, since He alone has the authority to do that (Matt. 9:2-3; Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21). This means that God’s action of forgiveness (“they are forgiven them”) took place prior to the announcement of forgiveness by Jesus’ disciples (“If you forgive the sins of any”). It also means that God’s action of withholding forgiveness (“they are retained”) also took place prior to the announcement of the withholding of forgiveness by Christ’s disciples (“If you retain the sins of any”). “The grammar used by Jesus did not provide the disciples with the personal authority to forgive sin.” 3

Robertson states, What he commits to the disciples and to us is the power and privilege of giving assurance of the forgiveness of sins by God by correctly announcing the terms of forgiveness. There is no proof that he actually transferred to the apostles or their successors the power in and of themselves to forgive sins.” 4

God does not forgive peoples’ sins because we decide to do so nor does He withhold forgiveness because we will not grant it. We simply announce the previous forgiveness of God. We don’t create it. God has given Christians the privilege of proclaiming His terms on how a person can receive forgiveness of sins. 

The basis for forgiveness is not that God likes us or even that He loves us. It is that Christ laid down His life to pay the penalty for all our sins. “The Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13b-14). Forgiveness is based upon the cross of Christ, not our performance or good works.

Some people think forgiveness is like a man saying to the child down the block who threw a baseball through his window. “It is okay kid. I like you. Forget it.” No, God is love, but He is also righteous and just. Biblical forgiveness is like a child throwing a baseball through a window and the owner’s son paying for the broken glass. Then the man says, “It is okay. My son paid for it.”

What God wants Christians to proclaim to people is that they can obtain His complete forgiveness freely by believing in Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter told a Gentile named Cornelius, “All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” (Acts 10:43 NIV).

What this means is when we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the unsaved, which includes His death and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:3-6), we can say to them, “If you believe or trust in Christ alone, I can say on the authority of the New Testament, that you are forgiven.” Or we can say, “You are entitled to your opinion, but I must warn you that according to the New Testament, unless you believe or trust in Christ alone, your sin remains unforgiven.” The Holy Spirit enables us to  authoritatively declare that God has indeed forgiven the sins of any who believe in Jesus Christ. 5

Jesus did something similar when He said to the Pharisees who overheard Christ’s conversation with the former blind man, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.” (John 9:41). Christ is saying to these self-righteous religious leaders, “If you recognized your spiritual blindness and acknowledged your sin and guilt, you would have believed in Me for forgiveness. And I would have forgiven you so ‘you would have no sin.’ But because you claim to have spiritual sight and deny your own sin, and refuse to come to Me for forgiveness, ‘your sin remains.’ ”

Now Jesus’ disciples (including you and me) would continue His ministry relative to the forgiveness of sins. When we share the gospel, care must be taken to make sure they understand that only God forgives. But the messenger does state it. What a high privilege we have in announcing the forgiveness of sins to those who believe in Jesus Christ alone.

This leads to our final principle for overcoming our fears. REVIEW CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF FORGIVENESS AS YOU PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL TO THE LOST (John 20:23). If you are afraid to share the gospel with the unsaved because you are not sure what to say, review the message of the gospel with another Christian before going out to share with non-believers. You can role play with that believer. Have the other person assume the role of the non-Christians while you assume the role of the Christian and share the gospel with him or her. And remember, the gospel by which we are saved is that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Then invite the non-Christian to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of all his or her sins (Acts 10:43).

When we share the good news of God’s forgiveness with non-believers, we not only bless those who hear the message, but we are also blessed to be reminded of the unlimited forgiveness we have in Christ. One of the greatest blessings we can receive is the joy of knowing that all our sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ! Every time we share the gospel with a lost person, we are blessed to review this incredible truth. Any doubts or fears we may have about being totally forgiven are quickly dispelled as we proclaim God’s free and unlimited forgiveness through Jesus Christ to a lost world.

But it is also true that one of the greatest fears a person can have is knowing your sins are not forgiven before you face a holy God. This is one of the main reasons why people are afraid of dying. They are not prepared to face their Maker without the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

As we saw earlier, the Lord God said, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25; cf. Hebrews 10:16-18). God chooses to remember our sins no more when He forgives us.

If you are a Christian and you know God has forgiven you, but you are struggling to forgive yourself, listen to what Larry Moyer says about such a dilemma. “This is a beautiful way to explain God’s forgiveness: if what we have done is no longer on His mind, it doesn’t have to be on ours either.” 6

The more we focus on Christ’s forgiveness of all our sins, the less fear we will have about our future and the more joy we will have today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for entrusting us with Your gospel message. Even though we are often afraid before sharing this life-giving message with the unsaved, we are also excited to watch what You will do in the listeners’ hearts. What a high privilege You have given us in announcing the forgiveness of sins to those who believe in You, and Your death and resurrection. Please provide other Christians we can practice sharing the gospel with to overcome our fears of not knowing what to say to a non-Christian. We are realizing that the more we share the gospel with the unsaved, the more we are reminded of the complete forgiveness we received the moment we believed in Jesus. Please let Your forgiveness ring throughout our communities and world. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 367 cites H.E. Dana and Julius Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1927), pp. 200-201.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John (2017 Edition), pg. 380.

3. Laney, pg. 367 cites Julius R. Mantey, “Evidence That the Perfect Tense in John 20:23 and Matthew 16:19 Is Mistranslated,” JETS 16 (1973): 129-138.

4. Archibald Thomas, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strongs Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (The Ephesians Four Group: 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 77918-77920.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1829.

6. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How to Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012), pg. 288.

How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 3

Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?’ ” John 18:23

As we focus on John 18:13-27, we are learning how we can overcome failure and religious hatred. In our study thus far, we have discovered we must…

Realize life is not always fair, but God always is (John 18:13-14).

– Remain close to Christ and other committed disciples (John 18:15-18).

Now let’s go back to stage one where Jesus is on trial before Annas to discover our third principle. “The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine.” (John 18:19). Annas is conducting a preliminary investigation before sending Jesus to Caiaphas. This may be likened to what might happen today when an arrested person is first brought into a police station. 1  Annas’ questions focus on two primary issues: Jesus’ disciples and His doctrine. He wanted to know the extent of Jesus’ following and about the teaching He propagated. Perhaps Annas wanted to know what Jesus was doing to cause such an uproar among the Jewish leaders. It is also possible that Annas suspected Jesus of leading a subversive movement to undermine the Romans.

“Jesus answered him, ‘I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing.’ ” (John 18:20). Christ explains that He had nothing to hide. He had always taught “openly to the world.” He protects His disciples by drawing attention to His teaching. Jesus’ teaching was the same in private as in public. He was not leading a secret organization or cult. Obviously He was not denying that He had taught His disciples privately. He was simply assuring Annas that His teachings were not subversive. He did not have two types of teaching: a spiritual message for the multitudes, and a revolutionary one for His disciples.

Next Christ challenges the legality of the proceedings when He says, Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.” (John 18:21). According to the Mosaic law, a person was innocent until proven guilty by evidence of witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). So the high priest should first call on witnesses to testify before questioning Jesus. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them,” Jesus says.By questioning Jesus, Annas assumed He was guilty. Christ’s question exposed the illegal proceedings by Annas. “If I am guilty, then where are the witnesses?” Jesus is asking. There were many people in Jerusalem who were familiar with Jesus’ teachings and could answer the questions of Annas. It was obvious that the officials were not seeking the truth at this first trial but were seeking incriminating charges to advance their purposes.

“And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, ‘Do You answer the high priest like that?’ ” (John 18:22). One of the temple officers thought Jesus’ answer was disrespectful, so he resorted to violence and delivered a blow to Jesus “with the palm of his hand.” It was illegal to strike an unconvicted person.

Rather than turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), Jesus stands up for the truth and for justice. “Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?’ ” (John 18:23). Jesus knew that He had done nothing wrong so He demanded that they produce evidence of wrongdoing. If there was no evidence against Him, then why did they hit Him? Striking Christ without producing evidence of wrongdoing was illegal. Jesus did not let people walk over Him and violate the law. He stood up for justice and He can enable us to do the same.

Notice also what Jesus did not do. He does not respond in anger. He does not hit the officer back. But neither does He say I was wrong. Christ does not back down. He has this continued willingness to say, “I was right in what I said.” But He continues to say it with humility, without anger or malice towards the person who slapped Him. This is another way we can overcome religious hatred. We are to RESPOND TO OUR ENEMIES BY SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE TO THEM (John 18:19-24). Jesus shows us that even when you love an enemy, it is okay to tell them the truth. Don’t back down from the truth. Jesus in love says, “I am standing for the truth. Why did you strike Me?”

When looking at Jesus’ religious trials in this section, one marvels over His steadfastness under pressure. Many of us would have folded under the pressure exerted upon Christ by Annas and the illegal court proceedings. But Jesus stood up for what is true and just. He did not let their wrongdoing go unquestioned. He exposed their illegal procedures and confronted their abusive behavior.

As we grow in our relationship with Christ, He can enable us to confront abusive behaviors in others by speaking the truth with dignity. Jesus did not get caught up in the hatred of the religious leaders and hate them back. He forgave them, but that did not eliminate His boundaries. He stood up to the officer who struck Him and confronted his wrongdoing.

When people mistreat you physically or verbally, please know that Jesus understands how you feel because He endured abusive treatment as well. And I believe He would assure you that you have every right to protest!

Forgiveness means we choose not to “get even” or “get back” at someone who has hurt us. But it does not mean we automatically trust the person who has wounded us. Nor does it mean we do not protect ourselves. The offender must earn our trust once again and that takes time and effort.

Jesus was hated by the religious community. And if we openly identify with the crucified Christ, we too, will not be accepted by religious people. In fact, some of the most brutal treatment of Christians comes from religious people. Religious people do not want to see their sin or admit their need for Jesus Christ Who died in their place for their sins.

If you are in an area of the world that persecutes Christians, you can reach out to the American Center for Law and Justice (aclj.org) which is dedicated to defending persecuted Christians around the world.

Christ confronted wrongdoing which brought an end to Annas’ investigation. Abusers do not like to be stood up to. “Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” (John 18:24). It is possible that Jesus had been “bound” during this preliminary hearing before Annas. If so, Jesus was defenseless when the officer struck Him. 2  It becomes clear at this point, that Annas and the other officials were not interested in justice. They were committed to killing Jesus.

When Jesus spoke the truth to Annas and the officer who struck Him, He was seeking to convict them of their sin, without which they would not see their need for the Savior. Because Jesus was faithful to His Father’s will and He never fails, we can trust Him to enable us to speak the truth in love to a hostile world.

There is also a stark contrast between the corrupt and self-serving high priest named, Annas, and our faithful and blameless High Priest, Jesus Christ, Who was willing to sacrifice Himself willingly for His sheep (Hebrews 2:14-18; 7:26-27). Christ wants us to know that when we fail, we can draw near to Him to obtain the grace and mercy that we need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Keep in mind that there is no guarantee that if we are faithful to bear witness to a hostile world, God will protect us. Jesus was faithful to His Father in heaven, but He died a horrible and humiliating death. The Lord Jesus tells the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10).

Believers in Christ who do not compromise when faced with persecution, are guaranteed a rich reward from Jesus in the future – “I will give you the crown of life.” This reward refers to the abundant quality of existence faithful believers in Christ will experience in eternity. If the believers in Smyrna die for Christ in this life, they will receive an eternal experience that is totally opposite to the troubles they faced on earth.” 3

It is our responsibility to remain faithful to God “until death.” It is the Lord’s responsibility to reward us for our faithfulness.

Prayer: Gracious High Priest, thank You for willingly enduring the illegal court proceedings and mistreatment by those presiding over it, so we may obtain complete forgiveness of our sins through faith in You. We need You, Lord Jesus, to enable us to speak the truth in love to a hostile world as You did before Annas.We need Your wisdom to discern when to speak up and when to remain silent. Help us keep our eyes upon You, Lord, to endure persecution without compromise so we may honor You throughout eternity with the rewards You give to us in the future. In Your gracious name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg.683.

2. 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. 552.

3. Ibid, pg. 1505.

How can we face challenges with courage? Part 3

“I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” John 16:28

In John 16:25-33, Jesus is teaching us how to face challenges with courage.Thus far we have learned we can face challenges with courage when we…

– Resolve to go directly to the Father in prayer (John 16:25-26).

– Receive the Father’s special love for us (John 16:27).

We can also face challenges with courage when we RECOGNIZE THAT JESUS IS IN CONTROL (John 16:28-30). Christ said to His believing disciples, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” (John 16:28). Jesus plainly declares His heavenly origin (“I came forth from the Father”), His humiliation (“and have come into the world”), and His resurrection, ascension, and exaltation (Again, I leave the world and go to the Father”). He has come from heaven to earth and is going back again to heaven. Jesus’ departure will not change the fact of His incarnation and its continuing results. This is underscored with the use of the perfect tense verb (elēlytha) translated “have come,” which means that Christ came to earth as the God-Man in the past and He continues to this day to be the God-Man. 2

“His disciples said to Him, ‘See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech!’ ” (John 16:29). Now the disciples thought Jesus had “plainly” answered their questions about where He was going. “Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.” (John 16:30). Jesus’ knowledge of the future, especially regarding His return to heaven, convinced them that He knew “all things.” They had full confidence in Christ. When they said Jesus had “no need that anyone should question” Him they were referring to His supernatural insight into their hearts which enabled Him to answer their questions before they even asked Him. His complete knowledge reconfirmed their faith in Him as having come “forth from God.”

Jesus’ infinite wisdom assures us that He has a complete grasp of the difficulties we face so we can rest assured that He will never fail us. Knowing He is in control of our future – that everything happens according to His plan – can increase our courage. The more you believe Christ is in control, the more courage you will have.

God allows difficulties in our lives to teach us that He is in control and that nothing is impossible with Him. Have you ever met people you think even God cannot change? That person you think will never become a Christian? Bring him or her to God in prayer and God can melt that heart of stone. We can lose our courage because we have lost sight of how big our God is. God knows everything. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He invites us to trust Him even when we face major challenges. And as we do, He can supply us with the courage we need to rise above our feelings and circumstances to make Him known to a lost world.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You demonstrated Your omniscience by alerting Your disciples to Your return to the Father. Your supernatural knowledge of the future and the disciples’ questioning hearts reassured them of Your identity as God and that You are in control. Knowing that You are in control of our future and that everything happens according to Your plan and purpose, increases our confidence in You. The more we believe You are in control, the more courage we will have to face these challenging times. Lord, You know the people in our lives who seem so difficult to reach with the gospel. Their hearts seem so hardened. Thank You for reminding us that no problem or person is beyond Your life-changing touch. Please use us as You deem best to share Your life-giving gospel message with all who will listen. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 671.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 296.

3. Ibid.