Revelation 15 – Part 1

“And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image, and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.” Revelation 15:2

After receiving revelation about Satan’s forces of evil (Revelation 13) and what happens to those who do not receive the mark of the Beast (Revelation 14:1-5) and to those who do (Revelation 14:6-20), the apostle John records what he sees next before God’s throne in heaven to heighten our anticipation of the coming bowl judgments near the end of the Tribulation period (Revelation 15:1-16:1).

“Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.” (Revelation 15:1). The words “I saw” (kai eidon)introduce a new scene in heaven. 1 John “saw another sign in heaven” that was “great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues or bowl judgments which will bring about the completion of God’s “wrath” at the end of the Tribulation period.The previous signs were “the woman” and “the dragon” (Revelation 12:1, 3). This sign is “great and marvelous” because it signifies the climax of the outpouring of God’s wrath on nature, humankind, the dragon, and the two beasts. 2

The sign itself involved “seven angels” who are the agents of God’s bowl judgments on the earth. 3 The word “plagues” (plēgas) refers to a “sudden calamity that causes severe distress.” 4 Literally, it means a “sudden blow” or “wound caused by a sudden blow.” 5 These bowl judgments are not some long, drawn out pandemic like COVID or HIV. Instead, these plagues come with sudden impact that are quick, destructive, severe, and brutal. 6 Humanity will be nearly exterminated, and people will become more rare than fine gold during these bowl judgments (Isaiah 13:12). 7

When John says, “in them the wrath of God is complete,” he is saying the execution of God’s judgments on the earth will be “complete” or finished. That is, there will be no more judgment to be poured out on earth during the Tribulation. 8 These severe bowl judgments will avenge the slaughter that the Beast and False Prophet inflicted upon believers during the last half of the Tribulation period. 9 God’s final judgment of the wicked will not take place until the end of Millennial Kingdom a thousand years later when all nonbelievers will stand before the Great White Throne to be “judged according to their works” to determine their degree of punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

Amid God’s severe judgments on the earth, we are also given a picture of His amazing grace and victory. “And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image, and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.” (Revelation 15:2). Like Revelation 4:6 where “a sea of glass” is surrounding the throne of God in heaven, John sees “something like a sea of glass mingled with fire” (15:2a). Like in 4:6, “the sea of glass” here depicts the holiness of the verdicts coming forth from God’s throne. But now the crystal sea is “mingled with fire,” signifying God’s passionate wrath that is about to be expressed through the horrific bowl judgments. 10

John sees “those who have the victory over the beast, over his image, and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God” (15:2b). Who are these persons standing on the sea of glass? These are the believers who were martyred during the last half of the Tribulation period (cf. 6:9-10; 8:3-5; 14:18). They are depicted here as victorious over three intense pressures designed to lead them to reject Jesus Christ: 11

“over the beast” which signifies the first beast’s political pressure expressed through his charismatic military expertise that persuaded people to give their allegiance to him.

“over his image” which depicts the second beast’s religious pressure exhibited through his deceptive display of supernatural power through the statue (“image”) of the first beast.

“over the number of his name” which portrays the economic pressure when the first beast’s number was required to buy or sell during the last half of the Tribulation period.

Believers in Jesus may experience similar pressures today. Satan, “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Ephesians 2:2), can use political pressure to discourage Christians from following Jesus. Many believers are being oppressed by human governments today. 12.

Are we willing to take a stand for Jesus Christ, even though it may cost us? When an apartment manager says you cannot share the gospel with his or her tenants, are we going to obey that manager or will we obey Jesus Christ who said, “Go and preach the good news to everyone in the world.” (Mark 16:15 CEV; cf. Acts 4:18-20; 5:29). Does “everyone in the world” include those apartment tenants? Absolutely! When a country’s human government forbids its citizens from preaching Christ, will we obey that government or the God who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18)!?!

I might add, if we disobey human government, whether it be local, state, or federal, we must also respectfully submit to the consequences as did the early church (Acts 4:3-31; 5:17-32, 40-42; 7:1-60; 9:20-25; 11:19; 12:1-4; et al.; cf. Matthew 26:52; Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:16-25; 3:13-4:19), which in some cases could be a verbal reprimand, eviction from an apartment building, jail, the loss of a job, torture, or even physical death.

As Christians, we may also experience religious pressure to reject Christ. Some of the most severe persecution today comes from religious authorities. For example, a former Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or Roman Catholic may be excommunicated from their place of worship or rejected by their own biological family for having come to faith in Christ. Some of this opposition can result in torture or physical death.  

It is possible to experience opposition even within evangelical Christianity. I can remember being shunned by various Christians and churches for holding fast to the simple gospel of grace which embraces faith alone in Christ alone for salvation from hell. Those who embraced a “faith plus” gospel wanted nothing to do with me because of my commitment to the freeness of salvation. It hurt, but I was also consoled by God’s promises to reward those who remain faithful to Him until the end of their Christian lives (Revelation 2:10, 25-26).  

Like believers in the last half of the Tribulation, believers today can also experience economic pressure to reject Christ. Perhaps your employer fires a coworker for their faith in Christ. This puts pressure on you to conceal your Christian faith to avoid the same fate. Or let’s say you go to the marketplace in your village, but the vendors are non-Christians, and they refuse to sell their goods to you because of your faith in Christ. You see them selling their goods to those of like faith, and over time you begin to wonder if it might be better to yield to your hunger pangs and forsake your faith so you can purchase some food.

There are many stories like this in the world today of Christians who are having to face political, religious, and economic pressures because of their commitment to follow Jesus. 13 What is it that we live in daily reliance on? Is it a politician, a religious leader or organization, or job? Or is it God? Do we trust the Lord for all our needs, including the roof over our heads to the timely words we speak in every conversation?

The victorious believers that John sees standing on the sea of glass are described as “having harps of God” (15:2c). With their “harps” they would offer praise to God because He has chosen to manifest and complete His coming judgments at the end of the Tribulation period (cf. Revelation 15:3-4). Are we offering God our praise in everything we do? Are we taking time to thank Him for what we do have?

What a sight it must have been for the apostle John to see these martyred believers from the future Tribulation period standing victoriously on the sea of glass with harps in their hands ready to praise God! Instead of choosing to save their lives by yielding to the Beast and his wicked regime, they chose to remain faithful to Christ, which probably seemed foolish amid unequalled persecution. But to quote missionary and martyr Jim Elliott: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” 14May God raise up more believers in this Church Age who are willing to live for Christ no matter what the cost!

Prayer: O precious Lord Jesus, I realize that I often depend on other people or things more than I depend on You. Forgive me my Lord and my God! Please guide me in living for You no matter what the cost. Thank You for reminding me that only what is done for You will last. In Your mighty name Lord Jesus, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 165.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. 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. 825.

5. Ibid.

6. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 286.

7. 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. 1555.  

8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2404.

9. Swindoll, pg. 282.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1555.

11. Adapted from Swindoll, pp. 282-283.

12. A February 2, 2022, email from American Center for Law and Justice’s Chief Counsel, Jay Sekulow, states, “Sixteen Christians are murdered every single day because of their faith. A devastating new report details just how explosive and deadly the persecution of Christians has become around the globe… In Nigeria, Christian pastors are beheaded. In India, Christians are jailed and discriminated against. In Pakistan… Christians [are] on death row for their faith… This new report shows that Afghanistan has become the absolute worst place on earth for Christians. The persecution is excruciating… ‘Men, women and children are subjugated, beaten, and executed for their beliefs that differ from the tyrannical Taliban.’ The Taliban is going door to door looking for Christians to kill and unmarried women to take captive. Christians are hiding in their homes and fearing what the Taliban will do to them – a genocidal persecution.”

13. Todd Nettleton with The Voice of the Martyrs, When Faith Is Forbidden: 40 Days On The Frontlines With Persecuted Christians (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2021). 14. Swindoll, pg. 283 quotes Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1958), pg. 247.

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.

Real Solutions to Real Problems – Part 1 (Video)

This is the first video in a series entitled, “Real Solutions to Real Problems. You will learn how to cope with stress by discovering how to apply biblical principles from the life of Jesus Christ.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. Digital images are used with permission from backpew.com by Jeff Larson, Goodsalt.com, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, Arabs for Christ / FreeBibleimages.org, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, www.LumoProject.com, GoodSalt / goodsalt.com, or they are creative common licenses.

Living Life Today in Light of Tomorrow (Video)

This video looks at Bible prophecy in the book of Revelation to bring stability and hope to our lives when so many things seem out of control in the world today.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site: http://www.revelationillustrated.com. Other digital images are used with permission from Digital Globe / www.FreeBibleimages.org, GoodSalt / www.goodsalt.com, or they are creative common licenses. The video scenes in this video are used with permission from the producers of the video entitled “The Free Gift.”

Revelation 1 – Part 3

“ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia.’ ” Revelation 1:11 

After a very powerful introduction to the book of Revelation climaxing with a quote from the Almighty Lord Jesus Christ (1:1-8), the apostle John transitions to the setting of his first vision of Christ as Judge among seven local churches (1:9-11). Wanting to keep the spotlight on the Lord Jesus, John introduces himself and his situation in a humble and simple manner 1 when he writes, I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island of Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 1:9). The phrase, “I, John,” introduces a change in speaker, 2 since Almighty God was the last to speak (1:8).

John describes himself as the “brother [in Christ] and companion” with his readers in three things:

“tribulation” or persecution for their faith. The word for “tribulation” (thlipsei) refers to“distress brought about by circumstances.” This mention of “tribulation” is not referring to the coming Great Tribulation leading up to Jesus’ physical return to earth (Matthew 24:21, 29), but to “tribulation” or persecution in general that Christians of every era experience (Matthew 13:21; Mathew 20:22-23; John 16:33; Acts 12:2; 14:22; Romans 5:3; 8:17-18, 35; 2 Timothy 2:12; 3:12). 4 John could help his readers endure suffering because he himself had gone through it as well. Those who have not experienced opposition to their faith are not as capable of empathizing with those who have.

“the… kingdom … of Jesus Christ.” John is referring to the future earthly “kingdom” or rule of Jesus Christ that will be established when He comes back to earth (Revelation 19:11-20:6; cf. Psalm 2:6-12; Zechariah 14:9; Matthew 19:28; Acts 1:6-7; 2 Timothy 4:1). John and his readers will share in this future kingdom.

“the … patience… of Jesus Christ.” The word translated “patience” (hypomōnē) “implies endurance under extreme difficulty, as a beast of burden might endure under a heavy load.” 5 Persevering through persecution and suffering is motivated by the promise of reward in Christ’s kingdom (Matthew 19:28; Romans 8:17b; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 10:35-36; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21). Those who faithfully endure for Christ to the end of their lives on earth will share in the privilege of reigning with Him Jesus’ future reign on the earth.

When the Lord reminds these believers (and us) of these three things (tribulation, kingdom, endurance) that they share in, it unites them with a common purpose and perspective amid suffering. Sharing in Christ’s suffering is an essential element in discipleship (Matthew 16:24-27; Luke 9:23-24; Romans 8:17; Philippians 3:10; I Thessalonians 1:6; I Peter 2:20-21; 4:12-14).  

John “was on the island of Patmos,” when God gave him this incredible revelation that comprises this last book of the Bible.Patmos is “a small island in the Aegean Sea southwest of Ephesus and between Asia Minor and Greece. According to several early church fathers (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius), John was sent to this island as a prisoner following his effective pastorate at Ephesus. Victorinus, the first commentator on the Book of Revelation, stated that John worked as a prisoner in the mines on this small island. When the Emperor Domitian died in A.D. 96, his successor Nerva let John return to Ephesus.” 6

The reason John was in this penal colony on Patmos was because of his commitment to proclaim, “the word of God and for the testimony of [about] Jesus Christ.” The Roman Emperor Domitian sent John to this desolate island to silence him.Yet this exile did not silence John.God had bigger plans for His apostle while he was there.

Instead of feeling sorry for himself, John “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10a). For John to be “in the Spirit” means he was thinking and functioning spiritually, engulfed in a spiritual framework on the Lord’s Day (the first day of the week).” 7 While under the influence of the Holy Spirit, John’s physical senses are apparently supernaturally suspended as God gives him the visions found throughout this book. 8

While “in the Spirit,” John writes, 10 I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, 11 saying, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:10b-11).

John heard the clear, penetrating voice of the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ identify Himself as the eternal God when He said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.” “The First and the Last” is a title that belongs to Yahweh, the God of Israel (Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12).Because Jesus is God and exists eternally, He can give eternal life to all who believe in Him (John 3:16; 10:28).No other person has this capability. This is what makes Jesus so unique.

The Lord Jesus instructs John to “write in a book” what he will “see” and then “send it [the book of Revelation] to the seven churches which are in Asia” Minor. The ‘book’ in view was a roll of papyrus made from a plant that grew in Egypt. Normally papyrus scrolls were about 15 feet long.” 9

Each of these seven “churches were an autonomous local church and the order of mention is geographical in a half-moon circle beginning at Ephesus on the coast, proceeding north to Smyrna and Pergamum, then swinging east and south to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” 10

Why did the Lord choose these seven churches? The best explanation is that they represent conditions that are applicable to all churches throughout history 11 from which this book could easily circulate. 12

What impresses me the most about these verses is the apostle John’s devotion to the Lord Jesus while he was banished to the island of Patmos by the Roman Emperor to silence him. But John’s love for Christ could not be silenced. Yielded to the Holy Spirit, the apostle was used by God to pen one of the most profound books in the entire Bible about the Lord Jesus Christ and His ultimate triumph over evil.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for Your Word which cannot be silenced. Thank You for the example of the apostle John and others like him, whose devotion to Jesus could not be silenced, even long after they have died. May each of us look up to You in prayer so we can speak up for Christ when others try to shut us up. In the mighty name of 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. 36.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 18 cites David E. Aune, Revelation 1—5 (Word Biblical Commentary series, Dallas: Word Books, 1997), pg. 75.

3. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1498.

4. Swindoll, pg. 37; Constable, pg. 19.

5. Ibid.

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

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2369.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1499.

9. Constable, pg. 20 cites Frederic G. Kenyon, Handbook to Textual Criticism of the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1912), pg. 30.

10. Walvoord, pg. 164.

11. Evans, pg. 2369; Swindoll, pg. 38.  12. Constable, pg. 20 cites Robert Thomas, Revelation 1—7: An Exegetical Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 93-94.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 1

“And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.” I Kings 19:3

An intriguing illustration begins with an ad announcing that the devil has put some of his tools up for sale. On the day of the sale, the tools were placed out for public inspection. Each tool had its price tag. Everyone recognized what a terrible collection it was – hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, lying, pride, etc. But laid aside from the rest was the highest priced tool, appearing harmless though well-worn. Someone asked, “What is the name of that tool?” The devil replied, “That is discouragement.” The man asked, “Why is it priced so high?” To this question the devil admitted it was because it was more useful to him than all the others. Why, he could pry open and enter a person’s heart with that tool when others had failed. It was badly worn because he used it so frequently on everyone, and few people knew it belonged to him.

Discouragement is a great tool of the devil. We must do battle with it in our lives and in the lives of those around us. But how? To discover some ways to climb out of the pit of discouragement we will take a look at I Kings 19.

King Ahab and his wife Jezebel were ruling over Israel at the time. Since Ahab treated Jezebel more like a mother than a wife, he always sought her stamp of approval. Jezebel introduced Baal worship (false god) to God’s people. As a result, there was a huge spiritual decline in the nation of Israel. So, God sent a spiritual heart surgeon – the prophet Elijah. Elijah invited Ahab and four hundred fifty Baal priests to a little barbeque on Mt. Carmel. Both Elijah and the priests built altars and asked for a match from heaven.The altar of Baal was left to rot with not even a spark. But Elijah’s dirt, rocks, wood and water were all consumed by fire from heaven. Onlookers were very impressed with the God of Israel, but they were depressed with Baal priests. Elijah slaughtered four hundred fifty Baal priests that day. Surely, back in Jezreel, King Ahab would set Jezebel straight as to the true God. Right? They would be ready for a revival? Right? Wrong!!

The Bible tells us,1 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.’ ” (I Kings 19:1-2). Although God was using Elijah to bring about a great spiritual awakening in the nation of Israel, there was one person who hated God’s prophet. Queen Jezebel could not stand him partly because he had so much influence. She was furious and sends a message to Elijah, “If I don’t kill you within twenty-four hours, I will be ready to kill myself.”

Jezebel’s resistance causes Elijah to get deeply discouraged. 3 And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” (I Kings 19:3-4). God has been using this prophet in miraculous ways the last three years, and now, when one homicidal woman threatens his life, he gets scared and runs into the desert and prays that he might die. He has gone from the mountain top of victory to the bottom of the pit of discouragement. He was so discouraged that he wanted to die.

But let’s not be too critical of Elijah because we are no different than God’s prophet. The Bible tells us, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” (James 5:17). He had the same problems we do, and in this case he had a problem with discouragement. How does God bring Elijah (and us) out of the pit of discouragement?

The first way is to FOCUS ON THE FACTS, NOT YOUR FEELINGS (I Kings 19:3-4). “And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.” (I Kings 19:3). God had just defeated four hundred fifty prophets of Baal through Elijah, and now he was afraid of a death threat from a self-seeking queen. Elijah’s fear made him run and he kept on running.

Fear can make us run too. We run to alcohol… an affair… food… a new job… busyness… video games… the computer… the tennis court, etc. Fear speeds us up instead of slowing us down. When we are driven by fear, it is difficult to turn off our thoughts. We may even skip meals or overspend. We cannot relax. Repetitive negative thoughts bombard us. We feel irritable and have dramatic mood swings. We find ourselves drinking too much caffeine or over-exercising. It is difficult to be alone or to be with people. We often make excuses for having to “do it all.” The most fearful people are often the most busy.

Elijah made the mistake of focusing on his feelings rather than on the facts. This often happens when we are discouraged. We focus on how we feel rather than on reality.Elijah felt like a failure because of one incident that scared him. He thought to himself, “I’m such a coward – I’m not worthy to live. I might as well crawl up in a corner and die.” So, because he felt like a failure he assumed he was a failure and he wants to avoid people so he left his servant in Beersheba and goes alone into the desert. When we isolate ourselves from other people and focus on our feelings, it is a recipe for discouragement. We lose perspective so quickly when we withdraw from people and wallow in our feelings.

We must remember that feelings are not facts. Therefore, they can be very unreliable. For example, I can wake up and not feel like a Christian. Does that mean I am not a Christian? No. Being a Christian is based on faith in the facts of God’s Word, not my feelings. Feelings often lie, so when we focus on our feelings rather than facts, we are going to get into trouble. Many psychologists believe that one key to health is to get your feelings out in the open. While we do need to identify and process our feelings, that is not the complete answer.

The Bible emphasizes that we need to get in touch with the truth rather than our feelings, because it is the truth that sets us free. Jesus said, 31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ ” (John 8:31-32). What is the opposite of truth? A lie. Satan often inserts lies into the limbic system of our (right) brains when trauma takes place in our lives. The limbic system is usually programmed by the time we are six years old. Our prefrontal cortex (our moral and impulse control system) of the (left) brain is not developed until we are twenty-five years of age. Over ninety-eight percent of the decisions we make in life are done subconsciously in the limbic system. So much of our lives are directed by patterns of the past.

Also, the limbic system is programmed to help us cope and survive, and coping behavior is at the core of avoiding our pain and fear. When we take sinful coping mechanisms and make them a lifestyle, we experience bondage to our fears.

People who are driven by fear often have wounds that were caused during childhood or adolescence that fuel their fears as adults. For example, when a six-year old boy is brutally raped and then threatened by his rapist, Satan can easily insert a lie associated with that intense trauma that says, “This happened to me because I am bad.” That little boy grows up believing this lie. At the core of his being he believes he is flawed and that no one could possibly love him if they knew him. The shame from this lie leads him to turn to unhealthy coping behaviors as an adult to numb the pain from his unresolved trauma.

Trauma comes in many forms and it can be experienced as a child and as an adult. High intensity trauma such as military combat, a natural disaster, physical or sexual abuse, the death of a family member, or divorce can leave deep wounds within one’s soul. But one does not have to experience intense trauma to struggle with shame-based lies and addictions. You may have experienced low intensity trauma that takes place frequently such as neglect, verbal rejection, minimal affection, teasing by a stepbrother, having few friends, etc. The cumulative effect of low intensity trauma can be just as damaging as high intensity trauma.  

When Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ ” (John 8:31-32). To “abide” (menō) in Christ’s Word means “to continue or remain” in Jesus’ teaching – literally, “to make one’s home at.” Where we make our home is where we spend our time. The Jews knew a lot of Scripture, but they did not know the Author of the Scriptures. “Knowing the truth” means knowing Christ who is the truth (John 14:6; cf. 8:32, 36).

How do I abide in Christ’s Word? Early in my Christian life I learned a method of abiding in Christ’s Word that was primarily for my left brain, not my right brain or limbic system. That method basically focused on downloading biblical data into my left brain through reading, studying, and memorizing Scripture. But keep in mind that most of our decision making takes place in the right brain, albeit at an unconscious level. So if all I am doing is downloading Scripture into my left brain, I am going to experience little transformation. In the couple of years, I have learned a new method of abiding in Christ’s Word that is for both the left and right parts of the brain. This method involves an acrostic, S.W.O.R.D., from Seven Pillars of Freedom by Dr. Ted Roberts:

S – Scripture. For over twenty years, I have read through the entire Bible each year. I was so busy reading through my required passages to get through the Bible in a year, that it became another hurried thing I did in my busy schedule. But now, I approach God’s Word meditatively – not to analyze or criticize the Word, but to be analyzed and challenged by God’s Word. So first, I write God’s Word down on paper. Writing it down will help your thoughts to slow down and focus on the truth of the Scripture.

W – Wait. Read the Scripture again on your knees if possible. Read it aloud slowly and attentively. Then pause to let the passage sink in. Read the Scripture again, this time asking yourself the following questions, “What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel? Where am I in this passage?” Finally read the passage again noticing what word or words grab your attention. Focus on those words. Chew on them for a few minutes. We have a tendency to intellectualize Scripture instead of experience God’s Word. During the waiting, we want to involve multiple senses – sight, hearing, feelings, touch, etc., to come to our observation about God, ourselves, and others.

O – Observe. Take a seat and write down what you observed in the Scripture. When we journal the Scriptures, we retain sixty percent more of what we learn. What truth do you discover in these verses? How does God see me and how do I see God and me? This will clarify your thought processes and involve another whole section of your brain.

R – Request that the Holy Spirit help you see how all of this applies to your life. This is not an academic process but a process of the heart. You are specifically asking the Word to analyze you instead of you analyzing the Word. This often triggers a neurochemical cascade of new understanding where your mind is being renewed.

D – Dedicate. What helps us from being just touched by God to being transformed is the commitment of our heart and will. Trying harder will not get us headed in the right direction when it comes to freedom from our fears. But once the Holy Spirit gets us headed in the right direction, dedicating ourselves to that direction in life will transform us.

We may avoid applying biblical truth because it is painful or difficult. Jesus said if you abide in His Word, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32). But at first, the truth may make you miserable! What is the opposite of truth? It is error or lies. God’s Word exposes the lies we believe that keep us enslaved to sin. The truth reveals our motives, points out our faults, rebukes our sin, and expects us to change. It is human nature to resist change, so applying God’s Word is hard work.

That is why I cannot stress enough the importance of being a part of a discipleship relationship with other believers. In fact, notice what Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” (John 8:31b). The path to freedom from our fears is discipleship. We were wounded in the context of relationships, and we are healed in the context of relationships – healthy relationships. We always learn from others truths we would never learn on our own. Other people will help you see insights you would miss and help you apply God’s truth in a practical way. They can also help hold you accountable and I know I need that, don’t you?

The more we abide in Christ’s Word, the more we shall know the truth which can set us free from the lies that fuel our fears. You may have been through some terrible trauma that has left you deeply wounded. Your life may be driven by shame-based lies that drive your fears. You may have asked yourself, “Where was Jesus when this happened to me?” I want to encourage you, if you are a believer in Jesus, to invite Him to walk with you through that trauma. And as you do this, ask the Holy Spirit to help you answer the following questions:

– Where was Jesus when this happened to me?

– What look do I see on His face?

– And what truth would He say to me soon after this happened?

Christ cares for those who struggle with fears. I believe the more we encounter the radical love of Jesus Christ amidst our fears, the deeper His healing will be of our wounds. Healing that is based upon His truth. Getting the truth down into our souls is what brings change and freedom from our fears. Knowing the truth is not just a point of head knowledge; it is relational, it is intimate, and it is expressed through action.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all of us can be like Elijah. By Your grace, we can have a mountaintop experience of victory, followed by opposition, and suddenly find ourselves running from our fears. Like Elijah, we can respond to our fears by speeding up and isolating ourselves from others. Please guide us in responding to our fears in a way that brings us back to You and the truth of Your Word. Thank You for reminding us that our feelings are not facts. They are simply feelings. They provide us with information, not instruction. Your Word gives us the instructions we need to identify our fears and past wounds that are often associated with them. Please reveal any lies that may be attached to our past wounds. Lord Jesus, since You are God, You are able to walk with us through those wounds and the lies associated with them. As You help us identify our feelings and any lies attached to them, please replace those lies with Your truth so we can overcome our fears. Regardless of how painful this process may be or how long it takes, we commit ourselves into Your loving hands. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

Thank God for His highlight reel of Jesus

“And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” John 21:25

When we were living in the Philippines, I was not able to watch my favorite sports teams in America play their games live on TV because of the time difference. But I always tried to watch the highlight reels of their games so I could see the most significant plays.

The apostle John has given us a highlight reel of Jesus Christ in his book. He did not include all that Jesus said and did, but he included the most significant things we need to know to fulfill his evangelistic purpose (John 20:31).

As we come to the end of the gospel of John, the apostle John concludes with an afterthought of his book that affirms the truthfulness of his gospel. He writes, This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24). The author of this gospel is none other than “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). 1 The phrase “these things” refers to the entire gospel. 2 John is testifying that what he “wrote” is “true.” All that we read in the gospel of John is based on his eyewitness testimony.

Some believe that the phrase “we know that his testimony is true” was written by someone other than John. There are scholars who view the “we” as the elders of the Ephesian church where John traditionally served late in his life. 3  Others think that they were influential men in John’s church, though not necessarily in Ephesus. 4  Another view states this is an indefinite reference similar to “as is well known.” 5

It is better to see this phrase referring to John as he uses the editorial “we” to affirm the accuracy of what he has written. The editorial “we” is a rhetorical device used to refer to the author’s self. Using the first person plural, as authoritative people sometimes do, is something the apostle John does with regularity (cf. John 1:14; 3:2, 11; 20:2; 1 John 1:2, 4, 5, 6, 7; 3 John 1:12). 7  In favor of this view is also the use of the first person singular in the next verse (“I suppose…”).

Before we look at the last verse of this incredible book, let’s glance at the prologue of this gospel (John 1:1-18). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.“ (John 1:1). John began his gospel with “the Word,” Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14-17), Who is “God.” He informs us that all things were made through Him” (John 1:3; cf. Genesis 1:1; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). The Person of Jesus Christ cannot be contained in this world because He is its Creator God. As God, He is independent of creation. He is not dependent on anyone or anything to sustain Him.

But John also wants us to know that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Jesus humbled Himself by becoming a human being without ceasing to be God (John 1:1; 14; Philippians 2:6-8). This is why John refers to Jesus as “the only begotten Son” (John 1:18). The phrase “only begotten Son” does not mean Jesus had a beginning like a baby that is birthed by his parents, as many false religions teach today. The compound Greek word translated “only begotten” is monogenḗs, which literally means “one (monos) of a kind (genos)” or “unique kind.” 8Jesus Christ is the only one of His kind. He is fully God (John 1:1-3) and fully Man (John 1:14). This is the message of the gospel of John.

The writer of this gospel, the apostle John, goes to great lengths to show Jesus’ deity (John 1:1, 34, 49; 5:16-47; 6:69; 8:57-59; 10:30-33; 11:27; 20:28; et. al). Jesus was unlike any other Person who has walked on this earth. In the Old Testament, the phrase “I AM” is how Jehovah God identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). “I AM” is also how Jesus identified Himself to the people of Israel. He makes several “I AM” statements in the gospel of John: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), “I am the door” (John 10:9), “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:14), “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25), “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), “I am the true vine” (15:1). Each one of these staggering statements attested to the fact that Jesus was and is God.

Jesus also claimed to be equal with God and to be God Himself (John 5:17-18; John 10:10-33). This is why His enemies wanted to kill Jesus for blasphemy (Leviticus 20:10; cf. John 5:18; 8:59; 10:31-33; 11:8). For example, when Jesus said, “He and the Father are one” (John 10:30), the Jews understood Him to claim to be God. They said, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:33).

Did Muhammed, the founder of Islam, orBuddha, the founder of Buddhism, or Confucius, the founder of Confucianism, or Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, or Charles Taze Russell, the founder of Jehovah Witnesses, or Ellen G. White, the co-founder of Seventh Day Adventist, claim to be equal with God? No!Jesus Christ not only claimed to be God, He proved He was God through His works (John 1-12), the greatest of which was His resurrection from the dead (John 20:1-18; cf. Romans 1:3-4)!

John also goes to great lengths to show Jesus’ humanity (John 1:14; 4:6; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28; et. al). Jesus had brothers and sisters like you and me (John 2:12; 7:3, 5; cf. Mark 6:3). Christ ate food and got thirsty just like you and me (John 19:28; 21:12, 15; cf. Matthew 9:11; 11:19; Mark 2:16; Luke 7:34). He experienced physical fatigue and even slept (John 4:6; cf. Matthew 8:24; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:23). Why? He became a man without ceasing to be God so He could understand what it is like for you and me to have family, food, and fatigue. The God of the Bible is not some distant uncaring deity like the religions of the world. He understands our needs and He came to earth to meet our most fundamental needs to be seen, safe, soothed, and secure.

When John says that Jesus was “is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18b), he is referring to Christ’s very close and intimate relationship with God the Father. The word “bosom” (kolpos) refers to the upper part of the chest where a garment naturally folded to form a pocket. The picture here is that of a son resting his head on the chest of his father, experiencing a very close and intimate relationship with him. Jesus had the closest and most intimate relationship with God the Father. He knows the heart of God the Father better than anyone because His head often rested upon His Father’s chest in eternity past.

Who better to tell others what a Person is like than the One who is closest to that Person and has known Him the longest in an intimate relationship!?! There is no one more qualified to tell us what God is like than the only begotten Son of God who has known God the Father forever in the closest of relationships with Him.

This is why John then says, “He has declared Him” (John 1:18c). The word “declared” (eksēgéomai) is where we get our English words, “exegete” and “exegesis” from. It means “to set forth in great detail, expound.” 10  In seminary, we learned to “exegete” or explain God’s Word, the Bible. We were taught to “read out” of the Bible God’s intended meaning through a grammatical, historical, and literal interpretation instead of “reading into” the Bible our own biases and assumptions.

God the Son, Jesus Christ, has “exegeted” or “explained, interpreted, or narrated” what God the Father is like. Jesus is more qualified than anyone else to explain what God the Father is like because He, being God, knows God the Father longer and more intimately than anyone else.

Understanding the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the God-Man, will help us understand why John concludes his book with the following words: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” (John 21:25). John is telling us that he did not record everything “Jesus did.” He wrote selectively about the life and ministry of Jesus on earth. 11In other words, John gave us “a highlight reel” of Jesus!12  This highlight reel makes all others look pale in comparison.

Take for example a highlight reel of the greatest sports figures in history. None of them – whether it be Mohammed Ali, Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, Jim Brown, Tom Brady, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Pele’, Florence Griffith Joyner, Usain Bolt, Serena Williams, or Ronda Rausey – can come close to what Jesus Christ has done.

The Lord Jesus has loved people perfectly, giving His life for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 3:16; Romans 5:8). By His grace He has forgiven people perfectly no matter how badly or often they have sinned (John 4:1-29; Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; I Timothy 1:14-16). He has given eternal life freely to all who believe in Him (John 3:16). He has granted a forever relationship to the religious (John 3:1-18). Christ has saved from hell forever all who have trusted in Him (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). He has transformed sinners into saints the moment they believed in Him (I Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:1, 13-14). Jesus has given hopeless people a purpose for living (Romans 8:28). He has granted contentment to those who could not find satisfaction (Philippians 4:11-13). He has given those who have greatly failed a second chance (John 21:15-17). He has bestowed peace upon the troubled (John 14:27; 16:33; Ephesians 2:14-15). And Christ Jesus has never lost one person He has saved, and He never will (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29).

No sports figure, politician, Hollywood celebrity, or philanthropist can do what Jesus Christ has done and continues to do. His life and ministry make Him unique. His highlight reel is superior to all others even though it does not include all that Jesus ever did.

“But God providentially determined that what we have in Scripture is enough. You don’t need to know everything that Jesus did and said. But, John says, you do need to ‘believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (20:31). Amen.” 13  

But John did say if all that Jesus did on earth “were written one by one… the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” To date, countless books have been written on what little was actually recorded in the gospels about Jesus Christ. “Jesus is surely the most written-about person of all time—and rightly so!” 14 When you consider the thousands of historical books, theological books, religious books, scholarly books on the gospels, testimonial books, and articles about Jesus Christ, the numbers are endless! Isn’t that what we would expect from Someone Who is uniquely God and Man!?!

There is no end to the books written about Jesus Christ because He is still working in peoples’ lives today – giving them His life freely through believing in Him (John 3:16; 10:10b) so they can experience His life abundantly as they learn to follow Him as a disciple (John 10:10c; cf. 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8; 21:15-23).  

For me, the gospel of John is one of the greatest books of the Bible because it repeatedly shows God’s grace and truth through the Person of Jesus Christ. It also tells us over and over again what one must do to have eternal life now (John 3:16; 17:3) and a future home in heaven (John 14:2-3). It tells us to simply believe in Jesus alone for His free gift of eternal life (John 1:12; 3:15-18, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 9:35-38; 10:24-29; 11:25-27; 14:1; 20:31; et al.). Jesus did not say, “whoever behaves.” He said, “whoever believes…” (John 3:16). Believe in Him alone and He will give you His never-ending life so you can experience it abundantly in your daily life.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the gospel of John which gives us all we need to know to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing we may have life in His name. There is no one like You, Lord Jesus. There is no one who forgives and loves us like You do. Thank You for revealing Yourself to us through the gospel of John. Please enable us to share this life-changing book with a lost world so they may discover the radical love you have for them and come to believe in You alone for Your gift of eternal life. Getting right with You, Father God, is based upon believing, not behaving. May Your Holy Spirit convict people of this profound and simple life-changing truth. And may those of us who have eternal life through Jesus, experience His abundant life as we learn to follow Him as His disciple. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Archibald Thomas (A. T.) Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures in Six Volumes, (The Ephesians Four Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 78628-78629).

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 705.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 402 cites Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John: The Authorised Version with Introduction and Notes 1880 (London: James Clarke & Co., Ltd., 1958), pg. 306. .

4. Ibid., cites Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Translated by G. R. Beasley- Murray, R. W. N. Hoare, and J. K. Riches. Oxford: Blackwell, 1971), pp. 717-718.

5. Ibid., cites C. H. Dodd, “Note on John 21, 24,” Journal of Theological Studies NS4 (1953):212-13.

6. 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. 570.

7. Constable, pg. 402.

8. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 658.

9. Ibid., pp. 556-557.

10. Ibid., pg. 349.

11. Wilkin, pg. 570.

12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1834.

13. Ibid.

14. Wilkin, pg. 570.

How can we follow the risen Lord Jesus without reservation? Part 3

“Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?’ ” John 21:23

As we look at the focusing stage of discipleship in the life of Peter (John 21:20-23), we are learning to follow Jesus without reservation. So far, we have discovered we can do this when we…

– Avoid comparing ourselves with other followers of Christ (John 21:20-21).

– Focus on serving Jesus in our own unique ministry to others (John 21:22).

The final way to follow Jesus without reservation is to SILENCE FALSE RUMORS AND FOCUS ON JESUS’ SOON RETURN (John 21:23). After Jesus informed Peter that following Him would cost Peter his life, Peter wanted to know what John could expect for following Jesus (John 21:18-21). Jesus told Peter not to concern himself with God’s will for John, but to focus on following Christ (John 21:22).

John then acknowledges a false rumor that had spread due to a simple misunderstanding of Jesus’ words. John writes, “Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?’ ” (John 21:23). Many of the early Christians came to believe that the apostle John would not die but would live until Jesus returned to earth. Augustine refers with disapproval to some who insisted in his day “that the apostle John is still living, lying asleep rather than dead in his tomb in Ephesus” (Homilies on the Gospel of John 124). 1 

John addresses the error by repeating word for word the rhetorical question asked by Jesus in verse 23. These words of Jesus were not an indication of Jesus’ will for John, but of His will for Peter. Jesus had not said John would live until His Second Coming. He had merely raised the possibility in the context of a hypothetical situation to emphasize that God’s will for John was not to be Peter’s concern. So, John reports how the rumor got started and then handles Christ’s word accurately to correct the misunderstanding.

This clarification by John was very important, because when John died, some people might have falsely concluded that Jesus had not been faithful to His promise to return. Others might conclude that John’s gospel was not reliable. However, Jesus had spoken of a hypothetical possibility in this instance. His words were not a promise. 2

We probably hear rumors every day. Misinformation that gets circulated. Every week on Facebook we have people trying to spread false rumors about Christianity on our See You in Heaven page. Rumors that say, “Jesus is not God. The Bible is corrupted. Heaven does not exist. Christianity is borrowed from second century paganism. Jesus did not really die on the cross. He merely swooned or fainted and was resuscitated in the tomb. Going to heaven is based on behavior, not believing. Believing in Christ is worthless. Christ has already come back to earth a second time.” And on and on the rumors go.

Like John, we need to silence rumors by sharing the truth with rumor-spreaders. Otherwise, some of those rumors can hinder us from following Christ without reservation, especially those that undermine Jesus’ trustworthiness and the reliability of the Bible.

But when we do share the truth with those who are spreading false rumors, we need to do so graciously. The apostle Paul writes, 24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). As servants of the Lord, we are to be known for being “gentle” and patient,” and having “humility” when dealing with those who are opposed to the truth. Why? So “those who are in opposition” can be led to “repentance, so that they may know the truth” rather led to “disputes” and “strife” (2 Timothy 2:23). Our goal is to help people “come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil.” This will not happen if we are being argumentative and cruel to rumor-spreaders.

When John wrote the hypothetical question in verse 23, “he was like believers today in this regard: he knew Jesus’ return was imminent (1 John 2:18, ‘Little children, it is the last hour’), but he could not be sure whether he would taste death before He did return.” 3

It is important to recognize that Jesus’ last words recorded in the gospel of John pertain to His return to earth (John 21:22-23). Focusing on Christ’s return is one of the greatest motivations for following Christ without reservation. Knowing that Jesus could return for His church at any moment (John 14:2-3; I Corinthians 15:51-58) gives us great incentive to faithfully serve Christ now.

After describing the Rapture or sudden removal of the church at any moment in detail (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:10), Paul concludes, “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:11). The soon coming of the Lord Jesus is intended to motivate us to “comfort each other and edify one another,” not afflict one another and tear each other down. The imminent return of Christ for His church gives us incentive to faithfully serve Jesus until He comes back for us.

For example, when I played football my first year of college, we would have three-a-day practices in the heat of August to prepare for our games in the fall. So many times, I wanted to quit those practices because of the heat and exhaustion, but what kept me going was the approval of our defensive line coach. Hearing him say, “Good job, Ropp. You are going to be glad you did this,” helped me keep going.

Knowing that Jesus is coming back one day to reward those who are faithful to Him keeps me motivated to keep following Him no matter what the cost. I long to hear him say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:23).

Pray: Lord God Almighty, many of us need a reminder of what is important in life. So often we get focused on what is temporary and lose sight of what is eternal. Thank You, Lord, for reminding us to silence false rumors, especially as they relate to Your coming back to earth. Please enable us to be gentle and humble as we share the truth with those who are opposed to it. Use us to help people come to repentance so they can escape the bondage of Satan who often promotes falsehoods to mislead people away from You and Your truth. Knowing You could come back today for Your church is intended to motivate us follow You without reservation so we can receive eternal rewards from You in the future. Lord, we want to hear You say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 382.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 401.

3. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 569-570.

How can we follow the risen Lord Jesus without reservation? Part 2

“Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.’ ” John 21:22

In John 21:20-23, we are looking at the focusing stage of discipleship in the life of Peter. Last time we learned that we can follow Jesus without reservation when we avoid comparing ourselves with other followers of Christ (John 21:20-21). When the risen Lord Jesus informed Peter that following Christ would cost him his life, Peter then asked the Lord what John could expect (John 21:18-21). Would John also lose his life for following Jesus? Peter seems to be comparing his relationship with Jesus to John’s relationship with Jesus.

All of us can fall into the comparison trap like Peter. We don’t like God’s will for our lives, so we focus on His will for another’s life. If we cannot control God’s will for our own lives, we will try to control His will for another person’s life. How does Jesus respond to this?

John writes, “Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.’ ” (John 21:22). Jesus is saying,“If I want John to hang around until I return, what is that to you, Peter? Your responsibility is to follow Me regardless of what happens to John.” What does that mean to Peter? “Lord, that’s not fair. You’re telling me that I’m going to die if I follow You, but John gets to hang around until You return?” And what Jesus is saying is, “Peter, that should not matter to you. You simply follow Me.”

Again, we see Jesus telling Peter to follow Him. This is not referring to Peter’s salvation. Nor does it mean that Peter is going to die. This time following Jesus means something different. “You should not be comparing yourself to other people. Instead, you are to remain focused on following Me regardless of what I have in mind for John or the other disciples,” Jesus says. Peter needed to remain focused on what Jesus has told him regarding the purpose for his life, and just focus on that.

“Jesus essentially told Peter that John’s future was none of his business. Rather than concerning himself with God’s will for other people, even those closest to him, Peter should concentrate on following Jesus faithfully himself. The ‘you’ in the Greek text is emphatic. Even if it was Jesus’ will for John to ‘remain’ alive ‘until’ He returned, that was not to be Peter’s concern.” 1  The emphasis here is “You – follow Me, Peter,” Jesus says. “It doesn’t matter what other people do. Don’t worry about other people.”

The main focus of Christian leadership is not making sure that others are following Christ, but that I am following Christ. 2  My example has far more impact on others than hovering over them to make sure they are following Christ.

“The reference to Jesus’ return is probably a reference to the Rapture, rather than the Second Coming, in view of what Jesus had promised these disciples in 14:1-3.” 3

Peter had to learn to trust Jesus to take care of John while he concentrated on what Jesus was saying to him. What does this say to us? This leads to the second way to follow Jesus without reservation. We must FOCUS ON SERVING JESUS IN OUR OWN UNIQUE MINISTRY TO OTHERS (John 21:22). The Lord saves us individually. He gifts and calls us individually. He speaks to us and directs us individually. Peter momentarily forgot this fact and we do, too, at times. How easy it is for us to focus on God’s will for another person’s life to avoid God’s will for our own lives. When it comes to doing God’s will, God has not said that you must answer for anyone else except yourself. We are to quit looking around for equality. We are to put aside the need to have others do what we are doing, or to endure what we are called to endure.

Dr. Tony Evans makes an important observation. God has a general will for all of his people. This is expressed in his biblical commands for all of his followers. But he also has a specific will for each individual Christian. Jesus graciously revealed to Peter his will for him. But he wasn’t about to tell Peter his specific will for John. We are called to follow Jesus corporately as the church and personally as individuals. Each of us is to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus and seek to discern how he wants us to serve and glorify him. You are not to use God’s specific will for you to measure anyone else, nor are you to take his specific will for another and use it to measure your own circumstances. We are not to sit as judges regarding how God chooses to use other believers.” 4

Some believers are uniquely called by God to endure hardships – imprisonment, the loss of a child, a lingering and crippling illness, financial troubles, a series of unexplainable tragedies – while others are hardly touched by these things. It is so easy for the Peter within us to lash out and lobby for an equal wrong’s amendment before the Lord. Jesus’ response remains the same: “My child, just follow Me. Remember, you are not John, you are Peter.”

Has God called you to a difficult or demanding mission field… or type of ministry … or home situation… or relationship? Has He led you to live sacrificially… to pass up some pleasures? If He has, then follow Him. Forget about the Johns and learn to focus on following Christ. Don’t compare, focus on serving Jesus in your own unique way. 

The Bible tells us, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (I Peter 4:10). We should concentrate on following Christ and using the spiritual gifts He has given us as we do that. Disciples are to be taught to focus on their own unique ministry according to their gifting and calling.

Part of discipleship is discovering what our unique ministry is and helping others discover their unique ministries. That unique ministry will almost always be in harmony with how God has gifted us. That is what makes us unique as Christians. So first you need to know what your gift is and then you need to use it.

How do you discover your spiritual gift? Get busy serving the Lord. God can steer a moving car better than a parked car, so get involved in a ministry. If you have a church family, find out from your church leaders how you can serve Christ in your church. Ask yourself, “What do I enjoy doing?”  God is not likely to give you a gift that makes you miserable. So, what is it that you enjoy doing when serving the Lord?

Ask yourself, “What is God blessing?” If you are a teacher, people are being built up through your teaching. If you are an administrator, people and things are being organized. If you have the gift of helps or service, the needs of others are being met in practical ways. If you are an evangelist, people are getting saved. If you have the gift of mercy, people are comforted when they share their problems with you.

Ask yourself, “What do others think?” Ask those who know you well what gifts they see in you. For example, some churches have disciples do a service project outside of the church. Then they have them identify their gifts that were manifested during the project. “Who stepped up to help the group get organized?” This could be someone with the gift of administration or organization. “Who was concerned about reaching lost people?” Those with the gift of evangelism. “Who stepped up to serve behind the scenes?” Those with the gift of service. “Who was concerned about those who were hurting and had a way of helping them talk about their feelings?” Those with the gift of mercy and so on.

It is also important to take training. We offer online discipleship training for men and women. 5 In the Philippines, we trained Christians to multiply disciples of Jesus until all hear His gospel message. The training sharpens a believer’s spiritual gifts and skills.

You could also take a free spiritual gift inventory online. 6 But with that said, I firmly believe it is easier to discover your gift through ministry than to discover your ministry through your gift.

God doesn’t want us comparing ourselves with one another. Like Jesus said to Peter, “What is that to you? You just follow Me. Don’t worry about the other guy. Serve me in the unique way I have gifted you to serve. Let others take responsibility for their commitment to serve Me in the unique way I have gifted and called them.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all of us struggle when Your will for our lives seems to involve more pain and suffering than what we perceive others to have. We may be threatened or even jealous when other followers of Christ seem to have more success and less suffering than what we are experiencing. Thank You for calling us back to focusing on You and the unique way You have gifted us and called us to serve You. How silly of us to think that other believers should resemble our gifting and calling when they are also uniquely gifted and called by You. Help us to stay focused on You, Lord Jesus, no matter what the cost. It is in You that we find overflowing joy, peace, and life, not in people or in the things we do. You love us far more than what we do. Please massage this truth into the depths of our hearts and souls. In Your powerful name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 400.

2. Ibid., cites Alexander Balmain Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, 8th ed. (N. c.: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1894; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1971), pg. 528.

3. Constable, pg. 401.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1833.

5. You can download our digital Pressing On discipleship training at www.seeyouinheaven.life.

6. https://gifts.churchgrowth.org/spiritual-gifts-survey/ .

How can we follow the risen Lord Jesus without reservation? Part 1

21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man?’” John 21:21

Last time in John 21, we finished focusing on the feeding stage of discipleship where Peter began to minister to others out of his own brokenness and love for Jesus (John 21:15-19). The risen Lord Jesus appeared to Peter after His death and resurrection to reaffirm Peter’s leadership position as one of His apostles. After Peter had publicly denied knowing Jesus three times, Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to confess his love for Jesus (John 21:15-17). After Peter did this, Jesus tells Peter how he is going to die, and then he tells Peter to follow Him (21:18-19). Peter knows now that following Jesus means he is going to have to die. Jesus knew Peter was affectionately drawn to Him, but now Jesus tells Peter to be totally committed to following Him without any reservations. According to church tradition, Peter would ask for crucifixion upside down because he felt unworthy to suffer as Jesus had. This is followed by the focusing stage found in John 20:20-22.

In the next scene Peter is walking along with Jesus away from the other disciples who had gathered for breakfast on the beach. “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?’ ” (John 21:20). Not wanting to miss any of Jesus’ teachings, John, “The disciple whom Jesus loved,” was following a short distance behind Jesus and Peter. John was already doing what Jesus commanded Peter to do – he was following the Lord Jesus. The relationship between Peter, John and Jesus is a most interesting dynamic. Peter is the Lord’s obvious choice as leader of the disciples, but John is Christ’s closest friend. Surely the memory of the Last Supper is fresh in Peter’s mind. The future leader of the church had to depend upon John to find out who would betray their Lord (John 13:21-26). 

So, when Jesus solemnly predicts Peter’s future crucifixion on the cross (John 21:18-19), Peter’s immediate reaction is what John could expect. “Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, ‘But Lord, what about this man? ‘ ” (John 21:21). Peter had just learned from Jesus that following Christ would cost him his life. Now he wondered what John could expect. “What about John, Lord? You are asking me to follow You unto death… What about him? Aren’t you going to give him the same responsibilities and perils as I?” It seems like Peter is comparing his relationship with Jesus to John’s relationship with Jesus? “I always knew you liked John best, Lord, and he would have it better than me.”

Let me ask you this: Who is your John? Who is it that you present to the Lord and ask, “What about this person, Lord? Why does he or she have it so good when I have got it so bad? Their marriage is marvelous but mine is miserable. His ministry is soaring while mine is stalling. He gets all the attention, but nobody even notices me.” Or “It seems they never have any problems, but we are drowning in ours. It just isn’t fair!” we say. Do you struggle with this? You don’t like God’s will for your life, so you focus on His will for another’s life. If we cannot control God’s will for our own lives, we will try to control His will for another person’s life – and on and on it goes, the games we play with the Lord.

From this we learn that the first way to follow Jesus without reservation is to AVOID COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHER FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST (JOHN 21:20-21). When Jesus instructs us to do something we are uncomfortable with, it is easy to avoid it by focusing on His will for someone else. This is what Peter was doing when he asked Jesus what John could expect. When we start comparing God’s will for us with His will for another Christian, we can easily start to feel sorry for ourselves. Why me? Self-pity can quickly lead to failure to follow Jesus. Why? Because if we are using all our energy on self-pity, we will not have any energy left over to follow Christ. Self-pity takes all the energy that we have and more. It drains the energy right out of us. 

The great thing about Jesus is that He knows our future. He knew what Peter was going to face in his life as he followed the risen Lord Jesus. So, He told Peter about the difficulties he was going to face in advance (John 21:18-19). Although God has not told us specifically that we are going to be crucified in the future like He did with Peter, He has told us that we can expect “hatred” (John 15:18-19; 16:1-4) and “tribulation” (John 16:33) in the world. Following Christ includes pain and suffering. To think otherwise is unrealistic.

Therefore, the apostle Paul wrote when he was in prison for preaching Christ, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29). Suffering for Jesus’ sake is purposeful, not purposeless. God uses suffering in our lives for our good and for His glory. “As believers in Christ the Philippians could expect to suffer for Him as did Paul. Suffering for Christ matures a believer (James 1:2-4), and Christ will reward those who persevere through suffering (Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17b).” 1

When Peter’s focus was directed toward Christ’s will for John, it reminds me of something significant about Peter. His problems always came when he got his eyes off Jesus. For example, when Peter and the other disciples were caught in a storm and Jesus walked on water to them, Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus (Matthew 14:22-29). But when he took his eyes off Jesus and onto the wind and waves, he began to sink in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:30). After Jesus predicted His upcoming death and resurrection, Peter gets his eyes off Jesus and onto the success the disciples are having (Matthew 16:21-22), so Jesus chastises him, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  (Matthew 16:23). When he takes his eyes off Jesus and onto his fears, he denies Jesus three times in the courtyard (John 18:15, 25, 27). And then when he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on another disciple, he is drawn away again (John 21:20-21). He is setting himself up for another failure.

Whenever we compare ourselves to another Christian, we are setting ourselves up for failure? Why? Because God doesn’t intend for us to be carbon copies. Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two people are alike. We are not in competition with anybody else. It can be tough for us as Christians to believe we are unique because there are two competing pressures in the world: 

First, the pressure of conforming in everything – peer pressures, advertising, pressures to conform to be alike. We are pressured to do what others do; to look like others look.

Then there is the pressure of comparing. In America, we have made comparing a science.  In this competitive environment, we compare everything – how we look, our clothes, our cars, our homes, our intelligence, our background, social and economic status – as if it really matters. You are unique and nobody can be like you so why compare?

The Bible says that since we are all unique, we should not compare ourselves. “Each person should judge his own actions and not compare himself with others. Then he can be proud for what he himself has done.” (Galatians 6:4 NCV). Don’t compare yourself to others; just be proud of what you have done by the grace of God.

Also, when we compare ourselves to others, there will always be someone worse off -which can lead us to become prideful. Or there will be someone better off – which can lead to discouragement. Either way, we become more vulnerable to failure.

None of us are responsible for another’s commitment to Christ, only our own. When it comes to doing God’s will, God has not said we must answer for anyone else except ourselves. When we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future to receive rewards from Jesus, each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12). We won’t stand before Christ to give an account of other Christians. We will only speak for ourselves when Jesus asks us to tell Him what we did with what He gave us.

If you have never been tempted to look at another believer and focus on somebody else, you probably have not been a Christian more than ninety seconds. The truth is it is a temptation in all our lives. Jesus is reminding us to keep our eyes on Him, not on someone else. When our eyes are locked onto Christ, we will find unspeakable joy, peace, and life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must confess that all of us can fall into the comparison trap just like Peter did, especially when Your will for our lives is difficult for us to accept. It is easier to focus on Your will for another’s life when Your will for our lives is not what we want. Forgive us our Lord and our God, for focusing on Your will for others instead of Your will for us. Lord Jesus, we want to follow You. It does not matter to us what other disciples do. It doesn’t matter to us what other Christian leaders do. We are not following them. We are following You. So, Jesus, tonight, we renew that simple commitment to follow You no matter what the cost. In Your matchless name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. 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. 1081.